Editor’s Note: This story includes a lewd image–embedded after the tenth paragraph–that some readers may find disturbing.]
(CNSNews.com) – The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group, is planning to hand out in several Florida public high schools a pamphlet that features an illustration on its cover depicting a humanized Bible sexually assaulting a young woman.
The pamphlet is entitled: “An X-Rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible.”
The front cover of the small purple booklet is illustrated with a cartoon Bible–which has arms, legs, face and drooling mouth–sexually assaulting a screaming woman as she tries to escape its grasp.
According to a news release posted on its website, FFRF plans to distribute the pamphlet, along with several other brochures and a few books, in 11 public high schools in Orange County, Florida, in January. Orange County is in central part of the state and includes the city of Orlando.
The materials will be available at the high schools of the Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) on National Religious Freedom Day, which is Jan. 16. Each year, on this day, the OCPS allows outside religious groups to set up a table with pre-approved literature—including Bibles–that students can take if they choose.
Members of the outside groups are allowed to stay near the table and restock it as needed, but they are not allowed to have contact with students per school district rules.
FFRF Legal Counsel Andrew Seidel contended to CNSNews.com that the pamphlet with the cover depicting a Bible engaging in sexual assault is “pretty tame” compared to the Bible itself.
“I think if you look at the content of that brochure and what is actually in the Bible, and some of the things that are in the Bible in terms of sex and compare that to the cover [of the pamphlet], the cover is pretty tame compared to anything that is in the Bible,” Seidel said.
“I think the bottom line is, you can’t consider any of our materials obscene when compared to the Bible,” he said.
The text of the pamphlet includes dozens of snippets from Bible verses that FFRF deems “obscene,” including Biblical passages mentioning sex, nudity and circumcision.
Seidel said that even if the image on the pamphlet does offend Christians, that’s a fair trade-off for how atheists feel when Bibles are passed out in school.
“I think we recognize that it might upset some people, but the Bible upsets many, many non-believers, especially when it’s being pushed in the public schools,” Seidel said. “So really, all it’s doing is placing believers and people who are in the majority in the position that we in the minority have been in for a very long time, and are in every time the government espouses one religion over another. That’s what we feel like all the time.”
FFRF gained the chance to distribute their “An X-Rated Book” pamphlet after engaging in a legal battle with the OCPS.
According to court documents, FFRF protested in 2013 when Orange County Public Schools began allowing World Changers of Florida, a Christian group, to distribute Bibles at 11 public high schools on Freedom of Religion Day.
In response, on Jan. 29, 2013, FFRF announced a plan to begin passing out packets of atheist literature, including “An X-Rated Book,” to the same public high schools that May. David Williamson, an FFRF member, then submitted the group’s literature to the Orange County School Board for consideration before it was going to be distributed, in accordance with the district’s rules.
After reviewing the FFRF materials, however, the school district decided to ban about half of its literature, including “An X-Rated Book.”
In a letter to FFRF dated April 22, OCPS Superintendent Barbara Jenkins explained why some of the group’s literature, including the pamphlet, would not be allowed in the schools.
“An X-Rated Book: This brochure may not be distributed,” Jenkins wrote. “This brochure will cause substantial disruption and is age inappropriate. There is a picture on the cover of a Bible book given human features sticking its hand up the dress of a woman.”
Jenkins added that the pamphlet included information on how to become a member of FFRF, and that the school district may “prohibit the distribution of materials which contain solicitations.”
On June 13, 2013, the FFRF filed a lawsuit against OCPS, claiming the school district had unlawfully discriminated against it and violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, according to court documents.
The OCPS and FFRF then made an agreement.
A Motion to Dismiss handed down in the Orlando District Court on June 3, 2014, states: “On or about January 3, 2014, Defendant unconditionally agreed to allow Plaintiffs to distribute the materials that Defendant had previously prohibited.”
The Motion to Dismiss also says: “Moreover, Defendant represented that it has ‘no intention in the future to prohibit these materials.’”
But, in keeping with a previous Florida court ruling relating to what outside groups can and cannot be distributed in public schools, the court also said in the Motion to Dismiss: “Indeed, Defendant may lawfully prohibit outside groups from distributing materials that are not appropriate for distribution in a school setting with the aim of controlling student conduct in the schools.”
“This includes dissemination of content that is sexually explicit, indecent, lewd, or offensive in such would ‘undermine the school’s basic educational mission,’” the court said.
CNSNews.com called and emailed OCPS and the school district’s legal counsel to find out why the school district had decided to allow FFRF to pass out the materials OCPS had previously banned, given that the court conceded that schools could lawfully prohibit indecent and lewd materials.
Katherine Marsh, communications director for OCPS, stated after speaking with the school district’s legal counsel: “At this time, Legal indicates they have shared what they can since we still are in litigation.”
According to FFRF’s Seidel, the ongoing engagement with OCPS is not over whether FFRF can distribute its materials at the high schools but whether the OCPS will reimburse it for legal costs.
Seidel said he believes the school district backed down from it position banning some of FFRF’s materials after realizing it could not legally keep FFRF from passing out materials while still allowing Bibles to be distributed.
“I think what they tried to say was basically we revisited our initial decision to censor the materials, and have reversed it. I think the reality is probably they were not allowed to do that,” he said. “They cannot approve the Bible, which is full of all the things that are in the pamphlet, and then say that our materials are somehow obscene.”
“And then I think once their litigation and counsel, their lawyer, got to look at all this, he said this is a losing case,” Seidel argued. “The best thing you can do now is approve it and the case will go away, for the most part.”
The Orange County Public Schools’ 2014-15 Student Code of Conductstates under its Rights of Speech/Expression subsection that a student has the right “To have one’s religious beliefs respected.”
The code also states students have a responsibility “To respect the religious beliefs of others and to refrain from activities that hold religious beliefs up to ridicule,” and “To follow the rules of responsible journalism under the guidance of an advisor, including seeking complete information about topics and refraining from publishing libelous or obscene material.”
CNSNews.com asked OCPS whether the controversial cover of “An X-Rated Book” contradicts the rights and responsibilities the schools place on its students. The school district also did not respond to this question on that basis that they are still in litigation.
According to Seidel, OCPS is the first school district the group has targeted for distribution of its materials–but it won’t be the last.
“We’re focusing on Orange County for the moment, but we will probably be expanding to other school districts that allow this,” he explained.