ORLANDO, Fla. – A Christian group in Florida was not allowed to distribute Bibles for Religious Freedom Day on Friday after the school district decided to change its policy on distribution by outside groups when a New York-based Satanic organization sought last fall to pass out coloring books to students.
As previously reported, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) learned in 2013 that the Christian ministry World Changes had made Bibles available to Orlando high school students on “Religious Freedom Day.” To counter the Bible distribution, FFRF sought permission from the school district to give students a variety of atheistic and anti-Christian materials.
According to reports, the Orange County School Board permitted FFRF to distribute several books and pamphlets, including a booklet entitled “What’s Wrong With The Ten Commandments?” and a brochure entitled “What Is An Atheist?” However, the board prohibited FFRF from giving students several other publications, citing the materials’ “disruptive” and inappropriate content.
FFRF promptly sued the school board for not allowing the distribution of the materials, and eventually it complied with the organization’s demands. In July, a district judge officially dismissed the FFRF lawsuit, thus giving the green light to the in-school distribution of atheistic materials.
Following the decision, the New York-based Satanic Temple announced last September that it would likewise distribute its publications to area schools so that it can have its equal time before students.
“I am quite certain that all of the children in these Florida schools are already aware of the Christian religion and it’s Bible, and this might be the first exposure these children have to the actual practice of Satanism,” spokesperson Lucien Greaves wrote in a press release about the matter. “We think many students will be very curious to see what we offer.”
One of the items that the group sought to distribute was The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities, which includes a coloring page that features “Annabel’s study filled with Satanic literature and philosophy,” a pentagram connect the dots complete with a goat’s head, and a secret code that reads “Satana Blessed Be.”
But the Orange County School board said in November that the distribution policy was being abused through these efforts and had become a distraction to the learning environment. It then moved to consequently ban the distribution of all religious materials in order to end the competition between the various groups.
“This really has, frankly, gotten out of hand,” Orange County Chairman Bill Sublette told reporters. “I think we’ve seen a group or groups take advantage of the open forum we’ve had. … In my office alone I had received close to 11,000 emails in one period on this issue, and it gives you an idea of the level of disruption it was causing.”
“Everyone’s upset about the Satanists and the atheists coming,” added board member Christine Moore.
Now, the district has put a halt to all requests from outside groups until it revises its distribution policy. Officials will be working on the matter over the next month, with a meeting scheduled for next week.
“The Bible distributions are a good thing,” said Roger Gannam of Liberty Counsel. “They haven’t caused any problems, but now by creating controversy this group is maybe perhaps getting what it wants.”
David Williamson of FFRF admitted that it is indeed the case.
“We don’t want our schools to become religious battlefields,” he told WFTV. “We’ve advocated all along to close the forum.”