Atheist Groups Will Be Allowed to Distribute Literature in Two Florida School Districts

Just a day after the Christian group World Changers of Florida, Inc. left Bibles for high school students in two school districts, atheist groups that have pushed back are getting results of their own:

The Central Florida Freethought Community, a chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has obtained consent this week from the Orange County (FL) School Board to distribute materials about atheism, agnosticism, and secular humanism to students in public schools. This permission comes after the School Board allowed a group of Christians to distribute Bibles to students on campus during school hours for Religious Freedom Day on January 16.

Books, pamphlets, and brochures from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, and the Secular Student Alliance are on their way today to Central Florida and distribution will begin as soon as the promised written permission is received from the School Board and volunteers are cleared to come on campus. Some items being considered for distribution are “An X-Rated Book: Sex & Obscenity in the Bible,” “Ten Common Myths About Atheists,” as well as literature about starting student led secular organizations on campus and books by atheists Dan Barker and Madalyn Murray O’Hair among others.

I’m especially curious how the school boards handle the FFRF nontract “An X-Rated Book: Sex & Obscenity in the Bible“:

Cover notwithstanding, if the Bible passes the “perfectly fine for schoolchildren” test, shouldn’t a book pointing out the “X-rated” parts of the Bible be allowed as well?

The books won’t be made available for at least a week or two, in any case, but I’ll provide updates to this story as they come.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Agrajag

    Not necessarily. It’s perfectly possible for a work consisting of the most explicit parts of other works to be obscene, even if those other works as a whole are not. I’m not speaking specifically of the bible or this work here, but in general terms.

    For example, part of the obscenity-rules in court are if a work, taken as a whole, can be taken to appeal primarily to a “prurient interest”. A set of 90-minute hollywood-movies that contain on the average a minute or two of nudity and/or sex may well go clear of that hurdle, while a movie created by collecting *only* the sex-scenes from the same set of hollywood-movies, might (conceivably) be judged differently.

    I don’t even disagree with this: I’d rather let my kids watch a movie that has some violent parts, but where that’s a minor topic, instead of one that consists -only- of the violent parts from other movies.

    In other words, if you make a collection of the most sexually explicit parts of the bible, you may get a work that on the whole is more sexual than the bible is. (despite all the parts being present in the bible)

    • http://www.facebook.com/chuck.farley.756 Chuck Farley

      That’s not really possible in this case. Your example consists of compiling sex scenes from many different movies to make a new movie. The FFRF non tract is only pointing out examples from one book. The amount of nudity/sex/violence in the FFRF literature cannont surpass the amount that is in the bible, because the bible is its source. The FFRF non tract is condensed to be sure, but the amount is the same.
      Would you feel the same way if the FFRF non tract only listed book, chapter and verse and you used the actual bilble to read the naughty bits? I don’t really see any difference myself.

      • Agrajag

        That the bible is one book, and not ten, doesn’t make a difference, if you cut the bible into several pieces, for example by distributing the different parts separately, nothing would change.

        My point is that many jurisdictions do not only consider max(sex), but also average(sex), to put it in a bit silly terms, thus you can have situations where some sex + lots of non-sex gets a different evaulation from some sex alone.

        The sex alone, could be said to be primarily appealing to prurient interests, while a larger work that includes that sex as a minor part, passes the same hurdle.

        It’s not about what I personally think, I don’t have a single objection to this book at all.

        I’m just pointing out that “A consists of parts of B, therefore A cannot possibly be obscene if B isn’t” isn’t generally a valid argument. Jurisdiction where that reasoning ISNT valid includes USA where among MANY examples, FCC vs Pacifica in 1978 said that the *frequency* of swear-words can influence the decision whether a work is obscene or not, that means a long text with some swearing might be non-obscene, while a shorter text consisting only of the swearing-parts from the former, IS obscene.

        Again: I’m not saying I agree with or support this view of what is obscene, I’m merely saying that in some jurisdictions, this is what the law says. I’m not saying the excerpts are obscene. I’m just saying that “they are just parts of this larger non-obscene work” is not, by itself, sufficient argument to prove non-obscenity.

    • J-Rex

      I agree with that concept, however the difference here is the way it’s presented. If there’s a book that is supposed to have the ultimate morals in it and it acts as if rape is a crime of taking property and that even the victim can be put to death in some cases, then even if it’s a tiny part of the book, that’s a big problem. If there’s a book with a larger percentage devoted to rape that condemns such disgusting attitudes, I would think that book would be much more appropriate, even if it is dealing with lots of mature subject matter.

