A mission group on Thursday sued a Florida district school board for banning Bible distribution on public school campuses on Religious Freedom Day.
For years, the Collier County School District allowed World Changers to offer Bibles to interested students during non-school hours on Jan. 16 in honor of Religious Freedom Day. But since last year, the superintendent and the Community Request Committee have refused to grant permission to the Southern Baptist Convention-related mission group to do so.
School officials claim Bibles do not provide any educational benefit to the students and thus distribution should stop.
But Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, the legal group representing World Changers, pointed out that many of the founding fathers learned to read using the Bible.
"How sad that on the eve of Independence Day, when we celebrate the religious and political freedom our forefathers won for us at the cost of much blood and great sacrifice, we are compelled to sue to protect the right simply to make free Bibles available to students in public schools," said Staver.
"The distribution of religious literature in a forum opened for secular literature is constitutionally protected," he asserted.
World Changers, Staver noted, makes it clear to students that its activities are not endorsed by the school and that receiving a Bible is voluntary. The school district has misunderstood the First Amendment, he said.
"There is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect," he stated.
Jerry Rutherford, president of World Changers, had set up tables offering free Bibles to high school students on Religious Freedom Day in 2007 and 2008 without problem. But last year his request for permission was denied by Superintendent Dennis Thompson.
Liberty Counsel wrote a letter last year on behalf of Rutherford asking the board to reverse the decision. But the board refused to do so.
"We're losing our religious freedoms and that is very scary to me," Rutherford said earlier, according to WINK News.
Each year, the U.S. President declares Jan. 16 to be Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the 1786 passage of Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.