One Brave Girl

or… Welcome to the 21st Century

Editorial comments from This is True for the week of 16 February 2003:

It’s pretty rare that I get truly angry over a story.

Outspoken and direct, sure, which some readers sometimes take for anger, but actual anger is quite infrequent.

The first Premium subscriber, Dave in Colorado, sent me a story earlier this week that has me seething: a young lady in Tennessee has sued her public (taxpayer-funded) school because she can’t stand the continual humiliation of abuse by teachers and other students because …she’s not a Christian.

Apparently, she’s the only non-Christian in the class. The school sponsors annual field trips to a religious revival, and this straight-A student has been sent to the principal’s office because her parents allowed her to opt out of the trip.

To Hell With the Constitution

The fact that in a country that’s founded on religious freedom there are some people who think it’s OK to deny others the very same freedom that allowed them to worship the way they choose is sick. That it happens in a government-sponsored institution is even more outrageous.

The girl was taunted so severely her parents were afraid she would commit suicide — as have others in similar situations. I consider her treatment just as abhorrent as the way some non-Christian countries treat Christians, but I consider it even worse here considering our Constitutional guarantees; the hypocrisy is truly ugly.

The story from the Knoxville News Sentinel was unfortunately taken offline less than a week after this page went live; it’s unclear if that had anything to do with so many of my readers clicking through to the article. So here’s a a summary of the newspaper story:

Despite being a well-behaved, straight-A student, India Tracy was often sent to the principal’s office at Horace Maynard Middle School in Union, Tennessee. She was sent there when her mother refused permission for the school to send India to a tent revival during school hours, and when India declined to portray Mary in a religious Christmas play.

India and her parents, Greg and Sarajane Tracy, say other students taunted India, and beat and ridiculed her since 1999, when she first refused to go to the religious retreat. India, 14, says the principal “asked my religion. I told him I didn’t want to talk about it and for him to call my parents.” Her mother also refused to discuss religion with him, she says, because she didn’t think it was a proper subject for a public school. (The family is Pagan. Paganism “embraces kinship with nature, positive morality, and acknowledges both the female and male side of Deity,” according to the Pagan Federation.)

After she started talking about suicide, India’s parents removed her from school, and are home-schooling her. They have also filed a lawsuit asking for $300,000 in damages to pay India’s tuition to a private school, legal fees, and the cost of psychological counseling. The suit also seeks a court prohibition against “the school system’s continued religious indoctrination of children.” The suit alleges:

  • The Union County school system violated India’s civil rights by promoting and endorsing religious activities; denied her right to exercise her own religion, and failed to protect her from harassment and physical and verbal abuse.
  • India was repeatedly called “Satan worshipper,” “witch” and other names. She was accused of “eating babies” and of being a lesbian because she wasn’t a Christian.
  • India was forced to attend regular Bible study classes during the school day, and urged to lead the school and her class in prayer.
  • Derogatory names were written on her locker in permanent ink, but the school refused to remove the graffiti or move her locker.
  • India was repeatedly attacked as she knelt in front of her bottom-row locker. Her head was bashed at least 10 times, cutting her lip, forehead and nose.
  • A teacher told India to “keep quiet because you’ll get in trouble” after she wrote a paper about religious freedom.
  • A bus driver regularly asked India in front of other students if she had gone to church yet and if she’d like to come to church.

“Maybe it will be a harsh enough lesson so the next child in Union County who’s different can continue through school and graduate and feel safe,” Sarajane says about the lawsuit.

Source: “Union Schools Hit With Religion-Related Lawsuit — Action Claims Student Was Beaten, Harassed For Being Different” By Jennifer Lawson, Knoxville News Sentinel, February 14, 2003 (no longer online)

November 2004 Update: Suit Settled

The civil rights lawsuit was brought against the Union County Board of Education in February 2003 on behalf of Miss Tracy, as noted above. On November 5, 2004, the Board agreed to pay $50,000 to settle the case.

A significant portion was paid to the Tracys’ attorney, and the rest was to pay for private school for India. In addition, the school accepted “guidelines” for “how the school system addresses outside religious events, such as crusades that students attend during school time.”

The “crusades” had been sponsored for years by Baptist pastor Gary Beeler “to provide a safe environment where the people can be presented the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” On school time. On government-sponsored school time. And if a student wasn’t Baptist? Well, they were harassed by other students — and, apparently, by school staff.

