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Patti Wigington

Buncombe SB Approves Religious Policy

By April 13, 2012

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We've been following the story of North Carolina's Buncombe County School Board, which has spent months considering a policy of neutrality when it comes to religious materials in classrooms. As you can imagine - and have probably read here - there has been a lot of turmoil in the Asheville community over this. I'm pleased to report that after a lengthy meeting last night, the board has indeed approved the policy.

The overall policy says that the Buncombe County school system will "neither advance nor inhibit any religion or religious belief, viewpoint, expression or practice."

In case you missed it last night, Angela Pippinger from the Pagan Mom Blog live-Tweeted the meeting, through several hours of commentary from residents who, in general, are really tired of being persecuted for standing up for Jesus, and so on. There seemed to be a pervasive overview that the school board was trying to take religion away from everyone ALWAYS, and in fact Angela says, "people still were crying tears (literally, not kidding!) that Jesus would be removed from their kids' lives." She's got a great recap over at her blog, so be sure to read it.

It's important to note that the board did NOT vote on the issue of whether or not religious groups can leave materials like Bibles at middle and high schools for distribution. This is something that the board is considering, but according to the Asheville Citizen-Times, "chairman Bob Rhinehart said he wants to get feedback from principals on the logistics of allowing religious groups the opportunity to leave materials for distribution one day a year."

I'm glad to hear this issue has been resolved, at least for now. I can't imagine what it must have been like for the Pagans - and other minority religions - in that room last night. Clearly things got heated, including one speaker who repeatedly called out Ginger Strivelli by name. This whole issue is one that should be noticed not just by Pagans, but by everyone who has kids in a public school. Because the bottom line is, if just one kid feels unsafe or bullied because of their religious beliefs, then NO kid is really safe at all. And when that bullying comes at the hands of adults, that's a sad state of things indeed.

Props to Angela, Ginger, Byron Ballard, and all the students and supporters who got involved in this, and who took time out of their lives to help make a very important difference.

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April 17, 2012 at 9:27 am
(1) wytchy says:

There is supposed to be a separation between church and state. Why is this even an issue? NO ONE should be allowed to bring ANY religious materials into a school. It is up to parents to discuss their religious views AT HOME with their kids. All this school is doing is setting themselves up for a lawsuit. The bibles should have never been placed in the school in the first place, as that makes it seem like the school is promoting one religion over another. I am Wiccan myself, and I know when I was in school, if bibles had been put in my school, I would have had a fit.

April 17, 2012 at 9:58 am
(2) Slinkiee says:

I agree, religion should stay out of schools regardless. Unfortunately some people do not look at it that way. They see the school setting as a place to introduce and sometimes push their beliefs on children who can do nothing but take it.

Remember those Christmas parties? The cool Halloween parties we used to have at school when we were children?

I remember when I was a child (long ago) when we would have the christmas party, the students not of the Christian faith went to the library during the party. I remembering feeling sorry for them and wishing they could have some of the christmas candy they were doling out to us. Now I am thinking I should have joined them but I knew no better. Besides I loved candy and was no fool.

Nowadays my grandchild has a “fall party” for Samhain/Halloween and a “holiday party” for the Winter season instead of a Christmas party. I am told by teachers that everyone except the children of the JW faith participate. Gone are the symbols they once used – baby jesus, witches… Now it is all generic. No one complains. Religion is left out of it and no stereotypes are used.

April 17, 2012 at 10:19 am
(3) Robin says:

I agree with the othe comments about it should be separate ..but sad to say it is not as Long as the Mainstream religion has it their way.. so it become an issue. Like or lump it.

They are scared..of other religious groups and worry that thier will disapear..in reality if you don’t won’t to lose something it is not the schools job it is yours as a parent. Not the govt. either.. I may not have small kids in school but it is wild to see rights civil and religious of other group hanging on the fringe..Well the Dominant group is trying to keep control. It is not over.. plus also we need to talk to our own kids and stop the fighting amongst ourselves as well..If you don’ t our rights even in our private life will be gone. (start in the classroom then in our home..) I’m just saying.

April 17, 2012 at 11:07 am
(4) Scott says:

I agree that religious preaching does not belong in school. But religious teaching does. Let me explain. My children had the benefit of attending school in the United Kingdom for the better part of their lives. One course they were required to take over several years was Religious Studies (RS). RS is a practical course that teaches the role of the various religions in World History. I strongly believe that many of our problems in the U.S. – especially with regard to the U.S. role on the world stage – is a lack of understanding of religion.

