Editorials and Letters to the Editor
from the Asheville Citizen-Times

For More Info, visit the Website for The Asheville Citizen-times


(APA's note; we have included the editorials against the APA's freedom fighting because they often state our case better than we do, in the heights of their ignorance and self-rightousness.)

America needs God, not the ACLU (Oct 12, 2001)
Culture in America is changing so rapidly that people are moving away from the most Holy God. They are going to other false Gods. Most Christians are living in a place of complacency. Most preachers are afraid to preach the truth, so they compromise. And what has slipped into the fabric of our lives is prevalent sins which God hates, such as homosexuality, abortion, drugs, pornography, cults, idols, crime, and taking prayer and the Bible out of schools. There is too much junk on television for people to watch. I have read that a person wants to remove Godís name from Americaís patriotic songs, and include other false Gods in the songs. If she cannot get it done, she plans to get help from the ACLU. I have heard and believe it is true, that the ACLU is the Christianís worst enemy. There is an assault on Christians. Jesus said the world hated him and it would hate Christians. Jesus also said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." This letter is not written to hurt anyone. I would never want to hurt anyone.
Betty Laughridge,

Saw the ĎGatheringí differently than AC-T (Oct. 12, 2001)
As someone who attended and was deeply moved by the "Gathering of Hope," I am appalled and infuriated that the Citizen-Times would cynically and hypocritically use that interfaith gathering to attack the very religious diversity that the event celebrated. In the first place, your linking of a privately organized religious service with the presence on public school grounds of signs extolling God defies logic, common sense, and every legal consideration. Such signs are blatantly illegal, and interfaith services have no bearing on that one way or the other. Secondly, your blanket declarations proclaiming what all five hundred participants at the "Gathering of Hope" felt are irresponsible and, not surprisingly, wrong.
The fact that no one "cried foul" every time God was mentioned does not mean we all felt included by the term; it was simply a matter of showing respect for each otherís beliefs. The "Gathering of Hope" was a remarkable event made possible by the dedication and hard work of many religious leaders in our community. Your misrepresentation of its purpose is reprehensible and you owe those leaders an apology.
Patrick Covington,

Proud to be part of this nation Oct 10, 2001
In response to the article in Saturday's paper about "God Bless America" that the pagans have objection to...I am positive they have no problems relating to the money that has "In God we trust"! I feel that this is the time for all of America to pray together... I really take offense to a small group of pagans who choose to insult our country on which "one nation under God" was founded a long time ago - > and as a proud mother of a son, along with thousands of other mothers, who is serving our country in the military at this time of crisis. Let the pagans get out of this great country ... I am proud to say "God Bless America" and see that displayed everywhere. Let our freedom ring.
Linda Baker,

Oct 10, 2001 We have choices, use them well
Regarding an Oct. 6 article on the "God Bless America" signs: There was no national order to post these signs across this nation. No edict has come from the collective school boards to request prayer from our students. This was the spontaneous outpouring of Christian hearts across the country to appeal to the God that we too often neglect to bless us again. In this age of "tolerance" we hear much about allowing everyone their viewpoint. But tolerance must not allow others to keep us from expressing our beliefs. While the government has not proclaimed a national religion, it certainly has no right - constitutional, judicial, or legislative - to stop religious expression in this country. With the start of military action against the terrorist network in this world, it would behoove us to be praying. The Bible declares that "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) However, He does not force anyone to come, to pray, or to worship Him. We have the choice to worship anything or anyone we choose. But when we face Him one day, I pray we have made the right choices.
Donna Ledford,
Old Fort

Different sides, same view Posted: Oct 13 2001
We disagree with the Oct. 9 editorial, "By union of all souls, America remains blessed." It began by slighting Ginger Strivelliís well-founded, Constitution-based case that a religious agenda in the public schools is illegal. The editorial writer then (correctly) mentioned popular expressions of faith that demonstrate we are "one family with one agenda." But incorrect is the conclusion that government-sponsored religion is somehow okay, and Strivelli is out of step. Sheís not, because she spoke to the single inappropriate religious expression: government in public schools. The law, history, and good religion are on her side. It is legal to have voluntary faith expressions in churches, hotels, homes, businesses, on cars, etc. It is illegal for government to sponsor such. The churches will suffer from such confusion. When government peddles religion, religious duty becomes the same as civic duty, and to perform one is to perform both. Nothing could be further from the truth. Church and state should be separate so that each might do what it is best equipped to do. These writers disagree on matters of faith, but we stand together on one important issue: Keep governmentís cotton-pickiní fingers off religious activities. Itís not only religious exploitation, itís illegal.
Rev. Marc S. Mullinax,
Ginger Strivelli,
(NOTE: the Asheville Citizen-times mixed up our cities, and left off Dr. Mullinax's title of Baptist minister and Assist. Prof of religion at Mars Hill Coll.)

Goddess, as well as God, bless America (Oct 13th, 2001)
The author of a recent letter ("Proud to be part of this nation," AC-T, Oct. 9) says she proud to be a member of this nation. Iím wondering with what branch of the military did she serve with? I am retired Navy, a Vietnam-era veteran, and very proud to have served my country. I also am a witch. In fact, my High Priestess officiated at my retirement ceremony. It saddens me to see the Sept. 11 tragedy being used as a platform for those with an agenda. That may include Ginger Strivelli, but it certainly includes the author of that letter. She is the one to demand that "pagans get out of this great country." I wonder how proud her son would be if he happens to be serving next to one of the many military Pagans fighting to keep us safe. Thank my Goddess and your God that most people in this country do not agree. That is what truly makes this country wonderful and free.
Cheri Henderson,

