Buncombe County Schools Passes New Religion Policy

Buncombe County Schools Passes New Religion Policy April 13, 2012

Last night the Buncombe County School Board in North Carolina unanimously passed a policy regarding prayer, religious activities, and the distribution of religious materials by students in their schools. It was the culmination of months of activism that began when North Carolina Pagan Ginger Strivelli challenged her child’s school’s policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. Strivelli felt that the manner in which Gideon Bibles were made available violated the Establishment Clause, and ostracized non-Christian students who didn’t want to use a special break to obtain a Bible. Strivelli, along with local activist and Pagan leader Byron Ballard, and a growing coalition of local residents, made clear that the board needed to remain neutral on matters regarding religion. Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog, who has covered previous meetings on this issue, has posted her impression of last night’s events.

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

“When it came time to vote everyone was on edge. I can only imagine this is what it’s like in a murder trial or something. The board got hung up about the word neutrality and whether or not it should be replaced with the word unbiased. The Fundies were clapping and whooping because I think they thought the vote would get tabled again. Honestly, I am not sure what they were excited about because the Americans United rep said that the words meant the same thing and wouldn’t change the policy in any way. Personally I thought they might table it again too the way they were hung up on one dang word and I was panicking a bit. Fortunately they voted. And it passed unanimously.

So what does this mean? As of now school officials have to remain neutral in regards to religion. They can still have their prayer over their lunch, wear religious jewelry, and have awesome bumper stickers on their cars. They cannot lead children in prayer (it must be student led), no distribution of materials, and no promotion of any specific religion. There is still more work to be done with the policy, including implementing the policy, but for now we can take a deep breath and move on to the next bit of work. I think I am going to request being a volunteer with the County schools acting as a consultant in regards to religions in the schools. There was something said about that at a meeting with Mountain Area Interfaith Forum.”

At the Strivelli Family Support Page on Facebook, Ginger Strivelli, expressed that there were “lots of loopholes” in the policy, and that concerned citizens would “have to stay on watch forever to keep them honest.” This sentiment was also expressed by Byron Ballard, who posted at her Citizen-Times blog the night before the vote.

“Sadly, even if the board approves the two policies tomorrow night, it still won’t be over. We will have to police the system for years to come, calling, demanding, emailing. Every time a child whose parents practice a minority religion is othered or belittled or otherwise bullied because of that–someone will have to contact the system and demand that something be done.”

Missing from the policies passed last night were guidelines on the distribution of religious materials by outside groups, the issue that initially sparked this saga. That matter won’t be taken up formally until next year, when the board will consider allowing a yearly religions fair open to all faiths. It is assumed that until then, distribution of religious materials by any group won’t be allowed, though Strivelli and Ballard’s calls for constant vigilance will no doubt be required to make sure that remains the case. We’ll keep you updated of future developments in this matter when they arise.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/APippinger/status/190617968063946752″]

For Pagans and other adherents to esoteric, indigenous, or non-Christian minority faiths, what has happened in Buncombe County should be an object lesson in the importance of being vocal, engaged, and active in supporting our equal treatment. Ginger Strivelli has risked personal attacks, a death threat, and ostracization in the name of protecting her children, and making sure local government works for the benefit of all citizens, not just the Christian ones. Modern Pagans have come very far since we first emerged into the public eye back in the 1950s and 60s, but we still have a long way to go. Even in seemingly cosmopolitan enclaves, many hold misconceptions about what our religions are like. This is why it’s so important to stand behind these brave individuals when they step up, in addition to supporting organizations like the Lady Liberty League who provide on-the-ground assistance and advice. Together, we can slowly change our culture into one that is open and welcoming to modern Pagans.

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

27 responses to “Buncombe County Schools Passes New Religion Policy”

  1. Many thanks to Byron, Ginger, and the other brave patriots who stood with them.

  2. Same here, but we have to realize we’re one of the lucky few. It just so happened that I went to a high school with nearly 5000 students total, way too big for any clique crap to occur and for anyone to know everyone’s business. If I had went to a small school instead, I doubt I would have been able to be as open as I was and still have friends or be trouble-free.

  3. I recently got a flyer home from my daughter’s school that had a Baptist reverend billed as speaker for a school event related to their end-of-year testing. I spoke up.
    City school officials were apologetic and spoke to their commitment to uphold separation of church and state. I suspect some backpedaling was happening, but I feel that if I hadn’t spoken up, neither the principal nor the administrator in question would have been aware that this was a problem. I commend the Strivelli family for their chutzpah.

  4. I suspect that most people don’t think twice when it comes to that sort of thing.

  5. I don’t know that I’d count this as a victory just yet. The board said what they’re lawyer told them they had to say, under duress. There is no court order or legal settlement outlining any meaningful procedural safeguards. What they seem to have there is a generic affirmation of religious neutrality in the face of institutional and community utter contempt for that principle. They’re likely going to do the bare-ass minimum they think they can get away with, with a constant eye for playing the loophole. “Student-led prayer” is ripe for abuse. There’s a lot of weasely ways to limit “student prayer leaders” to the “right” sort of Christian without overtly saying so. They could limit it to captains of the football team or student president or other positions which self-select for majority religion. They could draft selection guidelines each year to closely match the students they want to see lead prayers. 

