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