The Delta County School District (DCSD) has approved the distribution of atheistic, secular and Satanic literature to middle and high school students throughout Delta County on April 1, 2016, and will carry out the literature distribution on behalf of the groups who have applied to do it.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF) and the Satanic Temple have all applied to distribute literature to challenge the school district’s “open forum” policy which gives access to any group to distribute non-curricular literature to students, as long as it conforms to policy guidelines. The material can’t, for example, advocate criminal behavior, violence or drug use, or be pornographic. The School District points to this policy as permitting Gideon Bibles to be distributed to students on school grounds during class hours.
On-Campus Bible Distribution Violates School Policy
In December, 2015, a Delta Middle School (DMS) student reported that her teacher took her social studies class to the school library to work on a project. After entering the library, the teacher pointed to a pile Gideon Bibles on a table by the only entrance/exit to the room and told the students they could take a bible because “They’re free.”
Students who did not to take the bibles were harassed by the students who did. One student who didn’t take a bible — an atheist who recognized the situation violated her right to be free from religious coercion in school — texted a photo of the bible giveaway to her mom. One of the atheist girl’s other teachers ridiculed her over her beliefs in front of her class and the incident resulted in the school transferring the atheist student to a different class, even though she herself did nothing wrong. In the following days, one student told another student who is an atheist, that “atheists should just die” and she “should go kill herself.” The two students got into a physical altercation and both got temporary suspensions from school.
Not Enough Trouble Yet for Delta County Schools?
The December bible distribution violated Delta County School District Policy KCH-R, “Distribution/Posting of Non-Curricular Materials,” (pdf) in several ways:
— The policy states non-curricular literature can only be distributed to students 1/2 hour before school, during regularly scheduled lunch periods and/or for 15 minutes after school. “Distribution at any other times of the school day,” the policy says, “are to be considered disruptive of normal school activities.” The students were in the library during their regular class hours.
— The policy also says outside literature “may not be distributed in the classroom of any building when being occupied by a regularly-scheduled class,” and the library was the students’ classroom that day.
— The policy prohibits students from distributing or coercing other students to take the bibles, and students harassed other students, pressuring them to take bibles.
The policy also allows the school district to ban any groups that violate the policy in any way.
A parent, the mother of the atheist girl who took the photo of the bibles in the library, contacted DMS principal Jennifer Lohrberg and school Superintendent Caryn Gibson to complain about the violations of Policy KCH-R, but both administrators insisted nothing was amiss and all was done in accordance with school policy and applicable laws.
The parent then contacted WCAF for help. WCAF contacted the school superintendent on the parent and students’ behalf, again pointing out the violations of Policy KCH-R. Again the superintendent claimed all was fine and nothing was wrong, and said the bible giveaway was done in accordance with all applicable policies and the school district “respects the separation of church and state.”
After this second refusal by the school district to acknowledge reality, WCAF and the parent together contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group based in Wisconsin that advocates for separation of church and state, for help.
School District Finally Admits Reality
FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel intervened and contacted DCSD attorney Aaron Clay about the violations.
It was only then that the school district finally admitted (pdf) the DMS bible giveaway had indeed violated District policy.
After getting this admission, FFRF asked the District to ban the Gideons from further literature distribution as provided for in their policy, but the District refused, saying the errors were the fault of school personnel, not the Gideons. FFRF pointed out the divisiveness of the bible giveaways and the harassment of the students it led to, and asked the District to change its policy to prohibit distribution of all religious literature, but the school district refused and is fighting to preserve the Gideons’ ability to proselytize in Delta public schools.
To challenge DCSD’s “open forum” policy and their continued distribution of bibles, all three nonprofit groups submitted literature to the District for distribution. Under district policy, they must accept any literature regardless of its point of view, as long as it conforms to policy. If the district refuses to distribute the atheist and Satanic literature, FFRF will sue them for equal treatment under the policy.
Similar Situation in Florida
FFRF has gone through this before.
In 2013, FFRF asked the Orange County, Florida school district to change its open forum policy and stop distributing religious literature to students, but the district refused. FFRF then submitted its own literature, and that of the Satanic Temple, for distribution. The school district refused to accept the groups’ literature and FFRF sued the district for equal access. Two years and $86,000 in legal fees later, the Orange County School District finally backed down and agreed to ban distribution of religious literature to students. That was all FFRF wanted in the first place.
So far, DCSD has failed to address the associated issue of harassment and bullying of students going on in their district because of the bible giveaways and other proselytizing incidents uncovered in the course of this matter, and because DCSD wants so badly to preserve the ability of Christians to proselytize in their public schools, they are now faced with having to distribute literature many believe to be odious.
Literature to be distributed to Delta County middle and high schools on April 1 by the school district includes:
- “It’s Okay to Not Believe in God,” (pdf) by Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers
- “The Satanic Big Book of Children’s Activities,” by the Satanic Temple
- “Top 10 Public School State/Church Violations and How to Stop Them,” by FFRF
- “An X-Rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible,” by FFRF
- “What Does the Bible Say About Abortion?” by FFRF (to go only to high schools)
- “Cookie Cutter Christs: Origins of the Jesus Myth,” by FFRF
- “Why Jesus?” by FFRF
- “Ten Common Myths About Atheists and other Freethinkers,” by FFRF
- “What’s Wrong with the Ten Commandmentw?” by FFRF
- “What They Said About Religion” (a book of quotes by famous and historic figures), by FFRF
- “Dear Believer,” by FFRF