Atheist literature to be distributed in Orange County Public Schools

 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its Florida chapter, the Central Florida Freethought Community, will be passing out atheist and freethought literature to students in Orange County Public Schools this Thursday.

The distribution of freethought literature is set for May 2, the National Day of Prayer. The distribution is in response to bible distribution in the public schools in February, in which evangelists at tables in about 11 schools were permitted to hawk bibles and promote religion.

The Orange County Public Schools demanded the right to vet the freethought literature. Last week the district announced formally that many submitted publications, including Sam Harris’ book, "Letter to a Christian Nation" and an essay, "The Truth," by 19th century freethinker Robert G. Ingersoll, are being censored. Also censored: "Jesus Is Dead" a book by Robert Price, professor of philosophy and religion, "What on Earth is an Atheist," a book by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, "Why I am Not a Muslim," a book by Ibn Warraq, and several FFRF "nontracts," including "Dear Believer," "Why Jesus?" "What Does the Bible Say about Abortion?" and "An X-Rated Book."

Among the handouts which the public schools approved will be several nontracts published by FFRF, including "What is Wrong with the Ten Commandments?," "Ten Common Myths about Atheists," and "Why Women Need Freedom From Religion." A section from "The Age of Reason," a classic critique of the bible by Thomas Paine, and a brochure "Why Atheism" are being distributed by other secular groups involved in the protest.

A Christian law firm, Liberty Counsel, has bullied Collier County and Orange County schools into opening high school campuses for World Changers of Florida to distribute Christian bibles during the school day. A legal wrangle with World Changers cost Collier County $20,000 in fees when the county settled out of court.

FFRF and its chapter protested this egregious violation of the separation of state and church. After a protracted negotiation and many delays, the Orange County Public Schools finally approved a distribution of some nonreligious literature.

The distribution will take place in 11 high schools in Orange County:
Apopka High
Wekiva High
Boone High
Jones High
Colonial High
Winter Park 9th Grade Center
Edgewater High
Evans High
Timber Creek High
University High
Cypress Creek High

CFFC and other area groups will staff tables at these schools throughout the school day. The distribution is passive so volunteers will keep the tables neat, restock materials and ensure that students do not simply take a stack of materials.

"Predatory evangelical groups like World Changers and Liberty Counsel see public schools as a recruiting ground," said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, who is traveling from Madison, Wis., to be present at several of the distributions.

"Public schools exist to educate, not to proselytize. Schools don’t need to allow these distributions, but as long as they do, we will distribute our own nonreligious materials.

"The irony is that the bible, a bestseller that’s rarely read, is X-rated, full of violence, obscenity and immoral conduct committed by or blessed by the biblical deity. Yet the government did not censor the bible, but instead found that innocuous comments by Sam Harris may ’cause a substantial disruption’ to the school day."

The distribution is headed by CFFC President David Williamson, with FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel providing significant behind the scenes help. Other groups, such as the Secular Student Alliance, American Atheists, and the American Humanist Association, are also providing materials or volunteers.

FFRF called the school district’s censorship of some of freethought publications illegal and is considering its options.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

 

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