Salon calls atheists “as obnoxious as Christians” for trying to stop distribution of Bibles in U.S. schools

Salon has a distinct animus against atheism, and that includes a new piece by staff writer by Mary Elizabeth Williams: “Atheists: Just as obnoxious as Christians“.  Her remarkably naive piece instantiates the famous xkcd cartoon that has become almost viral in our community:


So why are atheists as obnoxious as Christians? Here’s the story.  In January of this year, a religious group, World Changers of Florida, began a “passive” distribution of Bibles in eleven public schools in Orange County Florida. (“Passive” means that the Bibles were simply laid on tables in the school for students to take.) The Freedom from Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) news report notes:

The [school] district has created a limited public forum in Orange County public schools. On Jan. 16, World Changers of Florida used the forum to distribute New International Version bibles to students in 11 schools. WCF “support[s] the biblical account of creation, including having creation theory taught in our public schools” and “speak[s] out against humanistic views contrary to the biblically based founding fathers’ constitutional vision.”

This is clearly a violation of the Constitution, for it promulgates religion in public schools. FFRF objected by letter, trying to stop the distribution of Bibles:

The plaintiffs contend that public schools shouldn’t allow literature distributions by any outside group and told the school district that by letter before the World Changers event. Williamson reiterated that position at a Jan. 29 pre-agenda meeting of the School Board.

FFRF encouraged the district to adopt a policy that “prohibits outside groups from turning schools into religious battlegrounds while preserving the distribution system for the benefit of the school” and suggested model language.

But the school refused to stop the distribution, and a judge ruled it legal. The FFRF, then, asked that they be allowed to distribute their own nonreligious materials at the same time:

After the district refused, FFRF asked for permission to distribute secular materials. Williamson submitted the secular groups’ literature Jan. 29 for approval. Included were nine “nontracts,” five brochures, eight books, one essay and one sticker. Three books were voluntarily withdrawn in order to speed the approval process after stonewalling by the district.

The district prohibited four of FFRF’s five books, leaving part of one book and several small pamphlets. “Good Without God” stickers were prohibited.

Here’s the list of materials suggested for distribution by the FFRF (taken from the ensuing FFRF lawsuit), and what happened to them.  The FFRF voluntarily rescinded three books under pressure from the schools, which was delaying approval. The school then prohibited four of the remaining five books, leaving one partial book  (Part III of The Age of Reason) and a few small pamphlets, so the volume of material was substantially less than the contents of the Bible. (The version of the Bible distributed was the equivalent of 1900 pages when printed as a normal book; the FFRF asked for 1300 pages—less material—to be distributed, but only about 100 pages were allowed.)

Picture 3The FFRF objected to this differential treatment of materials. Especially humorous were the reasons the school gave for prohibiting the atheist materials (my emphasis):

  • The district objected to the Harris book for describing “the sacrifice of virgins, killing and eating of children in order to ensure the future fertility of mothers, feeding infants to sharks, and the burning of widows so they can follow their husbands into the next world.” FFRF’s complaint notes that the concepts flagged as age inappropriate all appear in the bible.
  • WCF put up interactive whiteboards, had volunteers staffing tables to talk with students and passed out invitations to worship at the Orlando Wesleyan Church. Plaintiffs attempted to pass out a pizza party invitation but were censored at several schools. Freethought volunteers had to wait up to an hour at some schools to set up.

In other words, violence and immorality are okay if they’re in the Bible, but it’s not okay for Harris to point this out.

At this point the FFRF had enough, and filed suit against the school board (free pdf of lawsuit here).  As you’ll see, the lawsuit requests this:

Our public schools exist to educate, not to serve as conduits for advertisers, proselytizers, and special interest groups seeking to propagandize a captive audience of young students. Plaintiffs prefer that no dissemination of outside materials, such as Bibles or their own literature, occur in Orange County Public Schools. But since Defendants are allowing distributions, all viewpoints must now be granted fair and equal access.

Enter Salon, where Mary Elizabeth Williams, who does object to the distribution of Bibles, objects even more to the FFRF’s lawsuit, calling it “obnoxious,” “whiny,” and even “idiocy”:

It’s patently absurd and offensive that the World Changers of Florida organization, a Christian group with the hilariously inaccurate stated purpose of furthering “the biblically based founding fathers constitutional vision”  has been allowed to run roughshod over the district and impose its vision at taxpayer-funded schools. This should never have happened in the first place.

