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EDITORIAL: 2nd Pagan Meeting

Asheville, NC - March, 2000
By Shannon

The pagan community of Asheville is trying to come together and show that we are a viable group within the area. The second meeting of local Pagans, I felt, went much better than the first one.

This time we actually got to talk and came up with some very good ideas. I do feel, however, that it does not matter until everyone stops trying to see who the biggest hen in the hen house is and actually treats everyone as equals. The only decision reached in the meeting was that we would have another meeting. We made a list of what we felt was both good and bad in the community and what we would like to see happen within the year.

One thing that kept going around was the issue of trust. In my opinion, how can you trust someone if you don't even know their name? I do understand the reasons for magical names but for this community to come together like we discussed at the meeting, we need to stop being afraid of each other, and to stop trying to see who has the biggest title or following. There are lots of wonderful, friendly people in this community, and we saw alot of them at the meeting. I was happy to see that many people came and not just priests or priestesses, but every day pagans, many of whom spoke very well about their ideas and feelings. P align=justify>I feel that we need to come together as a community, backing each other up without question, and to show that we are strong in our beliefs and convictions.

One issue which Ginger argued in both meetings was coming out of the broom closet. The idea was that if more people did, then it would make it easier for those more unsure about it feel more comfortable. I did agree with Ginger that unless we show that we are doing nothing wrong and we aren't afraid to show our beliefs, then more people will have to accept us as a religious community in the area.

One idea presented at the meeting was to build a temple in downtown Asheville for all to come and worship regardless of their path. I think this is a good idea, but first we need to work on us being a community and making us stronger as a whole. Many people in the meeting shared this idea. I think it is going to be a goal for us in the coming year. I feel that by having these meetings, we are starting to build a road in which pagans as a whole can feel proud and create a feeling of community.

School Response to Earth Religions Awareness Week Less Than Tolerant

Buncombe County, NC - October 1999
Ginger and her children pose in Halloween finery.
Left to Right: Amethyst, Destiny, Merlin, and Sybilsue.

The Pagan celebration of Samhain during October and the public's focus on Halloween brings an opportunity to raise awareness in the community and to attempt to dispell common misconceptions about all non-mainstream belief systems.
However, not all responses have been positive. Following the pre-Halloween publicity of the APA and one of its founding Priestesses, Ginger Strivelli in October of 1999, the school her children attend made some changes in their policies regarding the 'Fall Social' children's party. These changes were made in response to complains received by the principal, Margaret Edwards. Following is the draft of the formal complaint filed by Mrs. Strivelli in response to this issue.

Complaint to Buncombe County Schools
Oct. 26,1999
Hand Delivered at 8:00 am 10/28/99

Steven Page Associate Superintendent
Buncombe County Public Schools
175 Bingham Road
Asheville, N.C. 28806

Complaint about Mrs. Edwards, Principal of North Buncombe Elementary. Concerning the abridgement of my religious freedom by her enacting a one-time policy specifically designed to exclude me from volunteeering at my childrenís school on a certain day solely because of complaints she received about my religion after I was interviewed on television and newspaper stories as a spokesperson for my faith.
Dear Dr. Page;

First of all, this is a time sensitive issue that requires a response today (Oct. 28, 1999). I can be reached by phone anytime today to hear your response, which you can put in writing and mail after calling me.

I have volunteered at NBES for the last two years. In fact, I received a certificate at the end of last year, recognizing me for the volunteering of so much of my time to NBES. I have volunteered in all three of my school-aged children's classrooms on a regular basis in the past. I had a pre-scheduled agreement with Mrs. Sandy Hunter, my kindergartner's teacher, to bring in treat bags and volunteer to help serve the "Fall Social" snack on Friday Oct. 29,1999. I have done this in the past, on several occasions. (Last year's Fall Social, last year's Winter Party, and on days that there was no particular party of any kind, simply when I had made arrangements with the teacher to do so.) However, Mrs. Edwards has refused to allow me to do as Mrs. Hunter and I had planned.

This was made an issue after an October 19th WLOS TV news interview and an October 20th newspaper interview I did as a spokesperson for Local Pagan religious groups. On Monday, October 25th, I received a note in my kindergartner's book bag stating that no parents would be present for the "Fall Social."

On Tuesday, Oct. 26th, I took my children to school and brought this up to Mrs. Hunter. She told me she still had no problem with me coming to her class for the Fall Social, and that she had heard no complaints from my daughter's classmates' parents. However, she relayed that the principal did object and referred me to the principal.

