Pagan Flier Sent Home from School

Jocelyn writes to describe a developing kerfuffle. You’ll recall that two Hollymead Elementary students tried to distribute fliers to their class to promote their church’s vacation bible school by way of the schools’ “backpack mail” process, used to send information home to kids’ parents. They weren’t allowed to, because of the schools’ prohibition on sending home “partisan, sectarian, religious, or political” fliers. The kids’ father got Jerry Falwell to go after the county, and the school board agreed to let religious groups distribute materials through the system. (See Lisa Provence’s September 28 coverage of this in The Hook for a more detailed recap.) It was at this point that I thought “oh, damn, no they didn’t.” How long until Satanists exercise their right to send literature home with the kiddies?

Americans United for Separation of Church and State writes about the inevitable result:

Some local Pagans who attend Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, a Unitarian-Universalist congregation in Charlottesville, decided to take advantage of the new forum as well. They created a one-page flier advertising a Dec. 9 event celebrating the December holidays with a Pagan twist and used the backpack system to invite the entire school community.

FlierOne local (Christian) blogger, Cathy, is upset — on the one hand, she says she wants the kids to learn more about Christmas in school, but on the other hand, she’s furious about the flier, believing that pagan rituals are inferior to her religion’s rituals and inappropriate for children. She vows that she “will not step aside.”

On the other hand, local blogger Jeff Riddle — the pastor of Jefferson Park Baptist Church — points out that this is simply what comes of breaking down the church and state wall…but then calls for Christians to leave public schools.

This is why we don’t mingle religion and government. It’s bad for government, yes, but it’s worse still for religion. Cathy doesn’t want her kids exposed to paganism, just as some parents don’t want their kids exposed to Christianity. Here’s hoping that the school board will rescind this policy. Or they could just wait for Falwell to demand that they rescind it, but why wait?

By the way, the event is at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church on Saturday from 1-3pm. It actually looks pretty interesting.

12/07: Lisa Provence writes about this in the current Hook.

41 thoughts on “Pagan Flier Sent Home from School”

  1. One of my co-workers said his kindergarten daughter got the flier. He shrugged it off with “It kinda threw me.”

    This story makes me feel very smug. It floors me that any Christians can admit pubicly to being angry about the fliers, when they fought so hard to get their Vacation Bible School propaganda out there.

    I wonder if they’re angry about the fact that Harry Potter is in school libraries.

  2. It floors me that any Christians can admit pubicly to being angry about the fliers, when they fought so hard to get their Vacation Bible School propaganda out there.

    Really? It doesn’t floor me in the slightest.

  3. I am so very very glad this has happened. It’s so nice to see the shoe on the other foot for a change. I too was wondering “how long til.” And now that someone has – I hope that more alternative religions take the opportunity that Albemarle County via Jerry Falwell has provided to proselytize about their religions to students in the school system.

  4. Why not let a thousand flowers bloom? We could utilize our public spaces to share religious information of all kinds. The easy approach is to banish religious expression in the public space, but that doesn’t seem to be a desirable outcome.

  5. This is reason #479 for supporting the seperation of church and state. Evangelical groups break down this barrier at their own peril. I guess this is the part where we find out who was really standing on principle and who is really just a ‘dominionist’ that wants a fundamentalist Christian state which is church and government in one.

  6. Jeez. How did the School Board NOT forsee this?

    I understand that they were faced with expensive litigation from some very fancy lawyers. Perhaps they thought, well, slip a couple of fliers in, maybe nobody will notice, it’ll all blow over soon.

    Oy, vey.

    I have nothing against Vacation Bible School. I send my kids to Vacation Bible School in the summer.

    But this is just plain stupid. Religious advertising material should not be distributed by the public school.

  7. The easy approach is to banish religious expression in the public space, but that doesn’t seem to be a desirable outcome.

    I’d hate to do that. The difference here is that these are fliers being sent home in a packet by the schools to the parents. The children are not being prevented from expressing themselves but, rather, the school does not wish to be in the position of subsidizing such expression. And that’s for this very reason — people get angry and the school has to deal with it.

