|Back to July Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 162||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||JULY 1999|
WHITE PLAINS, NY - A federal district judge ruled on May 21st in Altman et al. v. Bedford Central School District, et al., that the School District violated the First Amendment rights of three Catholic families by requiring their children to create paper images of a Hindu god, make toothpick and yarn "worry dolls" to ward off anxiety, and take part in Earth Day worship services. The judge failed to find the card game "Magic: The Gathering," which the plaintiffs contend "initiates children into satanism using the perversion of actual Bible verses," in violation of the students' religious rights.
Judge Charles Brieant upheld four of 12 claims by the plaintiffs, and ordered the school district to 1) "prevent school sponsorship of worship of the Earth" and North American Indian animism or nature worship; 2) "remove the worry dolls from the school system" and "refrain from suggesting that [such] tangibles have supernatural powers"; 3) prohibit "any direction to a student to make a likeness or graven image of a god or religious symbol"; and 4) "direct the adoption of a published policy containing clear instructions to teachers and others" for implementing the Supreme Court's standards on the separation of church and state.
The case originated in 1995 when several Catholic parents became aware that the Bedford Central School District was promoting what they felt was satanic worship in the form of the "Magic" card game. Attorney Mary Ann DiBari, who originally represented the plaintiffs but later joined them in the suit on behalf of her two grandchildren, says the game is "totally religious," steeped in satanic imagery, signs, and rituals such as human sacrifice and the casting of spells. "One of the cards depicts a woman about to be sacrificed, others allude to real satanists," Mrs. DiBari explains. "The object of the game is to accumulate 'mana,' which is 'power that comes from the earth.' "
The plaintiffs charged that the card game is part of a New Age curriculum in the school district which includes yoga lessons, cult worship, and religious activities. In learning about the elephant-headed Hindu god, Ganesha, for example, 3rd graders were required to make clay and construction paper cutouts of the god. Judge Brieant agreed in his ruling that this activity amounted to being forced to make "graven images" of religious gods, in violation of the students' religious beliefs.
The school district was also charged with engaging in what the judge called "truly bizarre" Earth Day celebrations, which he said "take on [many] of the attributes of the ceremonies of worship by organized religions, including that of the plaintiffs."
"A chorus of tom-tom drums plays throughout the proceedings. The earth is deified and students are urged to 'do something to make Mother Earth smile.'"
Evidence submitted in the case included "Exhibit 62," an audiotape entitled "Listening to Nature," which "intersperses prayers and invocations sonorously uttered along with background sounds of forest and ocean." The plaintiffs objected to the fact that the tape, which they characterized as "nature worship and guided imagery," was played in the school district's science classes.
A book of the same name contains a creed stating: "This is what we believe. The Mother of us all is the Earth. The Father is the Sun. The Grandfather is the Creator who bathed us with his mind and gave life to all things. The Brother is the beasts and trees. The Sister is that with wings. We are children of the earth and do it no harm in any way, nor do we offend the Sun by not greeting it at dawn. . ."
Page 65 of the book advises children that "[W]hen you need to cut down a tree or remove a plant from your garden, reflect on this prayer: 'We know that we all are children of the same Mother Earth, of our Father Sun. But, we also know that one life must sometimes give way to another, so that the one great life of all may continue unbroken. So we ask your permission, we obtain your consent for this killing.' "
During at least one Earth Day ceremony, a school official told the assembly that there were "too many people on the earth and we need to do something about it." The court agreed that this statement was directly against the teaching of the Book of Genesis and in violation of the students' religious beliefs.
Mrs. DiBari says that she and the other plaintiffs are "very pleased" with Judge Brieant's decision, despite their disappointment with his ruling on Magic: The Gathering, which the school district sponsors as math classes.
"The court established four things that we hoped it would," she explains. "In declaring 'Thou shalt not make graven images,' the judge actually quoted scripture. We are relieved that schools will not be allowed to promote superstition or compel children to worship religious gods, and that the court labeled these activities violations of the First Amendment. We also welcome the court's acknowledgment that earth worship compels students to practice a world religion."
Mrs. DiBari is convinced that these dangerous activities and curricula are "coming from the United Nations and filtering down through the U.S. Department of Education." She says her conviction is based on the "volumes of documentation" she has received from researchers of U.N. speeches and documents, as well as from researchers of Goals 2000 documents. "We see the concept of Gaia being promoted in their own words, both written and spoken," she asserts, "and they are promoting satanism through blasphemous activities such as 'Magic: the Gathering.'"
Though spokesmen for the Bedford Central School District downplayed the outcome of the case, the attorney representing the district told the Associated Press that "the judge went further than any court in the country in directing the behavior of an individual school district."
The district is expected to appeal the decision.