Update on Georgia School Harassment Case

In my news roundup on December 5th, I noted an Atlanta Independent Media Center story on difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school.

“Christopher’s teacher, Mrs. Ross, pulled him out of class and proceeded to drill him about Paganism, ending the conversation with “Paganism is not a religion.” Remember, this is an 11 year old student, with no parent present while being harassed about his religion by someone who is suppose to be an educator.”

Since that report word has quickly spread through social media networks, with many contacting school officials to complain. Now, an official joint statement has been sent out by the North Georgia Solitaries, Dogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess, Lady Liberty League, and its parent organization, Circle Sanctuary.

Turner Family Support

Statement from NGS, CoG, DLC, LLL, Circle Sanctuary:

After concerns spread about some problems with accommodating Pagan students needs at Bowdon Elementary School (BES), there was an overwhelming show of community support for the Turner family of Carroll County in western Georgia, USA. Many local Pagans and associated organizations reached out to assist the Turners by providing emotional support and offering practical advice. The Turners have been deeply touched by this out-pouring of spirit and wish to express their sincerest gratitude.

In addition, a Task Force of local and national Pagan organizations have come together to help resolve issues between the Turners and BES. The Task Force also hopes to provide the school with Pagan accommodation information and materials with the hopes of avoiding misunderstandings and other problems in the future. Represented in this group are the North Georgia Solitaries (NGS), both the localand national chapters of the Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary and Lady Liberty League.

Currently, Carroll County Schools, led by the assistant superintendent, has expressed an active interest in resolving the current tensions and is planning to meet with Ms. Turner. The family and the Task Force are requesting that those with concerns about their situation do not directly contact the school or its employees. It is important that everyone involved have the maximum space needed to focus on resolving this conflict in a positive way. However, all concerned individuals are welcome to show theirsupport for the Turners through the Turner Family Support Facebook fan page or through the simple use of prayers and energy toward a peaceful resolution and healing.

Please direct all media questions to pio@dogwoodlc.org.

Hopefully, if all goes well, this matter can be resolved outside of the courtroom, and new connections and relationships can be formed that will benefit other Pagan families in the area. Again, these organizations and the Turner family are requesting individuals stop contacting school officials as these talks and negotiations happen. All expressions of support should be posted at the official Facebook page. I wish the Turners and the coalition of local and national Pagan organizations luck in resolving this matter in a way that benefits all involved.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • Ursyl

    I’m not sure what accommodations Pagan students would be needing beyond the teachers, administration, and other employees in the schools following the laws and Constitution that expressly forbid them from pushing their own onto any student and expressly require them to respect the students’ rights to free expression.

    It’s as simple as that in my opinion, and never should have become an issue at all.

    As for that teacher and that bus driver, perhaps the bullies should lose their jobs since they clearly consider them to be bully pulpits for abusing students.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=502490051 Jimi Wilson

    As a professional religion scholar I must bitter laugh at the assertion that paganism is not a religion.

    • William

      Except that paganism isn’t a religion, it’s a category for various different religions. That doesn’t excuse the teacher’s INTENT, however, which was to claim that her student’s family’s religion was not valid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Snake65 Christine Snake Dizard

    “some problems with accommodating Pagan students needs”

    I have a real issue with this phrase.

    It implies a need for a “special” accommodation, beyond the basic treatment that should be accorded to every student.

    Refraining from harassment and bullying on the part of educators is not a case of accommodating the needs of anyone in particular. Anything less than this restraint should be expected by all students, and by all parents on behalf of their children, regardless of religion…or for that matter, worldview, sexual orientation, skin color, etc.

    • Thelettuceman

      “Special acommodation” in this case could be reorganizing the school policy to consider Pagan holidays permissable to be absent from with no questions asked. Things of that nature.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Christine, it’s probably my old eyes, but I don’t find that “problem” line in Jason’s post or the joint press release. Where did it crop up? (I’m interested enough that I’ll risk looking foolish for having overlooked something obviousl)

      • Chris Vermeers

        It’s the first sentence of the joint press release.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Ah, thank you. I would guess “problems with accommodation” is a diplomatic way of saying “ranting bigots on the teaching staff.”

    • Hadouken

      We’re not necessarily talking about “special” accommodation. In this case, Jason seems to be talking about “accommodation” simply as allowing Pagans the freedom to be open about their religion at public school without negative pressure.