A time to pull together, not fight over little things (Oct 13th, 2001)
The word "pettipoint" (a.k.a. "petitpoint") has always meant a type of needlepoint to me and others. I am increasingly being made aware it is the "point" of Ms. Strivelli, who is threatening our school system with the American Civil Liberties Union. Why is she making such a big deal? Because several schools in the area have "God Bless America" signs. At a time of trauma such as this, we do not need negativism or divisiveness. We need cohesiveness, and drawing together with our neighbors and an added awareness of our need for God. Iím tired of hearing a few people threatening the American way of life. Our nation was based on the democratic system. America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and continues to flourish under them. Last springís (uproar) over children singing their songs outside their school was uncalled for and so is this. Might this complaint be thought of as local terrorism of a more subtle nature? This is a time of mourning. Letís forget pettiness, letís pull together, letís be thoughtful of one another, and let "God Bless America."
Alice Goplerud,

ĎChristians, donít get upsetí
June 3rd, 2001
In regards to the episode at Erwin Middle School: Itís a shame when one little girl can have her way about the songs they were singing. But Christians, donít get upset. Just wait until the Antichrist comes on the scene. If you arenít ready to go in the Rapture we will not be allowed to do anything pertaining to Christianity. But look up; weíve read the Book and we know who will be winners in the end.
Lillian Taylor,

A lesson we must learn anew?
June 3rd, 2001
How many times must we relearn the lessons of history? Arrogance breeds intolerance, which, put to action, is oppression. Oppression, endorsed by the government, is tyranny.
The Founding Fathers of this great country knew this only too well. And when in 1784-1785 a bill passed in the Virginia legislature to tax all citizens equally to support exclusively the teachers of the Christian religion, there was such a public outcry that George Mason asked James Madison to respond. Madison authored and then presented to the legislature a Remonstrance and Remembrance to Religious Assessments. It was passed unanimously. The principles established were then incorporated by Madison into the First Amendment. The Remonstrance, in part, says, "Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion or the duty which we owe our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The religion, then, of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man, and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right.íí
Charles G. Zimmerman,

ĎMaybe some Christians are ready to fight backí
June 3rd, 2001
Regarding the recent uproar about the Erwin Middle School situation: Christians for years have endured having our rights eroded by a small minority. We used to have prayer and Bible reading in school but one person made sure that was taken away from us. Human life used to be sacred until someone decided that to be allowed to kill their unborn child was their "right." For years there were prayers before football games. That has been taken away from us. It used to be that Christian music was appreciated for its beauty and awe-inspiring messages. Choruses sang religious songs and nobody complained. Now one woman has decided she is "offended" by it.
Well, we as Christians have been offended by a lot of things for long enough. We keep having our rights taken away. Like it or not, Christians have the constitutional right not to have our freedom of religion abridged. Maybe some are finally ready to fight back. The fact that one person can take away so much from so many is wrong. I think it is about time Christians stood up for what is right. If enough of us did, maybe situations like school shootings wouldnít have become so routine. Maybe children would learn right from wrong. Although I donít condone the behavior of some of the people at the school, I certainly can understand and sympathize with their frustration. As for Mr. Peoples, he had told the students they couldnít sing that particular song but the students decided they would anyway. It was in no way Mr. Peopleís fault.
I would like to say thank you to each of the students and their parents who decided to do what they believed was right.
Mary Creekmore,

Pagan clergy reaches out to Christian leaders
June 2nd, 2001
We are writing concerning events that occurred May 15th at a Buncombe County Middle School chorus concert. One of the students, a young Pagan girl, was harassed and intimidated because of her religion. The school has refused to publicly apologize, or to censure the students involved.
Most disturbingly, we have heard nothing from local Christian leaders about the hateful and hurtful comments made in the name of Christ to a 13- year-old child. As long as there are those who continue to define Christianity by displays of bigotry and hatred, everyone in this community suffers. Not just Pagans and Jews and Muslims and Buddhists, but decent, loving people who exemplify the words of Jesus through their lives and actions. As local Pagan clergy, we would hope that the Christian community would be willing to work with us to find a solution to our differences in this situation that will embody our shared values of compassion and caring. Will local Christian leaders speak out to censure this behavior and help build a bridge between our communities, or will we and others who observed this behavior be left to assume that this is what Jesus would do?
Diotima Mantineia, Hendersonville
Diotima Mantineia is with the Coalition of Earth Religions for Education and Support. This letter was also signed by Byron Ballard of The MotherSongs Project and Ginger Strivelli of the Appalachian Pagan Alliance.

More thoughts on recent controversy
June 2nd, 2001
Two comments on the pagan controversy:
First, there was a recent letter than described if Jesus were to come today he would be a pagan girl in the Midwest. The writer has a basic misunderstanding of Jesus and Christianity. Jesus is one with God - and was God incarnate on this earth. Jesus said we should only worship the one God - who created everything through Jesus. Pagans are interested in things that were created, as well as things they have invented. Christians worship the Creator, Godís only son. Jesus could never be a pagan.
Second, one wonders the motives of the Asheville Citizen-Times in publishing what was obviously an organized letter-writing campaign from "pagans" across the country. Why is the local paper encouraging and printing attacks on a local problem by people not from our community that have their own religious agenda - escalating the problem instead of trying to solve it.
The AC-T commented that Bobby Medford should not have drawn his shotgun during the recent protest downtown. It would seem that in this pagan debate the AC-T has not only drawn its weapon but is firing at any Christian in sight.
Steve Mickey,
Mars Hill

Adult bullies claim moral high ground
June 2nd, 2001
Hurrah for Chris Coxís brave article about the "bullying" of a local girl ("Youíll find bullies in many guises"). One of the interesting things about adult bullies, whatever flavor they happen to come in, is the way they almost always attempt to disguise their bullying by taking the moral high ground on an issue. As a rule they seldom simply come out and express their hostilities openly toward the despised party, but instead must cloak them in arguments of the strictest consciousness and reasonableness. I predict the same will happen with the incident involving the child. Somebody or somebodies will soon forward irate letters to this paper charging Mr. Cox with liberal bias and defending the actions of the school parents on the strictest moral grounds. Theyíre only attempting to protect their children, theyíll say, from the insidious forces of demonism and devilry. Nothing wrong with standing up for whatís right, theyíll say. Should the argument go on long enough theyíll inevitably invoke that most convenient and chilling of syllogisms for hurting others not like ourselves, i.e., "we never, never hate the sinner, only the sin."
Joe Elliott,

