City attorney says chapter does not violate rights
[This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press on Thursday, June 30, 2005.]
By ALISHA SEMCHUCK, Valley Press Staff Writer
PALMDALE - Outrage at what they view as erroneous and prejudicial references in a textbook brought members of the Antelope Valley's pagan community to the City Council meeting Monday night to voice their objections.
The book, "Changing Destructive Adolescent Behavior," is published by The Parent Project, a nationwide organization that subscribes to fundamentalist Christian principles and is used in a city-approved program called Families in Action - a parenting class intended to teach dysfunctional families more effective ways of resolving conflict and dealing with typical issues that arise in everyday life.
For some program participants, attendance is court-mandated.
Those in the pagan community find the book's content offensive - particularly a chapter that includes several pages of signs and symbols described as Satanic.
The text refers to Satanism as "self-destructive and frightening behavior" linked to violence and hate. It draws parallels with the activity of Latino and white supremacist gangs.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Darren Parker, president of the Antelope Valley Human Relations Task Force, told council members that Section Five in the parenting class text is especially objectionable because it affiliates symbols used by practitioners of the occult and witches with gang symbols, when there is no connection.
Parker said the city's Web site mentions one of its goals is to eradicate "hate crimes."
"We talk about Palmdale as a place to call home," he said.
However, Parker contended dissemination of the offensive misinformation could have the opposite impact by perpetuating negative impressions.
"It is not a hate crime. It is not a hate incident," he said, but "misinformation breeds fear. We learned in the task force, fear breeds hate."
Parker said the city attorney reviewed the chapter in question and determined that it "does not violate constitutional or First Amendment rights."
He was referring to a letter from Assistant City Attorney Cesar Bertaud to Lisa Morganstern, president and founder of AV Pagans, that read, "In our opinion, use of the materials does not violate the California or United States constitutions, as the materials do not constitute either an establishment of religion or a preference of one religion over another."
"It is a very fine line between First Amendment rights and things that harm the community," Parker said. "That class is causing turmoil in our community. We're asking for your help. We believe that class is crucial to parenting."
Morgenstern's husband, John, said the class offers a lot of good information, but the chapter in question "stands out in contrast to other chapters."
It "labels occult practices as evil and says, for occult, there should be zero tolerance," he said.
"I'm a practitioner for 15 years," Pagan group member Amy Walsh said. "When I came across these documents, I was very outraged."
Based on information in the book, Walsh said, black clothing represents evil.
"The Star of David, they say is a Satanic symbol," she said, adding that the literature also mentions meditations performed to cause violent death.
"I've been a school bus driver for the past five years. I'm the smile every person sees with their child in the morning." She pointed out she delivers the children safely to school and safely home again.
Lisa Morgenstern described herself as a mother, a task force member and an elder priestess in the Covenant of the Goddess. That's her religion.
She performs weddings and rites of passage for the First Pantheistic Center, Antelope Valley. She's also coordinator for Antelope Valley Pagan Pride Day.
Morgenstern said the situation disturbs her because, based on that text, anyone who reads his or her astrological horoscope could be viewed as an evil-doer, she said.
"You don't have to be casting spells to be occult," she said.
Morgenstern said if the chapter contained a cross with a slash and the word gang beside it, the "book would be pulled so fast it would make your head spin."
Because the issue was not an agenda item, the City Council took no action.
Mayor Jim Ledford said he understood that offending chapter would be removed from the text.
However, Morgenstern said she had heard it was being kept in.
"You can expect letters coming in the future," she said. "It's not over."
In an earlier interview, Ledford said, "I don't think the city is hiding or running from (this). I'm not looking to offend anybody."
The weakan and newage blindlighters are certainly correct on one account - it has absolutely nothing to do with Satanism, but not for the reasons they would misconceive. As Satanists, we do not consider ourselves so-called 'pagans', with all of the self-righteous jargon-laden regamerole, much like their white-light christian kindred. No sanctimonious posturing with slight modifications in terminology, as they are basically cut from the same hypocritical mold. As to the christians specifically, they Ironically work in our favor by spreading such untruths... for when the serious inquirer researches our literature, they find that their instructors lied to them all along, to foster an old paranoia to preserve their precious stuprostitions. It is known that white-light religions control through fear and ignorance; and in the 'neo-pagans' case, with an addition of pretentiousness! Give The Devil His due, or return to the arms of your savior, and let reason rule the earth!