Tuesday, February 13, 2007

This story with a happy ending is old news -- it's from December -- but I just found it in Church and State, the newsletter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (I missed it when it was on the AU blog):

A Pagan group in Albemarle County, Va., was recently given permission to advertise its multi-cultural holiday program to public school children -- and they have the Rev. Jerry Falwell to thank for it.

The dispute started last summer when Gabriel and Joshua Rakoski, twins who attend Hollymead Elementary School, sought permission to distribute fliers about their church's Vacation Bible School to their peers via "backpack mail." Many public schools use special folders placed in student backpacks to distribute notices about school events, and sometimes extra-curricular activities, to parents.

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, reported 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.

It wasn't long before other religious groups decided to take advantage of the newly opened forum. A group of Pagans who attend Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, a Unitarian-Universalist congregation in Charlottesville, created a one-page flier advertising a Dec. 9 event celebrating the December holidays with a Pagan twist. They submitted it to the public school and had it distributed through the backpack system.

...The flier invited people to “an educational program for children of all ages (and their adults), where we’ll explore the traditions of December and their origins, followed by a Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule.”

It concluded, “Come for one or both parts and bring your curiosity.” ...

Go, Pagans!

Not surprisingly, some parents are a tad upset that their complaints of religious persecution have helped a bad religion -- but there may not be much they can do about it:

Parents in the county have asked Americans United to help the school system draft a new policy governing distribution of religious fliers. That task may be complicated by an opinion from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Ruling in a case from Montgomery County, Md., the appellate court struck down a policy giving school officials unilateral ability to exclude certain private groups from the backpack system.

Don't you just love that Law of Unintended Consequences?

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