Florida school district agrees to settlement with religious group seeking to distribute Bibles in schools
The Naples News reports that the Collier County School Board (CCSB) appears to have reached a settlement agreement with World Changers of Florida, a local Christian organization that has been seeking to distribute the Bibles in Collier County’s public schools. The suit was brought after World Changers of Florida President Jerry Rutherford’s requests in 2008 and 2009 to distribute Bibles in Collier County School District (CCSD) middle and high schools were denied. World Changers of Florida filed the suit in the federal district court challenging CCSD’s decision to prohibit its members from passing out free Bibles on Religious Freedom Day, which is held every Jan. 16. World Changers is being represented by attorneys from Liberty Counsel.
Horatio Mihet, an attorney representing World Changers, said Rutherford had previously been allowed to distribute Bibles provided he followed the guidelines outlined in the Peck v. Upshur County Board of Education decision. The guidelines allow for Bibles to be placed on an unmanned table for distribution in places where students normally congregate and where the students would not feel that they were being watched or pressured. However, attorney Jim Fox, who is representing CCSD, pointed out that the question of whether Rutherford was passive is disputed in an affidavit signed by CCSD attorney Jon Fishbane provided to the court.
CCSB’s policy requires nonprofit organizations to obtain approval of the superintendent and a Community Request Committee, whose members are appointed by the superintendent, in order to distribute literature on school campuses. The policy also states that requests must be “carefully reviewed to ensure that such activities promote student interests, provide educational benefit to the students, and do not exploit the school system, its employees, students or parents.” Fox argued in court that CCSD is entitled deference in regard to its policy. “Government ought not and cannot appear to favor one group over another,” he said. Mihet countered that the school district does not have a right to interpret its policies as it sees fit, should that interpretation exclude another’s freedom of speech.
According to Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mathew Staver, the preliminary agreement reached by the attorneys of both parties, ” . . . allows World Changers to have a presence at school on Religious Freedom Day and results in payment (by the district) of attorney’s fees for our time.” Staver said the agreement will allow the World Changers to leave Bibles in Collier middle and high schools on Religious Freedom Day, allowing the students to take a Bible if they wish.
Source: Naples News, 9/7/10, By Katherine Albers
[Editor's Note: In July 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (AR, IA, MN, MO, ND, NE, SD) upheld a lower court’s issuance of a permanent injunction barring the distribution of Bibles to elementary school students on school property during the school day. A summary of the opinion is available at the first link below.
The Peck v. Upshur decision was a ruling by the Fourth Circuit (MD, NC, SC, VA, WV) holding that a school board’s policy permitting religious groups to engage in passive distribution of Bibles in secondary schools one day a year by making the Bibles available at an unmanned tables in halls of the schools does not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. A summary of the opinion is available to COSA members at the second link below.]