I’ve been watching a story for some time now, and am a little encouraged that it seems to be evolving into a positive thing. I’ll withhold judgement, though. This is Buncombe County, where folks like me, those who follow “heathen religions” as well as those whose sexual orientation is summarized as “deviant” and “abominable”, live their lives with the knowledge that it’s at least theoretically possible that you’ll wake up one night to discover torches and pitchforks in your front yard, and your neighbors in a surly mood.
The dust-up I’ve been keeping tabs on surrounds public education officials here in Buncombe County. It all started when Ginger Strivelli, whose son attends North Windy Ridge Elementary School (just 10 miles or so north of Asheville), contacted the school after the boy came home with a Bible in December. Strivelli’s son explained that the Gideons had come by and dropped off the Bibles, which were made available to students.
When Strivelli called the school to find out what was going on, she was told that other religious groups would be given the same access. She decided to call the school’s bluff and showed up with several copies of a book about Paganism.
Not surprisingly, school officials weren’t so eager to distribute that. They told Strivelli that a new policy on religion was being drafted, and that no materials were being accepted in the meantime.
The school board met recently to discuss the matter, and Strivelli was there. The gutsy mom didn’t hesitate to tell board members that they need to stop promoting religion. She pointed out that other parents objected to the Gideon Bibles but were reluctant to speak out publicly.
“I am the only one who is courageous enough to stand up to your bullying,” she said. “Many pastors have come up here and read scripture. This is not a church. Look around you; this is a public school board meeting.”
The Asheville Citizen-Times reported that the proposed policy says that school employees, school officials and volunteers “while acting in their official capacities shall not use their positions to endorse, promote, or disparage a particular religious belief, viewpoint or practice.”
It also requires the superintendent to provide regular training to staff and also encourages principals to consult with the superintendent “if they believe that a school-sponsored activity raises a question” of church-state separation.
Not everyone is on board, though. A local pastor, H.D. Scoggins, complained, “That is what brings us here tonight, the tyranny of a few seeking to force its will on the majority.”
And James Ponder, a Baptist minister, insisted that the Gideons should be allowed into the schools, asserting, “We need to make sure [students] have truth.”
Here’s something the pastors and their pals don’t get: When it comes to religion, the majority does not rule. Just because your faith happens to have numerical superiority doesn’t give you the right to use a public institution to impose it upon others. The Bill of Rights puts our core freedoms beyond the reach of the majority.
This is basic stuff, but it seems that even after 221 years, some people still don’t get it.
Members of the Buncombe County Board of Education have a chance to say they do get it. Here’s hoping that they don’t screw it up.