      In any case, when it comes to questions of religious freedom, “accommodation” is not an inappropriate term. When talking about the First Amendment, it refers to the “accommodationist” position. This position is less strict than a “separationist” interpretation of the First Amendment–that religion and government must have an indefeasible firewall between them. Rather, this position says that some interaction between religious and government organizations is perfectly fine so long as all religions are accorded equal treatment.

      For instance, if your school is going to accommodate the Baptist student groups by providing them a place to meet, etc., then it must accommodate the Wiccans.

      Now, I have no idea whether Jason intended to evoke the accommodationist position. But it does appear to be required by the Constitution that if a public school accommodates one religion, it ought to accommodate all religions.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        I believe the logic of the school prayer decisions is that a public school may not dis-accomodate any religion. IIRC those lawsuits were brought by Jehovah’s Witnesses, though they often get attributed to atheists.

  • William

    Anyone want to take bets on how long it takes for this teacher to claim SHE’S the one being discriminated against? Or maybe Fox News, Alliance Defense Fund, etc.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t take sucker bets.

      • William

        Dang! ;-)

    • Old_Warhorse

      Nah, if I’m going to just give my money away, I’d rather donate it to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation or the Lady Liberty League. ;)

  • Liona Rowan

    ummm, if the student were Christian, or Jewish or even Muslim and the teacher said exactly the same thing, would this statement have been made? “It is important that everyone involved have the maximum space needed to focus on resolving this conflict in a positive way. ” Or would the ACLU be called and many many lawyers. And the protesters would be out there with their signs and anger. Why must we always take the “higher” ground. Why can’t we just be angry and indignant at the bigotry so obviously perpetrated on a CHILD by an ADULT?! This teacher should lose her job. Freedom of religion does not mean the freedom to practice any form of Christianity you want. I get weary of Abrahamics telling me that what I believe isn’t “real” because it isn’t what they believe. GRRRRR!

    • Anonymous

      We have to take the higher ground because we’re under the microscope of the sensationalist media (mixed metaphor anyone?). We are certainly allowed to get indignant and frustrated, but don’t we don’t dare show it where it could show up on camera.

      If this had happened to one of the “big three”, it would be just another day of religous idiocy/bigotry. Quite frankly, with the Xtians, they’re used to it thanks to a persecution complex they’ve been feeding off of for the last decade, and the Jewish and Muslim communities can get outraged because it’s been done before, and they’ve reacted in outrage, and we’ve all seen it before. It’s not *new*. We all saw the “9/11 Mosque” fiasco, and we just accepted that both sides got steemed up.

      Pagans, on the other hand, still (and for much of the forseeable future) are stuck with the social stigma of that blasted KJV quote. Just look at the supposed “occult” (re: left over Halloween junk) paraphernalia from the Senator Giffords shooter. There’s nothing Fox or CNN loves more than to crow, “OMG LOOK DEVIL WORSHIP *froth*froth*froth* SEE MY EXPERT? HE SAYS HE’S AN EXPERT AND I BELIEVE HIM AND HE SAYS IT’S DEVIL WORSHIP! HIDE YOUR KIDS! *froth*”.

      And so, in the interest of *not* losing our voice in the *real* issue, we are forced to (*wince*) “turn the other cheek”, and take the high ground, approaching this like mature adults, even if we want to scream at them until they’re deaf for traumatizing a kid like this.

      I know I want to, and the Gods help anyone who does this to my kids. I can only hope I would go about this in the same “reasonable” manner, if only for the greater good of the pagan community.

      • WhiteBirch

        “Quite frankly, with the Xtians, they’re used to it thanks to a persecution complex they’ve been feeding off of for the last decade…”

        Decade? Try millenium. :P Otherwise, thumbs up.

      • Anonymous

        CNN – FOX – these are the guys who dragged out an “expert” who said that the Muppets are communists, right?

    • Bittysnitty

      We must take the high ground so they wont get more fuel for their fires. We have to turn the other cheek even when it starts to seem like an exercise in masochism.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Liona, it is one thing to feel angry and indignant, and another to act with overt anger and indignation. The former is an emotional state; the latter is a tactical decision. Sometimes what the situation calls for is indeed to pitch a Force Five hissy, usually when the oppostion is paying no attention and needs a metaphorical slap upside the head. In this case our side seems to have the oppo’s attention, so the tactical choice here is to channel our anger and indignation into clear demands and firm negotiation.

      Conta my friends above who give similar advice, it’s not about turning the other cheek or taking the high ground. It’s about doing what will advance our cause. If we find we have surplus anger and indignation left over, that’s what ritual is for.