Where did religious freedom go?
June 2nd, 2001
This is to answer the question about the absence of religious freedom. If the students and adults acted the way the media and the Wiccans said they did, then they were wrong. But I can understand the majority had a lot of frustration because of two people. Some of my questions are: Why did the problems occur? Why did the Wiccan student keep practicing for the program when she knew it was contrary to her beliefs? Why was the mother not speaking up for her daughter until the news media arrived? Why did the news media even take sides in a school problem? ÖThis is the same thing that has been going on at Erwin and other schools for the last few years. There are a very few people that do not have anything better to do than to go out and stir up trouble for the publicity they receive on television and in the newspaperÖ At the program, the two could have taken part, sat quietly, or left the building rather than causing problems. ...If the Erwin people did wrong according to Godís word, then they need to apologize to the two people, and then ask Godís help in knowing the correct way to act. Ö The frustration comes when the Christian is not allowed to lift Christís name up because people that do not know Jesus are doing everything they can to fight against him and his children. Our encouragement is found in Isaiah 40:31.
Virgil Hollifield,

It takes courage to Ďgo against the grainí
May 31st, 2001
To Shana: I am absolutely shocked, dumbfounded, and outraged from reading Chris Coxís Sunday article about you. Buncombe County schools, a governmental entity, has lost its way. The lines between church and state have obviously been smeared here.
An article on bullies, in the latest issue of Time Magazine, describes the kind of behavior perpetrated upon you by the students, parents, chorus teacher, and principal as "psychological terrorism."
This entire community owes you an apology.
Let me be first in line. Iím sorry. If I could wrap my arms around you and give you a hug, I would.
It takes a great deal of courage to "go against the grain." Nothing in your life will be more difficult. Cling to your higher power(s).
Let it bolster you up because youíre going to need it.
To the readers: Unfortunately this is yet another example of what I have experienced myself. Self-proclaimed "Christians" are some of the meanest and un-Christlike people I know. Iím sure that is not true of all Christians, but where were you during the annual spring concert at Erwin Middle School?
Did you close your eyes and ears when God commanded, "Love thy neighbor as thyself?"
Stacy McMichael,

Conversion can come only through love
May 31st, 2001
Referring to all of the letters in your May 22 issue concerning the recent incident at Erwin Middle school: they contained much truth; however, I hope that you will permit me to add this one brief thought.
I am a Christian and it would be a great comfort to me to know that everyone in America, indeed in the whole world, could know the joy and satisfaction of the Christian way of life, even in the midst of all of our trials and tribulations.
However, conversions can come only through love and compassionate understanding, never through hate and/or ridicule.
George Penland,

Problem here isnít persecution or fear
May 31st, 2001
After reading Tuesdayís (edition) I am confused. Where were all the pictures of the slaughter that took place at Erwin High? How many witches were killed? How many mortally wounded? Where did the EMS take all those persecuted victims? All I got from the news was that a teenager and her mother demanded that a couple of Christian songs be removed from the chorus recital on the grounds of religious freedom. They didnít seem to have any fear, and the two songs were removed from the program.
It was only after the recital that parents and students exercised their constitutional rights to free speech. This apparently infuriated the two Wiccans and they went to the media. Always eager to make mountains out of molehills, distort the facts and exercise irresponsible judgement in an attempt to intimidate the Christians into silence, they responded as expected. The cries of persecution and intolerance rang out like a battle cry.
Listen, the Bible tells Christians to love everyone and warn them to flee sin. It in no way instructs them to accept, condone or encourage ungodly behavior. The real problem here is not persecution or fear, but people who genuinely disagree with the way some behave, and they have a Constitutional right to say so.
Janet McGinnis,
Old Fort

Start with reading the Bible
May 28th, 2001
It was sad, and sadly unsurprising, to read about the harassment Shana McNelly (a pagan) received at the hands of her (Christian) classmates and their parents. Moreover, the lack of leadership exibited by Andy Peoples, the school princpal, was disgraceful.
My first inclination was to suggest a (re)reading of Paulís Letter to the Romans in which he warns of the folly (sin) of judging others, the dangers of zealotry or of thinking oneself superior to others, and the lesson of Adam & Eve ("claiming to be wise, they became fools..."). But, Mr. Peoples did make the point of the need to "find some way to get along together."
With that in mind, it occurs to me that the Bible ó specifically Philippians 4:8 ó still seems to be an excellent place to start. In that verse, Paul lists the seven values of life expected of Christians: to be real (true), venerable (honest), upright (just), pure, lovely (those things whose grace attracts), high-toned (commendable), and worthy of praise (excellent). He goes on to say it is not enough to just think about these things but one must put them into action.
The connection? These Christian values were widely recognized as the virtues of pagan morality.
Jane B Webb,

Thoughts on display of intolerance
May 28th, 2001
Like so many other people, I strive forward in my faith, and try and understand how other adults and their kids can, with a straight face, tell me that religious harassment, of any nature, is justifiable. I could be a neighbor, a boss, a civil servant, a preacher, an editor, a reporter, a cop, a fireman or any score of other professions. I am a Pagan.
I am a citizen of the United States of America, born and raised in a country of freedom. With a respect for all religions, and a tolerance of my fellow human beings. I have had to tolerate religious persecution myself. Yet, once I explain my pathway, folks seems to be more at ease with my ways...why is that?
It states in the Holy Bible, "Those with faith equal to the grain of a mustard seed shall sit at the throne of God."
Now, my uncle was a Southern Baptist minister. He explained that faith is in the heart of man. That to believe in god in any form, and have faith in that form, was equivalent to the pureness of a mustard seed. I am a Pagan, and I can understand that. Why canít Christians? Just my thoughts on how shameful a display. I never knew Christians, followers of Christ, who taught tolerance, love, and healing, could be so bigoted, and hateful.
Mark Coates,
Buffalo, N.Y.