    • J-Rex

      Nice name, btw :)

  • 0xabad1dea

    Honestly I’d rather no religion-related interest group be allowed to distribute in the first place…

    • Bad_homonym

      I believe ffrf requested that the bible distribution be halted, but the school cited some rule about passive distribution being legal, so this was the next best counter!

    • Kirika

      That’s pretty much the point. The other group was allowed to distribute Bibles, however, so the FFRF is spreading some of their own literature. Just like the “atheist holiday displays”, this will probably piss off the religious right, with the result that eventually NO ONE will be able to distribute religious material. In the end, this would be exactly what AA and FFRF want, so good for them.

    • Liz

      I actually think it’s great, high school students being exposed to new and important ideas. Surely some will pick up some atheist literature and go “huh, never thought about it that way before…”

    • beb

      The Christian group was allowed to after a judge ruled that they had to be allowed to. Previously the school district had said they couldn’t.

  • http://agmmusings.blogspot.com/ Alessia Lane

    I’m not sure I’m really pleased about this. I agree with 0xabad1dea that there should be no passing out of anything. The Atheist group here runs the risk of opening up that whole “atheism is a religion” can of worms again, and also becomes just as annoying as the bible thumpers.

    We are an Atheist family and have bibles on our bookshelves. If my child came home with one, sure, I’d be a little miffed, but I would use that opportunity to open up a discussion about it. In the end, I think that an open chat about the desperation in proselytizing and the urgency to “spread the word”, only validates the nonsensical platform of the theist.
    The Atheist literature, I feel, only brings us down to their level.

    • Helanna

      I’d rather nobody got to pass out literature – it’s a school, I don’t see why *any* religious group should be allowed to pass out anything – but if Bibles are there, I’d rather there be an atheist alternative. It can be really hard to believe yourself to be the only atheist around. Even if you don’t or can’t go over to pick up a book or pamphlet, I think just having an atheist presence to countermand the ever-present Christian one is a benefit, letting kids know they’re not alone. It might also be the first/only contact with open atheists some kids get – some parents or preachers don’t tell their kids about atheism at all, or claim that all atheists are evil, or whatever. An open, friendly presence is vital to fighting that stereotype.

      Besides, I’d be happy if someone complained about the atheist presence and the school decided to stop allowing any religious groups at all.

    • J-Rex

      I think it’s more about showing how ridiculous it is to let them pass out Bibles in the first place. Telling them to stop is ineffective, but saying “Okay, what if we do it?” is something that gets through to people a lot better. I’m guessing that they didn’t expect to be allowed to; they probably expected the school to not allow anyone to do it, which would have been the best thing. But at least this way, Christians won’t get their privilege.

    • C Peterson

      This isn’t an atheist issue, and I’d agree that AA (an organization I largely disapprove of) shouldn’t be involved. It is, however, a legal and secularist issue, and FFRF (not an atheist organization) is quite properly involved. The involvement of SSA is marginal.

      The key point here is that none of these organizations should even be using the word “atheist” in this situation. It isn’t relevant and just serves to muddy the waters (and at the least, results in people misunderstanding atheism). But the action itself- putting out books carrying alternative “religious” messages- is entirely appropriate. If we can’t keep religious groups away from children in public schools, what other choice is there but to help ensure they at least have exposure to alternative ideas?

  • ErinneTheAuthor
  • Rachel

    I agree with Aleesia. As an atheist, I do not want to be associated with hatred or intolerance of religion.

    • dandaman

      so you want to tolerate and condone ignorance? You’re only giving them what they’re giving you in spades, and you’ve got reason on your side.

    • Denis Robert

      Are you intolerant of astrology? Are you intolerant of fake medical practices that can hurt or kill patients? Why make an exception for religion?

      There’s a difference between tolerating an idea, and tolerating a person. Religion causes evil, and if that’s the case, then you have an obligation to reject at least those parts of religion that do so (and there’s not much left of it after that).

      What you are really asking is that atheists shut up about what they actually believe, the way many so-called “moderate” Christians do: they believe you’re going to hell, but they won’t tell you to your face. I personally think that is hypocritical and makes you look like a wuss.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      The closet isn’t big enough for all of us.