But idiocy isn’t fixed with more idiocy. A petulant strategy of “You let them do this and if we can’t do that we’re going to sue” is absurd and immature. The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s threat that the “plaintiffs intend to repeat the distribution every school year, unless the school prohibits all such distributions, including bibles” doesn’t sound like a blow for freedom of expression; it just sounds whiny. And when you say you’re “committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church” and you’re fighting to distribute anti-religious materials in state-run facilities, you’re not separating church and state either. You’re promoting an explicit agenda.

I get that a point is being made here about the selectivity of the school board’s permissiveness. I get that it should not rain Bibles in schools. You know why I get it? Because I’m a concerned parent. Because I have two children I’m trying to protect from aggressive hotheads trying to shove their ideologies upon them. At their schools. I resent that, and I sure as hell don’t respect that, regardless of the source.

You know that thing about being the change you want to see in the world? Yeah, that. You want to make a statement? Is there a way you could do that that wouldn’t involve being all aggro toward minors? If you’re concerned that inappropriate materials are being handed out to kids, you don’t threaten to do the same thing. You don’t get in a pissing contest over who can be more obnoxious. And you don’t use schoolchildren as your pawns.

In fact, it’s Williams who is the whiny one here, and also shows a profound misunderstanding of the serious issues at hand.  First of all, this is not an issue of “the separation of church and state”, but one of, as the lawsuit argues, of “equal protection and freedom of speech.”  Second, the violation of freedom of speech here is a serious issue. If it’s allowed to stand, it will spread, for Christianity in America is ever busy and ever feeding on ignorance.

Apparently Williams feels that if the courts allow the distribution of Bibles, not much should be done about it.  After all, that’s “using schoolchildren as pawns.” (It isn’t, of course: no schoolchildren are directly involved in this suit). This isn’t about explicitly promoting an atheist agenda, but allowing contrary viewpoints to be expressed if a Christian viewpoint is permitted and encouraged.

After all, doesn’t Williams think that World Changers of Florida were “promoting an explicit agenda”? If not, why on earth were they distributing Bibles?

Finally, the FFRF’s lawsuit was a last resort, one taken after the courts allowed the distribution of Bibles but prohibited the distribution of nearly all opposing materials. The FFRF did everything it could to stop the Bible giveaway, and when that failed they tried to secure the Constitutional freedom of secular speech. When the schools wouldn’t go for this, the FFRF filed a lawsuit, albeit reluctantly (see below).

It’s curious that although Williams seems strongly opposed to her kids being offered free Bibles, she also decries the FFRF’s attempt to “make a statement,” and, tellingly offers no suggestions about how to do make any statement. Are the FFRF and the secular parents who supported them supposed to offer timid editorials in, say, the local newspapers? That’s really going to work in Florida!

No, the only way to get this kind of nonsense to stop is to ask for equal time, and, if that’s not granted, file a lawsuit.  The FFRF doesn’t like doing that because, as they told me, they realize that schools have limited financial resources and they don’t want school budgets eroded by litigation.  But legal action, or the threat thereof, is one of the few ways to get these proselytizing Christians to actually pay attention.  This is what we learned in the case of Eric Hedin and Ball State University.

Schools have to learn that if they insist on violating the Constitution, their budgets will be at risk. And insisting on such violations really is using schoolchildren as pawns.  As the FFRF’s lawyer on this case, Andrew Seidel, wrote me (quoted with permission):

We gave the school plenty of opportunities to either (1) shut the forum down as they are allowed to do by law—every time they refused, or (2) to at least allow a fair and equitable distribution.  Paragraph 5 of the complaint on page 2 lays out our stance pretty clearly.  The bottom line is that we always try to work with schools.  But if they refuse to follow the Constitution or if they violate our rights, we’re not going to take it lying down.


  1. Barry Lyons
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    “In other words, violence and immorality are okay if they’re in the Bible, but it’s not okay for Harris to point this out.”

    LOVE that.

    • Posted June 16, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Fucking. Double. Fucking. Standard.

      Oh, but xians are persecuted in this country. Persecuted, I tells ya!


