FFRF Sues Florida School District Over Literature Discrimination

You may recall that, back in January, World Changers of Florida, Inc. held Bible distributions at a number of public high schools in Orange County. No student would be forced to take one, but there would be a table set up where interested students could take a copy if they wanted one:

This alone could have been illegal, but the Orange County School Board agreed that non-Christian groups could also have a distribution if they wanted. The Central Florida Freethought Community called their bluff and planned their own giveaway.

The only problem was that the atheist giveaways were heavily censored:

Orange County Public Schools insisted on vetting the freethought literature from FFRF and other secular groups. It censored many of the materials, including “Letter to a Christian Nation,” Sam Harris’ book; “The Truth,” an essay by Robert G. Ingersoll; “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.”

The school board obviously had no issue with rape or violence since they allowed the Bible in… but why would anyone censor Letter to a Christian Nation or Why I am Not a Muslim?

In fact, the list of literature that was censored is long and much of it makes little sense:

The school board offered some flimsy explanations for their decisions, but FFRF is betting that the courts won’t buy them either. It really just boils down to, “AHHH! ATHEISTS!” So earlier today, FFRF filed a federal lawsuit (PDF) against the district:

The school district prohibited one book because its message that Jesus was not crucified or resurrected “is age inappropriate for the maturity levels of many of the students in high school.” However, the bible that the school approved for distribution claims that [Jesus was] crucified and resurrected. “Permitting one viewpoint (the crucifixion and resurrection occurred) and censoring the opposing viewpoint (the crucifixion and resurrection did not occur) is unconstitutional,” FFRF’s complaint states.

The complaint lists dozens of factual examples of how secular materials and secular volunteers were treated differently from the World Changers and the biblical material:

  • The district objected to the Harris book for describing “the sacrifice of virgins, killing and eating of children in order to ensure the future fertility of mothers, feeding infants to sharks, and the burning of widows so they can follow their husbands into the next world.” FFRF’s complaint notes that the concepts flagged as age inappropriate all appear in the bible.
  • WCF put up interactive whiteboards, had volunteers staffing tables to talk with students and passed out invitations to worship at the Orlando Wesleyan Church. Plaintiffs attempted to pass out a pizza party invitation but were censored at several schools. Freethought volunteers had to wait up to an hour at some schools to set up.

FFRF has a strong case that the district is engaging in viewpoint discrimination, but even if they don’t win, they may get the school board to reconsider opening its doors to any religious group ever again.

That’s really the ideal outcome.

Atheists just want equal treatment — but in cases like these, it’d be perfectly fine if the school just said no to all religious and atheist groups entirely. They didn’t do that this year, and they can only blame themselves for all the mistakes they made when choosing which literature was acceptable for students to take.

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.


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