A man named Leonard Presberg was recently elected to the Fayette County Board of Education (in Georgia). That was back in November. In January, he was named Chairman of the board.
What are his views on education? You would think that’s the only point of concern for local residents… but at a school board meeting last week, resident David Barlow spoke out against Presberg… not because of any particular educational policy they disagreed about, but because it appears that Presberg is a member of — wait for it — the Fayette Freethought Society.
Good evening Chairman Presberg, board members, Dr. Bearden.
My wife and I were here the night you and six other candidates presented yourselves to the board as a possible replacement for the late Dr. Sam Tolbert.
My wife and I were impressed with several candidates and would have chosen Ms. Bonnie Willis. You were our second choice, so we were not disappointed when you were selected.
I was present when you attended the Board of Education meeting as a new board member. You were selected chairman by a 3-2 vote; Dr. Todd and Ms. Key opposed.
Next, I was somewhat surprised with the Smith, Smola and Presberg vote to settle the NAACP lawsuit without input from the citizens.
I began to read articles published in our local paper, The Citizen, revealing disturbing information about you.
I went to the Freethinkers’ website before it was locked out and read, “We’re about freedom from religion, separation of church and state, rational thought and skeptical thinking, secular humanism, agnostic, skeptics, freethinker, atheists, Brights, secular parenting, secularism, wissenschaft, neopagan, recovering from religion, pantheism.”
As a born-again, Spirit-filled Christian, I was alarmed that anyone would participate in such activities, much less our new FCBoE Chairman because these views can’t help but spill over into the direction you may take the education of our county’s children.
Because over 70 percent of Fayette County citizens worship Jesus Christ, it’s all the more concerning based on the stated beliefs of these aforementioned organizations.
I wanted answers and emailed you and we arranged a time to meet. I spoke openly about my faith and my concerns, and asked you what your faith is. You declined to answer, but did say you were raised as a Jew.
Here’s another opportunity, I ask you again to please answer this question: What is your faith?
At least someone else on the board objected to the question since it was totally out of line.
Barlow makes it sound like the freethought society is burning crosses at every meeting, when the truth is they basically meet for lunch or dinner a few times a month. And sometimes they clean up a long stretch of road. You know, to help the community.
“Some people are making it out like we’re getting together to make Molotov Cocktails,” [founder of the group, Julie Williams] added with shock. “I think it’s just been an attempt by some people to rile up a community that is largely conservative and Christian. We’re not trying to judge anyone’s beliefs or change their mind. We have members who are religious, and plenty of members that are politically conservative. Our meetings are open to anyone who wants to come.”
Reader Matt has been following this story closely since he lives in the area and he had this to say (in an email):
As a non-Christian myself and a member of the mentioned freethought society, I was appalled at the questions raised about his personal religious beliefs which are protected by both federal and state constitutions and can not be considered relevant in regards to his office of public trust.
Tonight, Mr. Presberg was kind enough to attend a question-and-answer session at our Peachtree City town hall regarding himself and his plans for the school board; this meeting was called by a local ‘concerned citizen’ who repeatedly directed the questions towards Mr. Presberg’s personal beliefs and ‘core values’. This ‘concerned citizen’ even went so far as to directly ask Mr. Presberg’s stance on the Occupy Wall St. movement, as if it was at all relevant to education! The neighbors of this citizen were in the audience and when called upon also referenced Christianity (both obliquely and directly), proper choices of textbooks, ‘majority opinions’, and the ‘California’ way (which is the wrong direction according to them). It was blatant McCarthyism on display to all of us in attendance (many of whom, like myself, attended in support of Mr. Presberg).
To his credit Mr. Presberg did not rise to these aspersions and did his best to provide nuanced and relevant (non-religious) answers to the questions raised, either answering oblique questions about “world value systems”(ominous emphasis) with concrete local education plans or asking for identification of these improper values (of which there was none). He also reiterated several times the creed, which many of us hold, that his personal beliefs are his alone and he does not seek through his office to impose them on our children or anyone else. (While Mr. Presberg feigned ignorance of the assembled ill-will before him, a local police officer was also present at his request.)
Without knowing Presberg’s educational views, it at least sounds like his heart is in the right place. He wants to do what’s best for the kids in his community and he knows that the schools are not a place for him to impose his views about religion. You might wonder: What more could anyone want from him?
But when you’re living in the South, not indoctrinating children with Christianity is basically a crime against humanity.