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Patti Wigington

Was Pagan Student Harassed by Teacher?

By December 5, 2011

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I recently was sent a link to this post from the Atlanta Independent Media Center, which chronicles the story of 11-year-old Christopher Turner. Apparently young Christopher, who happens to be a straight-A student, was told by his teacher than "Paganism is not a real religion" when his parents allowed him to take Samhain off as a religious holiday. Not only that, when another student later asked what Paganism was, the teacher "looked directly at Christopher, not the student asking the question, and replied "anything that is non-biblical is paganism."

It gets even better. Christopher, who is part Hispanic, was speaking Spanish on the school bus with another student and was allegedly singled out by the driver, who told him to stop. When he continued, the bus driver issued an In School Suspension, saying, "If he (Christopher) continues to speak in a language that I can not understand then he will get in trouble."

According to the article, Christopher's mother has been trying to arrange a meeting with the principal and teacher but has been unable to get one scheduled. I've emailed the district Superintendent asking for his comments, and will pass those along to you as soon as I hear anything.

Meanwhile, as a parent of not one but TWO eleven-year-olds, all I can say is that if this story is accurate, and this child was removed from a classroom and lectured by a teacher about religious beliefs, then there are some serious issues at play. We wouldn't stand for it if another student harassed Christopher, and there is no excuse for an adult to do so either.

Wondering what legal rights your children have as Pagan students? Be sure to read the Federal Guidelines on Religion in Public Schools.  

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December 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm
(1) Lady Lina says:

As a parent, I would be at the school demanding an apology for my child and some education for the teacher and bus driver. That was uncalled for on both of their parts. I hope this child has a good support system and that they powers that be in the school understand that this cannot be tolerated. “Anything that is not biblical”…by what bible?

December 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm
(2) Goatess says:

Agreed. This mother needs to drive to the school and refuse to leave until she speaks to the principal and the teacher. And if she doesn’t get satisfaction, she needs to take it to the school board, AND make sure the press is notified. Also, perhaps, the ALCU. . . . Yep, on some issues, I definitely believe in the scorched earth policy, LOL!

December 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm
(3) Em Graves says:

Atrocious! In days when bullying is so active in the media, it is appalling that an individual hired to educate a diverse group of young minds would think it appropriate to resort to disgustingly close-minded remarks. Perhaps this “educator” needs an education of her own — in TACT!

December 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm
(4) aw says:

Oh my gosh, I cannot believe that story. What a disgraceful teacher and school that they could let that happen. “In the United States, freedom of religion is a constitutionally guaranteed right provided in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Freedom of religion is also closely associated with separation of church and state, a concept advocated by Thomas Jefferson.”

Time to take a stand, I would have been in that school’s office all day if I had to to talk to someone about this. Beyond ridiculous.

December 5, 2011 at 8:51 pm
(5) Luna WolfDragon says:

People are certainly entitled to their opinion, but why the hell do grown ass adults feel the need to ridicule a kid about his religion or even his freaking language. Hispanic heritage aside, don’t kids learn languages in school anyway? Why is that any different?

And I honestly DARE someone to write an essay about Christmas (especially how its celebrated now) without dipping into Paganism. Christmas trees, wreaths, mistletoe. Heck, people call this a “Yuletide” season, a description that contains the name of our freaking holiday!

December 5, 2011 at 9:46 pm
(6) aw says:

hear hear luna!

December 5, 2011 at 10:51 pm
(7) Brynn says:

The same type of thing happened to my daughter repeatedly. Some child was offended by her pentacle necklace so she was drug into the principal’s office to explain the symbol. He had no clue what Wicca was, but as soon as heard it was a religion, he backed down. Other teachers and administrators did not. The school counselor went as far as to force my daughter to check out a copy of the bible and another Christian based book from the school library. Next came ridicule from other students (this was in middle school) that included taunts of “you’re going to hell” which escalated in to physical assault on two separate occasions. After getting absolutely nothing done after months of meetings and arguments, I removed all of my children from public school. At least at home they are able to explore as many faiths and beliefs as they choose until they find the one that fits them best.

