We Need Hamilton County (Tennessee) Parents to Start Distributing Non-Christian Books

At least one Hamilton County (Tennessee) public elementary school is giving away Bibles to students. But it’s okay, you know, because their parents have to sign a permission slip first:

It all started with a permission slip.

The one Mitzi Yates found among the papers in her fifth-grader’s backpack. If she signed it, it would allow him to bring home a copy of the Gideon New Testament from McConnell Elementary.

An article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press talks about the legal battles over permission distributions. In short, either no religious texts can be given out (even with permission slips) or they all can be given out.

The ACLU, FFRF, and Americans United would rather no religious distribution be allowed. It just muddies the water between church and state and parents already can take their children to church as they wish. Why should a school district get involved in that? That makes a lot of sense.

But as it stands, the school district — knowing full well that Christianity is the most popular religion in the area — is saying that anything goes.

Hamilton County’s practice is all-or-nothing when it comes to making outside materials available to students, said school board attorney Scott Bennett. If a principal allows the Boy Scouts to distribute leaflets, then the same privilege must be afforded to the Gideons, Catholic groups or Muslim groups.

“We cannot create a barrier to the distribution of religious literature that is not in place for secular literature,” Bennett said. “We have to be viewpoint-neutral.”

Okay. So this is an easy thing to test. We need atheist parents, Pagan parents, Muslim parents, and all other non-Christian parents to have the schools distribute a pamphlet or holy book of their own choosing.

If they can’t say no, we’ll make things as awkward as possible.

But it begins with parents who can volunteer to take charge of the distribution. Who’s in?

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.

  • Sue Blue

    Does the FFRF or Secular Student Alliance or any other humanist/atheist group offer free pamphlets that atheists can hand out? Can we start a fund to buy copies of books like Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” (probably a little too advanced for fifth grade but perfect for high schools), “The Magic of Reality” or other atheist books? I’d love to donate some books but my copies are precious to me. I’d donate to buy some, though. I don’t know if atheist groups can get free promo copies of books like these, but it’d be worth checking out.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

      http://ffrf.org/publications/brochures ?

      And although they’re a bit dated, the works of Robert G. Ingersoll are all in the public domain now.

      (I will not mention the various online locations where copies of The God Delusion can be obtained for free, since not all of them are strictly legal)

    • Blacksheep

      The problem with books like “The God Delusion” is that (by default) the very premise is critical of religious thought, while the Bible is mainly about what it believes. One is saying “I believe this” and the other is saying “you are wrong.” / “What you believe is false.” It’s a subtle distinction, because everyone thinks their viewpoint is the right one, but it’s worth noting

      • http://twitter.com/KevinSagui Kevin Sagui

        Pretty sure the Bible explicitly says everybody else is wrong, too.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

        The “problem” with books like “The God Delusion” is that it argues in favor of atheism.

        At least it doesn’t promote genocide and rape like the bible does.

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

          don’t forget incest and slavery!

          • Lurker111

            The incest and slavery prohibitions were on the third tablet.

  • Gus Snarp

    “We cannot create a barrier to the distribution of religious literature that is not in place for secular literature,” Bennett said. “We have to be viewpoint-neutral.”

    I’m not sure that’s legally correct, or why it would be. You have to be viewpoint neutral with regard to anything that makes a statement on religion (you must allow all religions to distribute, as well as atheist material, if you allow one), but I don’t think you have to be neutral when the material is “secular”, if we’re defining that as not saying anything whatsoever, positive or negative, about religion.

    • E. Cedric

      Hey! Gussy is playing erudite again! This is funny!

    • Anna

      This is fundamentalists’ newest tactic in trying to infiltrate the public schools. They claim viewpoint discrimination if they are not allowed to form religious groups or hand out religious material.

      For more on the subject, I’d recommend The Good News Club by Katherine Stewart.

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

      They don’t have to allow criminal advocacy. Aside from that, yes, once a limited forum is created, restrictions must be viewpoint-neutral. I think Rosenberger v UVA is the most recent SCOTUS case covering it.

      (There might be some question from earlier case law as to whether a full fledged forum is created here, but allowing distribution of Bibles would seem to suggest it is.)