As India was, for three years.

During that time, prayers were said over school loudspeakers during the school day. Class time was devoted to Bible study, and Bible tracts were handed out in class. India was threatened by a gang of boys who chased her down, grabbed her, and told her, “You better change your religion or we’ll change it for you.”

The only people who should be able to decide what religion their kids are exposed to are the kids and their parents, and never government agents (aka school officials).

And the School Board let this go on year after year! A $50,000 settlement is getting off easy. School officials should have been jailed.

(Source: Associated Press — link now broken)

March 2013 Update

I just got this very nice letter:

It has been quite some time since the lawsuit my family and I had. I am 24 now and I will never forget what happened or how it ended. Since then I have been living life to its fullest. In fact, I am about to graduate from University! I was just looking back because sometimes it is nice to hear (rather read) the support I had during my teenage days (and younger). Personally, even if you remember as it was 10 years ago, I wanted to thank you. I will never stop being thankful and grateful for the encouragement.

India Tracy

I’m extremely proud to have given This is True’s support to India toward her success — success made in spite of the horribly immoral and illegal actions of her school.

– – –

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47 Comments on “One Brave Girl

  1. I’ve heard it said that [America’s] Pilgrim Fathers came to the New World fleeing religious persecution in Europe, in search of the freedom to persecute others in their own way. Personally, I’ve felt for years that private personal belief is a fine and wonderful thing, but that organized religion is one of the most destructive and pernicious concepts that has ever sprung from the fertile minds of mankind. This story is a classic example. In contrast, I wish the U.S. Constitution had adopted Thomas Jefferson’s religious-freedom clause from the original Virginia state constitution, which mandated not only freedom of religion, but freedom from religion: You were totally free to follow and practice whatever religion you chose, on the condition that in the pursuit of so doing, you didn’t harass your neighbors, frighten the horses, or in other wise make a public nuisance of yourself.

  2. Isn’t it amazing that this person who was so traumatized by her classmates, was contemplating suicide, but how quickly the trauma and suicidal tendencies would be relieved by a substantial amount of money.

    No one said money would fix everything. The public school utterly failed in the mission that was entrusted to it. It is very reasonable to expect the school to pay for the girl’s tuition to a private school which will give her an education, and protect her in a way that the public school has proven it will not. -rc

  3. I used to be fundamentalist, for too long, and after much soul seeking I have opened to a new divine order and knowledge of God’s will. We have gay marches with Bible-thumping christians carrying signs and acting like crazy people here in Asheville, NC. The fundals always put down those they consider imperfect, like they really are. I am so glad that I have learned to look at people that have different lifestyles or cultures as the beings of spirit that they are. I used to buy into some of that stuff and now one of my very best friends is a gay woman. Everyone copes in their own way.

  4. I thought you might enjoy this quote: “Religon is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religon.” –Dr. Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate April 1999.

    My own experience has been that for the most part the most religious people I’ve met have also been the most intolerant. Obviously there are exceptions but since they go about their business quietly they are overshadowed by the overbearing self righteous hypocrites that appear to have no clue what being truly religious (accepting and non judgmental) is all about.

  5. I suppose I’m just a naif and a Pollyanna, but the article to which you linked boggles me. I know that there are a great many fine people in the world who call themselves “Christian,” but then so do a lot of not-so-nice people. When I graduated high school I tried to leave the group think behind, but apparently there are a lot of people for whom that isn’t an option. I heard on a news report of a pro-war demonstration the other day someone shouting something like “get Muslims!” Get Muslims? For what, introducing algebra to Europe? The decimal system? Or do we, like Eulele Shinn of The Music Man, simply hate the Rubiat of Omar Kayayayayayam? Saddam Hussein isn’t even a Muslim, for Pete’s sake! I wonder why, when you hear complaints about “fundamentalism,” they’re never extended to the fundamentalists we have here at home (60 miles South of where I sit, in Colorado Springs, for instance.) On the other hand, what can you do without lowering yourself to the same level? I think you’re doing it: expose the rotten thinking to as much light as possible. Thanks!