Thoughts on faith and folly
May 27th, 2001
I can hardly express the outrage and shame and sympathy I feel over the incident at Erwin Middle School. Miss McNelly has a right to believe what she believes, and she especially has the right to fair and kind treatment from those who profess to know the Son of God. The Bible teaches that while we humans were far from God, He came near to us. He walked and talked and ate and laughed with, and healed, those who were not of the "religious establishment."
If I would share a message to Christians, it would be this: Love your enemies. Pray for those who do not agree with you. Live Ė in school, in chorus, in the parking lot Ė as those who share Christís love. To Shana I would say this: I am so very sorry that "Christians" have behaved so shamefully. The Jesus they claim to know had no part in your experience; His followers (if thatís what they were) became cowards, and they let you Ė and Him Ė down. I am a believer in Jesus. Please accept my apology on behalf of those who were there. Jesus isnít like that.
Nancy Parker Cooper,

Let local problems be addressed locally
May 27th, 2001
Regarding the harassing incident at Erwin Middle School, there is definitely a smoldering tension in our community between Christians, and those opposed to the Christian faith.
I have noticed over the past two days, editorial letters supporting the McNelly family from Ohio, Georgia, Virginia, Indiana (2), Oregon and New York. Does it strike anyone as curious that people in Columbus and Syracuse and Portland are insinuating themselves into this local issue? Without doubt, there has been a nationwide e-mail alert, urging pagan-worshippers to send letters of outrage to our hometown newspaper.
Whereas I deplore the harassment of others by anybody, under any circumstance, I am deeply offended by folk from other states vilifying the people of Asheville on the deficiencies of their Christian behavior. If there is a problem, let it be resolved by the citizens of this city, not by a letter-writing campaign from outsiders. Also, I feel the Citizen-Times should adopt a policy of accepting editorial letters only from people living in our community.
Jeremy Pick,

Editorís note: The Citizen-Times is widely read on the Internet (www.citizen-times.com) and has elicited responses regarding local issues from readers from as far away as China and Germany. We endeavor to reflect the opinions of our newsprint readers and online readers.
Would change bumper stickers
May 26,2001
In a town that has been infiltrated by those ridiculous little red bumper stickers that read "we still pray," perhaps its time to recall that inaccurate declaration and replace it with the more appropriate "we still prey!" This is in response to both the "Christians" of Erwin Middle School and the gun-toting Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby "deadly force" Medford.
Blake Anderson,

Accept change in mutually beneficial way
May 26th, 2001
I must raise an objection to the letter headlined "What about rights of Erwin community?" (published May 22). As much as I agree that community stability is a nice blessing, I donít think that anyone anywhere can guarantee it. The world is constantly changing, and not always smoothly. It would be simply unrealistic to assume that perfect, continual stability is anyoneís "right." Imagine if we apply the authorís reasoning to an able-bodied community that suddenly had a disabled fellow citizen in its midst.
No matter how many years the community had gone without ever thinking about the disabled, would it be an unfair burden upon them to be suddenly sensitive to that?
Would people recommend home schooling for a disabled child just because building wheelchair access ramps at the local public school would benefit only one person?
The Erwin community seems very strong and generally close-knit. So why not set a good example and accommodate change in a mutually beneficial manner? Teach your children how to work productively with the inevitable changes they will eventually face.
Joseph Wang,
Sunnyvale, Calif.

The issue is the right to religious freedom
May 25th, 2001
What about the rights of the Erwin Community? Well, that is what the uproar is about. This country was founded on religious freedom. Period. No other explanation is expected. You can adhere to the US Constitution, then deem everybody who is non-Christian as a devil worshipper. You canít claim separation of church and state, then complain when prayer is taken out of schools or when Christian-based songs are deleted from the program. Sorry, but too many people have been killed in the name of Christianity. Examples: Native Americans, Irish, Scottish, Muslims, Indians, Orientals, Aztecs, Mayans, the list goes on. Even the Pope apologized in 2000 to the world for the atrocities that the Catholic Church had done. You never see pagans and witches starting religious wars for their causes. Many a pseudo-Christian, has taken the words of their God and construed them to suit their beliefs. This country was pagan long before the pilgrims landed. Native Americans were not Christian, they worshipped the Mother Earth and Father Sky. The Vikings, who came long before Columbus did, were also pagan.
So the Pilgrims didnít bring a new religion to a new world. We were already religious. But since it was not a male-dominated religion, that placed women in a subservient role, our religion was condemned as unholy and illegitimate.
Who gave the Christians the right to say their way is right and all others are wrong? I do believe Jesus himself said, "Love thy brother as thyself." Until Christians learn to do this, expect more minority religions to become mainstream.
Carla Smith,

Free speech denied to Christians?
Posted: May 23
Upon hearing of how the spring concert went on Erwin Middle, I feel that Grace Sanders did the right thing at directing the group to sing the song they wanted to sing. Those students had every right to sing what they wanted. Itís their right as American citizens. Itís called freedom of speech, something the atheists/pagans and homosexuals donít want the Christian to have. They donít want Christians to have rights/freedom.
If the McNelly family canít handle the Christian community doing what is right, stay away from them. Thatís called free will. We all have it. If you donít want to do something, donít do it. No one has the right to force their secular ways on the Christian. We donít force our views on others.
Itís high time for the Christian community to take a stand against the ways of the world and stop allowing others to run over them. These kids have shown how strong they are by taking a stand and doing what they know they had the right to do, the rest of us should be doing the same.
Christians, wake up and take a stand against the ways of the world.
Natalie Reynolds,

