Archives For The Turner Family

Today the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s education blogger, Maureen Downey, took notice of the now-resolved difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school.

Turner Family Support Team

Turner Family Support Team (from left to right): Rev. Charissa Iskiwitch, Stephanie Turner, Rev. Ginger Wages, Lisa Palmer, and Rev. Michelle Boshears

“… some argue that not all religions are met with hostility in the classroom, only those far outside the mainstream. That complaint was made this month via an Internet campaign on behalf of a pagan family in Carroll County. Stephanie Turner said her 11-year-old son was singled out and punished after he took off the neopagan holiday of Samhain. Once the boy returned to class, his teacher allegedly questioned him and said,  ‘Paganism is not a religion.'”

While this issue has been resolved since December 14th, I’m certainly not going to begrudge the AJC for jumping on this story so late, any mainstream press attention to victories for the equal rights and treatment of Pagans is welcome. I keenly understand how hard it is to cover everything of note when you’re a solo news-blogger covering a wide and complex beat, so I’m glad this story is reaching more people, even after the fact. That said, I think Downey’s blog post provides a perfect example of how Pagan stories eventually get noticed by the upper echelons of our news media. Simply put, how does Pagan news get wider attention?

The saga of the Turner family was first covered, so far as I can tell, by the Atlanta Independent Media Center (IMC), who wrote about the story on December 3rd. Indymedia/IMC is a progressive grassroots journalism organization that rose up during the WTO “Battle of Seattle” protests of 1999. Their focus is on social and economic justice, and the network can be a rich source of local news. Once this story was written, people started sharing it on social media networks like Facebook, where it was brought to my attention. My first mention of the story was in a link roundup on December 5th. That same day, a representative from Dogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess, which covers Georgia, was also responding the social media buzz and reached out to the Turner family. By December 8th a coalition of local and national Pagan groups was formed, were working with the Turner family, and had released their first joint statement.

“In addition, a Task Force of local and national Pagan organizations have come together to help resolve issues between the Turners and BES. The Task Force also hopes to provide the school with Pagan accommodation information and materials with the hopes of avoiding misunderstandings and other problems in the future. Represented in this group are the North Georgia Solitaries (NGS), both the localand national chapters of the Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary and Lady Liberty League.”

A Facebook page was created by this coalition to focus and coordinate support, which was spread far and wide. Now there was a centralized coalition that was sending out regular updates to press and supporters. This combination of coordination, social media buzz, and Pagan media outlets reporting on the story culminated on December 14th with the successful settlement of the matter, which I reported (and thus it appeared on Google News searches), and it was crowned by an interview with the mother, Stephanie Turner, by Coalition member Selena Fox of the Lady Liberty League on her Pagan Warrior Radio show. After that I did one follow-up link to a coalition statement, and moved on to other stories.

So what, exactly, led AJC blogger Maureen Downey to the story? It seems likely that she was tipped off by a local reader to the Facebook page and by the time she was ready to write about it, the issue was resolved. Her narrative was certainly influenced by direct contact with Selena Fox, and its clear she read “websites and pagan organizations that took up the Turner family cause,” though she oddly links to a petition that was shut down on December 9th at the request of the Turner family support coalition as an example of those “websites and organizations”. Perhaps if the matter was still unresolved, this might have led to more ongoing and serious coverage from the mainstream media. Which leaves us with a perfect example of how the Pagan news ecosystem works.

The Pagan News Ecosystem

The Pagan News Ecosystem

Far from a hierarchical top-down or bottom-up system, today news builds momentum by generating more and more discussion and reporting until it is noticed at a national or international level.  In the Turner family story, almost all the “spokes” of this ecosystem came into play. Locally-focused grassroots news sites, social media, national Pagan media, Pagan blogs and podcasts, information and coordination from Pagan organizations, and finally, reporting from mainstream news outlets. The more the various elements of the ecosystem coordinate and communicate, the faster news disseminates and goes “viral”. Not every element is necessary every time, but usually most “big” stories about modern Pagans involved many of the players seen in my graphic above.

The point? The point is that media coordination works to not only spread awareness, but also motivates for change and, in the case of the Turner family, produces results. This is why a healthy and robust Pagan media is important, and why Pagan organizations need to take their PR and media outreach seriously. Because we were all paying attention when a local Indymedia bureau wrote about this story, some measure of justice was achieved. Without social networking or a growing Pagan media, this issue might have incubated for months, or even years, before in maintained enough momentum to gain the attention needed. Now, it can be achieved in less than two weeks. That’s good for the Turners, and good for modern Paganism.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Yesterday, just hours after I posted an update on the difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school, another press release was sent out that seems to point to an agreement between Carroll County School District, the Turner family, and coalition of Pagan advocacy groups.

