***Update***: You can see the coloring book The Satanic Temple plans to give away right here.
In January of 2013, World Changers of Florida, Inc. held Bible distributions at a number of public high schools in Orange County, Florida. 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:
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 (CFFC) called their bluff and planned their own giveaways.
The only problem was that their books 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 censored literature was long and much of it made little sense:
The school board offered some flimsy explanations for their decisions, but the Freedom From Religion Foundation didn’t buy them — and they felt that the courts wouldn’t either since it really just boiled down to, “AHHH! ATHEISTS!” So, in June of last year, FFRF filed a federal lawsuit 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.
The point of the lawsuit was simple: If you’re letting Christians hand out materials promoting their beliefs, you can’t stop atheists (and others) from doing the same. To argue otherwise is viewpoint discrimination. The district must allow everyone or no one.
A couple of months ago, a district judge dismissed FFRF’s lawsuit — but not on its merits. Judge Kendall Sharp noted that the school district has since allowed FFRF to distribute all the books it previously prohibited, making this lawsuit irrelevant:
In this case, the circumstances are sufficiently clear that the alleged wrongful behavior — Defendant’s initial prohibition of a subset of the materials that Plaintiffs sought to distribute — will not recur in the future.
Defendant has unambiguously expressed its position that each of the materials Plaintiffs sought to distribute will be unconditionally allowed.
The result of that ruling made clear that the district would allow any group, religious and non-religious, to distribute literature to students in a passive way.
Personally, it would be much better if they banned the book distributions altogether, but as long as they’re treating all groups equally, no problem.
And now we’re seeing the consequences of the school board’s decision.
Today, the Satanic Temple announced that it would join in on the fun:
… The Satanic Temple has announced they will follow suit by providing Satanic materials to students during the new school year. Among the materials to be distributed are pamphlets related to the Temple’s tenets, philosophy and practice of Satanism, as well as information about the legal right to practice Satanism in school.
The Satanic Temple’s spokesperson, Lucien Greaves, explains, “We would never seek to establish a precedent of disseminating our religious materials in public schools because we believe our constitutional values are better served by respecting a strong separation of Church and State. However, if a public school board is going to allow religious pamphlets and full Bibles to be distributed to students — as is the case in Orange County, Florida — we think the responsible thing to do is to ensure that these students are given access to a variety of differing religious opinions, as opposed to standing idly by while one religious voice dominates the discourse and delivers propaganda to youth.”
In other words, thanks to Christians, children will now be exposed to Satanism.
Damn, I love the Constitution.
In a statement, FFRF reiterated its desire to ban all distributions of this kind:
FFRF does not believe that satanists or Christians or even atheists should be distributing literature to public school students. We have given Orange County every opportunity to close the distribution forum and repeatedly asked them to do so. Each time, they have refused. FFRF does not endorse the New York based Satanic Temple’s literature any more than we would endorse the bible or think it should be given to students. However, Orange County Public Schools cannot legally prevent the temple from distributing its literature.
It’s not hypocritical to want the district to stop the giveaways while still wanting an all-inclusive policy.
Remember: The school board members brought this upon themselves. If anyone wants to complain, then talk to them.
I think we can sum up all of this with a line I once read in a book:
A man reaps what he sows.
(Large portions of this article were posted earlier.)