I recently wrote about an Oklahoma third grade teacher who handed out bibles to her students. Would you believe this problem is more widespread in Oklahoma than this single teacher? I know, get ready.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter today to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who is offering support to Oklahoma schools to “defend religious freedom”—which is what he calls making sure people can distribute bibles to public school students.
Pruitt sent a letter to every school district in Oklahoma saying he was aware that several Oklahoma school districts had been “threatened” by FFRF, and advised school districts that “it is in fact legal for schools to allow the dissemination of religious literature and that I will take a stand to defend the religious freedom of Oklahomans.”
It’s legal…ish. Equality must be preserved, which means if you let the Gideons distribute bibles on school property then the Satanic Temple will be right behind them with their coloring books and the FFRF will be right behind them with books on atheism.
And we know whose “religious freedoms” Scott Pruitt was talking about (hint, not the FFRF’s or the Satanic Temple’s). The freedom religious people have is to be treated with equality by the government, not to turn a captive audience of students into a congregation on school time.
I asked Andrew Seidel from the FFRF what Pruitt was talking about and Seidel told me via email:
We sent nearly 30 letters on bible distributions to Oklahoma this year alone. Two of the school districts we sent it to already closed their open forums in response, Checotah and Okemah. They initially said they were going to have open forums, but when I told them FFRF would like to distribute literature and referenced our Orange County lawsuit, they shut it down. I’ve been working with the attorney for many of these districts to get rid of the other policies. Eufaula School district “refused to allow the Gideons to distribute bibles… and instructed my administrators not to allow the Gideons to distribute bibles or religious material on school property.” Stidham public schools corrected the problem as well. I’ve attached some of the responses we’ve had.
Two of the districts, Okemah and Checotah, pushed back initially, saying they would let the Gideons onto campus for one day. You can read their letters of defiance here and here. If they look identical it’s because they are (same lawyer). However, both schools changed their minds after their district boards met, resulting in this letter and this letter. It’s amazing how quickly gears can change once people realize that non-Christians get access to this “religious freedom” as well.
The FFRF’s article on this also highlights the sneaky tactics of the Gideons and their ilk, as if Jesus wants people to succeed by subterfuge rather than honesty:
Several schools ended their open forum policies, with at least one superintendent confirming he did not know the Gideons had been allowed into the schools. Gideons typically operate by deliberately avoiding superintendents and school boards, seeking permission from lower-level, less informed staff members.
But the very best part of the article is what Seidel said to Pruitt:
Pruitt advised schools to implement a policy that allows for anyone to distribute literature to students on a neutral basis. Seidel informed him that several of the school districts contacted by FFRF already had such policies, but decided to “revisit the wisdom of these forums” after FFRF asked to distribute its own literature.
“It is obviously far easier for an Oklahoma student to get a hold of a bible than it is to get a hold of criticisms of the bible, which FFRF will seek to pass out in every public school forum that is opened under your offer. If the goal of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office is to allow public schools to be used to distribute atheist messages, then this is a brilliant idea,” said FFRF.
However, “FFRF prefers that public schools focus on education rather than serve as a venue for divisive religious debates.”
In short, these kids probably already know about Christianity. They may not know about atheism or the Satanic Temple. Do you really want to open that door? I mean, we’d prefer you didn’t, since school should be about education. But if you open that door, make no mistake: we’ll walk through it as far as we damn well please.