    Imagine the outcry if this had been material promoting a Islamic gathering to discuss how children may learn about how they can implement jihad in their own lives.

  8. I guess I go the other direction. I’m a Christian, and this flier doesn’t offend me in the slightest. I don’t view it as the school “promoting” religion at all.

    I do believe fliers should be allowed either for everyone, or for no one. It should be the same rules across the board. And if I’m relying on my kids never being exposed to alternative viewpoints for them to be successful as adults or Christians… well, then I’d be barking up the wrong tree.

    I don’t see the slightest problem with this piece of paper.

  9. Lafe, I see your point — there are benefits to taking all comers. But the tradeoff is that parents have to be prepared to receive things that they may not like, and the school system has to be prepared to deal with that blowback. Personally I prefer the open-forum approach, but the practical side of me says it’s probably not worth the trouble, particularly given that I don’t see that anybody’s rights are being infringed on if the school simply refuses to distribute religious materials.

  10. seems all the major religions (and even the minor ones) do nowadays is fight with each other. that’s reason enough to keep them all out of schools entirely. who wants their kids exposed to all that negativity and conflict?

  11. I’m proud of NatureSpirit for distributing the fliers and putting on this event, and even prouder of Albemarle for doing the right thing in allowing it through over what I’m sure was and will be a hailstorm of discontent.

    It’s easy to talk a good game vis-a-vis diversity, but the UU church and its worship groups actually walks the walk. Hope everyone here will go to the Yule.

  12. I’ll chime in as both a parent that received the flyer in my 5th grader’s backpack and as a School Board member that voted for the policy that allowed this to happen… Here is what I wrote in advance of our September 14, 2006 vote: "If I was writing the laws… I’d keep the policy we have and deny religious materials from being distributed. However, I support the continued distribution of materials by outside groups, even if the courts require us to accommodate religious materials, because it means groups like the following who applied in 2005-06 will still have access:4-H; Basketball Leagues; Book Festivals; Boy Scouts; Cheerleading Clinics; Children’s Theatre; Contests & Art Related; Cub Scouts; Football Leagues; Girl Scouts & Brownies; Library & Story Time; Soccer & Lacrosse Leagues; Softball Leagues; Summer Camps; Swimming Events & Teams; YMCA Programs. I think the positive aspect of communicating these enrichment opportunities to our students…is a benefit we should support." 
    Speaking for myself and not the Board, I do not see any reason to revisit this policy decision based on this one flyer.  If we deny religious materials, the courts are going to require us to deny access to all the organizations listed above. I would rather get that material distributed and let parents throw out what does not match their interests or beliefs.
    Brian Wheeler
    At-Large Member, Albemarle County School Board

  13. Doesn’t floor me either – but I do love the way the heads explode due to cognitive dissonance…and overload.

  14. Hello everyone, we’re missing something here. Let’s revisit what got us here in the first place. Two students, not an organization. Did the School Board over react to Liberty Counsel’s threat, probably but that really is not the case here. In the original incident Gabriel and Joshua Rakoski, students, were the ones requesting permission to distribute flyers about their church’s VBS. In this case, we have an organization distrubuting flyers. In the case of the Rakoski children, the school has the authority to regulate what the students placed in their charge can and can not do. Prohibit guns, drugs knives, cell phone and the list goes on.
    And what Pandora’s Box has the ACSB opened now. Informational fliers from the KKK promoting their next march, Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS), World Church of the Creator (WCOTC)
    The Church of Jesus Christ Christian, which is used today by Aryan Nations (AN) churches and to this we must thank the Albemarle County School Board and the legal counsel of the county attorney’s office for taking the stance on a difficult and important precedent much like Neville Chamberlain. And for those of you who were asleep during history class or busy trying to help the school bully fell better about himself, it was his policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany and the signing of the Munich Agreement that allowed Hitler and Nazi Germany to annex the the Sudetenland and take the first steps on the road to World War II.