However, U.S. society is rather broken, and trying to introduce a comparable course into our disparate school systems would be a Herculean task, if not downright impossible. Thus, our collective ignorance of the workings of the rest of the world continues…

April 17, 2012 at 11:26 am
(5) Meadowhawk says:

I agree that here in the US, our Constitutional separation of church and state should be upheld. That seems a no brainer to me. However, after reading Slinkiee’s response I realize I too have extremely fond memories of Halloween and Christmas parties at school. There’s definitely an emotional hook in there for me, and I am “feeling sorry” like I did as a kid, for those unwilling or unable to particiapte in all of that.

One solution might be for our personal spiritual/religious communities to offer meaningful and satisfying parties and merry making opportunites for kids (and everyone else). Then schools can engage in more all-inclusive, generic celebrations that will include all children, even if the one-size-fits all version is less fulfilling for some.

Frankly I wish we could all learn about, respect and enjoy each other’s beliefs without all this judgment and division, or trying to jam our ways down each other’s throats as the “right” way. I include myself in this. Try as I might, I still occasionally find myself feeling right and superior to other groups (especailly religious). This is a big issue, and I applaud those who bring the ideas of equality, greater expansion and connection to the table for consideration.

April 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm
(6) Scolai says:

The problem here in NC is that people do not want an inclusive, generic celebrations that all children can enjoy. The people here want to be able to circumvent separation policy and effectively proselytize in the classroom to a captive audience. What we see going on in Buncombe County (and I am at a teaching conference at this very moment with people from that part of the state) is a microcosm of the general thought process in North Carolina as a whole.

As an English teacher, I make allusions to religion frequently, as religion was and is a great influence on literature and world culture. I can teach ideas about religion without proselytizing for any belief. The fact that I am a Pagan does not enter the equation because it is immaterial to the discussion. What I CAN do is add perspective to a discussion on religion without becoming emotionally attached to a specific theological stance.

My students know I am not a Christian, and that is as much as they need to know. I encourage them to follow whatever path they desire while exhorting them to be able to defend WHY they believe something beyond the “my parents are Christians, so I am a Christian” line of thought.

April 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm
(7) Nahoc says:

this drives me up a wall – just donate the reading material to the school library.

April 17, 2012 at 1:28 pm
(8) Herbert Stewart says:

The biggest problem with the ‘Policy’ are those, already expressed, concerns about Separation.

By including a One day a Year distribution ‘policy ‘, to be approved and supervised by the Principal of said School; Well, what has actually been done is the circumvention of the Constitution to allow the Gideons to pass out their Bibles next year. It also opens a floodgate to allow ‘other’ Religious propaganda to fill the distribution tables.

Let us wait and see which Pagan publications will be included by the ‘Approval’ process. Not that I am advocating the distribution of ANY Religious publications at the Public Schools, as I Believe this to be a violation of the Constitution. IE: None/Nada don’t do it at all – PERIOD.

April 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm
(9) Luna WolfDragon says:

Well, the Constitution does allow some religion to seep into schools. The Separation of Church and State is a principle, not a law, and our Constitution prevents schools (or anything connected to the government, for that matter) from taking that principle literally.

The new school policy put it nicely: they can neither advance NOR inhibit religion. The First Amendment has similar language (although people seem to forget the last part). We can’t have religion over secularism nor can we have an environment where religion isn’t allowed AT ALL (that’s just as bad). So we need to find a balance for it. We can’t have random Bibles running around, but we can’t completely ban them from schools either.

If people could compromise, that would be great. If we don’t, well we are back where we started.

April 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm
(10) Astrid says:

My opinion only… Buncombe Co School Board made the decision to postpone the inevitable until next yr. This entire situation will be replayed and the dominant group will use the bible distribution as a ‘passive aggressive stealth proselytizing maneuver’ and an excuse to whine about an imaginary pain inflicted upon them by no one.
Christianity has had a free pass for a very long time in the US.

Why are _any_ religious materials distributed in a public school ? distribution of religious materials is a violation of the establishment Clause.

My parents sent me to Catholic schools, where I received an excellent education. I attended Mass, participated in the sacraments, and chose a very different path for myself as an adult.

If these people want their children to receive religious materials, or indoctrination, there are churches on every street, and often next door and across from one another. Additionally, they can send their children to private religious schools, along with the tuition payments. Homeschool is also an option.

April 17, 2012 at 10:03 pm
(11) Grandfather Oak says:

I like what Luna WolfDragon says

ďThe new school policy put it nicely: they can neither advance NOR inhibit religion. The First Amendment has similar language (although people seem to forget the last part). We canít have religion over secularism nor can we have an environment where religion isnít allowed AT ALL (thatís just as bad). So we need to find a balance for it. We canít have random Bibles running around, but we canít completely ban them from schools either.

