This is a guest post by Daniel Koster. Daniel is the President of the Wekiva Atheist and Secular Alliance at Wekiva High School in Florida.
We found out late Monday night that the School Board had given a group permission to hand out Bibles at our schools. The news reported it and David Williamson, leader of the Central Florida Freethought Community, alerted several local leaders in a message headed “URGENT.” It certainly was. That night, we found out that a possible church-state violation would occur two days later.
The next night, we prepared to monitor the distribution and ensure the group was following the rules. These were pretty simple rules: The Bibles were to be placed on tables which could not be attended by anybody, and no volunteer from World Changers Florida — the group behind the distribution — could speak to any student. (It’s called “passive distribution.”) Members of the group I lead at my school, Wekiva Atheist and Secular Alliance (WASA), would take notes and pictures if they broke the rules. (Students at a few of the many other schools receiving Bibles prepared to do the same.)
Wednesday came… and, as expected, they broke the rules.
Tables covered with Bibles appeared during lunch, one just outside the cafeteria, one inside. Both were looked after by people talking to students. (The people came from a different group, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but they were at the tables, nonetheless.)
We decided not to worry too much about the broken rules because we figured there was a better way to make a point. If the school only allowed Christians to proselytize in schools, that would be unfair, no doubt a violation of church-state separation. The only way it would be fair is if everyone — Jews, Muslims, Scientologists, Ron Paul supporters, The Flat Earth Society, etc. — could hand out their own materials. That included atheists, too. So we asked the school if they would allow other groups the same right the Christians had, and they assured us that we would (provided we met certain criteria… though I can’t imagine the Good Book passed any sort of “appropriateness” test).
As it turns out, the Freedom From Religion Foundation prints these pamphlets called nontracts, colorful little booklets discussing topics like, “Sex and Obscenity in the Bible,” “Is America a Christian Nation?” and “What is a Freethinker?” Not only would most of the kids at my school learn a great deal from reading these, but asking to distribute them would let us test the fairness of the school board’s policy. Unlike the Bible pushers, though, we would follow the rules, put the pamphlets on the table, and walk away.
David and CFFC are working on that as we speak, but the media response to this story has been inspiring — I mean the real, mainstream, corporate media. Local ABC and FOX affiliates, and the Orlando Sentinel, have all reported on this story, including our side of it, and they did it fairly; that would have been unheard of a decade ago.
There are a few possible outcomes here.
First is that the school board doesn’t allow us to distribute our materials, which could possibly lead to a lawsuit.
Second is that they decide to ban all distribution of outside materials. (This is what we ultimately want.)
Third is that they let us come in… and then other groups decide to come in… and our public schools become bustling marketplaces where everyone wants a chance to convert the students. If that happens, the board will probably ban outside materials altogether which, again, is just what we want.
Despite its myriad flaws, I like my school. I want everyone else there to like it, and that means fighting to ensure that everyone is treated fairly. So far, with the support of the secular movement at large, we’re getting there.