Back in December, in Albemarle County, Va., Jerry Falwell and his religious right (which is neither religious nor right) took the school district to court to win the right to distribute religious fliers via “backpack mail”.
Backpack mail is the system that many schools, including the ones my children go to, use to send information back home to the parents by putting fliers in the kids backpacks.
Apparently two children wanted to use this system to distribute fliers about their church’s Vacation Bible School classes:
School officials originally denied the request from the twins’ father, Ray Rakoski, citing a school policy barring “distribution of literature that is for partisan, sectarian, religious or political purposes.”
A Charlottesville weekly newspaper, The Hook, reports that Rakoski “sicced the Liberty Counsel on the county,” and the policy was soon revised to allow religious groups to use the backpack mail system. Liberty Counsel is a Religious Right legal group founded by Mathew Staver and now affiliated with Falwell.
Some local Pagans who attend Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, a Unitarian-Universalist congregation in Charlottesville, decided to take advantage of the new forum as well. They created a one-page flier advertising a Dec. 9 event celebrating the December holidays with a Pagan twist and used the backpack system to invite the entire school community.
“Have you ever wondered what ‘Holidays’ refers to?” reads the flier. “Everyone knows about Christmas – but what else are people celebrating in December? Why do we celebrate the way we do?”
And what do you think the religious right did? Of course they ran totally off the rails.
Some people also tried to send fliers about Camp Quest (“a camp for the children of Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, or whatever other terms might be applied to those who hold to a naturalistic, not supernatural world view” – which my older daughter will be attending this summer) but some teachers refused to distribute them:
World Net Daily reports that the Albemarle School District is under attack by a Religious Right group for sending students home with flyers for Camp Quest, an overnight summer camp for young atheists, agnostics and freethinkers.
This time, however, the problem has been exacerbated by a handful of teachers who have refused to send the flyers home. The group assailing Albemarle School District, Rick Scarborough’s Vision America, says “it’s outrageous to force teachers to distribute these flyers.” He’s urging members to contact the district to protest its “establishment of disbelief.”
An anonymous spokesman for the rebelling teachers told World Net Daily some teachers refused to hand out the Camp Quest flyer because they were “disgusted” and were concerned parents would think the school was endorsing the camp. Even though there is a disclaimer distancing the school from all extra-curricular information sent home, “it’s still coming from me and my classroom,” he said.
Mr. Anonymous is partly right. Anything that comes home from a public school, no matter how strong the disclaimer is, may be perceived as having the school’s stamp of approval. But that’s water under the bridge. Religious Right activists, through the 4th Circuit ruling that they sought, have forced public schools to allow their religious messages in the “backpack mail” system.
I would say to the religious right that you should be careful what you ask for, for what you get can be used against you.
I would also point out that the laws exist for all people of all religions (or lack of religion) not just for so-called Christians and should be applied equally to all.
(h/t to Possummomma for this wonderful bit of irony.)