  2. Bruce S. Springsteen
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    “Remarkably naive” covers it pretty well. She thought about this for all of five minutes, clearly, but she’s a “concerned parent” with preternatural insight into all things relating to kids and schools. Talk about “douche moves” (to use her infantile terminology). The concerned parent trump card is the quintessential douche move.

    Heres’ a nifty notion: Let’s wager how many, if any, of the materials at issue she has read, including the Bible and the Constitution. I’ll place a twenty on “zero,” which would make her a bigot, technically, passing knee-jerk judgment on things she hasn’t taken any trouble to be familiar with. Next commentator…

  3. Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink


  4. peltonrandy
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    I too read the Williams piece and had pretty much the same reaction you articulated so well here. Williams’ reaction is not unlike the reaction of many (especially the Fox news pundits) to the monument the American Atheists put up outside the Bradford County Courthouse in Florida, after losing an effort to have a Ten Commandments monument removed. What Williams apparently doesn’t get is that the FFRF, not to mention many other atheists, are defending the principles of the First Amendment, while many, many Christians are out to destroy these very principles. I especially liked your use of the quote from Inherit the Wind to describe Christianity. If left unchecked it will certainly devour us all, Williams and her children included.

  5. Jeff Johnson
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Hitchens had a regular column in Slate, I believe called Fighting Words. Was he also published in Salon? I can’t recall reading him their.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      Ach! I meant “there”.

    • Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      You’re right; I simply got the wrong site. I’ve fixed it, thanks.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

        But…now I’ve really got egg on my face. Google’s memory is better than mine, and I did find that in the late 90s Hitchens did contribute several pieces to Salon, and two articles in this century.

        So technically he did long ago contribute to Salon, but evidently he decided to stop doing so for some reason. He’s more often given credit for his work in Slate.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted June 16, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

          Joan Walsh was editor-in-chief at Salon 2005~2010 & then she became editor-at-large whatever that is [think it means more time to write]

          Walsh & Hitchens had a few scraps ~ most notably on MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews
          Hitchens & Walsh were chalk & cheese
          Maybe that explains it

          • Infidel1000
            Posted June 18, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

            Hitchens was an iconoclast. He had to have his own particular slant on everything (as brilliant people do) and consequently seldom completely agreed with anybody on anything. He was a Marxist, and became a neocon. He parted with that most liberal of publications, The Nation, I think over his support for Bush’s Iraq war. He derided Bush over most things, but fully supported him on this. One thing was absolute: He detested all things religious or faith-based. Joan’s unabashed support of religion, while otherwise being very liberal and progressive, was not to Christopher’s taste. And he never missed an opportunity to respond to that, in his own inimical manner.

  6. Siegfried Gust
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    I agree with Williams that in an ideal world neither group should be allowed to distribute anything in schools. And I get the whole “2 wrongs don’t make a right” concept. In a perfect world (well maybe not so perfect if we’re dealing with this issue at all)she would be right. The courts would ban the distribution of the bible in schools quickly and decisively. But I think she fails to take into account that we don’t live in a world where the courts always act as they should, politics and personal agendas often get in the way. The FFRF doesn’t want to distribute anything, but rather this is a tactic to show how the school district is allowing the promotion of one specific religion. I doubt they ever expected the school board to allow the full atheist materials list. And now that they haven’t, the FFRF stands in a far better position to show the true nature of the bible distribution.

    • Don
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Exactly. The school board’s refusal to allow FFRF to offer its own materials puts the board’s favoritism in a brighter light.

  7. E.A. Blair
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    You know, I really get tired of all those atheists ringing my doorbell on Saturday mornings to they can lecture me about accepting their nonbelief…then there are all those street-corner atheists shouting into megaphones. On Sundays, I can’t sleep in because the atheist meeting hall in the next block rings its bells to summon the unfaithful to their gatherings. On an average week, I get buttonholed by some obnoxious person handing out literature and telling me I’m not going to hell, that I should enjoy the only life I have, love whomever I want and to be nice to other people, not out of fear, but because it’s the right thing to do.

    Yeah, I wish all those people would just shut up and go away.

    • Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      I like this

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink


    • matt
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink


    • abandonwoo
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      The picketing at military funerals by free thinkers pisses me off as much as anything just listed, but you know what I hate the most? All the tax breaks nontheist churches take advantage of, and how they use the dough to purchase crony political favoritism from simpatico politicians . A bunch of flippin’ hypocrites, if you ask me.

      • gbjames
        Posted June 16, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        You had me for a second there.

    • js
      Posted June 17, 2013 at 2:51 am | Permalink

      Agree, that was very nicely said.

      Years ago I lived on a property where the road was about half a kilometer from the house.
      One morning as i glanced out the window I saw a car pull into the drive, it parked and two ladies got out, opened the gate, shut the gate and then walked 200m to the front door.
      They were witnesses I think and asked if I was interested in their magazine, I politely told them no, and they walked all the way back to their car, opened the gate, shut the gate and then drove up the drive and presumably to the next property for another nice long stroll.
      Now I live on a place where the house is down an unmarked lane, across a creek, through an unmarked gate and then a kilometer of dirt road.
      Don’t get many of then now (actually none except, wouldn’t you know it but my neighbour is a witness and once asked if I was interested blah blah blah and when I said no, he asked if I was an atheist and after responding in the affirmative said ‘the Darwin religion?’. I said ‘see ya Roy’ and drove off).

  8. marksolock
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  9. matt
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    wow. very infuriating to read such sanctimonious drivel. Salon’s lost the script.

  10. Posted June 16, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I didn’t find any real suggestion in the article regarding what should be done when idiocy occurs, unless you count “resent that”, “don’t respect that”, and “whatever you do, don’t be douchy about that”. That’s kind of a douchy advice, I think.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      I guess complain about the unfairness in an article like she does 😉 I wondered what she expects to be done too. When the courts make a bad call, should we all just litigate more? Accept it and let the Evangelical movement continue to push their agenda? The FFRF response seems like the only logical course of action given the circumstances.

      Here is an example of what FFRF and AA deal with (David Silverman talking to Tea Party folk) about distributing atheist materials in Georgia state parks to counter bibles being distributed:

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t find any real suggestion in the article regarding what should be done when idiocy occurs

      Place fingers in ears.
      Recite “la la la”

      • Posted June 16, 2013 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

        That must be it. As long as we don’t make this “la la la” sound too annoying.

  11. Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    It would make sense if Williams offered an alternative quite different from the ones tried by FFRF instead she whines and offers nothing to be tried.

  12. Gordon Hill
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    I have found atheists and theists to be a mixed bag. It depends on whether each believes they have found the only valid personal proof and are committed to foisting it on all they meet… but then, I’m a UU… we’ve got’em all and they’re all okay.

    • coyotenose
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      See the XKCD strip above.

    • Posted June 16, 2013 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

      Then look in mirror. Pause, reflect, rinse, repeat.

  13. Jeff Johnson
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Williams has a point, there is a kind of childish tit for tat about this.

    But, what does she suggest as an alternative? Nothing! The court case to remove the literature failed, so does she really advocate simply giving up and doing nothing?

    Perhaps the high road is to elevate the case to higher courts on appeal, and possibly get a Supreme Court case. That is an expensive long shot.

    Meanwhile what Williams calls a “douchie” move is only meant to illustrate by example exactly how douchie it is for the religious to insert their books into public schools. The whole point of equal access is a sort of performative reductio ad absurdum of publicly sponsored expressions of religion. Williams reaction, how absurd it becomes when every religious belief or perspective is equally represented, is exactly the reaction you’re supposed to have. She just draws the wrong lesson from it, assuming that atheists are demonstrating the same pathetic earnestness as the Christians, and that they can’t see the silliness of it.

    Evidently the idea of giving Christians a free pass is so deeply embedded in her psyche that she can’t see herself doing it.

    • Notagod
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Other than, that is exactly what the FFRF is doing. By asking to be allow to distribute information, they are preparing the evidence for future litigation. It isn’t a case of playing tit for tat. It shows that the FFRF is a knowledgeable and responsible organization.

  14. ladyatheist
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    It’s too bad FFRF limited itself to freethought literature. Setting up a table with the Koran, the Bhagavad gita, Dianetics, and the Book of Mormon would be a rather interesting response.

    • gbjames
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      Obvious why the don’t do that, but as a general tactic that’s a very interesting approach.