  • Gus Snarp

    I think there’s a very good reason to allow no religious distributions at all, permission slip or not, over allowing all. That is that students could find themselves ostracized and bullied when it is seen that they did not take the Bible, or that they did take the Koran or the God is Not Great. That’s a real problem since it creates an obvious pressure to conform and take the Christian materials and pretend to be a Christian, or even become one.

  • E. Cedric

    Again in the south. These hillbilly fucktards seem to think EVERY and ANY gathering of people is church. Doens’t matter about the laws, if it is appropriate or such, but anyplace people gather, gotta be god. Why do these hicks not try this at movie theaters? There are tons of people gathering at those. Why not bars? Laundromats? What about bank lines? How about Synagogues? You have lots of people gathering there, so why not try some Jesusy shit at the synagogue? Or he local FFA, or 4A, or well….you get the point.

    It is always the south. What is with these inbreds? Is it the water supply? Are they not getting enough O2? Are they all results of FAS or Meth addicted mothers?

    Someone help me out with this south of the Mason-Dixon line mandatory retardation syndrome.

    • SeekerLancer

      You might want to move a bit above the Mason-Dixon line with all the crap Pennsylvania legislature has been pulling lately.

      • E. Cedric

        Pennsyltucky is basically just an extension of the south, it is just no one has had the heart to tell them that yet.

    • Gus Snarp

      You might want to respond to the actions and arguments made in the form of your own argument instead of just ranting with the worst slurs against southerners, rural people, and the mentally disabled. So far I’m marking you down as the person who’s made the stupidest remarks about this, on either side, because you thought everyone would yuck along with your piss poor attempt at humor.

      Oh, and if you don’t think they’re proselytizing in bars, laundromats, bank lines, the FFA, and 4H (not 4A), then you don’t get out much. Also, the FFA is usually a school sponsored group that meets on campus, often during school hours as an actual class. And synagogues are not likely to be found at all.

      • E. Cedric

        You might want to not tell thers to rant the way you wish they would; the way you feel the world should be; or the way you want them to.

        I will rant however I want. Frankly, I don’t give a fuck if you yuck along or not. You tend to be a humorless twit anyway. So, take your little PC ass away from my fucking post if you don’t fucking like it you fucking twit.

        • Gus Snarp

          Why is it that you seem to have the same syndrome that many Christians and conservatives have that you think people are trying to issue commands because they make suggestions?

          Frankly, you can do and say whatever you want, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to simply remain silent in the face of your hateful bile and not point it out as what it is. If you choose to continue to be an asshole once you’ve been informed that you’re being an asshole, that’s entirely your problem.

          Oh, and for the record, you’re just wrong. There’s nothing uniquely Southern about Christianity being forced on public school students.

          The ignorant people are the entitled Christians, not southerners. Oh, and you, apparently.

          • E. Cedric

            Here Gussy Baby – This is just for you and your overly PC sandbox bullshit:

            It’s now very common to hear people say’I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights; it’s actually nothing more…it’s simply a whine. ‘I Find that offensive,’ it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘ I am offended by that,’ Well so fucking what?’

            - Stephen Fry

            I don’t care what colour you are. I don’t care where you’re from. I don’t care what you do for a living. I don’t care what class you are, how you dress, what you smoke or drink or who you know or whom you’ve fucked.

            I hate you all. I hate every last living, breathing, snot and feces producing, promiscuously copulating, celebrity obsessed, opinionated one of you. From right here in Los Angeles right around the planet and back, coast to coast, nationwide and internationally. Every. Single. Last. One. Of. You.

            Fuck love. Fuck your insipid grasping at some abstract concept of chemical imbalances and reasonless actions, fumbling around in the crowd trying to find some cinematic supposition for real human interaction. Fuck lust, too. Fuck you all, from the lowlife dirtbags that think dropping trou and waving the little soldier in a sloppy arc is a pick-up line to the sniveling of the desperate ‘nice guys’ who never get the girl due to a total lack of testosterone grown stones. Fuck you all, from the crazy, under dressed sluts that judge a persons character by the price of their shirt, right down to the fat, flabby chicks that think personality is enough.