  6. You said you were particularly angered that this happened] in a country that’s founded on religious freedom, and some think it’s OK to deny others the very same freedom that allowed them to worship the way they choose. Right on and it can’t be said too often. When I teach this to undergrad students in the survey of British/American history, they want to know what it means, so I tell them there is a big difference between religious freedom (being allowed to worship as you please) and religious tolerance (allowing everyone to worship as s/he pleases, including yourself). The American constitution was based on the Maryland model of tolerance, not the Puritan/Church of England state models of freedom for the dominant church. The People’s Republic of China constitution promises religious tolerance, and freedom up to a point (that point being open and general proselitization). That poor girl is sure getting the message which all groups send when they are focusing more on their own power rather than the originator’s usually loving message: if you don’t belong, you’re punished.

    There you go, folks, it’s official: parts of China see more religious tolerance than parts of the U.S. -rc

  7. People need to know about this unbelievable abuse of authority, especially in a day when authority is being wielded largely unchecked. For the record, I consider myself a devout Christian, but I cannot conscience such behaviour in the name of my (supposedly shared) beliefs.

  8. Who are the people running this school and how do they think they can get away with what may as well be school-sponsored revivals? I, too am seething. As a teacher, there is no way that I would ever consider to espouse my beliefs on students or to allow mistreatment of minority religions.

    It’s not so long ago (1940s) that my mother was ridiculed for being Catholic while attending a public school in Southern Indiana. The harassment went so far as her teacher daily saying to my mother in mockery of confession “Go, your sins are forgiven.” I’m sure it was funny to the teacher, but not to my mother who was a 4th grader. She still remembers it with distaste and doesn’t trust “those Protestants”. Chalk up another mark for Christian disunity.

    In a similar way, I was also shocked to encounter intolerance in those who believe that Catholics are bound for hell when I visited a Wednesday night “Sunday school” with my girlfriend (we were 12). The instructor told us that unless you were immersed at baptism, it didn’t count and you would go to hell. I was incredulous, raised my hand, and said, “I’m 12, I love God, I treat my neighbor as I would be treated. But you’re telling me that if I died tonight I’d go to hell, cause I wasn’t wet enough.” She said yes, and I replied, “Lady, you’re full of sh*t.” I got up and left. So, I’m not surprised that it still goes on, just that it’s so blatant [when it’s] ssssooooo wrong! I get so fed up with Christians who use God as a means to beat other people up.

  9. I too am outraged at the behavior of the entire community of Union. The family would appear to be good citizens and their daughter has done everything that a normal young girl should do in school. I generally am very much against people suing the school district (or any public entity) rather than just the decision-makers, who are really the ones who should be held responsible because it takes financially from all community resident taxpayers — most of whom cannot control the situation and shouldn’t pay for the mistakes of admin types.

    In this case, the entire community should pay the price since it is obviously a decision they all support and encourage. I feel that religion should be kept in the homes and churches of the citizens choice to avoid such problems. I respect everyone else’s right to practice whatever religion they choose as long as it brings no harm to others, but I also want them to respect my right to choose what, when and where to believe. These people apparently don’t want to live up to that standard. I just wish I was there to shake the girl’s hand and give her a hug to say I respect her for withstanding the abuse as long as she did. Nobody should ever have to endure that, much less a young kid who is not likely emotionally able to handle it.

  10. Wow, this story made me hopping mad! I happen to be a Christian, but because I’m uncomfortable with the very evangelistic, charismatic practices of some denominations and would rather supervise my children’s religious education myself, I too would likely opt out of the annual revival field trip. I would have to do careful research before I would allow any child of mine to participate in any school-sponsored bible study too, since the interpretation of scripture can be very personal and occasionally controversial. What an appalling situation — I can scarcely come up with appropriate words for my reaction, except to say I am sickened.

  11. You are right that the religion should be unimportant, except it is important to me because I am a Pagan. I recognized that story and believe me, Pagan activists are watching it pretty closely. A girl killed herself a couple years ago for similar reasons [which has led to a lawsuit]. She’s practically a martyr of religious rights. The Detroit News covered the lawsuit. This story covers the background. You may print my full name and title.

  12. This is exactly the behavior one may anticipate from those who are shouting for prayer in the schools. Whose prayer? To God, Yahweh, Buddha, or Allah? One of the best arguments against legalized school prayer that I’ve seen in a while.

