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Public Schools Are No Place for Bible-Thumping–Or Any Other Thumping

| January 17, 2013

Detail from a Billy Graham moment. (Brent Moore)

Detail from a Billy Graham moment. (Brent Moore)

By Susan Clary

High school spells pressure for most teenagers, no matter the era. Decisions like where to sit in class and what to wear to the prom are balanced against more significant choices — whether to drink beer at a party, smoke pot or take drugs. Every decision can feel like the weight of the world.

This week parents in at least two Florida counties – Orange and Collier — have to worry about a new kind of pusher pressuring kids, the religious kind. The World Changers of Florida, Inc. is giving Bibles to students at several dozen high schools.

Two years ago, Collier County fought the distribution of Bibles and found itself embroiled in a lawsuit with the Liberty Counsel. A judge overturned the ban, citing equal access because the school district had previously allowed Bible distribution at an after-hours event for Religious Freedom Day.

Rather than fight the request, Orange County officials allowed the group “passive” distribution of the Bibles Wednesday to avoid legal action. This means the books were placed on tables in areas where students congregate. Members were not permitted to talk to students or hand them books.

There is nothing new about religious organizations invading public schools. The Gideons have been doing it for years. In 2008, a federal judge in Louisiana ruled a middle school was guilty of religious coercion for allowing the Gideons to distribute Bibles. In that case, the ACLU filed suit after students were pulled out of class and placed in line in front of the principal’s office to receive Bibles.

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In response to this week’s controversy, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to protect the separation of church and state, fired off a letter to Orange County asking officials to stop the distribution.

When that didn’t work, the Central Florida Freethought Community, a local chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, announced it had received approval Wednesday from Orange County Schools to distribute materials about atheism, agnosticism, and secular humanism to students. Members said it was important to counter the Christian group.

The Central Florida Freethought Community will provide books, pamphlets and brochures from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, and the Secular Student Alliance. These include “An X-Rated Book: Sex & Obscenity in the Bible,” “Ten Common Myths About Atheists,” and books by atheists Dan Barker and Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

Students of all faiths and traditions attend public schools and they deserve to be respected. We interfere with an already stressful time by making some of them feel like outsiders.

Our public schools are not the place for religious battles. They are places that should be free from recruitment by any particular religion or those espousing no religion. It’s embarrassing that we are entangling our tax dollars and our young people in this mess. Parents should decide what exposure their kids should have to religion and religious texts – in the privacy of their homes.

Formerly a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times and Orlando Sentinel, Susan Clary is a freelance writer who runs a nonprofit animal rescue in Orlando. She can be reached by email here.

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13 Responses for “Public Schools Are No Place for Bible-Thumping–Or Any Other Thumping”

  1. Magnolia says:

    I am much more embarrassed by the fact that schools are teaching that gay sex is ok. For many families, this is a religious issue and has no place in the schools, either.

    How about we skip the social issues and just go back to teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic?

  2. NortonSmitty says:

    I don’t see the problem here. Give them the bible. For many, it will be there first encounter with the Great Book. Most of them will throw it in the trash rather than read it. No harm, no foul. The rest will start reading it. Before they get through the first chapter about “who begat so and so who lived 900 years and begat this other one who lived 700 years” they will say to themselves “WTF, this is what we are supposed to believe?” and then they throw it in the trash. But they will be much more enlightened.

  3. MHS Student says:

    As a student in Matanzas, I agree with this article. Get your bible, Q’ran, religious scriptures away from my school. We don’t need theories or religious doctrine in public school funded by tax payers of different faith and diversity. I had enough of this religious bs. If you don’t like the way the system is taught in public school then go to a religious school.

  4. Geezer says:

    Give the teenagers books by Robert Ingersoll, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and my favorite, Christopher Hitchens. Now they’re ready to sample the King James Bible as literature.

    People should’t be hawking any books or religions to your kids during school hours.
    For that we have parochial schools.

    Kudos to Central Florida and First Coast Free Thought Society!

  5. Andy Nonymous says:

    Magnolia, homosexuality is biologically natural. How do we know this? SCIENCE – that other subject that may as well be thrown out using your absurd logic because it conflicts with religious doctrine. If you believe that schools are only a place for reading, writing and arithmetic, you live in a world of darkness.

  6. Stevie says:

    bigotry and censorship does not look good and prevents expanded learning.

    Can atheists talk to the students about their books? I think so.

  7. Since 1987 says:

    Passive distribution, I see no problem. That means the kids go and pick them up if they want them. I find it totally absurd that the Free Thought Society felt the need to “Counter” any Christian group. I guess they aren’t truly Atheists afterall. Whatever, its a disgusting state of affairs that this country has fell into that we bicker about handing out a Bible. It’s a piece of literature right? Aren’t we all about education and expanding our horizons?

    • Samuel Smith says:

      Totally agree about the literature comment, in fact I think all bibles should be passed out along with an obligatory copy of the Book of the Subgenius.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Schools are no place for the biases represented in the bible to be displayed. There are all the evils of the world in that document. The hero deity kills anyone who doesn’t believe it exists, destroys entire cities with all people in them for the crime of opposing its favored people, condons incest, and much more. The deity’s son comes along and says “Aw, he didn’t mean it. He’s really a fun guy!”, and then proceeds to mislead the people to believe that he dies, when he (the son) really knows that its just a fools game. This story doesn’t even make to the comic book level. How can we load our young people with such drivel?

  9. Interstingasusual says:

    Are people that afraid of the Bible? If so, it begs the question, why? For more than a hundred years, ‘”reading, writing, and even arithmetic” has included references, direct and indirect, to biblical circumstances. Our entire western civilization in which we live and which our laws, art, history, etc., are based on, and the foundation of our education system, is steeped in the Bible. Believe it contains spiritual or supernatural truths, or just acknowledge and accept it as a part of America’s rich tradition of literature. Your choice. To do otherwise is nothing less that pure ignorance. The fact that Americans have been spooked into removing the Bible from our classrooms and our curriculum is what should be a cause for concern. What could be next is a good bit of our classical literature and our very history–because to fully understand it, it helps to have at least a basic understanding of the Bible. This is what has been understood until now. That why whether secular or religious, private schools are not so quick to throw it out. And those who worry about whether Dawkins and others are in our schools, worry not. He’s firmly embedded in most science texts, as are other free thinkers, evolutionists and atheists. Soon, the only ones left will be the ones who put this great nation together. Think on that for awhile.

  10. jane says:

    What’s wrong with that? It’s a teaching moment. If the schools can teach some of the crap they currently teach, why can’t the students learn something more?

  11. Deep South says:

    I see nothing wrong with a student accepting a bible. This might be the only opportunity that he or she will have religion in their lives.

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