By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
June 4, 2014
While the principal of North Buncombe High School has bowed to pressure from pagans and apologized for Christian prayers at an off-campus Memorial Day weekend event, the Superintendent of Schools maintains that the invocations did not violate school district policy.
Tony Baldwin told the media he contacted the Board of Education attorney about the event, a fundraiser for the school band’s upcoming trip to Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade, to verify that the prayers were permissible.
“[The attorney] confirmed that because the event occurred on private property, was organized by a private group, did not involve the direct action of school employees, and was not a required activity for students — it did not violate the law or our school board policy,” Baldwin wrote in a statement.
But the May 24 event, held on property along Weaverville Road where the boosters set up a Field of Honor flag display as a salute to veterans, enraged parent Ginger Strivelli who called it a “flagrant breaking” of the policy she helped push through a few years ago when incensed by a Gideons International Bible distribution.
The policy says that schools “will neither advance nor inhibit any religion or religious belief, viewpoint, expression, or practice.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows was the keynote speaker at the ceremony, which included opening and closing prayers by the Rev. Jim Dykes, prayers that Strivelli called “disappointing” and “insulting.”
Later, via a Facebook post, she suggested that anyone praying at public school or official government events must “hear prayers from ALL faiths, not just your majority faith….” adding, “Figure out the concept of fairness and freedom of religion or keep your dogma on a leash at your church.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, agreed with Baldwin’s assessment of the event, and said Strivelli’s contention that freedom of religion requires an “all faiths or no faith” approach is a misinterpretation of the First Amendment.
“We would emphasize that though the school band is to benefit from funds raised via this effort, it was not sponsored by the school, nor, we understand, was it mandatory for students. Although some media accounts say the entire band was there, others say only 70 of 130 attended,” Dr. Creech said.
“So, a private organization certainly has the freedom to invite whom they choose to speak and to pray. And the individual speaker has the right to pray as his conscience dictates,” he added. “That’s freedom of religion.”
“Just because the band benefited from this group’s efforts doesn’t mean the school has the responsibility to orchestrate or censor booster events,” Dr. Creech said. “We can appreciate Principal Jack Evans’ quest to make sure that ‘everyone feels included’ in activities connected to the school, but if he is going to apply school policy to an outside event, we would also call his attention to the part about ensuring that the school doesn’t ‘inhibit any religion or religious belief.'”
There has been no indication in the media that pagans requested a role in the ceremony or that anyone at the event was prevented from praying to whomever they chose. Band booster volunteer Marvin Mercer told the media he used the Colonial Flag Foundation’s template for the memorial program.