            Fuck you drivers, for thinking that a yellow light is a sign that says ‘step on the gas’. Fuck you wheelmen and women that think it’s okay to sit in a left hand turn in the middle of morning traffic, even though there is a protected left in the intersections before and after where you need to make your turn. Fuck you too cyclists – you’re not exempt from the traffic laws just because your peddling, you miserable spandex covered neon reflective fucks. Fuck you too, pedestrians. Use the fucking crosswalk if you don’t want to get hit, and use it before the little countdown clock says ’3′. You don’t have enough goddamn time to lope across four lanes of traffic.

            Fuck you chick on your cellphone. Fuck you attitude packed minimum-wager that makes my coffee. Fuck you cops that spend all their time handing out speeding tickets. Fuck you douche bag doing ten over the limit in the passing lane on the highway. Fuck you lady using exact change at the counter at the grocery store. Fuck you kids having a conversation in the doorway. And fuck you also for not getting the fuck out of your designated handicapped seat when a pregnant or elderly person gets on the fucking bus.

            Fuck taxes. Fuck welfare. Fuck the whole selfish, over politicized and party driven government system. I’m sick and fucking tired of policies and new laws with seven hundred bylaws that nobody but you and your cabinet reads. Fuck you councilors and your stupid ‘district improvement’ plans. Fuck you unions, for asking for so much and giving nothing more that what you already give. Fuck the whole process that allows people who are supposed to be working for us work for interests that only benefit the next campaign. Fuck your short-sightedness, your rush to the bandwagons, and your incessant arguing over fuck all. Fuck the parties, fuck the conventions, and fuck your campaigns. Do some real fucking work for a change.

            Fuck you bottles of water. You’re water. You’re not worth two fucking dollars.

            Fuck you trendsetters, fuck you fashionistas. Fuck your little dogs and and your idiotic outfits. Fuck your high heels in the snow. Fuck your five dollar coffees and your fifteen dollar veggie burgers. Fuck your health kick, your diet or your fucking new interest in kickboxing or sushi.

            Fuck your culture. Fuck your race. Fuck your sense of entitlement. Fuck your sense of uniqueness. Fuck you all for the belief that you have something unique and interesting to contribute. Fuck you for filling the internet with your useless garbage. Fuck your blogs, your wikis, your forums. Fuck your name calling. And most of all, fuck whatever you believe. It’s all wrong. Fuck it.

            Fuck your complaints. Fuck your addictions. Fuck your dependencies. Fuck your pain. Fuck your tears. Fuck selling whatever it is you sell. Fuck your manipulation of others. Fuck movies. Fuck fucking. Fuck everything you own. Fuck your allergies. Fuck your stupid commons sense. Fuck your spelling and fuck your lack of education, or your ignorance, whatever is applicable.

            I don’t give a fuck. Shut the fuck up and just get on with it.

            • Gus Snarp

              I didn’t read most of that, but since I knew the Stephen Fry quote was coming, I’d like to address it directly. First, Stephen was simply wrong when he said it, and he either knows it, thinks of it as applying to particular situation, or is not being honest about it.

              I expect it comes from the position of doing comedy, which make no mistake, you are not doing nor do you seem to have even a passing familiarity with it, where offense can have purpose and there are more grey areas, and partly from addressing issues like religion where people are quick to take offense and to seek redress for that offense in some legal manner when someone simply points out the inconsistencies of their arguments, and partly from just being a celebrity with an internet presence.He’s right that there’s no right to not be offended, but pointing out when something is offensive is not a whine. Basic humanity ought to make anyone consider whether they’re being offensive. It certainly shouldn’t be the only deciding factor in what you say, sometimes it’s worth being offensive, particularly if what you’re saying is actually making an argument and the offense has nothing to do with it.

              But Stephen, and most humans, in regular life DO make an effort not to be offensive. Certainly not to be offensive for the sake of offensiveness. There are a lot of good reasons for this, both ethical and practical.

              Make no mistake, you have none of these excuses. You’re just an asshole.

              • E. Cedric

                And you are just a blowhard PC asswipe with a misplaced sense of……I dunno….mensies?

                Gussy baby, you admit you did not even read what I wrote, yet you seem to believe you know what I wrote. Says more about you then me.

                And Gussy, as long as you found a way to feel superior, that is the important thing for little fucks like you, isn’t it.

                No, you do not get to speak for Stephen Fry. You a friend of his? If no, then how dare you try and interpret what he said as anything other than what he said.

