I was thinking the other day about the people who are continuing to Occupy various places, even through the depths of Winter. I recalled Thomas Paine‘s statement that:
These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
There are Winter Patriots all over America. People who show up, even when it would be easier to stay home, who show up even when the sun isn’t shining on their deeds. And as Paine explained, those Winter Patriots “deserve the love and thanks of man and woman.”
As The Wild Hunt reported, a public school in North Carolina recently handed out free Gideon-donated Bibles to young students, a pretty clear violation of the First Amendment. The principal of the school defended her actions, saying that:
If another group wishes to do the same, I plan on handling that the same way as I have handled this.
And that’s where our Winter Patriot comes in. Byron Ballard (and if you’re not reading Byron’s blog and following her on Twitter, you should be) didn’t just get mad and complain about this on a blog. She called the principal’s bluff.
It was very cold and very early today when I met Ginger Strivelli in Weaverville and followed her to her son’s school, North Windy Ridge Intermediate, part of the Buncombe county school system.
She had a couple of boxes of books that had been donated from several Pagan authors and supporters all over the East Coast. I added a handful of books and brought two copies of the Mountain Area Interfaith Forum’s Diversity Guide, which was created as a resource for public schools.(If you or your school needs one, it can be downloaded for free at the Center for Diversity Education’s website–diversityed.org/K-12.)
We were there to deliver the materials that she was assured would be “made available” in the same way the Gideon material was, right before the winter break. No surprise to find that, in consultation with the system’s superintendent Dr. Baldwin, the principal Jackie Byerly and asst principal Danny Fusco couldn’t do that at all because the central office was reviewing its policy regarding religious materials in schools. They suggested that they would “hold onto” the books, in case the school system needed to review them for appropriate content, once the policy was vetted.
We determined that leaving the materials was not the best plan because we are certain the new policy will preclude distribution–even passively–of these materials, and that these books can be used for the active Pagan prison ministries in the area. Ginger and I had a meeting with the principal and her assistant that lasted for some time and we left with the books. As we knew we would.
We have dealt with this issue again and again in this school system. Enough is enough.
The Earth religions community is frankly tired of dealing with this every few years. As long as any child in a public school system is bullied, coerced or ostracized for the spiritual path of their family and themselves, the situation is not fixed and the school environment is not safe.
There will be more media, more “good Christian” people threatening violence, more bullying and “othering” before this is settled. But settled it will be. Of this you can be certain.
Byron’s efforts are going to make it very difficult for the school to continue to hand out Christian propaganda. (To be clear, the school shouldn’t be handing out ANY religious materials, as even that act demonstrates a government preference for religion over atheism. But if the school is going to hand out religious literature, it’s important that they be forced to do so even-handedly. And the simple act of making them follow their own rules (as Saul Alinsky knew) often makes them change their rules. This happened a few years ago in Virginia, as I’ve blogged before. (That school district ultimately decided that maybe they’d be better off sending no religious literature home with kids. Duh.))
No one’s going to write a history book about Byron’s work today. She’s not going to get a medal or have poems written about her (but only because I can’t write poetry to save my soul). She’s a Winter Patriot who just keeps showing up and making it more difficult for those who want to trash our Constitutional rights and turn America from a free country into a theocracy. (It’s surprising, or maybe it’s not, how often this is women’s work.)
And it’s not enough, or even the beginning of enough, but tonight, at my altar, I’m going to take some time to send gratitude to our modern Winter Soldiers — those who Occupy physical space and those who show up and make Dominionists eat their words.
Thank you, Byron.