The Wild Hunt has reported recently on a number of instances in which local officials use the power of their office to discriminate against Pagans. In the wake of Town of Greece, we’re likely to see more of this.
I talked with Byron Ballard, who’s had her share of run-ins with local officials who don’t seem to care much for the First Amendment to see what advice she has for Pagans dealing with these sorts of issues. Thanks to Byron for taking the time to discuss what she’s learned!
Q: Please tell us about your experience.
A: Mine isn’t only one instance. It’s an ongoing war of wills so my answers may be rather general.
The most recent focus in my area has been the inappropriate “Christian default setting” in the public schools. What started it was the delivery of Gideon bibles to a public elementary school and that set up a domino effect that is still playing out here.
Q: Did you reach out to groups such as ACLU or Americans United and, if so, what was your interaction with them? Do you have suggestions for those who seek the assistance of such groups?
A: We called on Lady Liberty League (LLL) and state and national ACLU, and LLL got us in touch with Americans United for Separation of Church and State. ACLU NC, AU, and LLL were all excellent allies with strong responses. There was a sense from them that the behavior was both egregious and illegal, and their legal support was especially helpful in getting two policies passed at the Board of Education level. Because of the intense scrutiny, the school board also put in place the Superintendent’s Faith-Based Leadership Advisory Council, on which I serve.
There are still ongoing violations that have to be brought to the Superintendent’s attention and then acted upon, but we are making baby steps in the right direction. I personally got to live out a fantasy of mine when I sat at a boardroom table across from the superintendent (who is actually a good guy) and the school systems legal department. I slid a fat folder across the table to the lawyer and watched as he opened it to reveal a letter from the lawyer who was letting the system know–in no uncertain terms–that without a policy in place an expensive lawsuit was the next step. The lawyer read the letter, closed the folder and slid it back across the table to me and I smiled.
Q: Did you work any magic around the issue?
A: Yes, we did do magical workings in support of the desired outcome.
Q: Did you publicize your issue on social media? Why or why not? Was it helpful? Do you have suggestions for others in similar situations about when/how to use social media?
A: Media–yes, and ugh. The Pagan woman who brought the initial complaint went to the local media very quickly and it got on the wire services not long after. This was not necessarily helpful, as it solidified opinion on both sides. We set up a support page on Facebook and that was comforting for the family involved and gave their supporters a place to interact. We also worked with the local interfaith council (I was at the time the convener of the group). They were moderately helpful, especially at public meetings.
Q: Can you share some tips with people who find themselves in similar situations?
Keep a detailed written timeline of suspect events. Detailed. Written. Timeline.
Stay calm, listen, be professional and persistent. Be firm and professional and try to control your temper and your fear.
Don’t be afraid to check on the status of your case and be aware that your is not the only one being dealt with.
Be strategic. Create a multi-pronged approach, especially as regards the media.
Find your allies and be expressive in your gratitude for their assistance. You can’t do this alone.
Go directly to the person or persons who can remedy the situation and go with a willingness to fix the problem, to find solutions, even to–gasp!–compromise, if need be.
Do not charge into a situation demanding heads on pikes.
Be patient and persistent.
Don’t be a drama queen.
Don’t be vague about details.
Listen really hard and read all materials–emails etc–thoroughly.
Try to establish relationships with the people who can make the needed change. It doesn’t hurt you and it can make things a bit smoother. That’s it, I think. Hope some of this helps!
Picture of Byron found here.