this is what I faced everyday that I lived in Tennessee. Notice this girl is not only a pagan, she is also a 'yankee'.
Lawsuit Claims Tennessee School District's Ties To Evangelistic Crusade Harms Student
By Duncan Mansfield
The Associated Press
MAYNARDVILLE, Tenn. - In what has become an annual event, hundreds of Union County students are excused from class, loaded onto school buses with teachers and sent to a three-day evangelistic tent revival.
"I am going to ask you a question," one of the revival leaders yelled to a sea of students. "If you are glad to be here, say amen."
With the ardor of a pep rally, the students shouted back: "AAAA-men!"
Not everyone is so enthusiastic.
Fourteen-year-old India Tracy says she was harassed and attacked by classmates for nearly three years after she declined to attend Baptist Pastor Gary Beeler's annual crusade because of her family's pagan religion.
Her family has filed a federal lawsuit against Union County schools, claiming the crusade, prayers over the loudspeaker, a Christmas nativity play, a Bible handout and other proselytizing activities in the rural school system have become so pervasive they are a threat to safety and religious liberty.
"When was it too hard? I don't know," India said in a recent interview. "On a couple of occasions it was too hard and then it got easier and then it started getting bad again and I would come home bawling my eyes out."
Union County officials say the system is neutral when it comes to religious activities, pointing out that the crusade is voluntary, teachers chaperone on their own time and school buses are operated by private contractors.
"We do not endorse, promote or prohibit it," said school spokesman Wayne Goforth.
District officials say the crusade, now in its sixth year, is like any other field trip, with parental permission required to let the children attend for two hours a day over three days. On the crusade's final day this year, April 30, more than 1,300 of the school system's 3,000 students attended.
"All local boards of education have the authority to allow students to voluntarily attend these types of events," said Christy Ballard, legal counsel to the Tennessee Department of Education.
But "it is very clear in the statute that they can't harass a student or coerce them to participate ... and, of course, they can't be school-sponsored."
Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va., said school officials and Christian leaders in Union County need a "crash course on the meaning of the First Amendment - especially the part that separates church from state."
But Mathew Staver, a lawyer and president of Orlando, Fla.-based Liberty Counsel, which promotes religious expression, said more school districts could use crusades like the one put on by Beeler.
"If every school district had just one person with a commitment and vision of a Pastor Beeler, then we may not see as many problems in the public schools as we have over the past several years," Staver said.
Beeler, 63, who lives and preaches in Union County, says he has been contacted by communities around the country wanting to set up similar crusades, and sees nothing wrong with children getting time off from school to attend them.
"The principals, the teachers, the bus drivers all have told us that they have less behavior problems after this crusade than they do before. So that tells us the positive effect," he said.
Beeler says the only difference between his Sunday church service and the revival is that it gives him a chance "to reach more souls."
India says she never wanted to bring up her religion at school, but a friend blurted out that she was pagan while defending her to other classmates.
Paganism is an ancient religious tradition that embraces kinship with nature, positive morality and acknowledges both the female and male side of Deity. The most widely practiced pagan religion is Wicca, whose members are commonly known as witches.
India says she appreciated her friend's support, but told her: "You don't understand. This is going to make my life miserable."
India says she was called "Satan worshipper" and accused of eating babies. She found "whore" and "bitch" painted over her locker and was cut at least 10 times when classmates slammed her head into the locker.
Once a boy pushed her up against the band room wall, taunted her sexually and painfully squeezed her breast, she says.
The lawsuit says school officials took no disciplinary action. School officials said in a May 2 legal response they either acted appropriately, were unaware of the attacks or the attacks didn't happen.
After Christmas break in early 2002, India says three boys chased her down a hall at Horace Maynard Middle School, grabbed her by the neck and said, "You better change your religion or we'll change it for you."
She broke free and fled into the girls' bathroom. A teacher stopped the boys from following her, the lawsuit said.
"That was pretty much the last straw because she was terrified," said India's father, Greg Tracy.
The Tracys took India out of school on Feb. 26, 2002.
"It could have been avoided," Sarajane Tracy said. "We are fine with anybody's religious beliefs as long as they are not harmful to other people or creatures."
Native New Englanders, the Tracys moved from Colorado to Union County in 1998 with dreams of starting a horse farm in this rural community of about 16,000 people just north of Knoxville.
India entered the Union County schools in 1999 as a fourth grader and left in sixth grade. A straight-A student, she belonged to the Beta Club, chess club and band and was the only girl on the middle school football team.
Now, she takes Internet courses at home, still makes As, prepares to skip a grade, and hopes to transfer to a public school in Knoxville, 25 miles away.
Beeler says what happened or didn't happen to India is between the Tracys and the school system.
"It is not our job as Christians to criticize anyone else of any other denomination or religion," Beeler said.
"Everybody doesn't have to be a Christian, you just have to be a Christian if you are going to Heaven," he said. "Everybody don't have to be saved. They have a right to be lost."
© 2003 The State and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.