Two Christian groups distributed Bibles to public schools in Orange County, Fla., Thursday despite an ongoing lawsuit from an atheist group trying to halt the practice.
The Florida Family Policy Council collaborated with World Changers of Florida, both Christian groups, to distribute the holy books in several public schools in Orange and Collier counties. The Bibles were placed on tables in communal areas for students to pick up on their breaks if they so wished.
"This is a great opportunity for students who may never be exposed to Christianity to own and read a book that is not only the best-selling book of all times, but is the most important piece of literature in the development of western civilization," John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, said in a statement regarding Thursday's giveaway. The Bibles, which are all New International Version, were distributed in honor of Religious Freedom Day yesterday.
Three years ago, World Changers sued the Collier County School Board after the board decided not to allow the Bibles to be distributed on campuses. In that case, the school board and the Christian group eventually reached a settlement that allowed the group to distribute Bibles on campus in a passive manner. The Orange County School District then based their own Bible distribution policy on that ruling.
The Central Florida Freethought Community, a chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, then filed a lawsuit last year against the Orange County School Board after the district neglected to allow the atheist group to distribute its reading materials alongside the Bibles. This lawsuit is still in litigation, and Andrew Seidel, a lawyer for the atheist group, told the Orlando Sentinel this week that seeing the Bible distribution continue in Orange County Schools as their lawsuit makes its way through court "is extremely frustrating for us."
Seidel added that choosing to distribute the Bibles on a day meant to honor religious freedom is "appalling," as his group believes the essence of religious freedom is the separation of church and state. "The best way to protect religious freedom is to keep church and state separate," he said. "To use schools to promote Christianity is betraying that legacy."
When the Central Florida Freethought Community filed the lawsuit in May 2013, David Williamson, the group's organizer, said in a statement: "Since we were unable to prevent the bible distribution in January we expected the School Board would provide us with the equal treatment we deserve. The fact that this was so blatantly denied should alarm all parents and taxpayers in Orange County."