Florida Christian groups teamed up to distribute free Bibles in public schools in recognition of Religious Freedom Day, the latest episode in an ongoing squabble between Christians and atheists in central Florida.
The Florida Family Policy Council and World Changers of Florida, two Christian organizations, along with a number of local churches left free copies of the Bible in soft and hardback at Orange and Collier County public schools Thursday. Volunteers left stacks of Bibles on tables at nine schools with signs indicating that they were free, receiving a “really good, positive response,” according to one FFPC member.
A U.S. district court judge approved the action, overturning a challenge by atheist groups with the argument that not permitting the Christian groups would violate their religious freedom. World Changers sued the Collier County School Board three years ago for refusing to let them give out the Bibles. The U.S. district court decided that if the Bibles are made passively available, they must be permitted. A lawyer for Orange County agreed, and the school board sent out a memo explaining they are permitting the groups to avoid a lawsuit.
"This is a great opportunity for students who may never be exposed to Christianity to own and read a book that is not only the best-selling book of all times, but is the most important piece of literature in the development of western civilization," said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council.
An attorney for the Central Florida Freethought Community, an atheist group that sued Orange County after the school board barred them from handing out their own literature in response to the Bible distributors, called the Bible giveaway repeat on Religious Freedom Day “extremely frustrating.”
“The best way to protect religious freedom is to keep church and state separate," he told the Orlando Sentinel. "To use schools to promote Christianity is betraying that legacy."
Seidel, who works for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said that the Bible distribution means schools can’t restrict other literature that contains sex and violence, as those are pervasive in the good book.