    • Cecelia Baines

      Pussy.

      • JG

        Well, that was certainly a helpful comment. Keep up the awesome dialogue!

    • JG

      Rachel, I don’t understand how making atheistic material available is intolerant or hateful. Maybe you feel that atheists are by default intolerant and hateful towards religion. That would be an unfortunate and untrue stereotype you adhere to. I feel it is important to have this material along side the religious material so other budding atheists in the schools don’t feel so alone and left out as well as to have a counterpoint for others to consider.

    • Sindigo

      Criticism is not the same as intolerance or hatred. Not even close.

    • C Peterson

      I don’t like that some have made this into an atheist issue. But that’s beside the point. Reframe your own situation a little. What if you were a Muslim? Would you argue that asking to place Korans at the school constitutes hatred or intolerance of religion? If you were a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Bahai, would you feel that asking to place your literature constitutes some sort of intolerance?

    • WoodyTanaka

      I have no problem, as an atheist being associated with a message of hatred and intolerance toward religion, as I hate religion and am intolerant of it as anything other than a historical or sociological matter. (n.b.: I did not say “the religious” or “religious people,” not that I hold out much hope that that will satisfy the faithiests among us…) However, I am not compelled to express such an opinion and would gladly not do so if the religious would simply stop trying to advance their religions with the use of public resources or in a way contrary to the secular nature of the government. They, however, have no interest in agreeing to that.

  • ortcutt

    Pretty soon, the Scientologists, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses will be there too. I guess we’ll see what the commitment to religious freedom looks like when Dianetics, the Book of Mormon, and the Watchtower show up on the tables too.

    • Glasofruix

      I really doubt the scientologists would be willing to distribute their stuff for free.

      • ortcutt

        They’ll give you some for free on the hope that you’ll come back and pay for more. They have to hook people in somehow.

      • Lagerbaer

        They usually don’t do so openly. They’ll offer fake personality tests that will reveal that you’re thoroughly screwed. But don’t despair: You can get rid of the problems by attending their costly seminars.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Actually, I think they’re quite affordable. It’s just that it takes really a lot of them to be clear. And you’re never really 100% clear, so you have to keep working at it. Which of course costs money.

          Oh, but hey, they send volunteer missionaries to disaster areas so they can give people personality tests while they’re trying to find food and clean water and a dry place to sleep!

      • allein

        I was at the Book Expo in NYC this past summer and there was a booth with some kind of Scientology display, including a video playing on a loop. I don’t think they were actually giving anything away for free like most of the booths, though. (There wasn’t even anyone manning it, at least when I passed by.)

        • http://www.facebook.com/shawn.alvesteffer Shawn Alvesteffer

          That’s where you were wrong. some helpful operating thetans were manning it! You just can’t see them. They had left their meatbody off to go file tax returns or something.

          • allein

            lol…you may be right.

    • Denis Robert

      If that’s the case, then it’s a good thing. When people are really exposed to the vast variety of religions out there, they tend to be more likely to start questioning their own…

      • Sindigo

        It happened to me.

    • fin312

      As they should be allowed too. The final 6 words after the comma you all seem to forget ” or prohibit the “free” exercise thereof” You can put any spin on it you want, again the founders were very smart people if they intended it to be any other way they would have said “or prohibit the free exercise thereof except for literature in schools, banners in auditoriums and creches at city hall.

      • ortcutt

        I really don’t see what of the Free Exercise Clause obligates a school district to provide space for outside groups to promote their religions. There are some free speech clause cases governing distrbution in public fora in schools but that doesn’t have anything to do with religion per se. It wouldn’t matter if the speech was about religion, gardening, or tiddlywinks. Do you have some case law to back up your goofy interpretation or are you just making things up?

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          He could very well be making stuff, up. It wouldn’t be the first time. But this is settled case law. The school doesn’t have to allow it, but they can. At the high school level, not elementary. And of course if they open the door they have to allow everything. I don’t know the case law off hand, but it has been quoted by the ACLU.

          See this article from a while back: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/01/06/north-carolina-public-school-that-offered-bibles-to-kids-refuses-to-accept-pagan-books/

          Unfortunately the link to the actual article on the case law is broken, but if the ACLU was stating it, I’m assuming it’s probably true on this matter.