      I’d throw in some collections of Norse, Greek, and Native American myths, too.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      That was my first thought, too. That would make it that much more difficult for the courts not to see the establishment of (a particular) religion that the WCF’s work is trying to accomplish. Especially since atheism is not a religion!

      • abandonwoo
        Posted June 16, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        I like to fantasize that one day secularists will target schools, city councils, state governments, courts, and anywhere else in the public sphere where christian privilege is asserted, with a coordinated submission of items of religious symbolism for display alongside the Moses tablet replica’s and/or public prayers at assemblies, from every tradition present within the 50 states.

    • Notagod
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      That would set them up as being a distributor of the woo and might put them in a position of needing to defend that in court, I think.

      The underlying agenda of the FFRF is that none of it belongs in a school setting. The only reason they are distributing any material at all is to officially demonstrate against the unreasoned privilege given to christianity.

  15. Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Yet another false-equivalence-fallacy argument coming out of Salon… It’s like Salon goes out of its way to find ignorant demagogues.

    The middle ground between The Truth and The Big Lie is still a lie. And fighting for legitimate, Constitutionally-protected equality in the Courts is not wrong.

  16. pacopicopiedra
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Not only is the argument ridiculous, but the writing is terrible. This passage: “You know that thing about being the change you want to see in the world? Yeah, that. You want to make a statement? Is there a way you could do that that wouldn’t involve being all aggro toward minors?” It’s like a freshman writing seminar example of how not to write if you’d like to be taken seriously. It’s embarrassing. But not nearly as embarrassing as the argument she is trying to make.

  17. Posted June 16, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Well, this isn’t about religion in the first place, is it? It’s about the politics of religion, and politics is the approved outlet for all human douchiness. The only thing worse is what politics replaces, which is organized interpersonal violence.

    • godsbuster
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      Actually, religion and politics had, until the founding fathers (many of whom not personally big on godbothering in the first place) been almost one and the same. Still is in the Islamic world and appearing to become so again in Russia.

  18. Jeff D
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Actually, the school district’s wrongdoing here is both a violation of church-state separation and a violation of equal protection principles, because the school district is acting in a patently discriminatory fashion in freely permitting the Bible distribution but imposing content-based restrictions on the literature that other groups (here, the FFRF) may distribute.

    The principle that the federal, state or local government may not support or subsidize one religious sect or viewpoint to the exclusion of others goes back to Everson [330 U.S. 1, 67 S.Ct. 504] in 1947.

    Under current law, public schools and other local or state government units may permit religious groups to use facilities outside of regular school hours, but only if permitting such use is completely neutral, with other non-religious groups having equal access. Bible distribution in classrooms or other open-to-students areas is pretty clearly outside the boundaries of this sort of “neutral assistance” if the access of other non-religious or non-Christian groups is being limited.

    I agree that a more effective trap would have been set for the school board if the FFRF had included books or pamphlets on Swedenborgian spiritualism, the LDS church, the Raelians, Hindusim, Buddhism, and Islam had been included in their proposed materials. The school board would be violating constitutional principles if it allowed fewer than all of the non-Christian materials, or if it allowed none of them.

    • Posted June 16, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Actually, I’m very glad that they chose to counter woo with reason rather than more woo. After all, the freedom from religion is every bit as sacred as the freedom of religion.

      There’s a very important point at stake here, and not just the Constitutional Establishment one.

      If the Christians have the right to tell us we’re going to Hell for failing to worship Jesus properly — and they certainly do have that right — then, by all the gods, we damned well have the right to tell them they’re a bunch of childish idiots for still having imaginary friends and being afraid of the monsters that live under beds.

      I don’t want the FFRF to fight for the right for another bunch of childish idiots to tell us which imaginary friends are in league with which under-bed monsters. I want them to fight for the right to tell everybody to grow up, already.



      • Siegfried Gust
        Posted June 16, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        Well put.

      • Larry Gay
        Posted June 16, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Give ’em hell, Ben.

  19. tomh
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    @ #13
    The court case to remove the literature failed

    The legal situation is not nearly so compelling, there was never a court case to remove the literature. In 2010, the school district denied the World Changers permission to distribute bibles, after allowing it in previous years. The World Changers sued, which resulted in a Consent Decree, agreed to by both parties, that allowed passive distribution of bibles on one day a year. The District Court judge approved the agreement, based on the case, Peck v. Upshur Cty. Bd. of Ed., which basically approved the same thing.

