It took half a week, but the Buncombe County Schools Superintendent has weighed in on the latest prayer-in-school outrage.
Well, it was more of a “prayer-at-a-private-event-where-students-were-invited.”
And it was only outrageous to the local chapter of the Perpetually Offended Brigade who apparently believe hearing the words Jesus and God outside the confines of a church should be illegal.
Last week, the North Buncombe Band Boosters held a Memorial Day fundraiser. They set up a field of flags in honor of the dead. The program included an opening prayer and a closing prayer.
Offended outrage ensued.
The Asheville Citizen-Times ran with the story:
Christian prayers at a North Buncombe High Band Boosters event honoring veterans violated Buncombe County Schools’ religion policy, school officials say.
The event on Saturday sparked complaints from some students and at least one parent.
“This was a flagrant breaking of policy,” said Ginger Strivelli, a Pagan and the mother of a student who was at the event.
The spokesman for the School District offered this explanation:
“The event, while not on campus, included all members of the (North Buncombe High School) marching band, so it is against the policy as it’s a school-related function,” Jason Rhodes, spokesman for the school system, said in an email.
As I explained on the radio show, this makes absolutely no sense. It was a voluntary event and the program was known ahead of time. Anyone who might get offended by the prayers could have avoided the event.
But that's not how the Perpetually Offended Brigade rolls.
Last night, Superintendent Tony Baldwin issues a statement expressing the exact same explanation I made:
Buncombe County Superintendent of Schools Tony Baldwin said Friday that Christian prayers at a North Buncombe High Band Booster event May 24 did not violate schools policy after all because they were offered at a private event.
The prayers at a "Field of Honor" flag display and band fundraiser prompted complaints from parents and others. North Buncombe Principal Jack Evans and Jason Rhodes, a spokesman for county schools, both said this week that they violated the county policy on religious expression.
Baldwin issued a written statement at 7:30 p.m. Friday saying that after initial news reports about the event, he consulted the county Board of Education attorney..
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," the statement says.
It was pretty obvious to anyone who took a look at the facts objectively.
(Screen grab via Carolina Plotthound)
This is not the first time the Wiccan mom and daughter have been at the center of a religious freedom story. I agreed with her opposition to handing out Bibles in school (if you want religious teachings in your kid’s school, don’t send them to the government schools).
However this case was nothing more than a hyper-sensitive over-reaction to public prayer. It’s also illustrative of how a story makes its way from local media to a larger audience.
The initial report relied on a BCS spokesperson who believed it violated policy. And, as corroboration, it cited the offended Wiccan mom's opinion that it, indeed, violated the school's policy.
The booster club was not quoted in the original story - which got picked up by the statewide Associated Press.
The saying in journalism is "Get it fast, but get it right."
Perhaps it should also apply to legal interpretations offered by district staffers.