A religious freedom group is offering pro bono legal representation to any Florida school that is threatened with a lawsuit for taking part in a state reading contest that features a book in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series.
As part of Governor Jeb Bush's Just Read, Florida! program, students are being encouraged to read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in conjunction with the December release of a Disney movie based on the book. The director of the program, Mary Laura Openshaw, tells the Palm Beach Post that the goal of the program is “to get kids reading” and that state officials did not approach the reading program to help Disney or the promoter of the film, Walden Media.
But it is not the commercial aspect of the venture that bothers the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is arguing that the contest violates the First Amendment because it promotes a “religious story.” Barry Lynn, director of Americans United (AU), tells the Post that the Florida contest is “just totally inappropriate” because of the themes of the book. “It is simply a retelling of the story of Christ,” says Lynn.
Openshaw responds that the story can be read without references to Christianity, and that children can “read the book and decide for themselves” about any correlation with the story of Jesus Christ.
Regardless, the situation is ripe for possible lawsuits against schools that institute the Narnia contest. That is why the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based religious liberty group, has offered to provide free legal representation to any schools Americans United threatens with legal action.
Gary McCaleb, senior counsel with ADF, calls AU's attempt to censor the book “classic left-wing activism.”
“When I see the far-left coming out of the bunch of book-banners, as they are in this case, I just shake my head,” McCaleb says. “The amazing thing to me is they focus on Narnia and really the only way you can understand Narnia to be a 'Christian book' [series] is to know a lot about Christianity to begin with to see that there are some analogies there.”
AU is calling on Governor Bush to replace The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe with what it calls an “alternative non-religious book.” McCaleb contends Americans United is clearly exhibiting that it is trying to stifle speech it does not like.
“All these other non-Christian religious books are being suggested reading for these kids, and yet when [Americans United] comes out, what do they hit? The one book that isn't even expressly religious it's strictly allegorical. What's up with that?” the attorney asks. “It's an anti-Christian agenda, and I think AU just really showed what kind of group they really are.”
Such groups, according to the attorney, often “rail against censorship but seldom miss an opportunity to squelch speech they dislike.” He adds: “In their America, it is always winter and never Christmas.”
To enter the reading contest, students in grades 3-5 must submit an essay of up to 1,000 words. Upper grade students must submit an original illustration (grades 6-8) or a short video (grades 9-12). Prizes include a private movie screening in Orlando, a motel stay and dinner at Disney facilities, and gift certificates.
(This article courtesy of Agape Press.)