DENVER (AP) – It sounds like an April Fool’s joke, but it’s not.
Atheists provided pamphlets on topics like sex in the Bible, problems with the Ten Commandments and a Satanic activity book to middle and high school students in a rural Colorado district Friday, the result of a fight between Delta County schools and critics over whether it should continue to let everyone from Little League organizers to the Gideons distribute literature in schools.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation is behind the literature. The Madison, Wisconsin-based group got involved after a mother sought help in December from the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers, which contacted the foundation.
The woman was upset about Bibles made available in schools on tables designated for pamphlet and book giveaways, and there were also complaints that students who didn’t take them were bullied, said Anne Landman, founder of Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation successfully sued over a similar distribution policy in Orlando, Florida schools. In an effort to also change policy in the Delta County district, the foundation asked for permission to offer the pamphlets, which it calls “non-tracts”, as well as the activity book on the same tables. Despite the name of the activity book, the Satanic theme is limited to symbols in drawings. The book, which includes word jumbles and other games, teaches kindness and “the basic morals that we all agree on”, foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said.
In a letter to district superintendent Caryn Gibson, foundation lawyer Andrew Seidel said the group would rather the district just change its policy and stop all groups from distributing literature in schools.
District spokesman Kurt Clay said the policy is not aimed at helping religious proselytizing but allowing the easy distribution of information about outside groups like Little League and the Boy Scouts in small towns where there are no recreation centers and most extracurricular activities are run by volunteers. He said officials are considering changing the policy but that will take some time.
“We’re trying to get the proper material out to kids,” he said.
Clay said the school district did not want to risk a costly lawsuit but also decided that students would not be hurt by the giveaway and might also learn about different views on religion.
He said allowing the material to be made available on April 1 was just a coincidence. It follows a string of standardized testing days and is the last day before spring break.
Clay said only enough material for about a tenth of students was provided. By midday, some materials were completely gone while tables in other schools still had some remaining, he said.
Landman said allowing Bibles into schools is just one way the district has made it difficult for its non-Christian minority. Her group also complained about a Bible study with a teacher who offered free doughnuts to students who showed up for the gathering before school. The Daily Sentinel reported that the district recently discontinued the group but the gathering has been revived by students instead.
For now, she said that literature distribution is shining a “white hot spotlight” on the district.
“It’s gotten people thinking,” she said.
– By COLLEEN SLEVIN, AP Writer
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