  6. “We will have to police the system for years to come, calling, demanding, emailing. Every time a child whose parents practice a minority religion is othered or belittled or otherwise bullied because of that–someone will have to contact the system and demand that something be done.”

    This is how a minority community/subculture defends itself. At least in this county a policy will be in place for responding to the complaints.

  7. I had the unfortunate incident of being harassed and targeted by my 8th grade English teacher for carrying around various (now embarrassing) Pagan books and reading them before class started, etc.  I think that was probably what pushed me to become a solitary.  Or at the least, helped me well along.

    But from other students, I had other issues to deal with from them.  The Pagan thing never came up with them.

  8.  Angela Pippinger’s blog description of the action at the meeting is worth reading, if just to give the “flavor” of what these people are being subjected to by the “good Christians” of Buncombe county.  I remember being taught, as a child, that Christians would be recognized by their Love for their fellow human beings.  And that’s the way *I* recognize true Christians.  All others are only using the name to get their privileges.  And especially the guy who kept attacking Ginger by name.  What a coward he was! 

    Emotions are a powerful thing.  And I guess this kind of thing is going to happen more and more as we go forward into this century.  It’s good to remember that certain strategies DO work:  Having allies of every faith, meeting violent threats with quiet strength, respecting the rule of law, and yes, even showing love and compassion for those people to attack us…and even more love and compassion for their children, who do SEE us and eventually, may also be our allies.

  9. I would just like to say; I’m a Realmist, as I like to say. I think as long as you are a good person, great. Everyone has their own freewill of choice. So each to their own time of prayer, in their own way. Nothing brought upon by the school or faculty or students pushing beliefs off on their peers. Public school is for learning & faith is a part of our world, so it is nice to know different customs. I am in favor for a must take class on world faiths. We have all faiths in our communities & we need to learn how to get along with others & not hurt others feelings. There is alot of Hate, Abuse & racism among faiths. Education is the key to bring peace. Thank you* MLWT/Bluebird

  10. Good for them!  We have the same problems here where I live (it is a very small town school system – not a county system).  I have debated whether to bring it up to the board.

  11. We went through something similar when my kids were younger. They weren’t handing out bibles but rather leading prayers during mandatory award ceremonies. They follow the law now, but they get one child (always the same kid that aspires to be a preacher) to say the prayer before every event.
    It is irritating to those of us that they know aren’t Christian (both in the audience and students) and those that are Christian and don’t agree with it, but they are following the law. So no one can say anything really. I’m afraid that is what they may face in their school. I hope that they don’t face that, as they seem to have more support than my family did. But it is a loophole for schools to still get their way.

  12. Up front, I’m not urging you to jump between a hammer and an anvil. Thanks for your comment.

    It seems to my non-lawyer mind that always picking the same kid, who wants to be a preacher, to lead prayer is tacitly supporting whatever tradition of Christianity the kid follows. That could be challenged as a violation of both the Establishment Clause and perhaps of whatever policy they have on paper.

  13. I completely agree with you Baruch. I would much rather that if they insisted on doing anything, that it be a moment of silence. That way people can pray, or whatever, without having a particular belief thrusted upon them. 
    I sued them over it and I’m sure my lawyer at ACLU would gladly contact them again over it. But, it would be harder to win this time around. Because of the fact that it is a kid, it isn’t provable that they didn’t offer someone else to do it (no matter that I have my daughter’s word on what is going on there), or many other ways that they can use to get out of trouble. We have a new Superintendant that I believe will be making changes in that area this year. The previous one didn’t even bother to try to deny what happened (not that he could because I videotaped it) but said “This is how it has always been done and no one complained before now”. He saw nothing wrong with it and most of the small town agreed with him.  

  14. I think Ginger is damaging her child by pushing her agenda on her. I am Christian but I don’t ever push my beliefs on anyone. Ginger is an extremist and fundamentalist anything is dangerous. Leave your daughter alone to decide for herself and buy a vibrator.

  15. Blessings to all of the courageous mothers and kids who fought this battle.  You are appreciated.

  16. I am happy to learn that at least one Christian knows what a vibrator is.

    As for the rest, yes, Ginger is clearly extremist for insisting that school policy (and the law underpinning it) apply to everyone equally rather than privilege a particular group. The hide of the woman!

  17. Sorry, one of my pet peeves is at play here. There is no such thing as ” a Reverend”. Reverend is an honoriffic title used for an ordained minister, pastor, priest or other clergy. Featured (inappropriately) at your school event was Rev. So and So, a Baptist minister. There. Now I can sleep.

Close Ad