The Freedom from Religion Foundation, which describes itself as a nontheistic nonprofit, is giving Leon County School District an ultimatum: Ban the Bible or stop banning books altogether.
In an email sent to school board members on July 14, Freedom from Religion foundation piled onto a recent successful effort by the local chapter of conservative group Moms for Liberty to pull five books found in Leon County high schools.
“We are disturbed that the district has chosen to start removing books from school libraries based oncontent taken out of context at the request of extremist groups like Moms for Liberty,” foundation Staff Attorney Christopher Line said in the published email to the district.
Following prodding from Moms for Liberty Leon chapter, Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna announced on July 10 during that five books would be removed from high school libraries.
“Of these 468,000-plus books that we have in our current catalog, if we come across those we deem are in violation of state statute, we will remove them immediately… These are black-and-white, cut-and-dry, need-to-be removed,” Hanna said.
The five books were not removed in a formal hearing process, instead they were reviewed by Hanna and removed without a hearing from members of the public.
“We don’t believe any books should be banned, including the Bible,” Line told the Tallahassee Democrat in an interview. “In cases like this where a school district appears to be using a footpath to discriminate, we demand that they apply that equally across the board to all books that have sexually explicit content, including the Bible.”
Freedom from Religion says the Bible should be banned based on the same reasoning Moms for Liberty presented in their request; “sexually explicit content.”
“We write to request that the District either ban the bible based on the criterion of ‘sexually explicitcontent’ it has used to ban these books, or cease banning books and return the banned books to schoolshelves,” Line wrote in the email.
The chair of of Leon County’s Moms for Liberty chapter is not surprised by Freedom from Religion’s request.
“Those who would prematurely sexualize other people’s children in schools, also do not want children exposed to The Bible,” Priscilla West told the Tallahassee Democrat. “I don’t foresee LCS Board members taking a stand to remove the Bible from school libraries, but even if they did, would it make any difference in the children’s daily educational experience?”
“Happily, in this country The Bible would still be widely available outside of schools to all who choose to enrich themselves with its wisdom.”
Leon County School District spokesperson Chris Petley told the Tallahassee Democrat on Monday that no comment would be available on the matter until the board reviews the request. The next school board meeting will be 2 p.m. July 24 to discuss the first official book challenge hearing of “I am Billie Jean King” by Brad Meltzer.
Not the first Bible challenge
While the Bible has been challenged and reviewed across the state in school districts, it has never been banned.
Chaz Stevens, a political activist from Deerfield Beach, sent 62 superintendents in Florida a request in April 2022 to ban the Bible, making it the first official complaint for Leon County Schools. This came on the heels of Gov. Ron DeSantis signing HB 1467 into law on March 28, 2022.
The law allows parents of students to review learning materials and contest them if they’re considered inappropriate.
“My goal is to use the law as our expert politicians in Tallahassee intended,” Stevens said last year. “There were no carve outs for religious texts, so I would assume they meant for them to be in play.”
The School Board quickly dismissed Stevens’ challenge.
The latest challenge comes days after Barry Silver, an outspoken civil rights activist, challenged the Bible in Palm Beach County for containing, “misogyny, violence, sexual conduct, rape, incest, animal cruelty, abuse, anti-Semitism, anti-science and indoctrination.”
Back story:Under new Florida law, activist requests 62 school districts to ban the Bible, including LCS
Recent headlines:Moms for Liberty objections lead Leon County Schools superintendent to pull five books
“The Bible has this elevated, sacrosanct status that it cannot be evaluated. That’s really dangerous,” Silver told the Palm Beach Post last week. “If you’re going to have these laws, then you have to do it in an even-handed fashion. You can’t just get rid of books you don’t like and consider others to be above critical review.”
The Bible was submitted for review in Brevard County Public Schools in May, along with nearly 300 other books, by an anonymous person who claimed it and other books broke state statutes. However, school board members did not see the Bible as an issue and decided to keep it on the shelves.
Last fall, the Bible was temporarily removed from shelves in Escambia County, Florida, for review amid more than 100 other books that were on a list the district maintains. The district swiftly returned the book to classroom and library shelves.
In June, a parent in Utah, backed by Freedom from Religion, submitted a complaint about the Bible in the Davis School District, citing passages describing sex and violence. The district placed the Bible under review and ultimately decided to remove it from elementary and middle school libraries for containing “vulgarity or violence.” The decision is being appealed by another parent.
Tallahassee Democrat writer Alaijah Brown can be reached at ABrown1@gannett.com.