If people could compromise, that would be great. If we donít, well we are back where we started.Ē

So why not do this… everyone has heard of the 12 Days of Christmas Ė instead of that why not have the 12 Days of Celebration. Where for 12 days have a different faith honored? We have months in which we honor different races why not faiths? After those 12 days remove any mention of who believes in what.

Grandfather Oak

April 18, 2012 at 7:49 am
(12) Magdalena says:

I remember the parties too but I don’t remember baby Jesus in any of the decorations at school. I remember Rudolph an the reindeers, Christmas trees an Santa an as children we did not associate him with a saint he was just the guy we all wanted to come to our house an drop off toys. Same with Samhain/ Halloween,as children all we saw was an opportunity to dress up in costumes an get candy. It’s a shame that changed. In a perfect world we would be able to embrace all religions in school but since we don’t live in a perfect world keep religion at home.

April 18, 2012 at 10:50 am
(13) Linda says:

My heart goes out to the students in this school. We have a very unique living religion in our house as we have several different religions practiced here. Grandma is catholic, Mom and Nana are pagan (but also attend a Presbyterian church to give our children a education in a christian faith) while my son-in-law practice’s the teaching’s of Budda. We make it work by the commitment of knowledge, do we always agree? NO. But we make it work because we are a family. I read the article and accounts of the meeting at the school and am impressed with the fact that the minority handled them self in a dignified manor without the use of negative speech or action. I hope that for the children’s sake the council takes that behavior into account when they vote on weather or not to have materials available once a year. They are opening them selves up to a law suit and further distraction from there jobs, Teaching the children. A decision will have to be made next year, lets hope that the students will take a positive attitude of compromise and debate away from this experience and not the fact that if you attack something or someone enough you get your way. Maybe someday religions will be able to live in harmony but until then all we can do is uphold the legal rights that we have.

April 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm
(14) Herbert Stewart says:

Re: “They are opening them selves up to a law suit ”

Yep!, and it has been years in the brewing. Look at the South Carolina situation I assure you that the defined Legal Boundaries as layed out in THAT Language is NOTHING like the Buncombe County ‘Policy’.

Provisions for such criterion as Moral education and enhancement within the community are designed to include Christian organizations and discriminate against ‘Other’ organisations and viewpoints. IE: to keep the status Quo of dominant Religion Ignoring the Law while others are treated as Pariahic. That is my observation/oppinion on this situation in Buncombe County North Carolina.

April 22, 2012 at 8:37 am
(15) Pheonix says:

I am in high school in East Tennesee, down here in the bible belt, and if anyone sees my pentacle, they automatically starting jeering about devil worship and other crap. I blame their parent who raised them without awareness and tolerance of other religions. One day in my GYM class a guy even pulled out a BIBLE on me and my GAY friend and used it as “evidence” that GAY friend and I are the devil’s spawn. Funny seeing as I DON’T BELIEVE IN THE DEVIL because THERE IS NO DEVIL IN WICCA, as I’ve been trying to inform him of for many months.

April 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm
(16) Angel says:

everybody is so sensitive about EVERYTHING these days. as long as they arent handing every kid whatever they are passing out i dont care if its available for them to take. school is about experiences and education, that includes educating yourself about religion. how else do we expect our kids to make informed and thoughtfull decisions on the important stuff in life. in school i read everything i could get my hands on about almost every religion i came across. i was searching for my home. had i not had those materials available i might have spent my entire life a miserable christian just because i didnt know the options. there is a difference between making materials available and putting them in a childs hands.

April 24, 2012 at 11:10 pm
(17) Amber A says:

This was never about people trying to take Jesus out of the schools. It was about people who wanted more rights than others. It was about people who wanted to teach OTHER PEOPLE’S children about their faith without the parent’s knowledge or okay. They cry about how taking bibles out of schools will take Jesus away from their children, but faith is something you teach to your children at home. It doesn’t belong in public schools. Ever. If your kid’s faith is so weak that they have to be talking about it in school all the time, to kids who don’t follow the same path, you haven’t done your job in your child’s religious education.

These people are liars, which might I add is very un-Christian of them. They never wanted to protect their right to do something. They wanted to hinder the rights of other parents to raise their kids the way they wanted.

If this ever happens to my kids, I will raise hell. I will be a holy terror and they will believe I am the devil, because if my kids go to public school (they probably will) you can bet they won’t stand for religious indoctrination.

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