  • Kilmrnock

    I tend to agree with what has been said here. These pagan student don’t need or require special accomadation . They just deserve the constititional rights all students get . The respect for what ever religion they practice or none at all.The basic Constitionaly guaranteed rights all Americans have . Also i my opinion any teacher w/ these kind of bigoted views and abusive behavior should be fired. All students need to be treated fairly regaurdless of what religion they follow .Kilm

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I’m glad the Lady Liberty League is involved. Just by being there they make one mindful that litigation is a very real alternative to accommodation.

    Tempting though it might be to contact the school officials directly and tell them what asshats they are, it’s a bad idea because we don’t want them to feel driven into a corner. The provided guidances are good.

    • Charles Cosimano

      Litigation is the far wiser course. A very large judgement agains the school and those involved would send a far better message than agreement could possilbly do. The officials need to be driven into a corner and then crushed.

      Accommodation would only be construed as weakness. You do not accommodate, you steamroller.

      • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

        Agreed, nothing gets your point across like making the other guy pay.

        • Anonymous

          And strangely enough, I find myself “liking” some of NA’s posts on this subject. F@$% pacifism.

      • Cadelle

        As satisfying as it would be… we are bound to Harm None. Would we want someone to “steamroller” us?

        • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

          Hey, not everyone is bound by the “Harm none.”

          Some of us have the rule of Vengeance is mine, unless the weregeld is paid.

        • Anonymous

          “Would we want someone to “steamroller” us? ”

          What do you call what the teacher did to the kid? Christian privalage has already steamrolled us. Pacifisim for it’s own sake is the height of selfish arrogance when that keeps you from protecting another from harm.

        • http://vermillionrush.wordpress.com Vermillion

          YOU may be bound but some folks most definitely are not.

        • http://pinkpolarity.livejournal.com/ Polarity

          Harm none may apply to you, but I took no such oaths nor would I.

          Also, we’re *being* steamrollered by Christian privilege every single day.

    • kenneth

      It does seem a wise tactical move. The end game here for the pagan community shouldn’t be to grind this one school district into fine powder as a way of venting frustration – though it would feel kinda good to do so. The object is get this kid’s rights secured and make sure it never happens again. We’ve already shown them that we can, and will drive them into a corner. Give them a short cease-fire to see if in fact they do the right thing.

      You really need a velvet glove and fist sort of approach to this sort of work. We have to show that we are strong and dead serious and I think we have here. I’m guessing the school had a few days where they got little else done but fielding calls and emails from us. On the other hand, we have to show them that we do have reasonable demands that WILL ultimately get us off their backs.

      If we keep at them like fanatic pyschos, we’ll actually give them a disincentive ever deal with us. If they figure pagan activists are a no-win situation, they’ll just circle the wagons every time and lawyer up. Even when we have a good case and lawsuits offer the possibility of a more definitive victory, it’s not a great tool of first resort. For one, it cost tens of thousands of dollars at a bare minimum, and the kid would probably be halfway through high school before it got worked out.

  • Old_Warhorse

    I find it a very sad statement about the state of civil liberties in the United States of America when someone’s Constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion must be negotiated for with a government entity.

    The teacher in this case should be summarily fired and the school itself investigated for breaching the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Of course that won’t happen, because the persons in the wrong are Evangelical Christians and we all know that our Federal Government revolves around their whims.

    Yeah, I’m just a little bit bitter about the state of our government.

  • Kerberus of Styx

    Who should we sacrifice to for our thanks?

    • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

      Try Tyr, god of justice and war.

      Or Ares, and just go to war. ;)

    • Harmonyfb

      How about Aphrodite Peitho – the Persuader? She who can open both ears and hearts to love and bring people together for the sake of the community (just as she did at the founding of Athens.:)

      • Nick Ritter

        Zeus, who convinces without argument? I seem to recall something like that from either Homer of Ovid.

  • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    These Pagan organizations are wonderful. Blessings to the Turner family and good luck resolving the issue.

  • http://twitter.com/TempleofDiana TempleofDiana

    I have seen this occur many times over the years, approx 8 years ago in April when I founded Temple of Diana, we put together a document that all members had to study, it is called Know Your Legal Rights, I think this is a good time to share this link here for anyone and everyone to know they have a right to practice the religion of their own choice. Here is the link http://afsanaydely.wordpress.com/know-your-legal-rights/

  • Veracity

    These things CAN be resolved peacably and sometimes surprising things happen.

