BLOG: Should Schools Make Religious Texts Donated By Any Group Available?
A pagan mother’s challenge to the distribution of donated Bibles at a Weaverville, NC school has prompted the Buncombe County Board of Education to reevaluate its policies regarding religious texts.
Ginger Strivelli, who practices Witchcraft -- a form of Paganism, said she was upset when her 12-year-old son came home from North Windy Ridge intermediate school with a Bible.
“Schools should not
be giving out one religion’s materials and not others,” she said.
For Strivelli, it's not only a matter of fairness, but fostering an environment that's more tolerant of minority religions.
"Ever since elementary school, I've always been bullied or excluded because of my religion," said Sybilsue Strivelli, Ginger's daughter, who's now a high school freshman.
Ginger Strivelli said when she complained about the Bible distribution, the principal assured her the school would make available religious texts donated by any group. But when the mother showed up at the school with pagan spell books, she was turned away.
“Buncombe County School officials are currently reviewing relevant policies and practices with school board attorneys,” the district announced in a written statement. “During this review period, no school in the system will be accepting donations of materials that could be viewed as advocating a particular religion or belief.”
The school board is expected to address the issue at its next meeting Feb. 2. According to legal experts, the First Amendment gives public schools two clear choices when it comes to the distribution of religious texts.
“You can either open your public school up to all religious material, or you can say no religious material,” said Michael Broyde, a professor and senior fellow at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion. “You can’t say, ‘You can distribute religious material, but only from the good mainstream faiths.’”
Preventing government from favoring or restricting any one religion may have helped the U.S. avoid the bloodshed experienced in some other Western nations, such as Germany and Ireland, according to Broyde.
“America runs a grand, noble experiment in religious diversity without violence,” he said. “There’s no killing of the Jews. There’s no Catholic-Protestant violence. We are very successful in this grand experiment.”
Traditionally, that “grand experiment” has involved Judaism and a handful of Christian denominations. But as non-traditional faiths spread into new communities, longstanding customs such as prayer, Christmas plays and Bibles that once went unquestioned in public schools are finding themselves under increased scrutiny.
“Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, not on Wiccan principles,” said Bobby Honeycutt, who attended public schools in Weaverville during the 1970s. “Our children have access to more non-Christian print material in the libraries and online than they really do Christian stuff.”
While many Weaverville Christians see recent events as a threat to tradition, others see a purpose in enforcing church-state separation in public schools, because even the nation’s traditional faiths have divisions.
“Many Christians have stood up and said they agree with me too,” Strivelli said. “Because, as much as they may like the Bible, they don’t want Jehovah’s Witnesses coming in with Watch Tower (magazines) or Catholics coming in and having them pray the Rosary.”