Fort Myers, FL – A federal judge has entered a Consent Decree that overturns the decision of the Collier County School Board, which banned voluntary distribution of Bibles to high school students on Religious Freedom Day. This Decree is the culmination of litigation brought by Liberty Counsel to vindicate the constitutional rights of World Changers, the local group denied equal access by the school board.
For years, the school board allowed World Changers to provide free Bibles to interested students by placing them on tables where students could voluntarily pick one up during noninstructional time. However, on Religious Freedom Day in 2009, school officials banned the Bible distribution, claiming that Bibles do not provide any educational benefit to the students and violate the so-called separation of church and state. The Collier County School District policy specifically allows the distribution of literature by nonprofit organizations, and no other groups were similarly banned. The district censored World Changers’ message simply because it included the Bible, while other private groups remained free to distribute their private literature.
Liberty Counsel made repeated attempts to educate the school board and correct its misunderstanding of the Establishment Clause, which does not prohibit private religious speech or literature. When those efforts failed, Liberty Counsel filed suit in federal court to vindicate the constitutional rights of World Changers. Seeing the writing on the wall, the school board has now decided to reverse course, allow the Bible distribution, and reimburse Liberty Counsel for the substantial legal fees and costs necessitated by the lawsuit. The Consent Decree provides all of this relief.
Mathew Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “The Collier County School District learned an unnecessarily expensive lesson. The First Amendment does not tolerate discrimination against private religious viewpoints because of a mythical wall of separation between church and state. Equal access means equal access for all viewpoints, including religious viewpoints.”
This column was originally a news release from the Liberty Counsel.