    A local high priestess in my area found that her 9 year old step daughter had been (with all the other students in her grade) signed up for 4H without parents’ permission or even notification and then entered into a “Christmas Ornament Contest.” At the 9 year old’s request, she wanted to craft an ornament with a pentacle on one side and the symbols of the Triple Goddess and the Horned God on the other. Her parents approved, knowing that a battle over religious rights might be in the offing. This HP prepared reading material for the teacher to explain the meaning of the symbols and emailed them to the teacher as well as going with her daughter to the school to be there when she turned in her ornament. This little girl had the whole-hearted support of not only the HP’s temple, but the pagan community at large, and everyone expected resistance and was prepared to do battle for this girl’s right to express her own ideas about the holiday season.

    Then a funny thing happened. Even before knowing she had received any reading material about it, the teacher accepted the ornament without question. Further, the girl won 1st prize for it and it was entered into the county-wide contest. Not one mention was made about the fact that the ornament was quite clearly non-Christian. It took a second for the pagan community to absorb this, being all geared up for battle and no battle to fight. We were surprised, but quite happy with the outcome, as this community is not known for its overt open-mindedness regarding non-Christian religions.

    We hear a lot about the times when our beliefs and our rights to have them need to be defended. But sometimes, we get a very nice surprise when we put them out there and nothing happens. That was the most important victory in this situation – not that people noticed, pointed out, and defended our rights to Paganism, but that they treated them as perfectly normal. That was the most encouraging thing I have seen happen in my local community regarding interfaith relations in a long, long time.

  • Veracity

    These things CAN be resolved peacably and sometimes surprising things happen.

    A local high priestess in my area found that her 9 year old step daughter had been (with all the other students in her grade) signed up for 4H without parents’ permission or even notification and then entered into a “Christmas Ornament Contest.” At the 9 year old’s request, she wanted to craft an ornament with a pentacle on one side and the symbols of the Triple Goddess and the Horned God on the other. Her parents approved, knowing that a battle over religious rights might be in the offing. This HP prepared reading material for the teacher to explain the meaning of the symbols and emailed them to the teacher as well as going with her daughter to the school to be there when she turned in her ornament. This little girl had the whole-hearted support of not only the HP’s temple, but the pagan community at large, and everyone expected resistance and was prepared to do battle for this girl’s right to express her own ideas about the holiday season.

    Then a funny thing happened. Even before knowing she had received any reading material about it, the teacher accepted the ornament without question. Further, the girl won 1st prize for it and it was entered into the county-wide contest. Not one mention was made about the fact that the ornament was quite clearly non-Christian. It took a second for the pagan community to absorb this, being all geared up for battle and no battle to fight. We were surprised, but quite happy with the outcome, as this community is not known for its overt open-mindedness regarding non-Christian religions.

    We hear a lot about the times when our beliefs and our rights to have them need to be defended. But sometimes, we get a very nice surprise when we put them out there and nothing happens. That was the most important victory in this situation – not that people noticed, pointed out, and defended our rights to Paganism, but that they treated them as perfectly normal. That was the most encouraging thing I have seen happen in my local community regarding interfaith relations in a long, long time.

    • kenneth

      I think we’re going to find more and more often that this is the case. There’s a certain amount of awareness and acceptance of us in the general culture now. The extremist loons will never give up of course, but more average people seem to have some sense of what we’re about and see no reason to get hysterical about it. Over time, more of these school board cases are going to percolate down into written policy manuals and things like that too.

    • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

      Isn’t that great? Our kids entered Pagan stuff in 4-H for years, and mostly got comments like, “Oh, how interesting”. There are some wonderful adult leaders out there.

  • Kilmrnock

    Jason , i know this is a wee bit off topic . i personaly want to thank you for what you do here . This blog is a wonderful service to our pagan community. i greatly appreciate it , and what you do for us . Again , thank you , my freind Kilm

  • Anonymous

    This happened to a child of a friend in a “gifted” program. We showed up (after-school hours), found the teacher in question, and deposited 5 lbs of printed material by respected authors, several CDs, and three video tapes on her desk in front of her and said, “Study it well, you will be tested”. We left, came back one week later with blue books and a timer, and a proctor from the community college where another parent worked, and said, “Are you ready for your exam?” She was appalled, speechless and tried to justify herself. We said “We are *the parents*, without our support this school would not exist. Our children are the top 10% of this school. We expect you to be informed and educated. You obviously are not. This exam is in lieu of a lawsuit. We will not accepted self-justification or rationalizations for your intolerance or your ignorance. In this decade, there is no excuse possible for your actions. Your choice.” She got the point, we opened a dialogue, and never again harassed a child concerning belief. Sometimes strategy is the better part of relationships with educational professionals.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X