                No, you are an impotent little Internet asswipe who has no other way of venting. As for comedy and jokey-jokes, you are welcome to come out to LA and watch my act shit stain, and until you do, or you do your own act, you got nothing shitwad.

                • Andy

                  Troll

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

                  And you are sexist and xenophobic. Cut those out.

                • E. Cedric

                  Hey, and your girlfriend is ugly. Now we have all said things that are untrue! This is fun!

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

                  I have not said anything that is untrue here. You have been throwing around sexist and xenophobic slurs. Stop it.

                  And you should also consider that your reaction to people calling you on your sexist and xenophobic words is to say “I can be as insulting as I want” and then throw insults at the people who called on what you said. That is not a good thing. The better thing to do is to consider the harm that perpetuating harmful stereotypes does, and to stop doing so.

                • E. Cedric

                  Hey, little boy, when did you get elected to ettiquette and speech police leader/dictator? Never, then you need to get off your alleged perch of self-importance and go play with your little fifi. I am very sick of little asswipes such as yourself thinking you have the right to dictate thought and speech all because you perceive something that may or may not be true.

                  You are among the most humorless of fuckwads to ever come down the pike.

                • E. Cedric

                  And you are a walking stereotype; the stereotype of uptight PC liberal. Seriously. Go pour a nice tall Gin and Tonic, and enjoy a nice session of heavy petting with your heavy GF.

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

                  Stripping away the numerous irrelevant and misplaced insults, your responses to me can be summarized with little loss as “Shut up”. But that does nothing to change the harm you do by perpetuating sexism, ableism, and xenophobia.

                  If you truly don’t understand how saying things like “you’re angry, you must be menstruating” or “everyone from [place X] is inbred and ignorant” does harm to society, then you are disturbingly poorly informed.

                  And, a final note: Something being politically correct does not make it good. But nor does something being politically incorrect. Saying bigoted things merely makes you a bigot.

                  I encourage you to think about that. Goodbye.

            • Renshia

              Cedric, when you use quotes, you should use the ” ones, not ‘, ones. Okay?

            • Taneli Huuskonen

              ITYM “you’re pedaling” and “common sense.”

              You’re welcome.

            • meekinheritance

              It looks like somebody’s got a case of The Mondays.

    • anniewhoo

      Always? I think if you check the article just before this one you will see that the US deals with the infringement of the separation of church and state in many areas of our nation. Last I checked, Massachusetts was north of the Mason-Dixon.

      • Mario Strada

        It’s spreading already!!!

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

      You might look into the environmental effects of increased parasite load on the metabolism in more tropical climates.

    • My2Cents

      I live in Georgia and I am neither a hillbilly, nor a fucktard. I am hopelessly drowning in a sea of goddies and I don’t like it, but feel that anti-christian materials would not be received well. (to say the least). In my humble opinion, I think we need to introduce the idea that these students should have the right to think for themselves and to ask questions rather than blindly believe what their parents/grandparents, etc. believe. It’s a softer approach and may be more readily accepted.

  • Wild Rumpus

    Much to my embarrassment, this also happens in Chilliwack, BC, Canada, where it was stopped in Fall 2012, but has just resumed as of March 2013. Exact same arguments. http://www.theprogress.com/news/198022691.html

    In Vancouver city, the majority of people are not religious… but 3 hours away we have our own Bible belt where Christians believe they should get special privileges.

  • LesterBallard

    Try it with a Koran and the air will be filled with drones.

  • Vision_From_Afar

    Close, but not me. You can bet your ass if this was in my neck of the woods, I’d take a week off and hit every high and middle school in the county. And I’m a Pagan. They’ll have a apoplexy fit if they screw with my neck of the woods.

  • Anthony

    The Bible, properly read, is already the best atheist document out there. Maybe just distribute a pamphlet with suggested verses for bible study and direct readers to absurd, bigoted, misogynist, slavery condoning, genocidal and factually wrong passages.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

      Too bad the Skeptic’s Annotated is 25 – 30 USD per hard-bound copy…

      • Ann Onymous

        One could distribute a flier with a few excerpts and a link to the site.

  • Renshia

    This would be a good time to pass out the skeptics annotated Bible.
    How could they refuse that?

