FL School Board Ducks Anti-Religion Challenge

     ORLANDO, Fla. (CN) – Claims against a Florida school district that initially barred distribution of materials criticizing the Bible and religion are largely moot, a federal judge ruled.
     Three individuals had joined the Freedom From Religion Foundation in its complaint against the Orange County School Board last year, claiming that it barred them from distributing materials in the district criticizing various religions. Claiming that a group called the World Changers of Florida had been allowed to distribute copies of the Bible, the plaintiffs said their treatment amounted to a violation of the First and 14th Amendments.
     In fact World Changers of Florida had done so only after settling its own claims against the Collier County school board.
     It was that settlement that Orange County’s school board cited in declining to approve various materials that the plaintiffs had submitted.
     Collier County Consent Decree in terms of the materials being appropriate for students. In the ensuing complaint, the plaintiffs characterized the move as “illegally discriminated against the viewpoints contained in those materials.”
     The lawsuit led the district to approve the materials this past January, saying the plaintiffs could distribute all their previously submitted materials at the same time and in the same manner as other groups. The district also told the plaintiffs that it “has no intention in the future to prohibit these materials.”
     Senior U.S. District Judge G. Kendall Sharp dismissed the lawsuit as moot on July 3, noting that the plaintiffs chose not to participate in the distribution.
     “In this case, the circumstances are sufficiently clear that the alleged wrongful behavior – defendant’s initial prohibition of a subset of materials that Plaintiffs sought to distribute – will not recur in the future,” Sharp wrote.
     He added that, “from the time that the events giving rise to this case occurred to the present, defendant has maintained its use of the Collier County Consent Decree as a policy governing the limited public forum in its schools.”
     “Therefore, the circumstances in this case – allowing plaintiffs to distribute the materials defendant had previously prohibited – is more aptly characterized as a recommitment to existing policy than a change of policy,” the opinion continues.
     Sharp also noted the board’s unambiguous position “that each of the materials plaintiffs sought to distribute will be unconditionally allowed.”
     “Further, plaintiffs were provided an opportunity to distribute all of the materials for which they had sought prior approval at the distribution event that occurred on January 16, 2014,” he wrote. “The fact that the plaintiffs chose not to participate in the January 16, 2014 event is of no consequence to the court’s mootness analysis.”
     Sharp dismissed the case without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

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