Vote on Religious Materials in Buncombe County Schools Tonight

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 1, 2012 — 24 Comments

Tonight, the Buncombe County School Board in North Carolina is scheduled to vote on a new policy regarding the distribution of religious material in public schools. This vote, if it happens, will be the culmination of controversy that began this past December, when North Carolina Pagan Ginger Strivelli challenged her child’s school’s policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. Strivelli felt that the manner in which Gideon Bibles were made available violated the Establishment Clause, and ostracized non-Christian students who didn’t want to use a special break to obtain a Bible.

At the time, the school defended their policy of distribution for religious materials, saying it was open and neutral, but when tested with Pagan books the school’s tune quickly changed. The Buncombe County School Board now said their policy was under review, while Strivelli received a death threat for speaking out. On February 2nd, the school board held a meeting to unveil (but not vote on) a new distribution policy for religious materials. In a packed room, a climate of fear and anger held sway, according to Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog.

A view of the Buncombe school board meeting.

A view of the Buncombe school board meeting.

For awhile there seemed to be a balance of people who supported and opposed the policy. But then some preachers got up and made direct personal attacks to Ginger. They claimed she was the only one with a problem with the bible distribution. Little do they understand how many pagans in the county that fear coming out and speaking up. And after that meeting, I completely understand!  Then it got even worse when a preacher spoke up that only bibles should be allowed in schools. And that is when the preaching began. People after people felt the need to quote scripture. One guy even read from the bible and stated that if we were real pagans that our ears would burn after listening to the scripture.

All through this we quietly sat and allowed people to speak their minds. While I fully support freedom of speech, this was quite difficult. It was off topic. It was all about the “us vs them” mentality. I wanted to speak because it had been so long since anyone from the pagan community spoke. But I was scared. Yep, you read that right. The hostility was so thick that I wasn’t sure that I could handle standing before those people and be subject to a possible attack. When Ginger spoke about her feelings of being bullied and that she was the only one brave enough to stand up to the masses, the crowd rebuked her. The same crowd we respectfully allowed to speak their minds now could not handle her speaking her own. I will speak at the next meeting. I have things to say and I need to stand by my desire for a strong interfaith world by standing up and speaking.”

That entire contentious meeting was recorded by the school board, and you can listen to it in short excerpts if you’d like to wade through it all. Regarding the proposed policy that will be voted on tonight, it states that school officials  “while acting in their official capacities shall not use their positions to endorse, promote, or disparage a particular religious belief, viewpoint or practice.” It also requires ongoing training to staff, and to have principals consult the superintendent over any instance that might violate the Constitution. Ginger Strivelli, and local Pagan activists, will be in attendance to speak up in favor of the new policy, and document the proceedings. Local activist and Pagan leader Byron Ballard posted yesterday about the preparations she is making, and what she plans to say at tonight’s meeting.

“…maybe I’ll talk about bullies and bullying because we had plenty of examples of that at the last meeting. And maybe I’ll talk about how deeply ashamed I am of grownups who use their religion as an excuse to dominate and intimidate children. How humiliating it is for me–as a parent, as a mountain woman–to hear a young child say to an adult: You are going to burn in Hell. We used to have good manners here. We used to respect our elders–even when they didn’t earn it.”

Meanwhile, Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog will be live-tweeting the meeting.

I am excited and yet still nervous. I guess that's normal when you feel like walking into the lion's den.
@APippinger
Angela Pippinger

“I have spoken with the Communications committee at the BoE and I will be taking my laptop and will be able to live tweet the event. Please follow my Twitter account or follow the hashtag #avlgov to watch the public commentary portion of the meeting as well as the outcome of the vote. During the live tweeting I will not be able to respond to tweets but if you use the hashtag, you can freely discuss amongst yourselves what is happening. Depending on my ability to plug the laptop in the while will dictate how long I can tweet for. I simply won’t do it from my phone during public commentary, my thumbs were killing me last time. If I cannot plug in, I will tweet the public commentary as long as my battery will hold out.  I will tweet from my phone the outcome of the vote. I won’t leave anyone hanging!”

Finally, Selena Fox and the Lady Liberty League has sent out a blessing to Strivelli and her supporters.

“Lady Liberty’s Flame of Freedom & the Strength of the Sacred Oak be with you during Tonight’s meeting & in times to come in this quest for upholding separation of church & state and for fair & equal treatment of those of differing religions & belief in the Buncombe County, NC public school system!”

Our thoughts and prayers go out to our Pagan brothers and sisters fighting the good fight in North Carolina, and all those who would stand with them in the name of equality and upholding the separation of church and state. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6:30pm EST tonight, so tune in to Angela Pippinger’s Twitter feed for the latest word. We will update this post once we have word of the vote.

ADDENDUM: Angela Pippinger’s account of last night’s meeting is now up. In short, the board postponed the vote for another month, so it was another round of public comments.

“Now I am sure you all are curious as to the outcome of the voting. Well. There was no vote. Chairperson Rhinehart stated that they wanted to work on the policy a bit more and create procedure for handling religious literature specifically. They felt that it would be better to vote on a policy and procedure instead of handling this matter in bits and pieces. To be honest, this didn’t thrill me too much. It felt more like a stonewalling move than an actual step forward. Perhaps I am wrong.