  13. I am a very devout Christian and I must say that is truly sick. How that girl lives her life is her business and she should be free to live how she chooses provided the exercise of her freedom does not interfere with the freedom or quality of life of others and, of course, it would be nice if she didn’t do bad things to destroy herself. Since when did God advocate cramming religion down anyone else’s throat? Please correct me if I’m wrong: Last time I checked freedom was supposed to be a two way street.

  14. Nearing the age of 80, I believe I’m finally getting a true feel for what it is that causes religious (or any other) intolerance: “Insecurity” is the keyword. Just view the rabid, frightened, reactions of people who feel their beliefs are threatened when others express a different viewpoint. It’s the old syndrome of, “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up!” I used to be interested in on-line bulletin boards on which people discussed their beliefs. However, it became evident that when I’d say, “I’m an agnostic,” they would hear, “I am an atheist,” and some of them reacted passionately with “How can you say there is no god? If that were true, where did this wonderful world come from?” My answer: “I don’t know, and I doubt very much that anyone else really knows. The best we can do is offer opinions.” That being said, I would never want to deprive anyone of a religion that gives them comfort and security, things much needed in today’s world.

  15. I was fascinated by the story on the young girl who was tormented for being non-Christian because I myself experienced some of the same kind of intolerance when I lived [in Tennessee for a few years]. It was expected that Sundays were for worship (Wednesday nights too, when possible) and my husband and I were questioned about our religious beliefs on numerous ocassions. My husband was a teacher for Nashville Public Schools and many times his school principal would use either the public address system or various school assemblies to talk (sometimes at length) about the “Christian way of doing things”. I kept waiting for something to happen, for someone to set this guy straight about separation of church and public education, but no one ever did. Neither my husband nor I were willing to stick our necks out to say something about it, but it made us both very uncomfortable. We didn’t mind the mandatory “moment of silence” each morning. Heck, as teachers we pray for even half a moment of silence (!), but the blatant preaching really got to us. What if I were Buddhist? Or Hindu? Or Muslim? I’m not, but if I were, would I have been allowed to get on the public address system or stand up at an assembly and tell students they should act like good Buddhists?? I doubt it. Anyway, you hit on something here and I hope you (and your readers) will stay on it until something changes. At the very least, folks need to be made aware that this stuff really does happen even in 2003.

    It does take a lot of guts to stand up to such intimidation — and that’s exactly what tyrants count on. That’s why it’s so incredibly important to show support to those who do take a stand and demand that injustice stop. -rc

  16. Your anger over this incident made my heart leap with joy — people care! Living in a country where religion is a part of government — and many citizens are lobbying to change that — I was appalled that in a country where the two are supposedly separate such a thing could happen. What worth is your Constitution if it can be so flagrantly violated on both the official and social level? Over here, the majority of the population is non-orthodox or even non-observant altogether of the state religion. We see the inclusion of religion in government and the power of a few (religious party members) to dictate the lives of the majority as near-Khomeinism. It’s a short step from what happened to the Tracy family to a government like here, and a short step from our situation to fundamentalist oppression as seen in some Arab countries where even murder of those not “religious enough” is condoned or even encouraged.

    India Tracy’s story, and others like it, should seen as a very worrisome red alert as to where your country is headed if things don’t change. There’s a very apt quote that I hope you might have space to include:

    “First they went after the Communists, and I did not stand up, because I was not a Communist. Then they went after the homosexuals and infirm, and I did not stand up, because I was neither. Then they went after the Jews, and I did not stand up, because I was not a Jew. Then they went after the Catholics, and I did not stand up, because I was Protestant. Finally, they went after me, and there was no one left to stand up for me.” –Martin Neimoller, Pastor (who spent seven years in a German concentration camp)

  17. For someone who is seething about a story, you did an admirable job of containing your anger. Actually, it’s one of the things that has always impressed me about you: it is so easy to become emotionally involved with the This Is True reportage, but you manage to maintain your equilibrium so well. Perhaps you’d consider giving remedial classes to school administrators….

    That wasn’t containment, that was focus! -rc

  18. This is a public school? That’s dumbfounding! It just goes to show you a thing or two about human nature: All power corrupts. The tyranny of the majority is the reason we have a separation of church and state in the first place. These people should be ashamed of themselves; They certainly are not Christ-like in their empathy or beliefs. I guess they go to church, mouth the words, but have no idea what they actually MEAN. Shame on them for their unChristian like behavior.

