In Albemarle County, Va., fundie central, Pagans recently sent a notice home with all school children inviting them to attend a Pagan Yule celebration. "What!?!" you say; "Doesn't that violate the First Amendment's requirement of separation between church and state?" Why, yes. Yes it does. And the fundies, as you may imagine, are none too happy about it. But they have only themselves to blame.
The dispute started last summer when Gabriel and Joshua Rakoski, twins who attend Hollymead Elementary School, sought permission to distribute fliers about their church’s Vacation Bible School to their peers via “backpack mail.” Many public schools use special folders placed in student backpacks to distribute notices about schools events and sometimes extra-curricular activities to parents.
School officials originally denied the request from the twins’ father, Ray Rakoski, citing a school policy barring “distribution of literature that is for partisan, sectarian, religious or political purposes.”
A Charlottesville weekly newspaper, The Hook, reports that Rakoski “sicced the Liberty Counsel on the county,” and the policy was soon revised to allow religious groups to use the backpack mail system. Liberty Counsel is a Religious Right legal group founded by Mathew Staver and now affiliated with Falwell.
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.
“Have you ever wondered what ‘Holidays’ refers to?” reads the flier. “Everyone knows about Christmas – but what else are people celebrating in December? Why do we celebrate the way we do?”
The flier invites people to “an educational program for children of all ages (and their adults), where we’ll explore the traditions of December and their origins, followed by a Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule.”
It concludes, “Come for one or both parts and bring your curiosity.”
Many members of this congregation are strong supporters of church-state separation who don’t believe public schools should promote any religion. But they were also unwilling to cede the field to Falwell and his fundamentalist allies. Falwell opened the backpack forum, and the Pagans were determined to secure equal time.
Suddenly not everyone was pleased by the open forum. Jeff Riddle, pastor of Jefferson Park Baptist Church in Charlottesville, wrote on his personal blog, “If the school allows the Baptist or Methodist church to send home a note to its students about Vacation Bible School, it also has to allow the Unitarian Church to send home a note about its ‘Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule’….This kind of note adds weight to the argument that it is high time for Christians to leave public schools for reasonable alternatives (homeschooling and private Christian schools).” [See, now this is what's funny. You'd think he'd conclude that this kind of note adds weight to the argument that we ought to keep church and state separate, but, sadly, no.]
Another conservative Christian blogger in the county complained about finding the flier in her child’s folder. Apparently unaware of Falwell’s role in bringing it about, the blogger who goes by the name Cathy, noted disclaimer language at the bottom of the flier noting that the event is not connected to the school and wrote, “They [the school officials] aren’t endorsing or sponsoring this? Then it shouldn’t have been included in the Friday folders. The Friday folders have never been used for any thing other than school work and school board and/or County sanctioned/sponsored programs.”
She then fumed that a “pagan ritual” is “an educational experience my children don’t need.”
To be clear, I'd strongly prefer to have NO religious flyers sent home from public school. I think it violates the First Amendment of the Constitution to have the school sending home announcements about any religion. It seems to me that the school should only be sending home notices about school and, maybe, say, the Department of Recreation or the Health Department.
But R.'s action is a great way to remind the fundies why we need separation of church and state. Don't like having your tax dollars used and your captive-audience child subjected to propaganda about my religion? Or a madrassa that teaches that the United States is the Great Satan? Or the Scientologists who want to sell your child "services," or the child-molesting Catholics? Fair enough. Then keep your damn vacation bible school announcements to hand out at your Sunday school.
Gee, five seconds of thought might have allowed the fundies to see the logical outcome of their actions, but, as demonstrated by Jeff Riddle, logical thought may not be their strong suit.
The event is planned for this Saturday, December 9th 1-3 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Charlottesville (Rugby Rd). Drop by and say hello to the Fairy Guide.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."