Incident was well beyond bullying
May 23rd, 2001
Well done, AC-T, for your editorial entitled "Child bullying shameful." You articulated better than I could my disappointment in Erwin Middle Schoolís mistreatment of a child entrusted to their care. I suggest, however, that what that child endured went way beyond bullying. It was organized, well-planned cruelty by students and their parents (!) wielding their Christianity like a weapon. Within a public school system, I believe there is an important place for spiritual music. As the editorial pointed out, to limit our art and music to only secular subjects is to "deny students access to wisdom and passion and wonder..." But to represent only one faith tradition at the exclusion of others is tantamount to endorsing one faith over others. And that is doing harm to children who worship in different ways. Hardly the mandate of our public school system. Shana McNelly, be strong. You are in prestigious company as one who is enduring religious persecution. My prayer is that youíll look back on this and be proud - of your mom and of yourself.
Catherine Gibson,

School incident Ďunconscionableí
May 23rd, 2001
The harassment of Shana McNelly by the students and faculty of Erwin Middle School is totally unconscionable, as well as being a violation of Shanaís civil rights. The principal, Mr. Peoples, makes mention of the fact that "no matter what the religion, there seems to be some form of the Golden Rule." Well then, Mr. Peoples, which part of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" are you having a problem with? Which part of the Golden Rule tells you to stand by and let the entire auditorium harass to tears a student of yours? Must be the same part that has you standing quietly by as threats are made to Shana and her family. Iím very glad my child is not in your careÖ You should not be allowed to hold such an important position over children if you cannot be trusted to care equally for all of them. As for the students and parents that attended the music program and heaped abuse down upon Shana McNelly and her family - I say shame on you all. Ö
SR Adams,
Kings Mountain

What happened to treating others well?
May 22nd, 2001
I was aghast after reading the article "Faith uproar..." (May 17) about the incidents at Erwin Middle School. What brand of Christianity condones treating folks the way the McNellys were treated? The article mentions jeers, threats of physical violence and harassment. What happened to treating others the way you would like to be treated?
Also, I take issue with a statement by Tina Branan that McNelly "shouldnít press her views," and she goes on to imply that if McNelly doesnít like the public school being a venue for Christian programs, she should homeschool. First of all, no religious group should be pushing its views at public school (separation of church and state), which is exactly what was happening, and what Ms. McNelly was protesting. Public school, supported by all of us taxpayers, is for education, period. For those who want their education to include religion, there are many faith-based private schools.
One of my friends recently commented that she was surprised that in America there was such a tremendous diversity of people, but that everyone seemed to get along and coexist civilly and peacefully. Many countries remain embroiled in fights over religion, ethnicity etc.
But I think that our nation is one of the most strong and prosperous because we, as Mr. Peoples suggested, decide to "find some common ground." Hopefully, the folks at Erwin Middle School will do just that.
Valerie Welbourn,

No grounds for harassment
May 22nd, 2001
I read with dismay your article "Faith uproar at Erwin Middle School." What kind of so-called "Christians" are these people? Itís bad enough that children singled out another child for harassment, but the fact that adults approved and participated is unconscionable. My heart goes out to the McNelly family. Did anyone think "What Would Jesus Do?" I donít think so! Jesus would not harass someone for being of a different faith. Jesus would not hate. If these people thought that their behavior would convert the McNellys to Christianity, they were sadly mistaken. This behavior makes people run far away from all things Christian. The decent, moral Christians there should be outraged about this and support the McNelly family against the pseudo-Christians who perpetrate such hate and evil. One person said that if the McNellys donít like Christianity in the public school, they should homeschool. This is backward. Religion (as opposed to morality and decency) has no place in public school. Those who want a religious education should either homeschool or go to a private school. I hope the McNelly family sues everyone present at this heinous event, and that those of loving and tolerant faith will support them.
Carol Zerucha,
Columbus, OH

If the shoe were on the other footÖ
May 22nd, 2001
The persecution that Shana McNelly had to experience in that school auditorium is beyond my ken, because itís so far from the American ideal of the pursuit of life, love, and happiness. How could this happen here in a country where we enjoy freedom of religion? To the students and parents who sang "Pie Jesu," allow me to ask you this. If Shana and others sang to you, "Ancient Mother, we hear You calling, Ancient Mother, we hear Your voice," "We all come from the Goddess, and to Her we shall return," or "Pan, Horned God, ruler of the light, lead us to the gates at the edge of night," how would you respond? The songs I am quoting have beautiful, haunting melodies, and Iím sure they would make superb choral arrangements. Perhaps they should be on the next music program? And perhaps if the McNellys tell Asheville Christians, "Bye, Bye, Christian, you wonít go to the Summerland!" Youíll... well, I guess you just have to turn the other cheek, donít you?
S. Cecylyna Egbert,
Egbert is Executive Director, the international Pagan Pride Project.

Thoughts on true freedom of religion
May 22nd, 2001
I was appalled to read the story of the Erwin student who was harassed and embarrassed by her fellow students for her religious beliefs. I hope this situation is corrected at once. Had someone ridiculed a Christian in the way this student was treated in front of an assembly, the church leaders and members would be up in arms. Yet not one person apparently had the guts to stand up for this student when she was so obviously being embarrassed on purpose in front of fellow students, parents, and school officials. Every single time a so-called Christian resorts to this type of behavior under the guise of freedom of religion, it only serves to reinforce my belief that there is no such thing as true freedom of religion. The truth is Christians think itís freedom of religion as long as one believes in Christianity. Anything outside of that and itís the Salem Witch Trials all over again. To have true freedom of religion, we have to accept the fact that there are other religions besides Christianity and honor the rights of others to believe as they wish. The parents who applauded choir members who did this should be ashamed of themselvesÖ
Dell McCann,
Macon, GA

