One Florida public school district has halted passive distribution of Bibles and other religious materials in its high schools during observance of National Freedom of Religion Day on Jan. 16 after a satanic organization announced its intention to distribute a coloring book in the schools.
WFTV News reports Orange County Public School officials announced last week they would be amending the policy that allowed tables to be set up in schools from which students could collect Bibles and pamphlets containing other religious and secular information.
The battle over those tables dates back to January 2013 when World Changers of Florida, Inc. first requested that it be able to set up the tables a distribute Bibles.
A recent post on Patheos recounts the debate that ensued, which included the Central Florida Freethought Community, or CFFC, requesting permission to also distribute books like “Letter to a Christian Nation” by prominent atheist author Sam Harris. When the school system denied the request, the CFFC filed a federal lawsuit against the district in June 2013 with the help of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who argued that if Christian material could be distributed, then the district had to allow for distribution of other material as well.
Before a judge could rule on the lawsuit, the district relented and agreed to open the tables to distribution of literature about all faiths and atheism.
Subsequent to that decision, an organization called The Satanic Temple announced its intention to distribute a coloring book on the tables.
School officials balked.
“This really has, frankly, gotten out of hand,” School Board Chairman Bill Sublette is quoted as saying in a November 2014 article in the Orlando Sentinel. “I think we've seen a group or groups take advantage of the open forum we've had.”
Kathy Marsh, communications director for the district, was quoted Wednesday by CNS News, saying that no distribution would occur in January until the distribution policy had a chance to be “reworked” to avoid future problems.
“The intent would be to create a policy that would prevent potential distributors of information from-- or assist, I should say, assist potential distributors of information so they fully understand what is and isn’t allowed, and they don’t run into an area that is gray. So we can make it extremely clear to them that which is welcome in Orange County Public Schools, and that which is not,” Marsh explained.
David Williamson, of the CFFC, said halting the policy and possibly closing the schools off to distribution of religious materials altogether was exactly what his organization had hoped for.
“We don’t want our schools to become religious battlefields,” he said. “We’ve advocated all along to close the forum.”