One of the largest school systems in the country with more than 180,000 students, OCPS had allowed World Changers of Florida, a Christian group, in conjunction with the Florida Family Policy Council to passively distribute Bibles to high school students on Jan. 16 -- which is National Freedom of Religion Day -- for the past three years.
Under the school system’s policy at the time, Bibles could be placed on a table in a common area for students to pick up if they chose to do so.
Last year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group, sued for the right to distribute its own literature after losing a battle to have all outside materials banned from the schools. One of the group’s proposed pamphlets included a small leaflet titled “An X-Rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible.”
The front cover of the pamphlet depicts a graphic cartoon Bible sexually assaulting a screaming woman.
In addition, as CNSNews.com reported, the Satanic Temple also announced plans to pass out literature in Orange County high schools, including “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.”
After initially refusing to allow FFRF to distribute “An X-Rated Book,” along with a few of the group’s other materials, the school system relented in the midst of a heated court battle and gave the group permission to pass out all of their proposed materials “without condition,” according to court documents.
But now, OCPS has stated it will not allow any materials to be distributed, including atheist pamphlets, Satanist coloring books -- or Bibles.
“Nothing’s going to be going on in this district this month,” confirmed Kathy Marsh, communications director for OCPS.
Marsh said no materials will be allowed from outside groups until the school system’s distribution policy can be “reworked” to avoid future problems. The school system is currently in talks with its attorneys to hash out the most efficient policy, she added.
“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.
While similar to the original policy, the school system’s new proposed policy states that “Materials of a denominational, sectarian, religious, political and partisan nature shall not be permitted to be distributed.”
For Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger, the school board’s decision to ban Bible distribution in the face of opposition was “unfortunate.”
“It required courage on their part, which is lacking,” he said. He believes the school board caved in to pressure after concerned parents spoke out at board meetings against Satanist materials being made available in schools.
“This is precisely what the Freedom From Religion people want,” Stemberger added. “They want to get rid of religion, and that’s their strategy. And everybody’s played into the strategy. It’s unfortunate.”
Not making Bibles available to students who want them removes a Christian voice from public schools, and also keeps students from accessing an important piece of history, Stemberger added.
“It further underscores the public school experience as a completely secular experience, meaning God is not mentioned, God is not recognized, and God is not incorporated in any way -- which is an unfortunate thing,” he said.
“Irrespective of whether someone’s a Christian or not, I think the Bible is something that is one of the key documents that gives us Western civilization and is one of the greatest pieces of literature of all time. It is clearly the best-selling book of all time of any culture anywhere in the world. So the fact that children are not being exposed to that, those who attend public school, is an unfortunate thing.”
Stemberger said the FFPC will remain active in the discussions surrounding any future policy decisions. “If they have study groups or positions that are open, we will attend them and attempt to talk with them about this.”
A representative from the Freedom From Religion Foundation was not immediately available for comment.
The Orange County School Board will meet to discuss the proposed changes to the policy on Jan. 29.