  15. Boy, i must really be missing something. Maybe my public school education wasn’t really as good as my parents and teachers continually told me over the years. I have read and reread “One local (Christian) blogger, Cathy, is upset ” ( blog over and over again. No where in her blog does she say that “pagan rituals are inferior to her religion’s rituals” and didn’t see anywere in her blog were she stated or even suggested that children “learn more about Christmas in school” but rather that other religious festivals are discussed so as to not offend followers of Judaism or Kwanzaa while a Christian holiday is not discussed at all. It is interesting to note that the estimated religious make up of the populous of these United States as of 2002 is Protestant 52%, Roman Catholic 24%, Mormon 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 1%, other 10%, none 10%. Amazing how the Mormon’s, 2% of the population aren’t offended that schools don’t honor Pioneer Day, the most important day in the Mormon religion behind Christmas and Easter.

    When one quotes another’s writting, such as the author of this blog has done, you are supposed to actually quote them, not insert ones own interpretation of the writing. No were in her blog does she say pagan rituals are “inferior” to christian rituals or that they are inferior at all for that matter. Nor does she say that it is “inappropriate for children” or that “kids to learn more about Christmas in school”. Luckily we do live in a country where we can express opinions and even put our own individual spin on the comments and opinions of others.

    Larry L
    Sgt(retired), US Army

  16. No were in her blog does she say pagan rituals are “inferior” to christian rituals or that they are inferior at all for that matter.

    Sure she does:

    “Perhaps they thought including a cross and a Star of David would make their pentagram seem acceptable. It isn’t.”

    A cross and a Star of David are “acceptable,” while a pentagram is not. Pagan symbols, in being unacceptable, are clearly inferior.

    Nor does she say that it is “inappropriate for children”

    Yes she does:

    “The sender(s) of this information call it an ‘educational program for childeren [sic] of all ages.’ Well, this ‘educational program’ is to be followed by a pagan ritual. That’s an educational experience my children don’t need.”

    or that “kids to learn more about Christmas in school”

    Sure she does: “Christmas, if anything, is Santa, Frosty, and Rudolph. I say ‘if anything,’ because I don’t think they have been included in any December lessons. While I have been a little annoyed about this, I haven’t stepped up and said anything about it. Maybe I should have.”

    Luckily we do live in a country where we can express opinions and even put our own individual spin on the comments and opinions of others.

    No, Larry, I give you that right, because it’s my blog. And you’re welcome!

  17. Acutally you didn’t give me that right, I put my life on the line as a member of our countries armed forces so that persons like yourself have the protection to interprete.

    With regards to your other counter point, you and I could go around and round playing word games as much like President Clinton did he stated the “it depends on what your definition of the word “is” is.

    Larry L
    Sgt(retired), US Army

  18. I Love IT!!! It’s quite amusing how Christians don’t throw a fit about any other religion but Paganism. You can have an article or flier inviting people to learn more about Muslim or Buddism or Mormon or any other “minor” religion in the Unites States, and they would view it as “Multicultural education.” “MultiCulture” being required in school curriculum! (I worked as a child care teacher for 4 years, and whenever the State comes in to “Re-license” a school, they look to make sure you teach enough multiculturalism in your classrooms. Yes, this means we are not allowed to celebrate Christmas unless we celebrate Hanukkak, Kwanzaa as well.) Yet, Paganism is somehow alway excluded from such expectations. What’s up with that? Seems to me that the one thing the United States needs more of is PROPER education of what it means to be a “Pagan!” That includes the fact that Pagans Do NOT Worship the “Devil” or any other such “Evil being.” The Devil is solely a Christian entity! Look it up yourself in Bucklands Complete Book of Witchcraft by Raymond Buckland which gives a very good history on the origins of Paganism, Wiccan, and the Old Religion.

    Also, as far as education about christmas goes…Where Do You Think Most of the Traditions Came From???? From Pagan’s! Jesus Christ was born during Lambing Season, That means sometime in March or April! Why do you think his Birth isn’t celebrated in the spring with Easter??? Because Christians needed a way to bring the “Pagans” to church, so they associated the birth of Jesus Christ with Yule, which was celebrated LONG before Jesus Christ was Even Born!

