Atheist Group Accuses Fla. School District of Censorship, Files Lawsuit

An atheist group is suing a school district in Florida, claiming the school district practiced censorship when allowing the group to pass out literature pertaining to secularism in January. 

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and its local affiliate, Central Florida Freethought Community, filed a lawsuit this week with the U.S. District Court in Florida against the Orange County School District, arguing the school district gave preferential treatment to a conservative group by allowing it to distribute Bibles while pulling some of the Central Florida Freethought Community's planned distribution materials.

Some of these secularist themed books and pamphlets banned by the school district included "Jesus is Dead" and "An X-rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible," according to the FFRF's website. 

"We expected the School Board would provide us with the equal treatment we deserve," David Williamson of the Central Florida Freethought Community told the Orlando Sentinel.

"The fact that this was so blatantly denied should alarm all parents and taxpayers in Orange County," Williamson added.

The FFRF lawsuit claims that the school district banned one of the atheist group's books because it argued that Jesus' death and resurrection did not occur, yet it allowed for the distribution of the Bible, which affirms Jesus' death and resurrection. 

"Permitting one viewpoint [the crucifixion and resurrection occurred] and censoring the opposing viewpoint [the crucifixion and resurrection did not occur] is unconstitutional," the FFRF's complaint states.

But the school district argues that it has the right to ban certain materials which may be considered offensive or inappropriate for school children of a certain age.

The atheist group originally issued a complaint to the school district earlier in 2013, when it learned that the school district was allowing the World Changers of Florida conservative group to distribute Bibles on public school campuses in observance of National Religious Freedom Day.

The conservative group was able to disperse bibles on school campuses as a result of a successful 2010 lawsuit against Collier County, also in Florida, in which the county attempted to bar the group from bible distribution.

The school district then allowed the Central Florida Freethought Community to distribute its materials, and the atheist group ended up distributing 5,900 various brochures, booklets, and books on secularism to 11 schools in Orange County.

Both the atheist and the conservative group participated in "passive distribution," meaning the literature was placed on an unmanned table for students to pass by at lunch or during other school congregation times, but the table may not be manned at any point, unless to simply replenish stock.

The atheist group said at the time that it would rather not distribute any type of literature to public schools, but it felt it had to be on a "level playing field" with groups distributing religious materials.

"We repeatedly explained to the school board that we wished to prevent religious proselytizing to children in public schools. We prefer that neither Bibles, nor our literature is distributed in public schools," Williamson said in a previous statement, as reported by The Christian Post.

 "Therefore we are obligated to share our own literature and to ensure the campus is truly an open forum for all and not just the privileged majority," Williamson added.

Now that the atheist group is filing a lawsuit with the school district even though it was granted permission to distribute materials, some critics are questioning if the group purposely trapped the school district into a lawsuit.

When the WFTV Orlando news channel asked Williamson if his group set the school district up to fail, Williamson responded:  "We had no intention of filing a lawsuit, and we are not interested in filing a lawsuit, but we have no other choice at this point."

Mathew Staver, founding member and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, told WFTV Orlando that he believes the atheist group is filing the lawsuit to shut down the entire forum of distributing literature to students.

"They really don't want to distribute literature, they want to denigrate someone else's faith," Staver told the local news station.

"Their ultimate goal is to shut down the entire forum, that's why they're doing this," the attorney added.

The FFRF lawsuit states that it is seeking freedom from censorship in future distributions, as well as legal fees. 

The school district has reportedly not commented because it has yet to be served the lawsuit. 

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