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Orange County Public Schools Hold One Standard For Christians, Another Standard For Non-Christians

We live in a nation with increasing religious diversity. In every single in the USA, the portion of the population that follows Christianity is in decline, while the nonreligious portion of the population is increasing. In most places, non-Christian religion is taking up a bigger share of the population as well.

Still, in some places, Christians in positions of authority still try to act as if it’s their natural right to use the power of government to elevate their beliefs above everybody else’s. Orange County, Florida, the home of the city of Orlando, is one of those places.

The Orange County Public Schools has established a double standard for the distribution of books about religion in its high schools. Christianity is given a first class position in the high schools in Orlando. Christians are allowed to distribute their Bible to public school students there. Non-Christians, however, have been banned by the Orange County Public Schools from distributing their own books about religion.

One group, the Central Florida Freethought Community, tried. The organization attempted to gain permission to distribute its own books: Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, The Truth, by Robert Ingersoll, Why I am Not a Muslim, by Ibn Warraq, Jesus is Dead, by Robert Price, and others. The Orange County Public Schools refused to grant permission. The Orange County Public Schools said that these books would cause “disruption”, ignoring the fact that disagreements about the Christian Bible have engulfed nearly the entire continent of Europe in war.

The Orange County Public Schools wrote to the Central Florida Freethought Community that the “claim that Jesus was not crucified or resurrected is age inappropriate”. How the assertion that a person was not executed in a long, gruesome manner is inappropriate for teenagers, the school district didn’t explain. However, the Central Florida Freethought Community has noted that, in approving the Christian Bible, the Orange County Public Schools has agreed that a book that writes extensively about crucifixion is age-appropriate. What’s the psychological theory behind that conclusion?

The legal complaint by CFFC explains that the group doesn’t ultimately want to place books in public schools that promote freethought ideas about religion. “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,” it states.

Until the Orange County Public Schools either allows all points of view about religion to have equal access to high school students or institutes a ban for the distribution of materials about religion in high schools by outside groups, students in the Orlando area will be receiving a remarkable lesson in hypocrisy.

10 comments to Orange County Public Schools Hold One Standard For Christians, Another Standard For Non-Christians

  • Dave

    Actually, Peregrin, the School Board/Orange County has established a standard, rather than the “double standard” you described. A double standard would be in effect if, in addition to the status quo, any atheist/freethought schools in the area were required to allow distribution of Bibles but not the other literature you mentioned.
    Also, the School Board would only be guilty of hypocrisy if they allowed distribution of Freethought materials to the students contrary to the dictates of their conscience, which plainly are either formed in Judeo-Christian tradition or are simply respectful of the demographic makeup and preferences of the families in the area. There is nothing in the Board’s Mission statement that can be construed as being otherwise minded.
    I think the dragon you seek to slay here is part democracy, part demography, and though I may seem to be splitting hairs on terminology, it seems to me an important, if persnickety, requirement that the issue be parsed in as accurate a way as possible. It sharpens the sword.

    • Dave, what makes you think that the Orange County Public Schools, which is a government entity representing families of practically every religion, as well as a growing number of families without religion, is a Christian entity?

      • Dave

        Well, I don’t think it is a Christian entity in the most direct sense, Peregrin. But this country and this culture (and school boards) have been saturated in Judeo-Christian precepts and values for centuries. Even the English common law (the basis for our own foundation of law) comes by and large from the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as well as the Christian. We are still besotten with, if not primitive Christianity, at least a kitschy sort of “Churchianity” that is still a large part of U.S. culture.
        It is in that sense that I offer the idea that the School Board/Orange County is mindful of the culture at large, and that in itself creates a context for its assignment. When you get elected to the School Board/Orange County let me know. I want to sell tickets to the first meeting where you explain to the people of Orange County that, for ideological reasons they and their culture will no longer be allowed to have any input in their public institutions.

        • Dave, when you make an argument that the Orange County Public Schools can engage in religious discrimination because you feel that “we” (meaning people like you, not the American people in general) are “besotten” with a particular form of Chritianity, you’re standing in rhetorical quicksand.