Here’s the full press release:

Statement from Bowdon Elementary School, Carroll County School District, and members of the Turner Family Support Task Force as represented by Lady Liberty League, North Georgia Solitaries, Covenant of the Goddess, Dogwood Local Council, and Circle Sanctuary:

The Turner Family, Task Force, and School District want Bowdon School to be a positive, supportive environment which fosters the emotional and educational growth of all students.

With education, cooperation, and open dialogue, all things are possible.

At times, a lack of life experience and/or other circumstances can make it difficult to perceive how words and actions might cause offense or upset. The parties involved acknowledge that words and deeds can be hurtful even without the intent of making them so.

In an effort to reach a positive and collaborative resolution to recent events, an alliance of the parties involved has come to pass which will set the stage for future education for school staff, students, and parents on the topic of equality and respect for all students and families in the Carroll County School System.

First, a sincere apology for recent events and misunderstandings has been given by School Administration and accepted by the family.

Second, the Bowdon Elementary School guidance Counselor will educate staff and students about honoring and accepting the differences that make us individuals.

Third, procedures have been put in place to ensure classroom activities don’t alienate students. As part of this, the administration and teachers will have yearly training about the District’s Code of Ethics and the responsibilities of each staff member to preserve the integrity of every students’ rights.

We appreciate the hard work and open dialogue of all the parties involved to create this positive resolution. The Turner children will return to school. The Carroll County School District will continue to strive to be a place that fosters the emotional and educational growth of all students regardless of religion, race, national origin, gender or disability.

So it looks like this issue has been largely settled, aside from implementation of these new agreements concerning education on “honoring and accepting” religious differences. Stephanie Turner, mother of Christopher, appeared on the Internet radio show Pagan Warrior Radio last night, and thanked the Pagan community for all the support she and her family has received during this ordeal. Here’s hoping that this incident will act as a message to schools, teachers, and administrators that the rights of religious minorities in public schools are to be taken seriously, and that the Pagan community is more than willing to come together in order to protect our constitutional rights.

Today I have some updates and new developments in stories previously covered here at The Wild Hunt.

Georgia School Harassment Case: Last week I reported on an official joint statement sent out by the North Georgia SolitariesDogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the GoddessLady Liberty League, and its parent organization, Circle Sanctuary, on the difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school (as originally reported by the Atlanta IMC). Now, that coalition, The Turner Family Support Task Force, has sent out an update calling for ongoing spiritual and fiscal support.

“Please send your prayers, your energy, and your personal messages through the Facebook page. They are being read by the Turners throughout each day. And, secondly, if you would like to contribute funds to help alleviate the financial burdens that have been placed on the family, please make your donations via the Pagan Assistance Fund, operated by the North Georgia Solitaries through the Church of the Spiral Tree. Donations are tax-deductible and will be used to offset a variety of expenses such as gas, child care, home-schooling supplies, and other related family expenses as they arise.”

The task force is hoping their efforts will lead to “a peaceful resolution and a future of fair and equal treatment in the school and school system.” My contact within the task force says that there will be more news on this front soon, so stay tuned!

Saudi Arabia’s Sorcery Beheading: On Monday, news broke that Saudi Arabia had executed yet another person for the crime of “sorcery,” bringing the estimated total of state-backed executions to 79, a massive increase from the previous year. Amnesty International called the beheading Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser “deeply shocking,” while the BBC reports that it is the country’s religious police force (the Mutaween) who are pushing for executions.

“The London-based newspaper, al-Hayat, quoted a member of the religious police as saying that she was in her 60s and had tricked people into giving her money, claiming that she could cure their illnesses. [...] Amnesty says that Saudi Arabia does not actually define sorcery as a capital offence. However, some of its conservative clerics have urged the strongest possible punishments against fortune-tellers and faith healers as a threat to Islam.”

The Wild Hunt has spent quite a bit of time reporting on Saudi Arabia’s harsh laws against fortune telling, sorcery, and witchcraft. There was the case of Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who was nearly executed for the crime of sorcery in Saudi Arabia but given a last-minute reprieve due to protests and political maneuvering, and finally freed. Also significant is the case of Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali, which drew the public attention of Pagan and international interfaith figure Phyllis Curott, a Trustee of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, serving on its Executive Committee. In many cases, like Fawza Falih’s, we never learn their ultimate fate. This trend of executing fortune tellers and “sorcerers” is troubling, not only because Saudi Arabia is ostensibly our ally, but because there are modern Pagans living in the Middle East, and having to live under the threat of death for witchcraft in the 21st century is a scandal to any who believe in progress and human rights.

