North Carolina Public School That Offered Bibles to Kids Refuses to Accept Pagan Books

A couple of weeks ago, Ginger Strivelli‘s fifth-grade son came home from his school with a copy of the Bible. It was a shock to her since he attended a public school and she was a Pagan.

Katherine wrote:

The school denies any wrong-doing, noting the box of Bibles was dropped off by the Gideons, who weren’t allowed any contact with the children. The Bibles were kept in the office where students could stop by for one if they wanted, and if any other religious group wanted to drop off their own texts, it would be handled in the same way.

Well, Strivelli decided to test that policy.

On Wednesday, she brought a box of Pagan books to the school.

Guess how that worked out? Believe it or not, the school wanted nothing to do with her books.

At the time, Principal Jackie Byerly said, “If another group wishes to do the same, I plan on handling that the same way as I have handled this.”

When Strivelli brought the Pagan books to the school Wednesday morning, she said she was told “a new policy is being crafted.”

“I’m not surprised a bit. That’s fully what I expected,” Strivelli said. “Basically, they were calling my bluff thinking I wouldn’t bring in the books.

“They’re changing the policy, which is wonderful. They shouldn’t (allow) it, but they shouldn’t have done it to start with. That makes it unfair after they have given out Christian propaganda.”

You would think someone in the Buncombe County school system would’ve just told a staffer, “If she stops by with Pagan books, just take them so we don’t look like hypocrites”… but they’re obviously not that smart.

At least they’re looking into their awful policy. This shouldn’t be a long review. It’s simple. You have a stupid policy. Change it. (See how I did that?)

The ACLU is still looking into a possible lawsuit.

Pagan blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters puts this into context:

Again and again it seem like certain Christian activists love the idea of inserting religion into the public sphere until it’s made plain that other, competing, ideas will be allowed as well. Then, the value of secularism suddenly reveals itself, at least until the law, or the demographics, change enough to allow them complete religious hegemony.

This is why we challenge public officials who give preferential treatment to Christians. They’re wrong. We’re right. We aren’t asking for special rights, only equal rights.

***Edit***: Mike Meno of the ACLU of North Carolina directs me to an article which explains the law behind this:

A 1998 federal court decision in a West Virginia case determined that religious literature can be left for high school students, but not at elementary schools, American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation legal director Katy Parker said last month.

This is because elementary-age students can’t be expected to tell the difference between what’s school-sponsored material and what isn’t.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • EJC

    I just phoned the Buncomb School District and asked to speak with principal Byerly. I was told she was in a meeting. 

    The woman I spoke with, while sweet, was unsure of how to handle my inquiry about how I could donate a box of Richard Dawkins “The God Delusion”. I explained, diplomatically and politely, that Principal Byerly accepted the Gideon Bibles, for the kids, and that we cannot allow preferential treatment of any world view and that was why I wished to donate the books.

    I am currently waiting for a call back from Principal Byerly.

    I would suggest everyone call and ask to donate such books BUT BE POLITE YET FIRM!!!

    The number is 828 658 1892

  • Abram Larson

    This is exactly how we should deal with all Christian bigotry. By calling them on their bluff. This forces them to confront their hypocrisy driven by Christian privilege head on. Kudos to you Ms. Strivelli.

  • Anonymous

    While they say they’re changing their policy, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was just a lie.
    In a few months they’ll start giving out more bibles. 

    • Thorny264

      I agree and I’m willing to bet if someone took some bibles in they would accept straight away also this will boost the chances of winning a lawsuit, if only i lived in america.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=544525141 Lauren Ely

    The Magic of Reality would be PERFECT for a school setting!!!

    • guest

      I would be willing to supply 20 copies of The Magic of Reality for this school if the poster above hears back from principal Byerly. I will watch this post for updates.

      • EJC

        Great idea! That is an even better book than God Delusion. I am ponying up 20 copies as well if the principal calls me back and accepts. I will keep you posted.

  • Trace

    Has anybody tried giving out more bibles (or Christian books) and see if they accept them? That at least would make it clearer if they are actually re-crafting their policy or not.

  • http://www.fantasticastoria.blogspot.com/ Chana Messinger

    It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so. -Robert A. Heinlein, science-fiction author (1907-1988)

    • DeltaV

      “It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics.”

      Robert A. Heinlein, “Postscript to Revolt in 2100″

  • http://profiles.google.com/nathanlee2 nathan lee

    Uh oh, I’m about to feel really sorry for that school if they’re getting calls from people on the internet. There is little that’s more annoying than a flood of angry people who only know a little bit about a situation, giving demands on a relatively local matter from a long distance away.

    I mean, sure, do what you need to do. Though when it’s an avalanche of craziness for what was really just a thoughtless piece of arrogant religiosity… wooo.

    • EJC

      i’m not on Internet nathan, i’m on oxi

      does that make it better?

    • The Captian

      “giving demands on a relatively local matter from a long distance away”

      So distance to a location is a factor in determining the worth of a persons opinion on the constitutionality, or morality of a matter?