  • Alice

    This is off-topic, but it seems like a pretty pointless program to me. The parents probably won’t sign the permission slip unless they are Christian, and if the children are growing up in a Christian household, then they almost certainly have access to at least one Bible, if not their own personal Bible. Even if the family is poor, bibles can be bought cheaply and plenty of religious organizations already give them out. And they can read any version they want on the internet for free. So why bother with the program in the first place?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

      To co-opt the authority of the school system, and by extension the government, in promoting their particular version of Christianity. This is not a new strategy (Hemant has previously described examples going back decades).

    • cary_w

      It does seem pretty absurd to hand out bibles in an elementary school, but I don’t think they are motivated by any kind of rational thought. In fact I doubt they even see the bibles as a way of converting anyone, rather I think they are motivated by the concept of “putting God back in the schools”. The bibles are there for protection, no one is expected to actually read them. These are the same kind of people that blame school shootings on the belief that America has “kicked God out of our schools” and that God is now punishing us by sending mass-murderers into elementary schools with assault rifles. They see handing out bibles akin to praying. If we all pray hard enough and get those magic bibles back in the schools, then God will start protecting innocent children again and we will have no more school shootings.

    • ShoeUnited

      People pay for Bibles?

      I’ve got so many and never bought one in my life.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    I think we could go big and go cheap. Rather than distributing books that cost $20-$40 and may just be vandalized or thrown out, an alternative is that simple 1-page fliers could be done for a tiny fraction of the cost. The flier could direct interested students to websites like EvilBible.com, WhyWontGodHealAmputees, FFRF, Americans United, American Humanists, YouTube Channels like “Atheist Experience”, NonStampCollector, etc.

    A hundred such fliers would cost about a dollar, and at that level of expense it could be done every month without busting anyone’s bank.

    Such fliers would plant the idea of an alternative to mainstream religious indoctrination, and kids would search out the internet sites. More importantly, before we even spent $10 of such fliers the religious folk would probably shut down the entire program, based on the steady stream of anti-religion permission slips that the kids would be bringing home.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      this was my thought as well.

    • meekinheritance

      Of course they would want it shut down, since they already got the leg up with their distribution plan.

  • Georgina

    Yes, accept the donation. Demand a Torah and Quoran along with The screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis) at the same time. I had to purchase these books to educate my child – and education about the holy books are the greatest protection against the ranting of demagogues. Know thy enemy.

    Reliance of the Traveller is also an absolute must,

  • Major Nav

    Being a reformed Catholic (aka atheist), I can tell you that 80-90% of Protestants and 110% of fundies do not consider Catholics true “Christians”. If you don’t believe me, just ask one. When those folks propose a prayer in school or government setting, insist that the “Hail Mary” be said. Hopefully they will get the point and withdraw the request (the exception being in heavily Catholic districts). They are dismissive of the other “heathen” religions but can’t entirely attack the Catholics. Displays of Mary statues, orthodox icons, and crucifixes (that is, specifically crosses with jesus nailed to it) are idolatry (see the Ten Commandments) to the protestants/fundies.
    Plan B of course is apply the Constitution.

  • Topher Kersting

    I’m in Chattanooga in Hamilton County, Tennessee, and my daughter is a kindergarten student at Normal Park Museum Magnet School. So, where do we start?

    • http://www.facebook.com/stevendiz Steven W. Disbrow

      Hey Topher, my kids will both be up the hill from your daughter at CCA next year. Friend me over on Facebook and we’ll cook something up for the 2013-2014 school year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stevendiz Steven W. Disbrow

    Well, I’ve already offered to distribute copies of “The God Delusion,” but, unfortunately, the Hamilton County School year ends on May 22nd. So, there isn’t enough time to get anything substantive going…. THIS year. :)

  • Clee White

    We are a faithful community and have seen what has happened to your city of residence. We pray over our city and know that you cannot harm us so please ask yourself why you harbor so much hatred. We live a life of peace and joy. We care for our children. They don’t have to walk through safe zones as yours do. How we decide to conduct ourselves is left to us, we don’t need an outsider’s help. We don’t pass out non-Christian material because no one is interested. We are happy and prosperous and don’t need your help or advice. That yearning and tugging feeling you have is God calling you. He loves you and put a yearning for Him in you from the moment you took your first breath. It is sad that you reject His love and supernatural power for your life. May God have mercy on your soul.


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