    And for those Christians who are ignorant, the word “Pagan” comes from the Latin word Pagani, which simply means “People who live in the country.” Also, Wicca comes from the word Wita which actually referrs to “the Wise Ones.” And the belief that Pagans worship the “Devil” comes from “The Horned God,” Which was simply the “God of Hunting” who was believed to have horns because most of the animals hunted had “Horns” (Or Antlers as it were!) Early Christians claimed that the “Pagans” worshipped the “Devil” simply because the “Horned God” had “Horns” like their “Devil,” Which were actually antler’s in size and appearance not the horns pictured on the christian’s “devil.” All of this is refrenced from Raymond Buckland. So, rather then complaining about different beliefs, who not do something useful with your time and Educate Yourself!!!

  19. With regards to your other counter point, you and I could go around and round playing word games as much like President Clinton did he stated the “it depends on what your definition of the word “is” is.

    It’s good of you to be so frank about the tenuousness of your position, Larry.

  20. Acutally you didn’t give me that right

    Actually, Larry, you can express your views in anything designated as public property and in your private space, per the 1st Amendment; but Waldo is still essentially correct in his main point:
    This is his privately-owned blog; therefore, he has given you the right to express your views here. (Unless you can prove that his blog has become the internet version of a shopping mall.)

    Thank you, Waldo. :-)

    On a completely different tack, has anyone considered the possibility that the ABOS changed the law this way specifically to prove the validity of their former policy to the complaining Christian evangels?

    I’d bet this has been a very effective exercise in Constitutional doctrine–better than a dozen demonstrations. Popcorn in hand, I gleefully await a public hearing on the consequences of equal proselytization.

  21. gentlew0lf:

    Let’s be realistic. If a flyer was sent home promoting Islam and the Koran, this would have caused even more of an uproar.

  22. In response to gentlew0lf:

    I am not at all interested in debating the merits of our respective religions, and this is meant only as constructive criticism, not the other sort. I have researched the origins of Wicca as we know it today (during a time in my life where I was not sure what I believed, and so was in a receptive frame of mind). If you’re interested in pointing folks towards education about the real meaning of Wicca (which I encourage… all decisions should be informed), you may not want to point them to Buckland. His account is notoriously unreliable, and there are even a large number of modern Wiccans who believe that most of what he wrote, he made up right out of his own head.

    A more practical starting place may be here and the history of Wicca here (modern day Wicca is really only about 50 years old, and had it’s roots in the late 1800s, not “before Christ was born”). Yes, it does take much inspiration from the “pagans” of yore, but calling it the same religion is being disingenuous at best.

    I hope you (and other readers) find this helpful.

  23. Lafe:

    I Did Not Say that the religions were the same! Reread my post! I am confirmed Roman Catholic, and know just as much as you do about the birth of Jesus Christ, I have simply chosen not to be brainwashed by christian beliefs and have left the church to follow Paganism.

    I said, and I quote: “Jesus Christ was born during Lambing Season, That means sometime in March or April! Why do you think his Birth isn’t celebrated in the spring with Easter??? Because Christians needed a way to bring the “Pagans” to church, That is Fact, not Opinion. Look it up yourself. It may be your opinion that Buckland is a bad reference, but you can find that same information from many different sources, Not Just Buckland! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Lambing Season is in the months that I have mentioned above. It is also a proven fact that in the attempt to convert pagans to christianity they celebrated Christmas at the same time the pagans celebrated Yule in order to get the pagans to come to the services. That, in NO WAY is saying that it is the SAME religion, only that the early christians tricked the pagans into conversion!

    Chad Day: in response to you, I will agree, it would have been worse had a flier been sent home regarding any Islam or Koran religions, but that has not happened here yet, because those are still fairly new religions to this country and they have not persued their Rights in America. They are happy to keep to themselves in their own little groups probably because they do not want to mix with any of us anyway. However, there are clearly more Pagans around then Christians would like to admit to themselves, and it is my point that Christians throw such a fit whenever pagans try to defend their rights because they are ill informed and chose to stay ill informed.