  19. I am embarrassed and saddened that such things can be going on right next door to me. I noted that India’s parents are asking for $300K in their lawsuit against the Union County school system. In this day and age of litigation mania, that’s a pittance. Most lawsuits I hear or read about are for millions of dollars for much less outrageous offenses. India put up with the mistreatment for several years before her family filed the lawsuit. India and her family have demonstrated much more humility, forgiveness, and patience than the fundamentalists of Union County, all “Christian” virtues. Do you know of a way to send notes of support or contributions to their legal fund (or India’s tuition fund) to India and her family? I wouldn’t want you to give out their contact information if you have it, but would you be willing or able to forward such notes?

    No, I don’t. Sorry. -rc

  20. The public school system has a nasty habit of assuming responsibilities it cannot fulfill, because it wants control of the students. As a student you have no right for example to defend yourself, verbally or otherwise, because you get in trouble for “fighting” if you do (I got in trouble for dodging a punch once in 8th grade gym class, I kid you not). So naturally, if the school will not lay the responsibility for self defense on the students, they accept it themselves, and they can’t fullfill it. As a Christian, I consider it my sacred duty to correct other Christians if I find they are behaving in a manner harmful to the family, which is what got my attention about this story at first. However, I think the far more pressing concern is that the school is not living up to its responsibility to protect its students. In this case, this issue bears the mark of religion. In other schools (in ALL other schools) this issue bears the mark of conformity, or political correctness, or “civility,” or something else. It is a problem not just at this girl’s school, but in the public school system at large. And teachers wonder innocently why there are school shootings and the like.

  21. I am a college student and am currently taking a course about American religious traditions. We studied 5 common approaches to religious diversity, which include:

    1. Exclusivism (belief that one’s religion is the only true religion and all others are false);
    2. Relativism (belief that there’s no way to know what the true religion is and therefore all religions are true or, for the same reasons, all are false);
    3. Inclusivism (belief that one’s religion is the one true religion, but other religions are partly true);
    4. Synthesis (belief that all religions are the same at their core, differentiated only by cultural factors, and that the world is heading towards one common religion); and
    5. Affirmation/Pluralism (belief that each religion, though different, is true and must be honored as such). But a concept distinct from these 5 approaches is “tolerance,” or the willingness to grant basic civil liberties to people of all religions.

    Tolerance can co-exist with any of the above approaches to religious diversity — even an “exclusivist” who believes that his or her religion is the only true religion can still have tolerance. As you put it, this means that “the ‘godless pagans’ and ‘devout Christians’ alike can rise up and condemn the outrageous treatment of people who have done them no harm.” I think many people (especially those of the exclusivist inclination) mistake tolerance for endorsement of other religions, and are reluctant to be “tolerant” because they feel it would mean betraying their own religion. Fortunately, most people I know have tolerance. No matter how wrong they felt someone else’s religion is, they would never do what India Tracy’s community did. A basic tenet of my religion is to love my neighbor. I am not sure what is more disturbing: the complete lack of tolerance of this community, or the thought that their concept of Christianity involves bashing a child’s head into her locker.

  22. As a Christian (and a missionary), I am saddened by the existence of intolerant and hypocritical behavior such as what you described in this week’s issue of This is True. I don’t know whether I should also feel embarrassed — it depends on whether I want to identify myself as a fellow Christian with those who behave in ways that are so clearly contrary to what the Bible teaches.

    I don’t want to get into the business of judging the genuineness of these people’s relationship to Jesus, but neither do I condone the behavior. Unfortunately (as the Bible itself teaches), Christians are no more exempt from wrongness and deep evil than any other human beings, although such evil is compounded when it is connected to an ostensible commitment to a high moral standard. Just as we should not judge Islam on the basis of Osama bin Laden’s actions, but rather the best of what Islam has produced, let us judge Christianity by looking at its best representatives. (But, that, of course, is the subject of a different publication: HeroicStories.)

    I appreciated what you said about not condoning persecution of Christians in other countries. You strive to be fair to both sides in these religious battles, and though I suspect you and I may differ in our basic theological and religious commitments, I deeply respect your integrity. This is one reason I continue to subscribe, even though there are issues like this one that contains material that is deeply disturbing. (The other reason, of course, is that I love a good belly laugh on Friday evening.) Thank you so much for what you are doing!