Saddened by religious persecution
May22nd, 2001
I am outraged that a group of middle school students (ostensibly Christian) taunted and harassed a Pagan student and her family at a chorus concert. I am concerned that I have yet to hear comments from Christian clergy in this community (who are so quick to comment on so many aspects of our culture) about the shocking behavior of these children, behavior which was encouraged if not sanctioned by their parents and the other adults present. And I am saddened that in this day and age religious minorities are still persecuted simply for their differing faith and that this persecution begins with our children. Since the news of the event at Erwin Middle School broke this week, people have been telling me that "real Christians" donít behave this way. But until the mainstream Christian community speaks out on matters of religious persecution and intolerance, many citizens here on the Buckle of the Bible Belt are going to live their lives thinking that Christianity is a faith system that believes in the tyranny of the majority and the inalienable right of a dominant religion to oppress and persecute all othersÖ Was there no "genuine Christian" available at the middle school to help this Pagan family get to their car and safely off school grounds? Apparently not.
Byron Ballard,

Itís easier to hate things than learn from them
May 22nd, 2001
Iwish I could disbelieve that this happens. I wish I could believe that when my unborn child is 13 that this thing would never happen. That she would be born into a world where a person is judged based on their character, not on their faith, race, or gender. A world where the child and parents would not feel that they have to hide from neighbors for fear of religious discrimination. In the end, I donít blame the Christians who prosecuted that poor 13-year old girl and her mother. They are nothing more than sheep following after what their ministers and preachers tell them to do. They canít possibly take responsibility for their immortal souls; they cannot even think about what the Bible might even say. They need only show up at church on Sunday, and that qualifies them to get into heaven, right? All of those other commandments, bah, who needs them, they just make it harder to be a Christian. Besides, itís easier to hate things that are different and hang them on a cross than it is to learn something from them and become better people. If Christ came back today, Iím pretty certain that he would be a 13-year-old pagan girl in the mid-western United States.
John VanRyn,
Syracuse N.Y.

ĎDo unto othersí still the best policy
May 22nd, 2001
I thought the good citizens of Asheville, North Carolina, would be interested to know that thousands of neo-pagans have read your article regarding the Erwin Middle School incident. Wiccans and other types of Pagans from all across the country have been alerted to the shameful behavior of those parents and students. Itís been posted on bulletin boards and is being forwarded via e-mails like crazy. We live in the United States of America, and, in case your education has failed you, that means that we have a Constitution that was set up to protect minority religions, allowing for a true freedom of religion for all people, not just the popular majority... Separation of church and state may not have been well enforced back in the "good ole days" when everyone in the school was from the same or related Protestant church. That circumstance has changed, and it will never change back. Schools increasingly have a mixture of religions among their students, and so choral programs from a single religion are impossible to justify... Iím Wiccan (a type of good witch) and so I can relate to what happened to the Pagan girl and her family who was harassed. Can you? ÖIt could be you someday, so always "do unto others as you would have them do unto youííÖ
Alice Jennings,
Portland, OR

Ironic that song would spark such turmoil
May 22nd, 2001
I would like to thank you for printing "Faith uproar unfolds at Erwin Middle School." Certainly I am not pleased to hear of the distress suffered by either side. I am pagan and I believe we should all be free to worship as we please. It is ironic that an activity as uplifting as song can bring such turmoil.
Ö It is true that some of the worldís most beautiful music has been written to honor a Christian god. It is also true that most of it was written for the church in exchange for pay, if there had been more money from a pagan group then there would likely have been some well-known pagan music.
ÖI personally do not object to maintaining traditions that I do not agree with, yet I must speak out against the use of my tax bucks for Christian activity to the exclusion of all other faiths. As far as the moronic behavior of your almost- Christian citizens, I would like to point out that each act of ignorance on their part gives strength to the argument against their hypocrisy and further fuels the rapid growth of the pagan community. For this I thank them because able-bodied pagans are needed everywhere. Most of us were not led away from your churches, we ran! Running not from, but to freedom from ignorance and the fear it spawnsÖ
Ernest Pierce,
Tipton, IN

What about rights of Erwin community?
May 22nd, 2001
It seems to me that the devil himself is trying to destroy the good name of Erwin school. When the Erwin schools first started, there were no major problems. We had God in our school. We had devotions, prayer, and Christian songs.
I also sang in the chorus at Erwin and we sang Christian songs also. One of the songs has helped me throughout my life... The name of it is "I walk with God". I know time and people change, but right and wrong never change. I believe in people having their rights but things can get out of hand about it. It seems to me that since pagan religions have become so prevalent in Buncombe County that every time someone gets "offended" they start complaining and causing trouble. Seems to happen especially at Erwin schools. The Erwin community is mostly Christian and always has been, and where are their rights? I do not believe in harassment of any kind, especially to Erwin schools. I too feel offended by the people who cause trouble at Erwin, and feel that my rights too have been injured when the school gets harassed.
My Bible says, "In the last days perilous times shall come."
Dear God, what an awful world.
Betty Laughridge,

May 21st, 2001
Shocked, hurt by comments

How would you feel if you stepped on a bus today and heard the driver and a passenger discussing how to get you and your kind out of town? How would you feel if the people on the bus talked about bringing various kinds of churches together in prayer to achieve this? How would you feel if they complained about the presence of your kind in a public place, even though you have no official building in which to meet with others like yourself? This happened to me. I was shocked and hurt and even a little scared. Does your opinion change when I say Iím a witch?
If so, why? I donít tell you what you must believe or how you must live. I donít pray (or cast spells) to drive you out of town. And my people have been here as long as yours. Do you happen to remember the story of somebody called Jesus? When he met someone with different beliefs from his own, what did he do? He didnít pray to run them out of town. He sat down and had dinner with them. May the Creator melt your hard hearts.
Joy Harwood,

may 21st, 2001
The issue keeps coming up in various forms.
Thereís prayer at high school football games. Singing Christian songs at school programs, and intimidation of an objecting non-Christian chorus member. The school group stopping to pray at the White House, and not understanding being told to move on. Scripture on courtroom walls.
We keep going over this and not getting anywhere, because, in my opinion, we donít define the question well. I donít think it is a matter of Christians versus non-Christians. From what Iíve seen, there are Christians and non-Christians on both sides. The debate is not about Christianity, or even about prayer, but about piety.
Piety can take many forms, of course, but mostly we deal with religious pietyópublic behavior designed to show purity of soul. The issue, it seems to me, is simply whether we have to schedule pious exercises on the agendas of public events. Prayer before a high-school football game is the perfect case in point. It isnít really about prayer - if it were, nobody would suggest replacing it with a "moment of silence."
No, itís the insistence that some kind of pious exercise has to be scheduled. The real issue is not religion but control of the public agenda.
Paul Cox


