Atheists, humanists to hand out literature at Florida schools
ORLANDO, Fla. (MCT) — A day after a Christian group distributed Bibles to students in 11 Orange County, Fla., high schools, atheists and secular humanists plans to hand out material reflecting their views.
"We don't want only some groups to have their say," said David Williamson, organizer of the Central Florida Freethought Community. He said he would prefer that the school district modify its policies to ban all such handouts. But until then, "we want to be on a level playing field."
Muslim and Jewish leaders said they had no plan to distribute their own religious books.
"It is proselytizing. It has no place in public schools," said Rabbi Rick Sherwin of Congregation Beth Am in Longwood.
Rabbi Steven Engel of Congregation of Reform Judaism in Orange County, said he was "deeply disturbed" that the New Testament was given out in schools. "This is absolutely wrong. It violates the separation of church and state very clearly." He said allowing the distribution on campus makes it appear government is endorsing a particular religious viewpoint.
The school district allowed the Bible distribution by the World Changers of Central Florida, which promotes the teaching of creationism and prayer in public schools, because of a 2010 legal decision after Collier County schools denied a similar request by the group. Representatives of World Changers, who could not be reached Thursday, handed out Bibles in the high schools last year without controversy.
"The court has ruled Bibles are OK," said Woody Rodriguez, the district counsel for Orange County schools. He contested Engel's interpretation of the law. "I rely on legal books as my guiding light," Rodriguez said. "I've got to follow what the court order said."
Based on that ruling by a US District Court in Florida, the school district required that the Bibles be placed on tables in student areas by volunteers who were not allowed to sit at the tables or approach students.
But Daniel Koster, a 17-year-old senior at Wekiva High School, said there were adults and a student from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes sitting at a table at his school, and he saw them talk to students. There were two tables, Koster said, one directly outside the cafeteria and one inside, near the serving line. Rodriguez said he would investigate.
Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, said there may be a double standard at work.
"If this action was taken by a Muslim group placing the Quran on tables, I'm sure there would be some uproar about it," Musri said.
Atif Fareed, chairman of American Muslim Community Centers based in Longwood, was more open to the idea. "More power to the Christians if they want to go out there and spread the word," he said. "People need more religion in their lives, not less."