    And that is precisely what I’d expect a “Christian” to do — treat others with the same respect they ask for themselves. And magic! Look at the response it can get, instead of pushing people away. -rc

  23. As part of a grant project at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, I visited a high school, along with other educators, located halfway between Nashville and Knoxville. The countryside, while beautiful, made the Ozark hills look like an area of prosperity.The high school was a newly built, technology-enhanced complex. It seemed out of place in the midst of such poverty. I was speechless when I saw the large canvases hanging from the balconies in the main entry hall. The paintings, all done by students, were breathtakingly beautiful. But they were all religious paintings that copied the style of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. All of the visitors were aghast, but our local guides were oblivious to the dichotomy of those subjects hovering over the lobby of a public school. We also visited an elementary school. The young students were preparing presentations about Easter. I expected graphics of bunnies or egg-filled baskets. After the high school I should have known better: each presentation detailed the Crucifixion. There is simply no room in these schools for anyone who might be different. The teachers are all educated locally so the system will probably not change.

  24. Randy, this one shouldn’t have surprised you: Tennessee has a long track record of state-enforced Bible thumping in the public schools. Remember the Scopes “monkey trial” where a Tennessee teacher who mentioned the theory of evolution was put on trial? Years after the Scopes trial we now get so-called “education” boards insisting that “creation science” (now there’s an oxymoron for you!) be taught as equally valid or even preferable to evolution. I consider myself a Christian, and I must confess that some of the lawsuits I read about decrying any sort of public religious demonstrations are pretty far out and annoying. For example: there was a little cedar tree prominently visible in the median strip of an interstate highway I travel which someone decorated for all sorts of holidays: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, etc. In response to complaints from self-described atheists the state cut the tree down to end this affront to their sensibilities. Phooey. But this incident in Tennessee shows just how far self-righteous hypocrisy can go, and should show everyone just how dangerous it is when the state and state-run agencies get into preaching morality. The state is almost by definition an amoral entity, and it just isn’t up to the job.

  25. I’m absolutely livid at the way the Union, Tenn. schools are treating India Tracy. I grew up in Oklahoma and experienced religious persecution in public school, but nothing even approaching that level. I would really like to bitch-slap the morons who called you anti-Christian because of your stance on this story. Sheesh, anyone — Christian or otherwise — who doesn’t agree with you on this one is anti-human.

  26. I think you are off the deep end with a very strong agenda and no real facts or examples. How many of you PC nuts do we need to completely ruin any hope of civilization. This is a normal action when one cannot (or doesn’t want to) participate in an event with the rest of the class. Anyone who is different will be taunted by their classmates, like if they wore glasses or were black or wore dresses or whatever. Different means they will be taunted. Just because this girls difference is religious doesnt make the situation any different and certainly doesn’t demand a lawsuit. Her parents should realize that she is special and this should be conveyed to her and she should be very proud that she is carring the mantle for her religion. More kids commit suicide due to acne than religion.

    You respond to an article about a little girl who was taunted by students and school staff to the brink of suicide, and another reader gives an example of another little girl who did commit suicide, and you decry the lack of “examples”?

    Exactly how many more 12-year-old kids have to be persecuted to death to satisfy you? That it would also be OK with you for a black child to be beaten and driven to suicide with the acceptance and even assistance of a public school staff speaks volumes.

    It’s easy to tell when people get cornered when the cold light of reason shows them how unsupportable their conclusions are — they call people names (as you probably did to the few black children around you when you grew up) rather than simply see that I’m not taking political sides. That they even exist among my readers is nothing but proof that I’ll never run out stupid people and situations to write about. Meanwhile, as you see above, the “godless pagans” and “devout Christians” alike can rise up and condemn the outrageous treatment of people who have done them no harm — except, perhaps, cause them to think a bit. In your ideal world, such people ought to be driven to suicide. How many such deaths do you hope to take credit for personally? -rc

  27. I am a Christian, and I can tell you that there is no such thing as a person who was forced to believe. The only way anyone can truly follow a religion or faith is to come to it willingly. The actions of the school and its students in this case is not motivated by religion or faith. It is motivated by a mean spirit and a desire to eliminate any difference of opinion. It is definitely not Christian.

