Americans United Raps Florida Governor For Contest Promoting Religious Book

AU's Lynn Says Bush Should Open Constitutionally Suspect Contest To Non-Religious Books

In a letter today to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Americans United for Separation of Church and State called a state-sponsored contest promoting a religious book constitutionally problematic.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said Bush’s “Just Read, Florida!” contest employs government channels to encourage state students to read C.S. Lewis’ Christian allegory, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

“Gov. Bush’s contest to promote a religious story is an offense to the First Amendment,” Lynn said. “It’s simply not the function of state officials to promote religion. This contest should be opened up to include non-religious books as well.”

The Florida reading contest coincides with the major motion picture release based on the book. According to the governor’s Web site, the contest asks students in grades 3-12 to submit essays, artwork or videos after reading the Lewis book, in which a group of children face good and evil in fantasy land filled with talking animals known as Narnia. The book is a Christian allegory that many religious leaders use to introduce children to Christianity.

The awards for the winners include a private movie screening in Orlando, a two-night stay at a Disney resort, gift certificates to Borders and Starbucks and a copy of the book signed by the governor and his wife Columba.

In his Oct. 20 letter, Lynn noted that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is part of the 7-book Narnia series “widely recognized as a Christian” based collection. Lynn’s letter cited a 2005 National Review article that states “the fundamental purpose of the Narnia stories is to convey the reality of Christian truth.”  

Lynn wrote that the state’s contest featuring the book “creates the appearance of a governmental endorsement of the book’s religious message” in violation of the separation of church and state.

Because the contest is already under way, Lynn urged the governor to “allow students to submit entries based on an alternative, non-religious book” instead of discontinuing the contest.

“The contest is another example of Jeb Bush’s long running effort to fund and promote religion,” Lynn added.

Since the start of his administration, Bush has pushed a sweeping statewide school voucher program that funnels millions of public dollars to private sectarian schools. The constitutionality of Bush’s so-called “A+ Plan for Education” has been challenged and is before the state’s supreme court.

During the summer, Bush unveiled his “All Pro Dad” program calling on the state’s public schools to host a Christian-based program to encourage fathers to become more involved in their children’s lives.

The governor has also staunchly called for prison ministry programs, opening the nation’s first “faith-based” prison.

“Bush appears intent on running roughshod over a fundamental constitutional principle,” Lynn added. “He should change course now and correct the constitutionally suspect state-sponsored book reading contest.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.