If The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist group, gets its way, it may be handing out controversial pamphlets in several Florida public high schools depicting a lecherous human-like Bible sexually assaulting a young woman.
The pamphlet is entitled: “An X-Rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible," and its cover features a cartoon illustration of a humanized Bible with a face, arms, and legs, reaching under the dress of a screaming woman who is trying to escape.
The FFRF's plans to distribute that and other atheist pamphlets at some Orange County high schools is at the center of a controversial dispute that has pitted school officials promoting appropriate environments for students against the atheist group asserting its First Amendment rights.
The pamphlet includes Biblical passages mentioning sex, nudity and circumcision, excerpts that the FFRF deems "obscene" and is including in its pamphlet to make a point that the Bible also contains explicit material.
“I think if you look at the content of that brochure and what is actually in the Bible, and some of the things that are in the Bible in terms of sex and compare that to the cover [of the pamphlet], the cover is pretty tame compared to anything that is in the Bible,” FFRF Legal Counsel Andrew Seidel told CNS News. “I think the bottom line is, you can’t consider any of our materials obscene when compared to the Bible,” he said.
On National Religious Freedom Day, which is Jan. 16, the Orange County Public Schools have allowed outside religious groups to passively distribute approved literature, like Bibles, for students to take should they choose. According to reports, FFRF plans to distribute "An X-Rated Book" and other pamphlets in 11 public high schools in Orange County, Florida, next year.
According to a news release posted on its website, the FFRF also plans to distribute other previously banned pamphlets that discuss what the Bible says about abortion and which, according to the school district, “assert that God is hateful, arrogant, sexist and cruel." It also plans to make available for students Robert Price’s Jesus Is Dead, which the district banned earlier because “[t]he claim that Jesus was not crucified or resurrected is age-inappropriate for the maturity levels of many of the students in high school.”
Will “An X-Rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible," and other similar titles be available for students in Orange County public high schools this January?
"No, no, no, that's a long way away," says Katherine Marsh, communications director for OCPS. "[The media] have perpetuated this terrible rumor that Satanists are coming in." She added, "It is incorrect to say that at this time this organization has asked for and received clearance to hand out this pamphlet in Orange County Public Schools."
Here's the back story: In 2013, the school district began allowing World Changers of Florida, a Christian group, to distribute Bibles at some of its public high schools on Freedom of Religion Day, according to CNS News. In response, the FFRF announced a plan to begin passing out packets of atheist literature, including “An X-Rated Book,” to some Orange County public high schools later that year. The atheist group submitted its materials to the Orange County school board for review, as per district rules, and the board banned about half of the literature the group planned to distribute, saying it was inappropriate.
“An X-Rated Book: This brochure may not be distributed,” OCPS Superintendent Barbara Jenkins wrote. “This brochure will cause substantial disruption and is age inappropriate. There is a picture on the cover of a Bible book given human features sticking its hand up the dress of a woman.”
On May 2, 2013, the FFRF distributed approved materials at some Orange County schools, but on June 13, 2013, the group filed a lawsuit against OCPS, claiming the school district had unlawfully discriminated against it and violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by banning certain materials, as reported by CNS News.
After talks with legal counsel, the school ultimately decided to allow the FFRF to distribute the materials that were previously banned and the lawsuit was dismissed.
“I think what they tried to say was basically we revisited our initial decision to censor the materials, and have reversed it. I think the reality is probably they were not allowed to do that,” Seidel told CNS News. “They cannot approve the Bible, which is full of all the things that are in the pamphlet, and then say that our materials are somehow obscene.”
“And then I think once their litigation and counsel, their lawyer, got to look at all this, he said this is a losing case,” Seidel said. “The best thing you can do now is approve it and the case will go away, for the most part.”
The controversy has created a hubbub in local and national media, but Marsh, of the OCPS, says it hasn't disrupted the school's staff, students, and parents.
"It’s done nothing as far as upsetting the school day or creating a disturbance," she says. "It seems like parents have voiced different views; some said [distributing religious and atheist literature] is fine if it's passive and a child can walk by it. Some said it's not appropriate for school. But there's been no large outcry that I was made aware of," she says.
The major misconception, Marsh told the Monitor, is that the FFRF will now distribute materials like “An X-Rated Book,” in Orange County Public Schools, as is being reported by some media organizations.
She quoted Woody Rodriguez, general counsel for the OCPS, who on Sept. 16, 2014, told a Fox 35 reporter, "Any materials that were previously rejected could be distributed, but to date no such requests have been made for the upcoming school year."
If the FFRF makes a request to distribute literature on Jan. 16, National Religious Freedom Day, is the school board now obliged to grant it permission?
"Must the school board do it?" Marsh asked. "No. The school board between now and then can say we’re not distributing any materials. The board can work on this with Woody Rodriguez and staff to say we don’t want any materials distributed. Period."
The FFRF, however, has indicated it will continue putting up a fight - and not just in Orange County, Florida.
As Seidel told CNS News, “We’re focusing on Orange County for the moment, but we will probably be expanding to other school districts that allow this."