    The agreement cost the District $20,000 in legal fees, plus their own legal expenses, but they avoided a more expensive lawsuit. The agreement includes, “The terms of this Consent Decree do not discriminate against any viewpoint.”

    • Jeff D
      Posted June 17, 2013 at 12:58 am | Permalink

      Peck v. Upshur County (155 F.3d 274) was a 1998 decision by the Fourth Circuit in a case out of West Virginia, in which Americans United for Separation of Church and State was one of the losing parties on appeal (attempting to block an ostensibly content-neutral policy). That case is useful or “binding” precedent in Florida only to the extent that it cited and applied U. S. Supreme Court decisions permitting content-neutral, non-discriminatory distribution of literature in public schools under circumstances that prevent endorsement by the school administration. What the Orange County school board has done in this new case is not protected by the decision in Peck.

      The November 2010 consent decree referred to by tomh was entered into only by World Changers of Florida, Inc. [WCF] and the school district in Collier County, not Orange County. It is binding only on those two parties and does not limit the ability of FFRF or any other nonprofit organization to sue the school district for unlawful viewpoint discrimination, or (probably) for a violation of the school district’s own policy, if there is a written policy. In the Collier County lawsuit to which only WCF and the school board and superintendent were parties, the consent decree required the policy and procedure to be amended to prevent viewpoint discrimination:

      9. On or before October 23, 2010, Defendant SCHOOL BOARD OF COLLIER COUNTY shall amend its Policy 9700 and Procedure 9700A to: (a) clarify that the passive literature distribution provided for in this Consent Decree is part of Defendants’ limited public forum for on-campus distribution of literature by non-profit organizations; and (b) clarify that no decision-maker can exercise discretion to deny access to the limited public forum on basis of viewpoint.

      10. Consistent with Defendants’ policies and procedures for the passive distribution of literature by non-profit organizations, as amended pursuant to paragraph 9 of this Consent Decree, Defendants shall allow WCF and other non-profit organizations to passively distribute literature to students in Defendants’ high schools, on one school day each school year, as follows: . . . .

      Unless there has been a District Court decision in Orange County, issued after a hearing, in a case in which FFRF is a party, there is no binding Court precedent in Florida that prohibits FFRF from suing or that has found Bible distribution in public schools (even when Bibles are merely left on tables, and even on only one day a year) to be legal. It is merely possible to argue by analogy that passive Bible distribution has been allowed by a federal court in another Florida county under conditions that prohibited the school district from endorsing a particular religious viewpoint or from engaging in any viewpoint discrimination.

  20. AndrewF
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    If school kids wanted to read the bible they can check one out at the school library. In fact the WCF should put all their bibles in the school library and then track checkout rate – should prove interesting.

    Waving a bible around seems to have some mystical power to mesmerize and bamboozle; once opened and actually read the spell is quickly broken.

  21. tinwoman
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    To be fair, feeding infants to sharks, eating babies, burning wives, sacrificing virgin girls, etc. is not in the Bible although there is plenty of violence and lewdness there, as well as the notion of substitution for human sacrifice, implying that human sacrifice is necessary and acceptable to God.

    So please don’t say those things are “all in the Bible” because they aren’t and that is pretty easy to point out. The Bible doesn’t even mention sharks once.

    • trou
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

      See 2 Kings 6:29 for baby eating.
      Read Judges 11 for sickening story about virgin sacrifice to Jehovah.
      Leviticus 20:14 instructs the correct procedure on wife burning but only if a man marries both her and her mother, then they are all to be burned. I couldn’t find the shark feeding though. Three out of four found without effort. Did you even look?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

      I assume that the district were objecting to this part of Letter to a Christian Nation on grounds of “age inappropriate”


      In many societies, whenever a new building was constructed, it was thought only prudent to pacify the local deities by burying children alive beneath its foundations (this is how faith sometimes operates in a world without structural engineers). Many societies regularly sacrificed virgins to ward off floods. Others killed their first-born children, and even ate them, as a way of ensuring a mother’s ongoing fertility. In India, living infants were ritually fed to sharks at the mouth of the Ganges for the same purpose. Indians also burned widows alive so that they could follow their husbands into the next world. Leaving nothing to chance, Indians also sowed their fields with the flesh of a certain caste of men, raised especially for this purpose and dismembered while alive, to ensure that every crop of tumeric would be appropriately crimson. The British were actually hard pressed to put an end to these pious atrocities.