The next meeting will be held on April 12 and they are supposed to vote that night. Initially I panicked because it falls on the last week of tax season and I am afraid I won’t be able to go. But really, I can’t not go at this point so I will be there again. I may or may not speak, will depend on the amount of stress I am under at that time. I will be live tweeting the event, it’s too important of an issue.”

I highly recommend reading her entire account. You may also want to check out Patti Wigington’s blog at About.com, as she was also at the meeting.

Send to Kindle

Jason Pitzl-Waters

Posts

  • Anonymous

    *facepalm* The really sad thing about this story to me is that — they’ve been having this same fight for over 10 years. I remember a similar kerfluffle when I was in high school (Asheville city schools, not Buncombe county so I wasn’t directly involved but heard all about it). That was over 10 years ago and it’s deeply saddening to me that this continues.

  • Zachary

    Ginger is a brave, brave woman. Best to her.

    “And maybe I’ll talk about how deeply ashamed I am of grownups who use their religion as an excuse to dominate and intimidate children.”

    Yes, let’s talk about this behavior. Telling a child–or anyone–they’re going to hell and suffering torture and damnation because they don’t conform to your beliefs is despicable.

    • firefright12

      the worst are those who say they’ve been to the christian afterlife and back as a way to press it. See Heaven is for real and 23 minutes in hell.

      • Harmonyfb

        Though not all afterlife experiences mirror the Christian worldview. I watched one of those ‘near-death-experience’ shows that had a little boy dying of cancer who drew pictures of “the rainbow bridge” and talked about how he was ready to cross it. Made me cry and smile at the same time.

        • Firefirght12

          As long as it wasn’t use as a tool for conversion

    • Merofled Ing

      They don’t usually tell the children they’re going to hell. They tell them that god loves children and as children they’ll get to heaven, but of course their parents will go to hell.

      Some kids then can’t sleep for weeks. (Friends of mine.) I decided that it wasn’t so much that I didn’t “believe in” their religion any more, rather I wasn’t interested. I don’t believe in slapping children either, though it happens.
      I’m greatful to the teacher who told me that – at least she was honest, and gave me a chance to find a very different path.

      And indeed, best to Ginger, and I hope the vote went well.

      • Merofled Inge

        Just saw this – they punted…

  • Mia

    I’d love to stand in there with her and give those people a taste of their own medicine. Quote some scripture right back at them, see how they like it.

    Shame I live too far away. Lots of luck to her, hopefully the lions won’t be too hungry.

  • Thelettuceman

    Sigh. I have a bad feeling about this.

  • A.C. Fisher Aldag

    Blessings and good luck to those fighting the good fight!

  • Piper

    Every time I see this stuff, I wonder where the admin went to get their Masters in ED Admin. In any MA program for Admin, you have to take an Ed Law class, this is a no brainer, you do not allow any or you allow all.(you are supposed to say period when you read that) It does not matter if it is religious, you have to have EQUAL access.
    blessings and good luck to all

    • Kelly NicDruegan

      Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter where they got their training from. When you have “Gawd and Jee-zus on your side” you are not obligated to follow the “wayward” laws of men. I grew up in the south… in 47 years nothing much has changed.

  • Obsidia

    Thanks, Jason…I’ll be lighting a candle this evening for true Illumination and Tolerance and Justice for the good of all.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Loved the mountain-woman perspective. Strength and calm to Ginger.

  • Anonymous

    I do hope someone took a video camera to record this.

  • fyreflye

    Here’s not much I can do but wish them well.

  • manda

    It looks like they chose not to vote on it? Did I read that right on the twitter feed?

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      Yeah, they punted. Angela will have a write-up tomorrow on her blog.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1006464595 Cathryn Bauer

    We simply must win this one. That’s all there is to it.

    • firefright12

      amen (sic)

  • Christine

    In short… they punted.

  • Kilmrnock

    Dayum , i’m a southern man ………….i wouldn’t want to live in that place , aye Virginia , there are southern pagans , even mountain woman pagans . Kilm

  • Obsidia

    Angela noted that there were church vans full of their congregants coming to the School Board meeting. However, it was good that the Board took better control and, this time, made sure the comments were TO THE BOARD, rather than to other commenters. Slight progress, I know, but better than last time. Maybe the next meeting will finally resolve the matter for the good of all. May justice, balance, and harmony prevail.

  • Veracity

    The guy that kills me is the one who ran out of “arguments” and stated that Christians were in the majority, the end. Being in the majority gives them the excuse for throwing out freedom of religion? I thought that kind of attitude is what law is supposed to protect people *from*.

    I’d also like to tell ask that guy if he thought Jesus and his 12 disciples were “in the majority” and see if it made a difference in his thinking. Probably not, but it might show others how empty his logic is.

    Hang in there, Ginger, Angela, and all involved. Angela, I listened to your speech on YouTube and you did well. Keep it up, we’re all behind you.