Religious Discrimination in Schools
15th December, 1998
This week a letter sent to students at Lincoln Park High School in October this year came to light. The letter related to an upsurge in gang and cult activity. In order to protect students the principal issued a list of groups and symbols that were no longer allowed in the school and would result in suspension or expulsion for any student wearing them.
While the sentiment may be noble, the way in which it is being pursued is not. A list of groups and symbols was given. These included:
"KKK - Street Gangs - Skin Heads - White Supremacists - Wiggins - Straight Edge - Pagans - Gothic - Satanist - Vampires - Cults/Occult - Witches
A partial listing of inappropriate activities includes, but is not limited to:
Graffiti - Pentagram symbol - Gang Colors/Styles - Anarchy symbol - Cult Dress/Styles - Vampire/Death-style make-up - Black Nail Polish - Satanic Jewelry - Dog Collars"
The listing of religious groups, Pagans, Satanist and Witches is in violation of not only the First Amendment of the Constitution, but also the Equal Access Act. The Equal Access Act was delivered by President Clinton and guarantees a students' right to wear religious symbols in school (amongst other religion related activities).
We are now in the situation where a Wiccan student can be indefinitely suspended for wearing a pentacle, symbol of their faith. It seems unlikely that Christians will be suspended for wearing crosses or Jews for wearing a Star of David. This does seem to be government-endorsed discrimination of a legally recognized faith.
The educators who run Lincoln Park High are explicitly telling their students that some amongst their number are dangerous because of their religion. Is this an appropriate message for teachers to be sending their students and the wider community? Can the targeting of a specific religion for mention in this context be a good thing?
What makes this situation even more frightening was that it all began after a warning from a local police officer. How must Pagans within this community feel when such discriminatory and ignorant attitudes are being displayed by two such significant community institutions as the police and the high school administration?
Through out history, we have seen too many examples of the horror that can result from religious intolerance and ignorance. Hopefully, the administrators of Lincoln Park High School will teach an even more important lesson to their students. The one about everyone can make mistakes and that its better to admit you've made a mistake and say sorry than to compound a problem by denying it exists!
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