      And FFRF’s complaint notes that the CONCEPTS flagged as age inappropriate all appear in the Bible. Perhaps a scholar can let me know if child sacrifice is mentioned in the Bible anywhere… 🙂

      • Posted June 17, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        Um…hello? Abraham and Isaac? Not to mention Jesus, of course.

        And there’re plenty of other examples of human sacrifice in the Bible, including a notorious psalm that commands the listener to have a smile on the lips and a song in the heart as they dash the little ones against the rocks.

        More here:

        and with your friendly local search engine.


        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 17, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

          Ha ha Ben I think Michael was being facetious. 🙂

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted June 17, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

            + 1 Great word & accurate too

          • Posted June 17, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

            Sorry…bloody sarcasm detectors…they don’t make ’em like they used to….


            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted June 17, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

              I hate it when that happens too but usually it’s an online only thing.

  22. Posted June 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink


    Sent from Samsung Mobile

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted June 16, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      Cobbler’s [possessive] what?

      • Sawdust Sam
        Posted June 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        It’s a truncated phrase. The full version is “cobbler’s awls”, from cockney rhyming slang, so technically correct (although it could be “cobblers’ awls”).

        • hank_says
          Posted June 16, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

          Which, to add possibly unneeded explanation (then again, rhyming slang isn’t that well-known in the US), rhymes with “balls”, a synonym for “bollocks”, which means “I don’t believe you” or “I think that’s rubbish”.

  23. Posted June 16, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Agh, this sort of thing makes me so angry.
    Salon’s ‘But idiocy isn’t fixed with more idiocy. A petulant strategy of “You let them do this and if we can’t do that we’re going to sue” is absurd and immature.’ is utterly missing the point, these children are being proselytised to in school, children tend to trust what they’re told in school, because, well, it’s School and being given religious books at school legitimises the text -therefore if this cannot be stopped the only thing that’s fair on the children is to show them differing points of view, so that at least they have a Chance of being able to work out for themselves that these religious texts are largely nonsense and that reality is out there for them rather than dogma.
    Sorry if I’m not being coherent, I’m just so annoyed.

    Posted June 16, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    An attempt by a shrill mediocre writer, Mary Williams, to garner attention to herself (as per cartoon) and by editors at this 2nd rate rag to garner attention to their magazine.

    Re: The educational concerns of the book/bibke, this was put humorously by H. L. Mencken when he said, in paraphrase —

    ‘Christianity/religion/theology is an attempt to to explain the unknowable by putting it in terms not worth knowing’

    “Man is quite insane. He couldn’t know how to create a maggot, and he creates gods by the dozen”


  25. Mel
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    “…limited public forum”

    This looks like the same concept as was involved in the very influential 2001 Supreme Court decision, “Good News Club v. Milford Central School.” The conservatives have found a legal strategy that, in some cases, guts the establishment clause in favor of the freedom of speech clause–very slick.

    This disastrous decision is how the Good News Club is getting into public schools and the basis of “church planting” where a school is taken over as a church (at little expense to the church) on Sundays. A school district may try to fight, but the pious have legal teams that can smash a district’s desire to keep them out.

    I know about this stuff because I just finished reading the book “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children by Katherine Stewart. Stewart also spoke at a recent Richard Dawkins panel discussion about the religious abuse of children. (See the video at the Dawkins website.) The Good News Club is now in 4,000 U.S. elementary schools and the sponsoring organization is aiming for all 65,000 of them. About the only way to keep them out is to not allow after school programs by outsiders. This is an industrial scale assault complete with management structure, training facilities, and legal teams. There’s more in the book than just the GNC.

    Rather new, the grounds of a county courthouse in Florida deliberately was declared a public forum so that a Ten Commandments monument could be moved in by some outside religious group–it worked.

    The 2001 decision is going to have a lot of very ugly consequences.

  26. Posted June 17, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Thanks for covering this story. Here is our response via email to Ms. Williams. She replied acknowledging the email without comment.

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