      What then is the appropriate “distance” a person has to be within to have and voice an opinion on a matter? 20 miles? Within the state? 5 yards? The same country? I mean if Alabama passed a law forcing interracial couples to divorce are you saying no one in New York could call bullshit on that?

    • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

      This incident is more than likely a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the
      Constitution of the United States. It’s not a local or states’ rights issue.

  • http://twitter.com/olddaad Frank Key

    It’s only a book open to many, many interpretations. Provide the school with a non-believer’s perception of it thus allowing the school leaders to see the unintended consequences of distributing it.

  • HowieV

    The increase in opposition to Christian bias and hypocrisy is proportional to the rapid increase in the numbers of non religious, freethinking people. The pressure will also increase as anger and outrage are so frequent that these bigots will eventually succumb to the cowardly behavior that is a principal earmark of Christians who feel suddenly in the minority.

  • Seniorskeptik

    Hemant. You said “well, Strivelli decided to test that theory”.  Would not a better choice of words been *test that policy*? 

    This is the second time in a week when you used the word theory when another word would have been better.  How can you blame the fundies when they use the word incorrectly as in *just a theory* when your use is just as invalid?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      You’re right about the word policy. I’ve fixed that.

      If you want to claim a typo I made is the same thing as some Christians’ complete ignorance of science, that’s your business. I think everyone else can tell the difference.

    • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

      Theory has a variety of meanings. There is a colloquial meaning as well. It seems pretty clear when people are using the term in a colloquial setting and when it is being used in a scientific setting. This use seemed clearly colloquial. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

    You would think someone in the Buncombe County school system would’ve just told a staffer, “If she stops by with Pagan books, just take them so we don’t look like hypocrites”… but they’re obviously not that smart.

    Close…  the problem is that their superstitions drive them to believe it really would be  super mega bad if students had the opportunity to even let their fingers touch a pagan book.  I’m sure at least someone there is smart enough to know they could make the problem go away by just letting the pagan books sit there… but a soul might be lost!

  • Larry Mathys

    This same thing happened at my daughter’s school last year.  At the time, she was in middle school and the Principal had allowed the Gideons to put up a display in the front office.  I had to see this for myself, so I decided to make an appointment with him, but I got the Assistant Principal instead.  Sure enough, there was a stack of those mini New Testament Bibles on display in the office.

    I spoke with the Assistant Principal for a few minutes about the display, and asked her if this was standard policy for our school district.  She explained that the school district felt that the decision should be left up to the Principal.  Then she proceeded to tell me that the children were never forced to take the books, but they were free to come to the office anytime to take one.

    I tried to contact the Richard Dawkins foundation for some free paperback copies of his books, but never got a response.  I sure wish I had thought of bringing Pagan books instead…My daughter has moved on to high school now, but I’ll keep this idea in mind for future reference.

  • The Captian

    I have a funny feeling that “changing the policy” is the new policy.

    We’ve seen this before, the “policy” is to allow christians to do “X” activity within the school system, then as soon as someone else asks to do it, the policy will be changed. But the christians will be free to move on and do “Y” activity, until the same thing happens again, then it’s just on to “Z”. 

    Better keep an eye on these guys.

  • Gus Snarp

    This is unsurprising, and I hope the “new policy” is real and is the right one. But I’m really curious to know now what these pagan books were. Is there some official pagan bible? What kind of pagan? Were they Wiccan books? Or perhaps the Norse Edda? 

    This is in no way intended as a “pagan holy books aren’t real”, or “pagan holy books might have real objectionable content”, or anything of the sort. I hold pagan myths to be every bit as real as the Bible (that is, not at all real in terms of content, but really believed in by some people), and there’s no way they can have content any more objectionable than the bible.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000083012380 Steven L. Godfrey

      Pagans, as a general rule aren’t really all that dogmatic. I don’t know of any Pagan books that are held in the same regard as the Abrahamic faiths seem to hold their holy texts. Amongst the original Druids it was looked down upon to commit certain things to  writing as this could give falsehoods an undue authority. That and developing ones memory was given much consideration. The Eddas wouldn’t be a bad choice, nor would the Tain or the Mabinogian…

      • Rich Wilson

        Perhaps not as a rule, but I have come across some pagans who were extremely dogmatic.  As in, “Diana will be very upset if we burn anything other than purple candles at Imbolc”. (understanding that Diana was a generic name for Isis/Diana/Brigitte/Xena)

        And no, not a particular book, since as you say it’s much more a set of oral traditions, but I think it’s more a personal thing to be dogmatic and think things have to be just so, or more relaxed about it.  Some people are, others are not. 

  • Sami Hawkins

    If they do weasel out and start handing out bibles again I suggest somone donate a box of bibles with some of the more, interesting, passages bookmarked and highlighted.

  • Anonymous

    I wish there were small cheap copies of The Gospel of the FSM, much like the small cheaply produced NT’s that get handed out.   Pastafarianism was founded as a demand for equal time, so that book would be perfect.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    If the policy was, “No religious material will be distributed by this school,” they would have it done already. Since it’s in the works, it’s pretty obvious that they’re trying to find some way to still give away their bibles.


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