DEMOREST, Ga. –One resident of this small town in Georgia says he has gotten resistance to the idea of starting an after-school religious club for children like his daughter, whom he is rearing Pagan. Elijah Gragg said that when he asked about the possibility, the only response he got was a local Boy Scout leader warning that all after-school activities would be cancelled before a Pagan club would be approved.
Gragg, who says he’s been a Pagan since he was 12 years old and now identifies as Kemetic, said he got curious when his kindergartner brought home a flyer promoting the local Good News Club chapter. This club is one of the missions of the Child Evangelical Fellowship, and it has chapters in thousands of schools around the country.
A 2001 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States made it legal for after-school religious programs, like the Good News Club, to operate on school grounds for enrichment purposes.
Gragg said, “She’s only been in school about a month and a half.” When Gragg read the flyer, he started wondering about how to similarly support her religious education in the schools. He said that he asked at the board of education about how he might start a Pagan club for students.
“I was told they don’t make those policies,” and he was referred to Fairview Elementary principal Jennifer Chitwood. He left a message, but never heard back.
What he did get, however, was a visit from a local volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America, a man named Ian Nesbit. “I know the guy, but we are not friends,” Gragg said, and he was not expecting Nesbit, in his scouting uniform, to knock on his door on the afternoon of Sept. 28.
“He told me that [district officials] would shut down all after-school activities” rather than allow a Pagan club to be created, recalls Gragg. He believes that Nesbit was “there as a way to apply pressure” to stop Gragg from pursuing the idea.
TWH left a voice mail message for the principal, but no call in response was received by press time. When school officials do respond, TWH will follow-up will that information.
Gragg reportedly contacted local scouting officials about the incident. According to Scout Executive Trip Selman of the Boy Scouts’ Northeast Georgia Council, he promised Gragg that the situation would be “addressed.”
Selman explained to TWH that “if someone is representing scouting, as a volunteer or a staff member, we want to make sure they’re representing it properly.”
In his opinion, Gragg believes district officials “overplayed their hand” by sending Nesbit to warn him off Pagan after-school clubs.
“I just wanted to talk, and now I know that they’re going to have a fit.” Since then, he said that he’s been identifying Pagans who might be interested in helping him push his case with school board members. “I’m just one person, and those are fights that never end well.”
He’s been making inquiries, finding Pagans in his corner of Georgia, and identifying allies. He said that he has started to hear stories, too, like one about a metaphysical store in nearby Camelia that closed because locals “ran the owner out.”
He was not able to provide the name of that business, however, as he only met the owner in passing at a gas station. “It’s a bigger issue than I’d realized. I want to find Pagans who are willing to stand up for their rights to access.”
This isn’t the first time Gragg has felt forced to stand up for Pagan religions in this state, he said. He remembers one of his high school teachers giving a “30-minute lecture on why witches were evil,” and how he stood up to give a different perspective. “I got the ‘strange treatment’ for the rest of the year,” he remembers.
Gragg said that he’s gotten support from as far away as Atlanta, some 90 minutes’ drive, including a former council member from that city, as he reports.
“I want to make them defend being bigots in public,” he explained as his strategy.
“The only other option is the courts, and from what I understand they have the right to do that,” meaning shut down all after-school activities as a way to avoid having to provide equal access to Pagan club organizers.
Gragg said he will work on this issue and “make it right” as soon as he has the necessary resources to stand a fighting chance. In the meantime, he said that his daughter brought home a flyer advertising a different Christian after-school club just yesterday.
We will update this story as more information becomes available.