    Yes, perhaps it was wrong of me to use Buddism or Muslim in my example… How about the Native American religions which were treated the same way in which Paganism is being treated now.

    My point is that Christians made this “Free world” and came here so that they could worship the way they wanted. “Freedom of Religion,” Yet, any religion that does not believe in the bible in any way, shape, or form is considered evil and/or “Satanic.” Proven by your statement that it would have been just as bad had a flier been sent home about any Islamic or Koran religion.

  24. Oh for crying out loud! The ACPS are currently dealing with very important issues which will reverberate in our community for years: major changes to the high school Program of Studies and decisions about how large we want our schools to be as we deal with growth, to mention just a couple. So, it used to be nice in a simpler era to have non-profits send home info about scouts, sports,etc. Now every religion gets to advertise its events via backpack mail which will be an ongoing divisive thing (what happened to trash cans for junk??) in our schools. So it is a little sad, but the worthy non-profits will have to advertise in local print media, radio, etc. and life will go on. The school board may not be ready to change this silly policy but ACPS students really need the grown ups to focus on real issues.

  25. I find it interesting that this topic has generated 27 (now 28) comments, when compared to a combined total of 19 comments left on the other five Dec. 6 topics.

    Just as all politics are local, all religions are personal.

  26. What difference does it make that in the original case it was two (Hollymead) student who wanted to distribute flyers about their Vacation Bible School, as opposed to the church or organization itself that wanted to do so? (Larry Linebrink makes much of this distinction in his post here as well as in his posts on Cathy the Christian blogger’s site.) Whether it was two students or the organization itself, the impact on my son’s Friday folder is the same–a flyer promoting participation in a religious group, disseminated very broadly, without respect for whether or not the recipients are interested in the opportunity. I don’t feel better about it knowing that it was “just” two kids who wanted their entire school to know about their Vacation Bible School. (And why did they need their entire school to know about it? Why couldn’t they just mention it to a few friends? Why do children they don’t even know need this information?)

    If a Pandora’s box has been opened, it was opened by the Rakoski family and their insistence (aided by a legal team) that everyone in their school should know about their Vacation Bible School.

  27. Maybe it would be for the best for the schools not to be the “post office” for all these outside organizations. that way only materials pertaining to school business or school-affiliated activities would be going home in backpacks.
    It was inevitable this was going to happen. Some material from some religious group was going to go out and somebody would be offended.
    But I must say its ironic(but not surprising) that the fundamentalist or conservative Christians insist they have the right to distribute material to children whose parents may not share their beliefs, but are the first to squawk if their own kids are exposed to a different viewpoint.
    Yule, or winter solstice , is the way some of us of Northern/Western European ancestry , express our spirituality. A spirituality looking back the times before patriarchal religion, Judeo-Christianity, whatever, became dominant.
    And of course Native Americans, Africans, Australians, etc all have their own spiritual traditions. Ones rooted in a reverence for life and Nature, that honor Women , not espouse the misogyny of Western patriarchal, monotheistic religions-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, at least throughout most of their history.
    Blessed Be!

  28. Blessed Be!

    Amen! And I’ll see that blessing, and raise it with a “Happy HumanLight, everyone!” (The latest December holiday, unless someone else has wriggled in since 2001.)

  29. Cecil is right – it makes no difference that “two students” sent the VBS fliers and that the Pagan flier appears to have been delivered by adults. Did the children create, administer and advertise the VBS entirely on their own? If the Pagans had sent the fliers in with their children, would the flier have been any less offensive to Ms. Blessed?

