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Will Satanist material, Bibles both be banned from some Florida schools?

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Chuck Burton/AP

(Read caption) If Bibles can be distributed on public school campuses, does this open the door to material from atheistic and Satanist groups as well?

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After a Satanic group asked to distribute books about its faith in some Florida public schools, the Orange County school board moved late last week toward preventing the distribution of any kind of religious literature on its campuses, a reversal in a controversial debate that has gone national. 

For the past few years, the Orange County school policy has allowed religious groups to distribute literature on high school campuses on select days of the year. The policy gained national media attention when atheists and Satanists, along with Christian groups, began asking permission to make their religious literature available for students.

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Most recently, the Satanic Temple has asked to distribute its books to students just like any other religious group – including coloring books featuring cartoon children performing Satanic rituals and drawing pentagrams in school.

The request again sparked debate over the school district's controversial rule allowing religious groups to distribute literature on its campuses.

"This really has, frankly, gotten out of hand," chairman Bill Sublette said during a school workshop Thursday, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel. "I think we've seen a group or groups take advantage of the open forum we've had."

As a result, the school board has discussed the possibility of revoking the policy allowing distribution of religious literature – a policy change Katherine Marsh, communications director for OCPS, hinted at in an interview with the Monitor for a prior post on the issue

Asked last month if the school board would be obliged to approve a request by an atheist group to distribute a controversial pamphlet criticizing the Bible, Ms. Marsh responded, "No. The school board between now and then can say we’re not distributing any materials. The board can work on this with Woody Rodriguez and staff to say we don’t want any materials distributed. Period."

That decision – which the school board can't officially make until late January or early February – indicates that the OCPS is acting in bad faith, Doug Mesner, co-founder and spokesman for The Satanic Temple, told the Sentinel.

"It strongly implies they never intended to have a plurality of voices," said Mr. Mesner, who also goes by the pseudonym Lucien Greaves.

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At least one Christian group is similarly displeased.

"They seem to be moving against the interests of a large part of the community," Evangelical World Changers Vice President Greg Harper, told the Sentinel. "The Bible will open somebody's heart, somebody's mind, and cause them to pursue answers."

The hubbub over the Satanic coloring book, and other past controversial books, is at the center of a controversial dispute that has pitted school officials promoting appropriate environments for students against religious groups asserting their First Amendment rights.

Just one month ago, The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist group lobbied to distribute controversial pamphlets in several Florida public high schools depicting a lecherous human-like Bible sexually assaulting a young woman.

The pamphlet is entitled: “An X-Rated Book: Sex and Obscenity in the Bible," and its cover features a cartoon illustration of a humanized Bible with a face, arms, and legs, reaching under the dress of a screaming woman who is trying to escape.

Their argument? If other religious groups are given permission to hand out materials, they should, too. After consulting with legal counsel, the school board eventually said it would allow the atheist group to distribute materials – if it asked permission and the school policy remained unchanged.

However, given the uproar created by that incident, the school has indicated it will likely change its policy and revoke free distribution for all religious groups.