December 6, 2011 at 6:54 am
(8) Michelle Gates says:

Well, this kind of thing does happen and not just to school kids but to grown adults. My sister had to take her problem to the Dean of the College as her instructor, for an English class, gave her a Bible because she thought that my sister’s library was lacking. (She said this to her.) Religious prosecution is still illegal in this country. I am real positive that public schools would not want their funding taken away because of their inflexable beliefs.

December 6, 2011 at 9:02 am
(9) Ariasna says:

If the story bothers you that much, click on the link to the original post and comment there, where it is much more likely that school administrators will see it. Also, the original posting lists emails at which you can contact certain members of the school board, such as the superintendent.

The thing with the language is that Christopher was told to stop, but the child he was talking to was not. It is easy to imagine this was because of his faith.

This story made me so sad. I even cried a little. It is inconcievable to think that such intolerance still happens in this country even while we encourage (on the surface at least) religious tolerance. Please join with me in taking a stand. We will not tolerate this kind of behavior any longer.

December 6, 2011 at 9:26 am
(10) Hellaiya says:

It’s bad enough when a child starts at another child because they don’t like something about them, but when an adult starts on a child, especially a teacher who should be more educated on religious topics… frankly the teacher should know better! this really appalls me, that when the world is screaming about freedom of religion, among many similar ideas, she is allowed to do this! as for the bus driver: if he isn’t in class, why shouldn’t he speak his preferred language? there is no law against it, and what he is talking about isn’t necessarily of any concern to the driver anyway. I had plenty of problems with religious bullying/harassment at school, but a teacher doing it is taking it too far. she should be setting a GOOD example!

December 6, 2011 at 9:46 am
(11) Cedalion says:

I am constantly stunned by the ignorance of the general population. At the very least, the teacher should be required to take some kind of class where they could learn about Paganism and other religions.

It reminds me of the story about the hand-fasting that was interrupted by the forest rangers in Tennessee in 2002. The rangers happened upon the ceremony being help in a public state park of all places, and broke it up, searched the participants, confiscated ritual tools and generally made asses of themselves.

Education is key to tolerance.

December 6, 2011 at 10:12 am
(12) rititisu says:

Like it was a very short time ago that MY Daughter who is now 17 years of age was picked on and ridiculed for her skin (psoriasis) over 90 percent of her body.. every day was painful for me to watch her go to school and be picked on and nothing was done to stop it .. until one day My daughter then in the second grade, went to the principals office and asked to set up a meeting, she then asked me at her next dermatology appointment if we could get 50 hand outs that described her skin … so we talked to the dermatoligest and he also agreed to come to the school and help her.. a week later she told me i needed to come in that day and go to the big gym .. so i did .. the whole school was in a meeting, children , teachers, principal and super superintendence of the school district… then up in front was my daughter age 7 first describing what it was she had and then doing a Q and A .. with the help from her dermatoligest they answered all the questions and even the teachers had questions.. after that .. life at school got easier for her as far as being picked on .. soooooooooo i have to say that i agree that in this situation where the child was being singled out by the teacher and then the bus driver … EDUCATION is best, for people fear what they dont understand…

December 6, 2011 at 10:36 am
(13) Papa McCain says:

Interesting isn’t it? If this had been a Muslim the teacher, bus driver and probably the Principal would have been fired, pilloried in the press and gotten a stern reprimand from President Obama.

December 6, 2011 at 10:37 am
(14) BarfCookies says:

A similar thing happened to me in high school with an overzealous Methodist chem teacher. I was informed that I needed to stay after class to talk about Jesus when he heard that I was not Christian. The semester before, a history teacher wrote a long note on one of my assignments attempting to save me from damnation. And, the icing on the cake, my middle school science teacher prefaced a unit on plate tectonics with the warning that we should all know that it was untrue, because god created the earth six thousand years ago. This kind of thing is actually pretty rampant in…ahem, some parts of the US. I suppose if more of those places actually had minorities in them, we’d hear more about it.

And they think they’re the beleaguered religious minority…sheesh.

December 6, 2011 at 10:55 am
(15) Peg Button says:

A few years ago, when I was a Teaching Assistant @ our local high school, we had a program on learning about and celebrating diversity. There was an introductions part at the beginning, with a bunch of questions…i.e. ..a questions stand up..Do you have a brother or a sister?etc. etc. Then a stand up round on religions….As a Pagan I stayed seated until the end, and they asked “did we miss anyone”. I stood! and said Wicca! A female student looked at me in surprise and stood up too!!! It was liberating for her. I believe that every school should use this model – it sure helps to diminish some of the bullying.