          • ortcutt

            It’s Peck v. Upshur Co., 155 F.3d 274 (4th Cir. 1998), but it’s a Free Speech case, not a Free Exercise case. The Court didn’t require the school district to provide a forum to outside groups, it simply required that if an open forum was provided, it would need to be provided on a neutral basis.

            They wrote:

            “It should be noted that a school district would be free to adopt a policy which prohibits any outside individual or group from distributing materials, or making them available, to students on school grounds. If a district does adopt such a policy, the district in effect is deciding not to create an open forum. However, if an open forum is created, then any group who wishes to distribute materials, or make them available, must be allowed to do so, as long as the guidelines are followed.”

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              Thanks- I’ve looked for that citation before but never found it. And yes, I was being overly generous to Fin and misreading his reasoning and result.

              • fin312

                I thank you for being overly generous with your obstinate ramblings Rich. You do it with pizzaz.. Peck v. Upshur Co. has me thinking. I know every time I think I weaken the nation.

            • fin312

              I like this case for other reasons, neutral basis is my point.

              • ortcutt

                Except for the fact that you ranted about the Free Exercise Clause despite it having nothing to do with Free Exercise Clause. Nobody disputes “neutral basis” is a basic principle in the Public Forum Doctrine. Beyond that, it says nothing about permanent displays and government speech, which is governed by the Establishment Clause. So, if “banners” in your original comment was supposed to refer to Cranston and similar cases, you’re still off-base.

        • fin312

          It’s not goofy ortcutt, someone mentally challenged would understand what “free exercise thereof” means. You made an opinion, as I did. Why do I need case law? Would we be having this discussion if it was only the Koran that was to be passed out in lunch rooms?

          • ortcutt

            Do you have any idea how our legal system works? Any at all? Apparently not. It gets really tiresome discussing legal issues with people who don’t even want to TRY to do so competently. You don’t need to be a lawyer to do so, but you have to care enough to educate yourself to the point where you can discuss the issues in a relevant way.

        • allein

          Exactly. If it was an actual student group passing out information, there would be a case to be made for their right to that access. Just because a group unaffiliated with the school may pay taxes that go in part to the school (and at least in the case of a church, they only pay as individual citizens) doesn’t give them the right to unfettered access to the school grounds or the students (which is an argument I saw someone make on another post a while back…that the school “belongs” to the taxpayers so basically anyone in town can do what they want there).

      • WoodyTanaka

        The free exercise clause does not apply to the state. so the state cannot favor religion over atheism, so it must allow both or neither, where “neither” is a valid option. So, no, the free exercise clause does not mean that the state can, itself, or must permit others, to put literature in classrooms, banners in auditoriums, and creches in city halls, without permitting others to do likewise. If you want a message on government property promoting your faith, you must accept my message attacking it.

        • fin312

          Exactly my point!

          • WoodyTanaka

            doesn’t seem like it!

  • J-Rex

    And the best part is, none of those kids are going to sit there and read the Bible…

    • Sindigo

      I read the Bible I was given in school. It went a long way to turning me into an Atheist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625429396 Andrew Kilian

    Is this to basically shame the school board to remove the bible? Will this back fire in any way?

    • baal

      Is it shameful to hand out secularist literature? The usual issue is that the xtians (or schools hate controversy – which isn’t unreasonable of them) hate secularist literature and will usually stop handing out stuff rather than have anyone else also get to do what they do.

      I’m not sure about backfiring but anytime atheists stand up, the xians get belligerent. That can be a good or bad thing depending on how it plays out. The xians who wouldn’t become belligerent don’t usually make it a point to target kids at school in the first place.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      More to take advantage of the limited public forum created. Which is likely to cause Christian outrage, demanding this horrible distribution end…. which may result in the forum being closed to all religions (and all groups). I vaguely recall the current situation results from a consent decree, where a Christian group sued to open the access available for non-religious groups to also be available to religious groups; if I’m not hallucinating that, it might complicate closing the forum entirely.

  • Katwise

    Kudos to Central Florida Freethought Community! Just leave out the “An X-Rated Book” pamphlet; why ask for more trouble.

    • Chris Freestone

      Lots of books get banned from schools for inappropriate content for minors. Why not, instead, use the X-Rated book in a case to ban the bible from schools for its inappropriate adult content? That’d be more fun, surely?

  • Randomfactor

    Missing a bet by not having the Book of the Flying Spaghetti Monster distributed. But the “myths about atheists” is a good choice.

