Fort Myers, FL – Today [July 1] Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit to overturn a recent ban on distributing Bibles on the public school campuses of Collier County, Florida. For years, the school board allowed World Changers to distribute free Bibles to interested students during off-school hours on Religious Freedom Day, but now the school officials claim that Bibles do not provide any educational benefit to the students and the distribution should stop.
The Collier County School District policy specifically allows the distribution of literature by nonprofit organizations, but only with the approval of the superintendent and the Community Request Committee, whose members are appointed by the superintendent. Approval was denied to World Changers, despite the fact that its distribution included a disclaimer of any school endorsement or sponsorship and that receiving a Bible was purely voluntary. The district, nevertheless, censored World Changers’ message simply because it included the Bible.
The school district, like many others, suffers from a misunderstanding of the First Amendment. The Establishment Clause does not prohibit private religious speech or literature; under Supreme Court case law, it prohibits only government religious speech. The distribution of Bibles by World Changers is private speech. As the Supreme Court has stated: “There is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect.” Collier County does not appear to understand this crucial difference.
Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented: “How sad that on the eve of Independence Day, when we celebrate the religious and political freedom our forefathers won for us at the cost of much blood and great sacrifice, we are compelled to sue to protect the right simply to make free Bibles available to students in public schools. Many of our founding fathers were taught to read using the Bible. If it had no educational value, then many of them would have been illiterate. The distribution of religious literature in a forum opened for secular literature is constitutionally protected.”
This article is excerpted from a Liberty Counsel press release.