Gov. Bush Introduces Children to Narnia

It seems Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a C.S. Lewis fan. Just as the film version of Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is set for release in theaters, Bush is urging school children to read the book as part of his "Just Read, Florida!" initiative.

Bush launched the statewide reading program in 2001 with the goal of every child reading at or above grade level by the year 2012, and a Lewis quote was even chosen as the motto: "We read to know we are not alone."

"The opportunity to inspire the love of reading in a child is a great honor and an extraordinary responsibility," Bush said.

According to the Just Read, Florida! Web site, "The book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis was first published over fifty years ago. The story introduces readers to four English schoolchildren who find their way through the back of a wardrobe into the magic land of Narnia. They assist Aslan, the golden lion, to triumph over the White Witch, who has cursed the land with eternal winter."

This year, Florida's department of education is sponsoring age-appropriate contests for public school students based on the book with categories that include acting out scenes from the story or choosing which character one would like to be and telling why.

But not everyone is pleased with the plan. Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to Bush asking that he add an alternative, nonreligious book to the contest and that future contest feature only nonreligious books.

Barry Lynn, president of Americans United, said the state's sponsorship of the contest "creates the appearance of a governmental endorsement of the book's religious message, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

In his letter to Bush, Lynn cited Lewis, who said that he hoped his "Chronicles of Narnia" books, of which the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first written, would "make it easier for children to accept Christianity when they met it later in life."

Responding to Lynn's objection, attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund are offering free legal representation to any Florida schools threatened with lawsuits for participating in the governor's reading contest.

"The governor's campaign is clearly designed to promote reading in conjunction with a much-anticipated film; it is not designed to promote religion," ADF senior counsel Gary McCaleb said in a release November 7. "ADF will defend any school district in the nation that gets sued by AUSCS, the ACLU, or any other group for having students read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as long as the school allows students to opt out of reading it if they or their parents don't want to."

The film opens in theaters nationwide December 9, and Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando has announced the simultaneous opening of a new attraction called "Journey into Narnia: Creating The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." The fifteen-minute walk-through attraction begins with visitors stepping into a giant wardrobe for a behind-the-scenes look at the movie, according to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.

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