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Pagan family sues school district

To: alt.pagan,alt.religion.wicca
From: Hope Munro Smith 
Subject: Pagan family sues school district
Date: Tue, 13 May 2003 16:43:23 +0000 (UTC)

School district sued over evangelistic crusade

Monday, May 12, 2003 Posted: 10:26 AM EDT (1426 GMT)

MAYNARDVILLE, Tennessee (AP) -- Every year, hundreds of Union County 
students take a field trip for the soul. Children are excused from 
class, loaded onto school buses with teachers and sent to a three-day 
Christian revival.

"I am going to ask you a question," an evangelical leader recently 
yelled to a sea of students ready for their field trip. "If you are glad 
to be here, say amen!"

With the ardor of a pep rally, the students shouted back: "AAAA-men!"

Not everyone is so enthusiastic.

Fourteen-year-old India Tracy said she was harassed and attacked by 
classmates for nearly three years after she declined to attend Baptist 
Pastor Gary Beeler's annual crusade because of her family's pagan 

Her family has filed a federal lawsuit against Union County schools, 
claiming the crusade, prayers over the loudspeaker, a Christmas nativity 
play, a Bible handout and other proselytizing activities in the rural 
school system have become so pervasive they are a threat to safety and 
religious liberty.

Union County officials say the system is neutral when it comes to 
religious activities, pointing out that the crusade is voluntary, 
teachers chaperone on their own time and school buses are operated by 
private contractors.

"We do not endorse, promote or prohibit it," said school spokesman Wayne 

District officials say the crusade, now in its sixth year, is like any 
other field trip, with parental permission required to let the children 
attend for two hours a day over three days. On the crusade's final day 
this year, April 30, more than 1,300 of the school system's 3,000 
students attended.

"All local boards of education have the authority to allow students to 
voluntarily attend these types of events," said Christy Ballard, legal 
counsel to the Tennessee Department of Education.

But, she added, "it is very clear in the statute that they can't harass 
a student or coerce them to participate ... and, of course, they can't 
be school-sponsored."

Church and state

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the Freedom Forum's First Amendment 
Center in Arlington, Virginia, said school officials and Christian 
leaders in Union County need a "crash course on the meaning of the First 
Amendment -- especially the part that separates church from state."
India Tracy, 14, says she was harassed and attacked after declining to 
attend a Christian revival because of her family's pagan religion.

Beeler, 63, who lives and preaches in Union County, said he has been 
contacted by communities around the country wanting to set up similar 
crusades, and sees nothing wrong with children getting time off from 
school to attend them.

"The principals, the teachers, the bus drivers all have told us that 
they have less behavior problems after this crusade than they do before. 
So that tells us the positive effect," he said.

India said she was called "Satan worshipper" and accused of eating 
babies when it was revealed she was a pagan. She said she was taunted, 
found slurs painted over her locker and was injured when classmates 
assaulted her and slammed her head into the locker.

The lawsuit said school officials took no disciplinary action. In a May 
2 legal response, school officials said they acted appropriately, denied 
the attacks happened, or said they were unaware of them.

Paganism is an ancient religious tradition that embraces kinship with 
nature, positive morality and the idea that there is both a female and 
male side of Deity.

After Christmas break in early 2002, India said three boys chased her 
down a hall at Horace Maynard Middle School, grabbed her by the neck and 
said, "You better change your religion or we'll change it for you."

She broke free and fled into the girls' bathroom. A teacher stopped the 
boys from following her, the lawsuit said.

"That was pretty much the last straw because she was terrified," said 
India's father, Greg Tracy.

The Tracys took India out of school on February 26, 2002.

A straight-A student, she belonged to the leadership-service 
organization Beta Club, chess club, and band. She was the only girl on 
the middle school football team.

Now she takes Internet courses at home and hopes to transfer to a public 
school in Knoxville, 25 miles away.

"When was it too hard? I don't know," India said. "On a couple of 
occasions it was too hard and then it got easier and then it started 
getting bad again and I would come home bawling my eyes out."

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