  28. Like many other commentators, I am a devout Christian and am appalled by the behavior of the people at this school. I would like to make two points, however:

    1. Contrary to many of the comments above, such treatment is not solely the product of misguided religiosity. I live in a much more “tolerant” area and was subjected to similar treatment, including public mockery and derision from teachers, by secularists through high school due to my quietly and respectfully expressed Christian beliefs.

    2. Your intro states this girl was subjected to “verbal and physical abuse by teachers and other students.” The article, however, makes no allegation of physical abuse at the hands of any teacher or staff member. Much of their behavior is unacceptable, but your phrasing is rather misleading all the same.

  29. It is so hard to comprehend that this behaviour can happen in a PUBLIC school in a supposedly Modern Country. In Australia, public schools usually have just one lesson a week of religious instruction, and it is up to the parents to opt out. The R.E. is provided by local churches so it depends on what is available to what specific branch is catered for. My daughter is Anglican, but attended a basic Christian class, until at 11 years of age was told that dogs don’t go to heaven, that was it for us, she was excluded and as far as we are concerned ALL pets get to go to heaven.

  30. This is the first time I have heard of this story, and I am glad India is doing fine. It wasn’t the money that helped, it was getting away from the abuse. Had I been forced to lead a prayer, I likely would have used this one:

    Let us sing praise to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for He is a loving God. Of His might and dominion, there is no compare; of His mercy and deliciousness, there is no equal. No other god can challenge Him; in the taste test, He is invincible. Through His pasta, He has blessed us with everlasting life, and holy is His Name. For He is the Flying Spaghetti Monster: the One, True, and Most High God, creator of man and midgit, giver of pasta, giver of sauce, from age to holy age; not created He was, but ever He lives, through the glory of spaghetti, now and forever. R’Amen.

    You seem to have been touched by His Noodley Appendage. -rc

  31. Good for India!

    The time of graduation and transition from dependent to fully independent adult is a rewarding time. I hope to her that she won’t have anything but positive reaction to her religion, if she chooses to discuss it, from her future co-workers.

  32. Since those ‘people’ in Union County have apparently never so much as opened the book of wisdom containing the following excerpts, let alone read it or applied it to their own lives, I would suggest the following reading from the Bible:

    Matthew 7:1-5, 2 Corinthians 11:14, 1 John 3:10, 1 John 4:20, Matthew 6:1, James 2:14-16, Matthew 7:15, 1 John 2:4, Titus 1:16, Proverbs 26:23-26, 1 Peter 2:16, 1 John 1:6, 1 Peter 2:1.

    I could go on, but I won’t. You can’t serve God through evil acts, but as Union County has proven, you can still serve something else.

    Such pressure drives people away from religion, and for good reason: who would want to be like that? They can’t even walk their own talk. -rc

  33. The same thing happened to one of my college roommates when she lived in Texas. And she was an e-Piscopalian. The sermon from the Baptist church was discussed in class every Monday morning. If you were a Southern Methodist or an e-Piscopalian, you missed that lecture and couldn’t participate in the discussion very well. God forbid you were a Catholic or one of them funny churches where they yell and shout and play with snakes and all. If you didn’t hear the Baptist sermon you flunked the test on Monday. She was so glad when the family moved to California.

    I’m trying to decide if “e-Piscopalian” thing is a way of pronouncing Episcopalian, or if it’s an online sect of Piscopalians…. -rc

  34. Worldwide, there are some 3,000 sects of Christianity, which proves they can’t even agree among themselves over facets of their doctrine. And you can believe that the myriad other religions also have innumerable sects within them. Yet each one would have you believe that it alone is the Ultimate Truth? Funny. Someone has to stand up and lead the outrage. Good on you. Good on India Tracy.

    I frankly don’t care if people believe in God, Allah, or a jumble of pasta. But when they demand I believe it too, they’ve crossed the line. -rc

  35. Thanks for the update. I remember the original story and it’s great to know that young India has weathered the storm and is doing all right as an adult.

  36. I’m a Christian, but I mind my own business. To each their own. I have to say this quote by Gandhi is generally accurate. There are many exceptions, but far too many examples of just this:

    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

  37. I went to Roman Catholic schools. We came at 7:30am and had religious instruction at that time. Non RC’s came at 8am and stayed a half hour after we left and they studied world religions. The Jews were referred to as the father of our Lord Jesus and we were reminded that the Holy Family were all Jews. Protestants were named Protestants because they protested the rule of the Pope. They too believed in God and wanted the Lord present in their daily lives. This was in the 50’s. Sounds like we were more progressive then than they were in 2003 in the Public School system in India’s neighborhood. Very, very sad but no wonder church attendence is way down across the USA. What thinking person would endorse or condone this behavior?

