CINCINNATI -- It may not have had the draw of Bill Nye the Science Guy versus Greg Ham of the Creation Museum debating evolution and intelligent design, but word that the Gideons and atheist were planning to set up shop outside of Boone County high schools on the last day of school had all the makings of a spectacle.
The Tri-State Freethinkers group announced Tuesday morning it would be handing out “A Young Atheists Survival Guide” by Hemant Mehta after it said it got complaints from parents that the Gideons got approval to hand out Bibles on school property.
The problem was, the Freethinkers, plus the Alliance of Secular Students and another atheist group showed up, but the Gideons did not.
The Freethinkers said parents complained to the American Civil Liberties Union and that based on the Equal Access Act of 1984, the schools had to allow other groups to distribute literature as well.
"We live in a nation of laws, we live in a nation in which everyone, no matter from where they come or what they believe or what they do not believe has equal protection and equal access," said Jamila Bey, who came from Washington D.C. to hand out the literature.
Boone County schools said the groups could set up tables on the public sidewalk off of school property. Those atheist groups did just that, offering a variety of literature.
Some high school students took up individuals on their offers for free literature, stating they thought it fair that the atheist groups were there. They said Christian organizations often hand out literature to students.
The district confirmed it followed the guidelines from the Kentucky Department of Education that say the schools must follow court decisions prohibiting discrimination if groups distribute material on school grounds with the school’s permission.
“In other words, if you allow one you have to allow all groups- as long as they are not disruptive,” Community Relations Coordinator Barbara Cain-Brady said.
The Freethinkers planned to hand out 200 books to students between the four district high schools.
The event came not long after a similar issue in Clark County, Ky., when Bibles were handed out to elementary students.
The Freethinkers said in response, it placed “What is Humanism” children’s books on tables in school libraries after school hours.
The group said the money to pay for Tuesday’s book donation came from private donors. Members of several high school and college Secular Student Alliance members handed out the books.
The Freethinkers claimed that American Atheists President David Silverman was planning on attending but the American Atheists said Tuesday afternoon that he was not taking part.
The Freethinkers group claims it is not out to “defeat or degrade” religion but to keep it out of a closed and required government environment where a privileged status could be implied.
The group said it is made up of more than 300 atheists, agnostic and religious members who balance community service work with advocacy of civil rights and the separation of church and state.