On that same morning, at approximately, 8:00 am, I met Mrs. Edwards in her office to discuss the conflict. Mrs. Edwards told me, words to the effect; "...because of all the religious controversy over the news stories, I have decided to not allow any parents to volunteer for that particular snack time on October 29th." She further stated, words to the effect, " gentleman came to my office first thing Wednesday morning, demanding that I never allow that woman [meaning myself] to ever set foot in our school again." Mrs. Edwards told me she explained to the 'Gentleman' that she could not do that because of religious freedom. However, she then apparently ignored religious freedom by trying to placate this 'Gentleman' and others who called to complain by suddenly enacting this one-day only rule against any parents volunteering during snack time, on October 29th.

This policy was obviously directed solely at me, as Mrs. Edwards herself again said, (When I spoke with her again on October 27th at 11:00 am in her office,) words to the effect, "I enacted this policy because of all the controversy and attention the Mayor's proclamation has stirred up in the community, and because the Fall Social is the last school day before Halloween." She stated these same excuses a third time in a telephone call she made to me on October 27th, at 1:00 p.m. In the same call she assured me that, in words to the effect, "you will be more than welcome to volunteer on any other days, for any other events, including snack times".

I had told Mrs. Edwards, during our first meeting that I expected her to tell my daughter that I wasn't being allowed to attend the Fall Social, as Mrs. Hunter and I had been promising her I would do for weeks beforehand. On October 27th, my daughter came home crying and was upset over the broken promise. She pleaded with me tearfully, "Why can't you come, Mommy? You can call Mrs. Edwards and just say 'please' and it will all be okay." The five year-old was so distraught, I had to call Mrs. Hunter, at school and have her talk to my daughter over the phone, and try to explain it to her again. Of course, neither Mrs. Hunter nor myself could give my daughter a reason why I was being barred from her school on that particular day, since there is no legitimate reason why I am.

I realize Mrs. Edwards has been placed in an awkward position by members of the community, that apparently do not believe in freedom of religion. However, I feel I must file this complaint, because the school system and our society can not afford to allow this kind of bullying to abridge anyone's, (in this case, my own,) religious freedom. For her last minute policy change to be implemented would allow religious bigotry to control our public schools and that goes against everything our democracy stands for. Please call me today with your decision regarding this matter, because I would prefer to not break my promise to my daughter, and still attend her "Fall Social' and hand out snacks to her and her classmates as I had planned to do.

Thank you for your time;
Mrs. Ginger Strivelli

copies sent;
Dr. Page, Buncombe County schools
Dr. McCallum, Buncombe Co. schools
Dr. Bowers, Buncombe Co. schools
Mrs. Edwards, NBES principal,
Walter L Curde Esq. Buncombe County schools Attorney
American Civil Liberties Union Of North Carolina
Dale Neal, Asheville Citizen Times
Kathy Scott, WLOS TV news

Ginger vs North Buncombe Elementary School

For follow-up stories to this article, see the following links:
News for 10-22-99 - 11/03/99
Editorials and Letters to the Asheville Citizen-Times
Response Letters to the Asheville Citizen-Times
written by Beth Langley
For more information, visit The Asheville Citizen-Times Website

Asheville's Mayor makes Earth Religions Awareness Procalation

Asheville, NC - October 1999

A Proclamation for
Earth Religions Awareness Week

Earth Religions are among the Oldest spiritual systems on the planet; and

Followers of many earth-centered religions live and worship in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina; and

Stereotypes of earth-centered worship are still prevalent in our society and education is one of our priorities; and

Earth-based religion has a long history in this region; and

Practitioners of earth-centered religions have given us as practical knowledge of herbal remedies, midwifery, and alternative forms of healing; and

Ashevllle prides Itself on being a center of religious tolerance and diversity; and

October holds one of the most significant holy days for several Earth-based religions, as well as the New Year for many;

Let the end of October reflect the positive contributions of Earth Religions to our community.

I, Leni Sitnick, Mayor of the City of Asheville, do hereby proclaim October 25-November 1 Earth Religions Awareness Week.

APA's response to the Proclamation's return to the Mayor

Some of you may have heard that the Asheville Mayor's "Earth Religion Awareness Week" was repealed. Unfortunately that is the case.

The Mayor and H. Byron Ballard (the High Priestess of the group that originally submitted the proclamation) agreed that it should be returned "Because of all the controversy it caused in the community."

The Appalachian Pagan Alliance was not involved in this decision and in fact, we welcomed the controversy. The controversy generated a lot of very positive press coverage and therefore educated thousands of people about the true religion of Witchcraft. As our mission statement explains. the A.P.A. is very active in dispelling the negative stereotypes and replacing them with an acceptance and respect for our faith, by the general community.

We accomplished a lot of such objectives this Samhain season, thanks to the controversy, and if that is what it takes to progress our acceptance and respect in the community, then we are more than happy to put our butts on the line, and leave them there, regardless of and perhaps in spite of, any controversy.

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