Positive Atheism Forum
Atheist Book Covers
Nixed In Texas As
It seems that distributing atheistic book covers to counter the hundreds of thousands of Christian book covers being distributed to school children contain "hateful" sentiments -- a quote from President John Adams!
See my December, 1996, column, "How Do Others See Us?" which asks whether atheist groups are rightly considered hate groups, and join our Forum Discussion which asks the question, "Are Atheist Groups Rightly Seen As Hate Groups?".
This just in from American Atheists:
AANEWS for August 17, 2000
Atheist Book Covers Nixed In Texas?
Atheist Plea For "Equal Access" Over Book Covers Denied by Texas School District? Commandments Distribution Continues
The state of Texas has seen battles over prayer in classrooms, vouchers, invocations at graduation ceremonies and football games, and teaching creationism in the public schools. Now, a new fight -- and possibly even a legal showdown -- is shaping up over book covers.
That's right. Book covers.
In the Grand Prairie School District outside of Dallas-Fort Worth, Karen Wiegman has been working hard to distribute 20,000 book jackets which feature pictures of sports stars and the Declaration of Independence and a copy of the Ten Commandments. Texas American Atheists State Director Hogan, along with Metroplex Atheist activist Shelly Hattan, decided to test the "equal access" which school authorities said that they would give to any group seeking to distribute their covers. Hattan and other members designed and printed an attractive jacket, black ink on white paper, which features quotes about Atheism from American Atheists founder Madalyn O'Hair -- a longtime Texas resident -- and several U.S. Presidents and other prominent historical figures such as Tom Paine, Ben Franklin and Ethan Allen.
The district had two alternatives -- either prohibit distribution of Wiegman's Ten Commandments book covers on school property, or establish fair and impartial rules which allowed all qualified groups and viewpoints to be heard. A policy statement from the school district titled "Student Activities: Publications and Prior Review" stipulated that classrooms and hallways were not appropriate, and instructed schools to make available "approved areas."
Other guidelines state that certain offensive and other materials such as ads for tobacco, alcohol or "other hazards" are banned, along with "obscene or sexually inappropriate" content, libelous statement, and in some cases "Publications that criticize Board members or school officials or advocate violation of school rules." Another prohibition concerns "Hate literature that scurrilously attacks ethnic, religious, or racial groups, and similarly irresponsible publications aimed at creating hostility and violence...."
On August 3, American Atheists Texas State Director Dick Hogan contacted Dr. David Barbosa, the Superintendent of the Grand Prairie School District, stating: "The American Atheists, Inc. is going to make available atheist book covers to be distributed and made accessible to the students ...
"It is our intent to participate in the free speech efforts of other self interest groups that the Grand Prairie School Board has sanctioned. These book covers will be available for any student wishing to express a personal statement of secular thought on or after August 14, 2000..."
A follow up letter dated August 16 acknowledged receipt of school guidelines, and stated again: "Our intent is to exercise the same right of distribution the Grand Prairie School District does allow the book covers produced by the Family Research Council and (which) is currently being made available to GPISD students..."
FRC, a Washington, D.C. "family values" group headed by former GOP presidential nomination hopeful Gary Bauer, has distributed over 600,000 Commandments book covers as part of its nationwide "Hang Ten" campaign which advocates display of the Decalogue, often on government property and classrooms.
School district officials have apparently nixed the Atheist plan to distribute alternative book covers, said Metroplex spokesperson Shelly Hattan earlier today. "Their guidelines state that if you have not heard from them within 24 hours, you can consider your request to exercise the First Amendment in the Grand Prairie School District denied."
Hattan also noted that Dr. Michael Grace, a member of the GPSB, earlier stated that the American Atheist covers "may have to be edited," particularly regarding a quote from John Adams, the nation's second president, who referred to the "bloody history" of Christianity.
"We wanted to test the district's policy, and see how consistent it really is regarding equal access and free expression for all points of view," Hattan said. "Ms. Wiegman's campaign to distribute the Ten Commandments book covers threatens to turn the schools into religious battle zones. But by denying us the right to distribute our book covers, it simply demonstrates that the school district has a pretty narrow and biased view of free speech."
Texas State Director Dick Hogan also saw an inconsistency in the school district's silence and apparent rejection of the Atheist book covers. Citing the stipulation against "hateful" speech, Hogan noted:
"I'm shocked at the kind of things that would be considered hate literature nowadays. Quotes from our founding fathers on religion are considered too hateful to allow in schools, but the first commandments, which tells non-Christians that their gods are bogus, and the fourth and tenth commandments, which reference proper treatment of slaves, are just fine."
To:"Positive Atheism Magazine"<email@example.com>
Subject: Re: NEWS FORUM: Atheistic Book Covers 'Hate Literature'?
Date: Thursday, August 17, 2000 8:22 PM
Seems that in Texas religious diversity means which evangelical christian church you attend.
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: NEWS FORUM: Atheistic Book Covers 'Hate Literature'?
Date: Friday, August 18, 2000 1:01 AM
Any such law designating atheistic book covers or atheistic books as hate literature is an abridgement of free speech. Further, it could be said that any literature disparaging atheists is hate literature. Any such law would have to applied to all. If the definition of hate literature were in religious terms, that law would be unconstitutional.
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