    I see all kinds of problems with the “X-rated Bible” one. Better to take bibles from the free table, have a highlighting party pointing out the good stuff, and put them back on the table, then pass the word: “Just thumb through the bible and look at the stuff highlighted in yellow…” Cheaper, too.

  • Highschool-Atheist

    I would love it if some atheist material was in Citrus County schools. i hate going to school with overly religious students.

  • JenProhaska

    I’ve really got to move out of Central Florida…

    If kids are questioning their beliefs, maybe they’ll actually read the bible they get for free. And then maybe they’ll recognize that there is a lot of bad stuff in that book. Maybe, just maybe, this scenario will play out with the person reading the bible, realizing there’s bad stuff in it, and then they’ll get the free atheist literature and realize it makes much more sense. :-) If we reach even one agnostic soul, this fight was worth it. LOL

  • http://www.facebook.com/angel.lawin.1 Angel Lawin

    Man may have invented some gods or doctrines about gods but there is indeed a God who truly exists and created the heavens and the earth and man. I am speaking of the God of gods that the prophets of the old testament in the Bible have spoken about.

    How do we know that the said God exists? The existence of the God that the prophets of the Old testament in the Bible spoke about, can only be true if what He hasspoken before through the prophets came to happen in OUR TIME, that we
    ourselves can SEE, that what He has spoken through His prophets(not apostles,
    for they are mere writers) became fulfilled. Let us read what God had spoken
    before in Deuteronomy 18:18-19 (NIV)

    “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him
    to account.”

    Deuteronomy 18:18-19(NIV)

    “a prophet like you” – A prophet sent forth like Moses, having authority from God.

    “from among their brothers” – from the Gentiles and not from the people of Israel.

    This is not Jesus
    because he belongs to the people of Israel.

    How will the coming prophet speak in behalf of God?

    “I will put my words in his mouth” – The prophet sent forth like Moses and who is not a Jew, need not study or research the Holy Bible nor study Hebrew as to what he
    will say regarding the Word of God. He only has to wait for the time the “Word”
    is given to him to reveal God’s message to everyone.

    How do we know that this is not Muhammad

    “he will tell them everything I command him” – This is why God commanded us to listen to this prophet because he will only deliver what is given to him by God. It will
    be God’s message as written in the scriptures and not his own. Muhammad made
    his own words about God , especially about the Name of God. Since God never
    said that His name is Allah through His prophets in the Old testament.

    Since God warned that He will call us into account if we do not listen to His words in The Bible that He will put in the mouth of His prophet to speak in His Name –then it follows that we should first LISTEN TO ALL what the said prophet will reveal about the Name of God as based on the Bible. It also means that people should not have
    believed what the religions had spoken about God since they were not the ones
    sent by God in the first place.

    Now what God had spoken in Deut.18:18-19 about a coming prophet whom He will send to reveal His Name was fulfilled through a man named Mr. Eraño Martin Evangelista or “Maestro” (Teacher) Evangelista as we address him. We can read of ALL the messages that God commanded him to reveal through the Bible about His one true Name in the website http://www.thename.ph. You may notice in the said site that
    the messages he proclaims through the Bible about the name of God is explained
    from verse to verse in such a fluid way that no man can do if he has only
    studied the Bible on his own and was not directly taught and given authority by
    God.

    Since what God had spoken in Deut.18:18-19 about a coming “prophet like Moses” who He will send to reveal His Name has now come true through Maestro Evangelista, this means that no intelligent man or woman may say anymore that there is no God And NO ONE can say now that the God of Moses and the prophets- who is also the God of gods as written in Psalm 97 and 138, does not exist.

    It is best that you read ALL that was revealed in the said website as all your questions about the God of the prophets will be answered as you read along. This is not about creating a new religion-it is about EXPOSING them by showing the whole world the truth-as solely based on the Bible, that the said religions namely
    Christianity, Islam and Judaism made the whole world worship a different god and
    NOT THE REAL GOD because they never taught the REAL NAME of GOD.

    This is why the whole world will now know that God exists because God will now make His Holy One Name known through His prophet like Moses, Maestro Evangelista.

    Whether or not you accept Maestro Evangelista’s Bible revelations in http://www.thename.ph is not important –what is important is you have been informed of God’s true message.

    Thank you.


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