Marty.Lederman at USDOJ.GOV
Thu Oct 22 15:21:50 PDT 1998
Once again, true life is stranger than Religionlaw hypotheticals. The attached story from today's Washington Post touches on several topics that recently have been discussed on this list and on Conlaw. (Eugene: please feel free to forward this to the Conlaw list, as well, if you see fit.) If I hadn't read it in the paper, I would have had trouble believing that it wasn't a far-fetched law-school exam question concocted for a class on Speech and Religion. The exam question, of course, would be: "What steps, if any, could the school take, consistent with the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses, if it had determined that a hex *was* intended by Schoonover, or that Schoonover did intend to `threaten' putting a `hex' on her fellow student?"
(By the way, not that it bears on the religion/speech issues, but can anyone think of any legitimate justification for the Post's publication of the penultimate paragraph, or for its reference to "A parent of Schoonover's"?)
(in my personal capacity)
Student Suspended Over 'Hex'
Self-Described Witch, 15, Allegedly Cast Spell on Classmate
By Paul W. Valentine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 1998; Page D04
BALTIMORE, Oct. 21-A 15-year-old high school freshman and self-described witch
returned to class today after a one-day suspension for allegedly threatening
another student by casting a hex on her.
Jamie Schoonover was sent home Tuesday by Southwestern High School
administrators after another student accused Schoonover of casting a spell
on her while the two were outside the school before classes began in the morning.
The incident, observed by several other students, threw the school briefly into turmoil.
But Baltimore schools spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt said the two girls, members of their
families and school officials met for two hours today and agreed there "clearly
was a misunderstanding," and no threat or hex was intended by Schoonover.
The other girl, a freshman identified as Jennifer Rassen, became "very upset
and started crying," according to Pyatt, when she was told by a third student
that Schoonover had "just cast a spell on you." Rassen ran to administrators
in the school, who interpreted her account as possibly involving a verbal threat
by Schoonover, a violation of school safety and disciplinary rules.
She was issued a "short-term" suspension order citing her for "casting a spell
on a student." Pyatt said the order was wrongly worded and should have said
"allegedly making a verbal threat."
A parent of Schoonover's, Colleen Harper, 45, who said she also is a witch,
told reporters outside the school today that the incident resulted from
"ignorance about witchcraft" used in Wicca, a neo-pagan religion followed
by thousands of Americans.
Harper, who said her daughter did not want to talk to reporters, described the
incident as the latest in a series of encounters in which Schoonover has been
taunted and threatened at the school for her undisguised adherence to Wicca.
"She dresses differently and listens to different kinds of music," said
Harper, citing her daughter's preference for all-black clothing and what she
called Goth Scene music featuring vampire themes.
Harper said her daughter's life is additionally complicated by the fact that
she is bisexual and Harper is a transsexual. Both have been in psychiatric
therapy, she said, and Harper has undergone hormone treatments to help her make
the transition from male to female. Harper said she was her daughter's biological
father before divorcing the woman she was married to for more than 15 years.
Clutching a Bible and several textbooks about Wicca, Harper said that her
religion is a benign one and that the practice of casting spells is analogous
to saying prayers in Christianity. Experienced practitioners, she said, typically cast spells to harness "positive energy" for healing and other
human betterment. They are disinclined to cast negative spells because of
the Wiccan tradition that "whatever you do, whether good or evil, returns
to you threefold."
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