December 6, 2011 at 11:09 am
(16) Erick says:

In a country where on a daily basis we are subjected to the ignorance and bigotry of the Republican Party who wrap themselves in a cloak of Christianity while at the same time demoralizing the rest of our nation by slandering and accusing and outright lying about that which they do not understand, how can this behavior be shocking? Ms. Bachman espouses her ignorance of Pagan issues on a daily basis. THIS is the reason that we home school. This is the reason that we home school.
Stand firm and stand tall, but unfortunately if you are in a primarily Republican district it will be an up hill battle.

December 6, 2011 at 11:09 am
(17) Lori F - MN says:

It’s amazing that a bus driver could be allowed to assigned in school suspension for a student speaking Spanish. But how are the teachers actions and the bus drivers actions connected? They don’t seem really connected except in that they both singling out Christopher.
As for writing about Christmas without mentioning Paginism, is it possible? Fir trees, miseltoe, Yule logs, candles, stockings. If you strip away everything Pagan from Christmas all you get is a story from the bible.

December 6, 2011 at 11:12 am
(18) Faith McCann says:

It’s sad that this happened, but frankly its not all that bad. What is the child learning in school? Some serious truths about our world. We live in a Christian society, and many just don’t get us. We are exposed to bigotry, ignorance and intolerance in many ways, from many sources. Why the last Presidential administration was heard to say that Wicca is not an official religion, which we all know to be a seriously flawed statement. This came from President Bush.

As unfortunate as it is, Christopher seems to be learning real life lessons at this school and yes we can enforce rules or laws forcing the teacher to keep her ignorant opinions to herself, and that would be a good thing, but the reality is Christopher and his classmates will run into these people again and again all through life.

Learning now how to deal with it, learning to pick his battles, and learning enough to help educate his classmates can all go a long way to help Christopher realize that an ignorant opinion, even from an authority figure, means nothing.

December 6, 2011 at 11:33 am
(19) Eilwynn5 says:

And the best part about it is, if she really was a Christian and studied her faith like she should, she would know better. I was a Catholic for 40 years and studied the bible and Jesus’ teaching for many, many years. And the one thing for certain is that their Jesus would never, ever have treated anyone, much less a child like that. That was one of the biggest reasons I left the church and now follow the Goddess path. I just couldn’t stand the intolerence! And I told that teacher just that in my email to her from the media site linked by Patti.

December 6, 2011 at 11:51 am
(20) stephanie says:

I feel that this goes against his rights, and religion..That is ILLEGAL, and I personally would sue the school, just for the principle of it. I have been having conversations very close to this one with quite a few people on my Facebook lately, and been trying to show those who are insisting that Christmas is the ONLY holiday, and REFUSE to even utter the words, “Happy Holidays” to others. I feel compelled to school these people on how this holiday even originated, have provided the necessary links for them to read, explained it’s there in black/white, that the Pagans started it, long before Jesus was even born, and these people STILL won’t let up on it. I am sick and tired of being accused of being evil, and being told that it’s THEIR holiday, and how we are taking the “Christ” out of “Christmas”. The same people who are saying all these things I feel are hypocrites, as doesn’t their faith tell them to love one another??? They are doing a horrible job of it..I also post a link that brings them right to the part in their Bible that states they shouldn’t even be using Holly, Wreaths’, etc., and how Jesus did not want them to celebrate his Birthday, but to acknowledge the sacrifices he made for them…They have their blinders on, refuse to believe anything but what they “think” they know, and sound extremely uneducated. This poor kid must have been so embarrassed, and humiliated…As I said earlier, I would sue the school, the Teacher AND Bus Driver personally just for the pure principle of the whole matter. How DARE they say Paganism is anything that isn’t Christian…That teacher should pick up a book, and REALLY educate herself on how it got here in the 1st place, and how it was all stolen from us…Secondly, she should learn what respect means, and maybe start practicing it in her daily routine..Shame, shame SHAME!!!