  38. Notwithstanding the happy ending for India, this sort of thing persists. You don’t expect the Talibangelicals and Christfascists to give up so easily, do you?

    Not at all. I’m merely celebrating the success of one battle win, not declaring war is over. -rc

  39. “Worldwide, there are some 3,000 sects of Christianity”. Shucks — that’s just counting types of Baptists.

    Glad to see India is doing well.

    I happen to be a fundie Christian who also finds the school’s behavior to be unconstitutional and “improper”. I have friends of many different religions and lack thereof — it’s their business. If I cannot live my life so they see a difference, that is on *me*.

    I was impressed by the King County (Seattle) public welfare folks. About 25 years ago, a friend became pregnant, and decided to give the child up for adoption. She went into the welfare office for help, and said she wanted to give the child to a pagan family. There was some freaking, but finally an old hippy woman came in and introduced herself as “Sunshine”. She listened, and found a family on a farm.

    Randy: Is this still the case with the school and school board?

    Too bad you cannot mail all of the school board, administrators, teachers, and students your GOOHF cards 🙂 They may need them.

    I’d be tempted to mark them “VOID”. But I don’t know the status of the school and its board. See previous comments, but none are definitive. -rc

  40. As a Christian, I’m appalled at what they put India through. I’m glad she’s having a good life despite the behaviour of the unthinking bigots she had to contend with ten years ago.

    I feel that India, like those Marines in Guadalcanal in WW2, is destined for heaven as she’s done her time in hell already.

  41. One of your first comments (John/ California) wrote, “Notice how money seemed to fix her suicidal thoughts!” I guess he didn’t read the part about her attorney getting most of that. I am a Christian. I love to share the WORD with anyone that will listen. I personally wished that everyone was a follower of CHRIST, but that is their choice. I have friends that don’t believe, I have gay friends but I still leave their beliefs to them. If you are a follower of CHRIST you are suppose to LOVE all people. You share your beliefs, but you don’t shove it down their throats or turn your backs on them because they won’t believe.

  42. Religion and Religious Organizations are curious things. There are literally thousands of them extolling different beliefs. But one thing those that seek the betterment of each individual have in common is: they ALL have a portion of God’s Light.

    Now whether they have a tiny portion or a really large portion isn’t what’s important. What IS important, however, is what each member of each particular group chooses to DO with the Light they have been given.

    For those to whom much is given, much is expected.

  43. Regardless of one’s beliefs or affiliations, we can all agree that it’s the extreme nutjobs that cause what is really a great organization/religion to be seen in a negative light.

    Whether it’s these zealot “Christians” in Tennessee, pedophiles in the Boy Scouts, or Islamic extremists committing acts of terrorism, the phrase “a few bad apples spoils the bunch” really fits. It’s very frustrating to be one of the many who are ashamed of the acts of the few, yet are often powerless to correct the problem.

    Thankfully we have True as a means for calling out these bad apples for what they are.

    You are not powerless to address this problem! In the same way that “Moderate Muslims” are expected to disavow the actions of radicals (e.g., terrorists), when you’re silent when your fellows terrorize others, you appear to be condoning their actions. When you see this in your community, it’s up to you to step up and say it’s wrong. And that, sir, is powerful! -rc

  44. Early in my TV career I became friends with a pastor who hosted a religious cable talk show. When I mentioned I’d had enough churchin’ by 17 or so to last the rest of my life, he said “That’s OK, some of the holiest people I know aren’t very religious, and some of the most religious aren’t very holy.”

  45. It has been a very long time since i relentlessly fought to protect my daughter. I thought you would want to know what an amazing woman she has become. Her accomplishments are too many to list. I will never regret that fight!

    I’m glad to get an update after India’s 2013 letter, posted above. I’m sure it feels both like forever ago, and yesterday. It’s sad you had to fight so hard, but I’m glad you did. -rc

  46. @Sarajane, Thanks for the update. And thank you for fighting relentlessly to protect your daughter.
    Also, thank you for raising her so well.


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