          You’re careening wildly between visions in which 1) the Orange County Public Schools can push just one religion at high school students while denying access to all other views; and 2) the people of Orange County are not “allowed to have any input in their public institutions”

          We have a Constitution, with a First Amendment, which was democratically ratified. If you and your fellow Christians think that you should have the special power to make everyone “besotten” with your religion, while preventing access to other points of view, then you need to organize, and pass a new amendment to the Constitution repealing the separation of church and state.

    • Ralph

      Not the first time I’ve heard “conscience,” “tradition,” and “demographics” used in an argument for discrimination against a minority.

      • Dave

        And for sure not the last, Ralph. Your “I’m rolling my eyes” sort of comment above states that the School Board is “discriminat[ing] against a minority,” as though those folks who are opposed to distribution of Bibles at the schools are just born that way, the poor little things. People develop belief systems as they go along, and the School Board is charged with making decisions as to what ideas the students will be exposed to and at what age. I actually am amazed at their assertiveness on this issue, but not troubled by it. When and if the county has mostly people who are hostile to Christian values, I promise you, the School Board will reflect that society when the time comes.

        • Dave, you’re arguing that:

          1. Government discrimination against groups of people on the basis of religion is acceptable because people choose what to believe about religion
          2. A school board is charged with deciding when children in a school district are exposed to religious ideas.

          This isn’t how things are supposed to work in the United States of America, Dave.

          The federal, state, and local governments are not supposed to discriminate on the basis of religion AT ALL. It’s not the business of government to regulate which religious ideas children can have access to, either.

          Where are you getting these weird ideas of yours?

  • Dave

    The cultural “infrastructure” you and I inherited, Peregrin, is decidedly Judeo-Christian. A good Western Civ course would … oh never mind that. Your restatement of what I am arguing is somewhat accurate for this reason: I just believe people are happier when their institutions reflect their culture. Happy. What a concept. Gays gravitate to gay friendly communities, Jewish people head for Miami, Mennonites buy up land in S. Georgia and N. Florida, New Yorkers flee New York if they have the means, the Amish are, well, Amish. When I hear that someone in Wyoming is doing things with a Cowboy bias, it just doesn’t bother me. It’s a live and let live approach to life, and that’s where these “weird ideas” are coming from. If the Central Florida Freethought Community (which may consist of Ed, Mary and Ed’s cousin Bert) are having second thoughts about moving to a county chock full of Evangelical Christian types, maybe they’d feel happier in Lancaster County, Pa. Or Farrakhan’s neighborhood. It’s a vast country, Peregrin, and if the paradise we all need to envision is one where any hipster from Portland can go anywhere in the country and receive not the least tremor of culture shock, it just ain’t gonna happen. Nor should it.
    The only Constitutional issue that may be in play in Orange County is one of prohibiting the free exercise of religion, and that would only apply if the Freethought Society deems their non-religious philosophy to be religious, which I doubt they care to do. As I said above, if their philosphy has wings and eventually prevails throughout the area, I have no problem with the School Board taking note of that and I would expect them to reflect the local culture. Evangelicals uncomfortable with that will find their Paradise in Pensacola.

    • No, the infrastructure is Greco-Roman-Anglo-Saxon-Norman-Dutch-Iroquous-American.

      The word “Christian” doesn’t appear once in the Constitution, Dave. The only time religion is mentioned in the Constitution is to say that the government shouldn’t tell people what to do about it.

      Christians didn’t invent schools, Dave, or school boards.

      The legal infrastructure of the First Amendment is absolutely non-Christian. There never was any tradition in Christianity of freedom of religion, or freedom of the press, or freedom of speech. Is that why you’re arguing against the First Amendment? Because it shows how non-Christian American government is?

      • Dave

        Of course not. In an attempt to stay on point, (which is hard to do when being asked irrelevant questions) one irony that I have overlooked on this is that America’s schools generally speaking are notoriously anti-First Amendment, and colleges and universities are over the top in violating it. If school administrators can appoint themselves as arbiters of what speech will or will not be tolerated and receive so little criticism for doing so (for who can stop them?) then it stands to reason that they believe they retain to themselves the right and thus the power to make all kinds of decisions that a strict reading of the First Amendment would prohibit. Do they have that right? If yes, then galling as it may be, they can decide who distributes what on campus.
        I rather suspect that if this School Board is as feckless as most it will welcome the lawsuit brought by the Freethought people, as it will settle an issue they may not have had the cajones to take on themselves.

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