December 6, 2011 at 12:11 pm
(21) Lee says:

This is atrocious behavior by figures of authority. This teacher(and bus driver) should at the least be reprimanded, if not fired. If you read the Constitution, Wicca is one of the religions supported, right along with Christianity. What she did to this child was religious discrimination, and that’s according to the laws of our country. She should be made to apologize to the student and his family, as well as to the class about her mis-information. I find it appalling that even in today’s world, people can be so narrow minded.

December 6, 2011 at 2:29 pm
(22) Nancy says:

Frankly, had that happened to my children, I would have bypassed the teacher, the bus driver, and the bus driver’s superior, and the principle and gone directly to the Superintendent of Schools! And after that would have been the community newspapers, city hall, the radio stations, and even the churches and other organized religious groups. Why? Because Not a Single ONE would want their beliefs, or their children, singled out for persecution. Anyone else wonder if the other student got in trouble for speaking Spanish?


December 6, 2011 at 3:21 pm
(23) Carolan says:

If it were me there would be none of this “arranging a meeting” nonsense. I would march directly into the principal’s office for an immediate “come to Jesus” meeting! (tongue firmly in cheek here, folks, please don’t take offense!)

December 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm
(24) E. Conley says:

I seriously almost cried reading this and the above comments. As a Pagan mother of a very intelligent, well spoken 6yr old little boy. Who is not afraid of who he is or our beliefs. I know there is a very real possibility I will have these same issues to face myself one day. Oklahoma is not a favorable place to ‘non-christian’ based religions. But I think I have taught him one very valuable lesson he knows by heart now. ” Belief is a choice, every once has the right to choose their belief, no one belief is more or less right than another.” I hope it guides us well in the future

December 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm
(25) Onixx says:

Makes me think of how my mom thinks any religion that isn’t Christianity is Satanism whether the practioner knows it or not.

December 6, 2011 at 4:51 pm
(26) MomOf3 says:

This is so sad! I sent a link to the Atlanta Independent article to the group American United for the Seperation of Church and State, and sent the link to the Christopher’s mom. Hopefully, she’ll find help with them.

Blessed Yule!

December 6, 2011 at 5:25 pm
(27) dani97 says:

Erick, your blanket statements and labeling of an entire group of people are part of the problem. We don’t like it when it is done to us. Maybe you are more closed minded than you think.

December 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm
(28) Cheryl says:

I don’t live in GA but I went ahead and emailed all three of the people mentioned in the article. I assume that the emails will be deleted without them being read. But, at least I fell like I have tried.

December 6, 2011 at 6:25 pm
(29) E. Conley says:

I attempted to email. Accounts have been closed. Unable to send message

December 7, 2011 at 12:43 am
(30) ms. turner says:

I wanted to thank you all for your support. My son christopher is astounded at the amount of people that are standing up with him to protect his rights.

Blessed be
Ms. Turner and christopher

December 7, 2011 at 11:37 am
(31) nicole says:

As a school bus driver of a neighboring county. This sounds absurd. first of all, their are to many students that are of different races, you can’t tell them to not speak in their language or you will give them in school suspension. I have two routes where the majority of my students are hispanic. Second his religion is his right as long as he doesn’t push it on someone, he is not doing anything wrong. Whatever school staff told him that his religion is not a religion can be brought up on charges of harrasement. Wicca was made a real religion by a coven out of atlanta, ga. in the seventies i belive. they took it all the way to the supreme court.

December 7, 2011 at 12:05 pm
(32) Morgan Hatch says:

Dearest educators, bus drivers and members of the district, Dec. 07, 2011 CE

What is going through those heads of yours? If your Christian student was getting bullied for his or her
religion, you would be down on everyone involved in a quick moment! We all have Freedom of Religion and Freedom
of Speech in this country. Bullying people is wrong, not a “Right of Passage!!!” Bullying people for their
Religion because it is different than your Religion is just as wrong! Teachers, do not reflect your students.
When you see your students bullying other students or beign bullied, you are supposed to step in and stop it!
You aren’t supposed to participate in it!

Bus drivers, while granted, are teachers of sorts, you just as the teachers are supposed to prevent
bullying not participate in it. This bus driver was definitely out of line! This driver should be reprimanded!
To the District Boardmembers, you all are truly sad!

We are all supposed to work together to raise and educate children! We cannot do our jobs properly if
we are not all working together! We are living in the 21st Century and therefore, we should all have moved on,
passed Discrimination of all sorts. Persecution in any form is wrong! Live and let live, but don’t step on others
toes either!