Ginger Strivelli
Appalachian Pagan Alliance
P.O. Box 50
Weaverville, NC 28787
August 22, 2000

Dear Asheville Citizen-Times Editors;
I'd like to address the recent coverage of The Appalachian Pagan Alliance's plea for fair and equal treatment, in reference to the Christian "We Still Pray" rally which was held at A. C. Reynolds High School recently. The Appalachian Pagan Alliance is a group of Witches, Pagans, and other members of 'Earth Religions.' We wish to have a rally to be called, "We Still Work Magic" at the same school for various reasons. Primarily because we see the use of that school property by the Christian groups as being inappropriate. Secondly, as The Appalachian Pagan Alliance is often holds public events trying to educate the general public, because of the rampant ignorance concerning our ancient religion. People still believe the ridiculous propaganda that was spread by the church during the Middle Ages, that Witches are evil, and immoral people, who do all kinds of ludicrous evil things. That is simply slanderous and ridiculous! It is high time for those idiotic old lies and misconceptions to be dispelled for good. Thusly, the Appalachian Pagan Alliance does a lot of education and public gatherings to counteract that historical ignorance and intolerance. The use of the school property for this Christian rally insinuates that the school system and thusly, the government as a whole are 'for,' this one religion and thereby against all others. This creates a hostile work environment, for all non-Christians at Buncombe County schools. Our Appalachian Pagan Alliance members who attend and work at that school, along with all Jewish students/staff, all Muslim students/staff, and any other non-Christians who attend, volunteer, or work at any of the Buncombe County schools, have been placed in a hostile work environment, by this blatant display of socialized religion! This is obviously inappropriate. If the public school system wants to rectify this huge oversight, they will allow Pagan, Hindu, and other religions to hold similar events. More importantly, they will treat The Appalachian Pagan Alliance and other minority religious groups who apply for the use of this public property, with the same respect and favoritism that they showed the Christian group. They will not tie us up in rolls and rolls of red tape, and drag their feet, the way they most certainly did not even consider doing when happily helping the Christian 'We Still Pray,' group plan their event.

The use of this public school building for a religious rally was an ill-conceived plan, at best. Alas, the only way to repair the damage to public religious tolerance and diversity is to not only allow, but also encourage and facilitate other religions to hold similar events on the same property. Fair and equal treatment, is just that, fair and equal. Our great country is based on the freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly. ANY religion, ANY speech, ANY press, and ANY assembly. Stop the favoritism! Stop the special treatment! Stop the discrimination! Stop the prejudice! It is not acceptable! We will not tolerate it, any longer!

Ginger Strivelli Appalachian Pagan Alliance

From: Orenda Circle Sanctuary
To: editor@citizen-times.com
Cc: Reverend Beth Sluder ; Rev. Warren ; Rev. Stephen Cruz ; Mike & Amy ; Kestrel AirFalcon ; Dreamweaver ; OrendaCircle@egroups.com ; Dragon Palm ; All_Witches_Magic@egroups.com ; TN-W.A.R.D. ; NC-W.A.R.D.
Sent: Sunday, August 27, 2000 5:55 PM
Subject: [All_Witches_Magic] "We Still Work Magic" Rally

From: Orenda Circle Sanctuary
Johnson City, Tennessee

Subject: "We Still Work Magic" Rally
Date: August 27, 2000

Dear Editor,

While it is normally ill advised for Wiccans/Pagans in other areas to become involved in the political arena of others, this is an exception, given the fact that it deals with "equal time" for those of differing religious and philisophical views. We do this in support of the First Ammendment, The Appalachian Pagan Alliance, the North Carolina Chapter of W.A.R.D., Witches Gathering and all those with differing religious, spiritual or philosophical views deemed "Non-Mainstream" by the majority religions of western culture throughout the United States and abroad.

Orenda Circle Sanctuary respectfully and strongly urges the Ashville Citizen-Times to support the Appalachian Pagan Alliance in their staging of the "We Still Work Magic" rally they propose to hold at the Reynolds High Scool stadium on September 22, 2000. We would further urge Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Dodson to apply the same usage of their seven-page policy regarding use of the stadium to the Appalachian Pagan Alliance that was applied to the application of Trinity Baptist Church, headed by the Rev. Ralph Sexton, in holding their "We Still Pray" rally in the same stadium. It would be most unfortunate if both W.A.R.D. and the A.C.L.U. were to become involved in this matter through litigation and would involve un-necessary legal costs and bad feelings for all parties involved.

The timing of this event is most appropriate for those of us who are Wiccan/Pagan. It is Mabon (May-bone or Mah-boon), the Autumn Equinox, the time of year when once again the duration of light and darkness are equal for us. It is the Anglo-Celtic festival of Harvest Home and is a celebration of thanks, often refered to as "The Witches Thanksgiving". There are many other religions that draw their holidays directly from both ancient and modern Pagan lore, the Germanic celebration of Oktoberfest, the Chinese day of Chung Ch'iu and the Jewish celebration of Sukkot, to name a few. In addition, the countries of Mexico, Centeral America, Korea, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand, all still celebrate the Autumn with reverence and thanks for all they have received from the Earth Mother throughout the year.

