DELTA, Colo. (Christian Examiner) – A school district in Colorado is scheduled to allow students access to atheist and Satanic literature April 1, but the atheist group that pushed for entry to the schools is crying foul after administrators chose to censor two of its pamphlets.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation is providing much of the literature, which will appear alongside literature from the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers and the Satanic Temple. The two pamphlets in question, however, will not appear as they were originally offered.
One, An X-Rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible, features a cartoon of an angry Bible groping a woman. What Does the Bible Say About Abortion? – the second pamphlet – features a woodcutting of Adam and Eve on its cover. Both figures are nude.
"It is inappropriate in a school setting; we would not allow any of the high school students to wear or otherwise display such a cartoon," Aaron Clay, an attorney for the school district, said in response to the atheist group. "Why would we allow them to carry it in the building? It may also qualify as hate literature, demeaning women."
Censoring the materials in this case falls squarely within the school district's rights and its policies. While the district notes it cannot discriminate by refusing to allow the groups to offer free literature to students, they can limit the offerings if the materials promote or depict violence or are obscene or pornographic, a news release from the district said.
Controversy began in the small Colorado town when a teacher took students to the library in one of the schools in December. The teacher informed students during the visit that the Gideons International had provided Bibles for them in English and Spanish if they wanted to take one. According to FFRF, the Bibles were positioned near the door so students would have to make a choice as they left the room.
Many students took a Bible. However, one student objected to the giveaway, snapped a photo of the stacks of red and blue Bibles on her cell phone, and sent it to her mother. The mother then contacted FFRF, alleging that students who did not take a Bible were bullied or "shamed" by other students. FFRF objected to the Gideons' distribution of Bibles and later requested the opportunity to submit materials for students to review.
On Feb. 29, Clay responded in a letter on behalf of the district. He said the district was "not disqualifying the Gideons from making their materials available" and explained that any error in how the Bibles were distributed was on the part of school personnel and not the Gideons International. He also claimed the atheist group could "directly submit any materials you wish to have made available to students" to Superintendent Caryn Gibson.
It is inappropriate in a school setting; we would not allow any of the high school students to wear or otherwise display such a cartoon. ... Why would we allow them to carry it in the building? It may also qualify as hate literature, demeaning women.
On March 3, FFRF's attorney Andrew Seidel sent the district a list of materials it would be providing for students. On the list was the pamphlet about the "X-rated" sexual practices contained in the Bible and a Satanic coloring book. The Satanic coloring book will be allowed.
FFRF, however, claims the school district now should bow to its wishes and allow its full complement of literature. According to the atheist group's co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, the district's leadership "misses the point entirely."
"The cover image [on the "X-rated Bible" pamphlet] is a feminist cartoon whose message is that the Bible itself demeans women," Gaylor said.
The group's attorney also weighed in on the notion that some of the literature could be described as hate literature and pornography. The image on the abortion piece is from a famous woodcutting by German artist Albrecht Dürer.
"The idea that that the pamphlet qualifies as hate literature is absurd, and if you're banning it on those grounds, then the district must ban the Bible too," Seidel said. "If you actually examine the pamphlet, you will see that it is comprised almost entirely of Bible quotes. There is absolutely no way for the district to exclude the pamphlet and allow the Bible to be distributed."
"The school has no ability to censor any materials based on their viewpoint once it opens a forum," Seidel also said. "That is why open forums in public schools are such a bad idea. If you want to open a forum, you do not get to determine what is acceptable and not."
Rather than keep the pamphlet out of the schools, FFRF has announced it modified the cover of the "X-rated Bible" booklet with a sticker covering the feminist cartoon. It reads "Censored by order of Delta County Schools." The district has not said yet if it will ultimately allow the work.
In addition to the placement of atheist and Satanic literature in the schools, members of the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers will host a forum for students called, "Ask an Atheist." The purpose of the program is to "dispel some of the myths about atheism." In the eyes of the FFRF, such a presentation is acceptable, though they would likely object to a similar Christian presentation.
The school district has issued a notice of its policy. In it, it claims there will "possibly be non-curricular materials that are distributed" in middle and high schools on April 1. According to the policy, only school employees will be allowed to oversee the presentation of the literature. It also claims, "Non-curricular literature is optional for students. It is not a requirement at any time."