We should all work on Tolerance first, next will come acceptance! We have a long way togo before we get
Tolerance. Each journey of 1,000 miles requires one step to begin!

Blessed Be, to all!

Peace be the Journey!

Morgan V. Hatch!

December 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm
(33) kulmajicks says:

My daughter had a similar incident while taking a college class here in North East PA. She had been attending one of the local colleges and Taking philosophy as part of her major….well the professor of the class did not take kindly to any students who followed a religion other than Catholicism…one day she had to voice an opinion on some question to do with religion on a paper she had written and give her reasons for her opinion… now my my daughter gets A’sand B’s consistently and has been in college for about 3 yrs now….because she knew that this professor had his own opinions she went to the Dean and had him go over her paper to make sure that it was acceptable before handing it in,,,,she was smart there after hearing about this professor. The paper was to be a significant part of her grade so it was really important to her. Well she handed the paper in and recieved a failing grade on it….which in turn caused her to fail the class. When she went back to the Dean to voice a complaint the Dean did some investigating. It turns out that she was not the only one to have failed the class….There were over 200 students that semester that had failed due to their beliefs and opinions voiced in the Paper they had to do…the professor was fired for discrimination but the students all have to take the class over, the only good thing about that financially is that the dean offered them the class free of charge in the next semester….but the incident just goes to show that its not only in the grade schools but in the colleges as well.
My daughter is back to being that A and B student now but that incident has really changed the way she makes her approach to the subject of religion….especially in the college atmosphere. It’s a shame really, especiall when you think about how this country came to be….one of the main reasons was freedom of religion.

December 7, 2011 at 8:56 pm
(34) TrishiMarie says:

My daughter was also ridiculed by a teacher in 8th grade. She had drawn a pentacle on her folder and the teacher called her a devil worshiper! She stood up for herself and explained that she was Pagan and didn’t even believe in a devil! I went to the school and we got an apology and I had her removed from that teacher’s class. It saddens me that the ones that are supposed to teach our children can be so ignorant! We as Pagans need to stand up for religious freedom and teaching our children to stand up for themselves will get us one step closer to that goal!

December 8, 2011 at 10:33 pm
(35) Erika says:

Oh come ON,my eighth grade science class all over again . . . “I know I have to teach this, everybody, but remember: Evolution is not real. God made it.”

This is insane.

December 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm
(36) Sandra says:

Many people think the laws or “guidelines” are the opinion of a politician (or president) and they don’t have to follow them after that person is out of office, or because they are of a different political party, or just plain don’t like that president. This country was founded on freedom of religion. Many people don’t even know that and have no idea what the Consitutional Bill of Rights are.

I say thank goodness that prejudice is out in the open once more and people who were only being “politically correct” are speaking up again. Hypocrites & dishonest people will show themselves eventually the open-minded, tolerant people can take steps to stop harassment before it becomes hate-crimes.

Thanks Patti for informing us.

December 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm
(37) Sandy says:

This prejudice extends to other harassment in schools besides religious preference. My grandson(3rd grader) & his parents are continually being harassed for him being ADHD (hyperactive) and teachers demand these energetic, bright children are medicated. (No wonder so many think drugs are the “answer” to their problems when they are teens and young adults.) My grandson’s teacher said 30% of her students are on medication. On top of that they are setting up a pattern of approval for rejecting and bullying by so-called normal students I consider this extreme abuse of childrens’ mental, emotional, educational, and medical well-being. What the hell is going on???? Education systems let this kind of thing run rampant in our public schools. Why don’t they medicate the teachers so they won’t be bothered by so-called unruly individuals.

December 13, 2011 at 9:54 am
(38) Julia says:

I thank the Goddess that I live in a liberal part of Pennsylvania. My 12 year old proudly wears her pentacle (when she remembers it) to school,

She had an assignment to draw a picture about our families culture. She drew all of us doing are regular stuff, but above it all she drew a giant pentacle.

No one has ever, dared to say anything to her about her religion. And that’s how it should be.

January 3, 2013 at 10:25 am
(39) WiccanWoman says:

Although there is a support page on FaceBook, I don’t see any updates.

Has anyone got any current information regarding this matter?

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