As for Magic or "Magick", the most often used spelling of the word, it is no different to us than the prayers of Christians, Muslims, Jews or Bhuddists. The God and Goddess are petitioned to assist us in whatever "working" we need to accomplish, be it a healing ritual for the planet or a request to bring humanity closer together. Hopefully at some point in our lifetime, the latter of the two will occur. At any rate, no other religious group has anything to fear from us, all we ask is their understanding as they ask the same understanding from us.

Again we urge The Ashville Citzen-Times to support this grand effort for an interfaith Pagan gathering. Perhaps if an enterage' led by Rev. Sexton would also attend, we could begin building "a bridge between us". This would indeed be a marvelous occurance for us all, Wiccan, Pagan and Christian alike.

Rev. Edward D. Allen (a.k.a. Medicine Hawk)
Rev. Cheryl L. Miller (a.k.a. Emory Moon)
Rev. Beth Sluder (a.k.a. Galena Skiya)

Orenda Circle Sanctuary
724 West Pine Street
Johnson City, TN 37604-6514

Letter sent to Winston-Salem Journal, Waynesville Mountaineer, and the Asheville Tribune

Dear Editors,

I would like to point out that the supporters of school prayer, are overlooking one giant point. Yes, if we overturn the supreme court ruling, then Rev. John Doe of the First Baptist Church of Anywhere USA would come to our children's school and read the ten commandments over the P.A. system after morning announcements, he might, say an invocation to Jesus before the football game. Fine? Well, then, I, as The Co-Founding Witch Priestess of the Appalachian Pagan Alliance, would come to that same school, and lead the students in the 'We all come from the Goddess,' song during lunch. Perhaps I will lead a workshop in art class to make an idol of the Goddess, Isis, or Gaia and another of the God, Vishnu, or perhaps the Holly King. Perhaps, I will say an invocation to Ares, right after, Rev. Doe's one to Jesus, before that football game. Then Rabbi John Smith, will lead us in Prayer, then we'll have a Muslim leader, tell us a bit about Allah, then we'll have a Cherokee Wise woman say a prayer in the ancient Tsalagi tongue, to the Corn Mother Goddess, then who will be next?

I wonder when we will ever get to the football gameÖperhaps we will just forgo the whole game cover-story, and just call it a religious rally. Now I happen to think, this kind of religious diversity training in the schools is a wonderful ideaÖbut do those 'we still pray'ers agree with me? No, of course notÖthey want religion in the schoolsÖbut only THEIR religion. I am pleased to report to you then that, it doesn't work that way! So please do keep pressing for prayer in the schools. It would be a wonderful thing for our children, to learn about all the varied and different faiths of our great free country.

Ginger Strivelli
The Appalachian Pagan Alliance

Letters to the Editor after the 1999 Mayor's Proclamation

Some reactions to Mayor Sitnick's thoughtful and timely proclamation of religious toleration brought to mind one of Mark Twain's tales at the turn of the century describing an experiment he conducted,which he related as follows: "I built a cage, and in it put a dog and a cat. After a little training, I got the dog and the cat to the point where they lived peaceably together. Then, I introduced a pig, a goat, a kangaroo, some birds and a monkey. And, after a few adjustments, they learned to live in harmony, too. So encouraged was I by such successes, that I added an Irish Catholic, a Presbyterian, a Jew, a Muslim from Turkestan, and a Buddhist from China, along with a Baptist missionary I had captured on the same trip. And in a very short time there wasn't a single living thing left in the cage."

One would like to think that if Mark Twain were to reappear to repeat his experiment at the end of this century, the results would show that members of the human family had learned to live as harmoniously with one another as members of the animal kingdom.
- Black Mountain

So the Mayor of the city issued a proclamation in respect of all religions sounds like something our founding fathers (and mothers) would be proud of. This is remembering and respecting our roots at their finest.
- Francine L Bowman, Asheville

From boycotting Disney to praying for Jews to convert to Christianity and to attacking Mayor Leni Sitnick's Proclamation of Awareness of Earth-based Religions, Southern Baptists continually provide me with reasons to be glad I'm no longer one.

Since moving to Asheville, I have met gays, Jews, and Wiccans. None has been the terrible people back-water preaching made and is still making them out to be.

Commenting on those verses in Mark 15 in which Judeans take responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus, Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar wrote, "That scene, although, the product of Mark's' vivid imagination, has wrought untold and untenable tragedy in the history of the relation of Christians to Jews. There is no black hole deep enough to symbolize adequately the black mark this fiction has etched in Christian history." Similar remarks can be made on those verses that have justified the marginalization and persecution of gays, lesbians and pagans.

In short, Asheville's mayor has no apology to make for her proclamation promoting awareness Of Earth-based religions. It has been long overdue.
- Richard Dellinger, Asheville

Once upon a time, in a lovely little town, the mayor issued a proclamation: "Chewing Gum Exists.Ē She didnít recommend chewing it, she was just making a statement . Right away, Organized Tobacco insisted on a proclamation saying everyone must smoke now, or they will surely smoke in the hereafter. Some promoters even insisted on an endorsement of their own favorite brand. To the Governor of Minnesota this was foolishness. He may have a point. Me? I don't smoke. Tried 'it, and realized it wasn't healthy. Don't chew, either.

Itís a free country.
- Gerald Metz, Asheville

I applaud Mayor Sitnick's support of religious diversity in our Asheville community.
- Laraine L Barr, Asheville

In response to Leni Sitnick's letter in the Citizen-Times on Oct. 21, the Mayor put the words to the tune: religious prejudice in Western North Carolina is now a whole song.

Congratulations, Western North Carolina has graduated to the "I hate everyone" club, and have added their very own song to sing now. We are not alike in our religious beliefs and you can thank any God you want for that.

Please do not lump all "Christians" in that club. Some of us still believe that individually, respect, and non-judgment are still what the good Lord wants from us.

Mayor Leni Sitnick, I didn't vote for you the first time, but you most certainly have my vote in the next run. Go, Leni, go Leni, go!
- Siisan Pearce, Asheville

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