Peruvian Shaman Slayings: Back in October I reported on the murder of fourteen shamans in Peru, allegedly ordered by Alfredo Torres, the mayor of Balsa Puerto, and carried out by his brother. Author and indigenous leader Roger Rumrrill claimed these killings are part of a wider witch-hunt by the brothers, who are members of an unnamed protestant Christian sect. Now, progressive news site Truthout brings us an update on the story, alleging that more than mere religious animus is behind these murders.

Alberto Pizango, Peru’s top indigenous leader and president of the country’s most powerful indigenous organization, the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (known by its Spanish acronym, AIDESEP) paints a more complex picture of the case, blaming cash and pressure from legal and illegal industries in the Amazon who poach natural resources from indigenous lands. “What is happening now in my community is organized crime,” said Pizango, himself a Shawi medico who studied for seven years under a master shaman.

Pizango goes on to tell how traditions are being distorted to support the murder of shamans who oppose the growing criminal enterprises in Peru, or their political allies. noting that “when the people come out to defend their territorial rights, their rights to their natural resources, then the mayor has the perfect criminal organization to shut them up, accuse them, say that someone was killed because he was a brujo.” At this point the death-count is now estimated at 20, and the government investigation into these charges are still ongoing. No arrests or public statements have been made. For ongoing updates see the Alianza Arkana news blog.

Dan Halloran Responds (by Proxy): I’ve been waiting to hear Dan Halloran’s response to the divisive Village Voice piece that I feel unfairly sensationalized his Heathen faith, and dinged by religion journalism criticism site Get Religion for its unnecessary mocking tone.” Now, it seems a response was sent out this past Thursday, albeit indirectly through Halloran’s spokesman Steve Stites in an email to the Queens Tribune.

“The liberal press, such as the Voice, based in downtown Manhattan, and knowing zilch about Northeast Queens, have stooped to some pretty creative new lows in trying to bash the Councilman,” Stites wrote in a furious email. “It makes you wonder why they’re so afraid of him, or so fascinated by him. My guess is that the left-wing press doesn’t like the Councilman because he’s outspoken, effective and conservative, and he doesn’t play by their rules of political correctness and go-along get-along politics.”

Voice staff writer Steven Thrasher defended his piece, saying he wrote it “because it made such a good story—a politician with a faith unlike any other,” and that comparing Heathens with Civil War reenactors was meant to be a compliment. Sadly, neither Halloran or Stites have directly addressed the religious content of Thrasher’s article, nor do I expect them to any time soon.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

In my news roundup on December 5th, I noted an Atlanta Independent Media Center story on difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school.

“Christopher’s teacher, Mrs. Ross, pulled him out of class and proceeded to drill him about Paganism, ending the conversation with “Paganism is not a religion.” Remember, this is an 11 year old student, with no parent present while being harassed about his religion by someone who is suppose to be an educator.”

Since that report word has quickly spread through social media networks, with many contacting school officials to complain. Now, an official joint statement has been sent out by the North Georgia Solitaries, Dogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess, Lady Liberty League, and its parent organization, Circle Sanctuary.

Turner Family Support

Statement from NGS, CoG, DLC, LLL, Circle Sanctuary:

After concerns spread about some problems with accommodating Pagan students needs at Bowdon Elementary School (BES), there was an overwhelming show of community support for the Turner family of Carroll County in western Georgia, USA. Many local Pagans and associated organizations reached out to assist the Turners by providing emotional support and offering practical advice. The Turners have been deeply touched by this out-pouring of spirit and wish to express their sincerest gratitude.

In addition, a Task Force of local and national Pagan organizations have come together to help resolve issues between the Turners and BES. The Task Force also hopes to provide the school with Pagan accommodation information and materials with the hopes of avoiding misunderstandings and other problems in the future. Represented in this group are the North Georgia Solitaries (NGS), both the localand national chapters of the Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary and Lady Liberty League.

Currently, Carroll County Schools, led by the assistant superintendent, has expressed an active interest in resolving the current tensions and is planning to meet with Ms. Turner. The family and the Task Force are requesting that those with concerns about their situation do not directly contact the school or its employees. It is important that everyone involved have the maximum space needed to focus on resolving this conflict in a positive way. However, all concerned individuals are welcome to show theirsupport for the Turners through the Turner Family Support Facebook fan page or through the simple use of prayers and energy toward a peaceful resolution and healing.

Please direct all media questions to pio@dogwoodlc.org.

Hopefully, if all goes well, this matter can be resolved outside of the courtroom, and new connections and relationships can be formed that will benefit other Pagan families in the area. Again, these organizations and the Turner family are requesting individuals stop contacting school officials as these talks and negotiations happen. All expressions of support should be posted at the official Facebook page. I wish the Turners and the coalition of local and national Pagan organizations luck in resolving this matter in a way that benefits all involved.