    And Hollow Boy arrives at the correct solution – the same one that Virginians, after they threw off the yoke of Establishment Religion in 1779, also arrived at: No mingling of Church and State versus equal establishment support. Patrick Henry tried to get the House of Burgesses/General Assembly to pass legislation which called for equal (proportionate) state support of religious groups. In those days, the Baptists and Presbyterians (Evangelicals as we know them to day are a modern, reactionary and revisionist phenomenon) of those days objected, since they were the minority then. Despite the SBC’s theocratic leanings under Mohler, historically the Baptists were pretty strong supporters of separation. So, the Virginia statute makes clear that no relationship is the only structurally fair relationship – kind of like tossing out ‘separate but equal’.

    How about simply making the policy that the ACPS is the only valid user of the “backpack mail” system? Problem solved. Then folks can return to the regularly scheduled important business that Gail mentions.

    Sadly, Waldo is right – it’s just starting. The problem started with the attempt of theocratic groups to try and push their way into government, spinning any pushback as ‘bigotry’ and ‘suppression’. When people start burning and blowing up dominionist megachurches, then those ‘christians’ can start crying about repression and they can appeal to the Justice Department for some justice.

  30. Metafilter good. WorldNetDaily, batshitisane. Looks like Sue Friedman got duped into thinking they’re a real press outlet, which is basically their game. Look no further than the second paragraph of the article:

    “Amazing – government schools ban orthodox Christianity, but allow an openly pagan organization to proselytize six-year-olds!” one observer who asked for anonymity told WND.

    I guarantee you that there’s no such observer, other than perhaps the author. Why somebody would be granted anonymity for such a statement I cannot imagine. The author couldn’t find somebody to be annoyed on the record? The statement itself is patently false. I don’t know what it means to ban fundamentalism, but kids are free to be as fundamentalist as they want. The rights afforded to fundamentalist Christians are the same as the rights afforded to pagans. The author knows this. But the author works for a bullshit faux publication that is further to the right than Ghengis Khan.

    The third paragraph is no better:

    The concern has risen to such a level that the head of the Albemarle district in Charlottesville, Va., admits the policy allowing handouts may change, potentially eliminating them from all organizations.

    The author didn’t even bother to learn the facts of the story. The Albemarle district in Charlottesville? The what in the what-what? It doesn’t exist.

    The story goes on to deliberately misstate the scale and method of distribution (went from teachers and principals to elementary-age students in the district states), and proceeds to find fringe elements of paganism to display as evidence that they’re insane. There are just as many elements of Christianity that are absolutely bizarre to the uninitiated (the premise of sacred cannibalism, for one), and any real author who listed them in the same terms would be canned.

    This is the same publication that outlandishly invented evidence that Sen. Kerry had an affair with a New York Times reporter and repeatedly reported that WMD have been found in Iraq without any evidence. They get caught for this kind of stuff pretty routinely. But that’s to be expected, because they’re not actually a publication. It’s just another mouthpiece for the radical right.

  31. At least we’re getting airplay for something important and relevant–e.g., the ramifications of church/state separation. Most of the time we only get national notice for something idiotic–e.g., Macacagate, droopy drawers legislation, draconian anti-marriage amendments.

    I know this sounds horrid and voyeuristic, but I’m looking forward to the WorldNet publicity fallout. The Christian fundamentalist element has dragged this country’s political persuasion far to the right, and a national dialogue on whether that’s a healthy direction for our government to go is long overdue. Maybe this fracas will blossom into a real knock-down drag-out on respect for those separation boundaries.

  32. I’m amazed that this flier has generated so much fear and hostility. It’s a LEARNING OPPORTUNITY, folks.

    Concerned Christian parents should attend the meeting with their kids and follow it up with a serious family discussion examining the differences between your belief system and the other systems. Which is going to deepen your kids’ faith more: (1) understanding why Paganism is different from Christianity or (2) paranoid ignorance?

    Sooner or later your kids are bound to discover that everyone in the world doesn’t think the same way your family does. Why not have them discover this while you’re still around to discuss it with them?

    ps- I personally think that individuals with a mature sense of Faith can make contact with their Deity in any religious setting. Try attending the service of another religion– at worst you’ll be bored and at best you’ll appreciate your own traditions more.

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