Bible finds way back into school

Obama-affirmed ‘Religious Freedom Day’ prompts bold initiative

Bible_childFrom, by Drew Zahn, 01/22/13 – A citizens group called World Changers of Florida, Inc., has had to fight to bring the Bible back to school, but thanks to a court decision – and in honor of the President Obama-affirmed “Religious Freedom Day” – is once again distributing thousands of  copies of the Scriptures to students in the Sunshine State.

For years, World Changers had honored Religious Freedom Day by providing free  Bibles to interested students by placing them on tables in Florida schools where they could be voluntarily picked up during non-instructional time.

But in 2009, Florida’s Collier County School officials banned World Changers’ Bible distribution, claiming Bibles do not provide educational benefit to the  students and violate the so-called separation of church and state.

Yet with the help of Liberty Counsel, a  federal judge ruled in favor of World Changers, permitting the Bible  distributions to begin again.

“The First Amendment does not tolerate discrimination against private  religious viewpoints because of a mythical wall of separation between church and  state,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. “Equal access  means equal access for all viewpoints, including religious viewpoints.”

This past week, on Jan. 16, according to Orlando’s WFTV, World Changers  resumed its ministry, distributing over 1,700 free Bibles in 11 Orange County  high schools, before returning to Collier County on Jan. 17 to do the same.

Katherine P. Marsh, senior manager of media relations for Orange County  Public Schools explained in a memo that the court ruling permits “passive  distribution” of religious literature in schools.

“Passive distribution means the Bibles may be placed on one unmanned table  for distribution in a location where students normally congregate during  non-instructional time,” Marsh’s memo states. “The representatives may only be  allowed to replenish Bibles if they run out and must remove any undistributed  literature at the end of the distribution day.”

The administrator of the World Changers website added, “All the groups place their information on tables in  a common area near the cafeteria, and the students are free to take whatever  information they want during their lunch break. No one from any of the  organizations [is] at the tables so there is no outside pressure on the students  to pickup anything.”

Students interviewed by WFTV told the station they supported the idea.

“(You can) learn a different part of society and learn different cultures,  which bases on religion,” said student Javier Rivera.

The 76-year-old man who leads World Changers told the station he chose Orange  County because when he grew up in the area during the 1940s, students memorized  parts of the Bible in school.

Not all of the response, however, has been positive.

An organization called Central Florida Freethought Community, or CFFC,  associated with the Freedom from Religion Foundation, called the schools’ decision to permit Bible distribution “wrong policy” and planned a literature  drop of its own.

David Williamson of the CFFC, said in a statement, “This group of biblical literalists has somehow convinced the  school board that our public schools should be a religious battleground of  sorts. This is unacceptable to freethinkers and persons of all religious  traditions, including many Christians. But because the school board insists on  opening the schools up to Christian proselytizers, we think it’s important that  students receive materials countering their religious propaganda.””

The statement continued, “Some items being considered for distribution are ‘An X-Rated Book: Sex & Obscenity in the Bible,’ ‘Ten Common Myths About  Atheists,’ as well as literature about starting student-led secular  organizations on campus and books by atheists Dan Barker and Madalyn Murray  O’Hair among others.”

Religious Freedom Day

Each year since 1993, the U.S. president has declared Jan. 16 to be Religious Freedom Day in honor of the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia  Statute for Religious Freedom on Jan. 16, 1786. The statute – which ended  collecting taxes to support local clergy and protected religious expression  without discrimination – is widely considered the basis for the religious  freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

President Obama, consequently, issued a proclamation on Jan. 16 declaring Religious Freedom Day.

“Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has  the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose. As a free country, our  story has been shaped by every language and enriched by every culture. We are a  nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, Sikhs and non-believers. Our  patchwork heritage is a strength we owe to our religious freedom,” Obama stated. “As we observe Religious Freedom Day, let us remember the legacy of faith and  independence we have inherited, and let us honor it by forever upholding our  right to exercise our beliefs free from prejudice or persecution.”

Jefferson’s original statute, notably, was more Judeo-Christian in its  language.

“Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free,” Jefferson wrote, “that  all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil  incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and  therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who  being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on  either, as was in his Almighty power to do … be it enacted by General Assembly  that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship,  place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or  burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his  religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by  argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same  shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

The full text  of Jefferson’s statute can be read here.

Drew-Zahn_avatarDrew Zahn is a former pastor who cut his editing teeth as a member of the  award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today’s professional  journal for church leaders. He is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based  Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing  love affair with film and his weekly WND column, “Popcorn and a (world)view.”

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