By Simon Brown
When the Buncombe County (North Carolina) School System called Ginger Strivelli’s bluff, the Pagan mother of a student at a Weaverville elementary school didn’t back down.
In December, school officials had allowed a local chapter of The Gideons International to make Bibles available at North Windy Ridge Elementary. When Strivelli’s son came home with one, she complained and asked to drop off some Pagan books at the school.
According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, Principal Jackie Byerly initially said, “If another group wishes to do the same [as the Gideons], I plan on handling that the same way as I have handled this.”
But when Strivelli showed up at the school with her books, she was informed that she couldn’t leave them because “a new policy is being crafted.”
“I’m not surprised a bit,” Strivelli told the Citizen-Times. “That’s fully what I expected. Basically, they were calling my bluff thinking I wouldn’t bring in the books.”
Buncombe County School System issued a statement, explaining its actions.
“Buncombe County school officials,” it said, “are currently reviewing relevant policies and practices with school board attorneys; during this review period, no school in the system will be accepting donation of materials that could be viewed as advocating a particular religion or belief.”
Said Strivelli: “They’re changing the policy, which is wonderful. They shouldn’t [allow] it, but they shouldn’t have done it to start with. That makes it unfair after they have given out Christian propaganda. I’m glad they’re changing the policy, but the people who made the wrong decision to start with still need to be punished and held accountable. They should’ve had the correct policy in place to start with.”
Strivelli has a good point. Schools are often perfectly happy to expose students to the majority faith’s scriptures, but if someone from a minority religion or other point of view wants to make that literature available, the school suddenly decides to “change its policy.” How coincidental and hypocritical!
The Gideons have since apologized for putting the Bibles in the school and picked up the remaining Bibles within 48 hours of dropping them off. Strivelli also said she found the school officials to be much more receptive to her concerns lately than they were initially.
But the fact remains that religious groups shouldn’t be using the public schools as proselytizing points at all, and school officials should not have allowed the Gideons access to the school in the first place.
The Citizen-Times reported that Strivelli’s experience has sparked some unintended consequences. Other groups have expressed interest in dropping off materials at North Windy Ridge, including someone in New York City who offered to send 500 Qurans.
I suspect that offer will not be accepted.