on the Internet you are never alone

Mar 14, 2010
The Wild Hunt has been keeping us updated on the story of Dale Halferty, the Iowa schoolteacher who refused to let a student build a Wiccan altar table in shop class and is now under suspension for his refusal to back down from his statements that "This witchcraft stuff - it's terrible for our kids."

I'm not sure why this story hit me so hard; perhaps it's because I was a teenage Wiccan in small-town Iowa. I know where Guthrie Center is; I know people who live there. I could have been this kid, if I had been brave enough to attempt to tie my religion into my class projects.

Seventy of this guy's classmates signed a petition saying that they didn't want witchcraft practiced at their school. For a sense of proportion, Guthrie Center High School has a student population of 185.

As far as I can tell, both the school and the media have been handling the story pretty well. The teacher has been put on unpaid leave, and the media are addressing this as a civil liberties issue with very little scaremongering about Wicca. (Well, the Guthrie Center Times article is a little shakier, but really very good for a small-town Iowa paper.)

As is right and proper, we don't know the student's name. I'm sure everyone in Guthrie Center, and probably most of the people in central Iowa, know who he is, but in no way do I think his name ought to be thrown about on the Internet. Still, I wish I could send him some support.

I wish I could say, I know just how you must feel. I feel a little bit of it right now, remembering being in high school, remembering how it feels to know that people don't want you there because you're Not Their Kind Of Person. Remembering the social isolation that comes of not having a church when church activities take up at least three days of the week. Remembering people shrugging your weirdness off as just a fad, something you'll grow out of when you stop trying to shock people for fun.

I wish I could say, my sister cried for an hour when I told her I was Pagan, and her church group prayed for me for a year, until she finally decided that a church that told her that I was going to hell wasn't worth her devotion. I wish I could say, my mother still doesn't quite understand what I do, but she's come to accept it. I wish I could say, I still don't even know if my father knows what I do, and I'm afraid to ask.

I wish I could say to this unnameable high school student, good for you for standing up to yourself. Dale Halferty thinks he's a good person and doesn't see what he did wrong, and you have to fight to get people to understand things like this sometimes. I wish I could say, it's only four more months until graduation. Hang in there.

I wish I could say to him, the whole world isn't like this. There are places you can practice out in the open and most people won't blink, and if they do the community will have your back, not just in apathy or condescension but in honest truth. You can cut your ties with the place you grew up in and try to scrub out the culture that shaped you and edit your conversations with your extended family and be, really, pretty happy in your practice and in your life. You lose things. It's hard.

Or you can be the kind of person who fights tooth and nail like this your whole life, and makes the world a little easier for the rest of us to live in. You lose things that way, too. It's even harder. I'm not that kind of person, but maybe you are.

I wish I could say, whatever path you choose, whichever way you go, I wish you only the best. You have the support of the whole Pagan community behind you, and I hope you know that. I hope you vanity Google this story every day and see how we're standing behind you, even though this may seem like a small thing in the grand scheme of the universe. Because so many of us know that feeling, the cut of ignorance combined with disdain, and we wish we'd done enough so that no one else ever had to feel it again. We're not there yet. Not yet.

May your gods protect you, and support you, and hold you in the light.


Vespid said...

This is a really beautiful post, and I hope somehow the student manages to read it. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Just this morning I emailed a copy of the Des Moines Register article to Greywolf Moonsong since he does a news segment from time to time on his podcast, A Pagan Heart in Maine. My parents still live in Iowa, and my mom had forwarded the news to me about a week ago. I made very similar comments in my email as what you say here (although I didn't express them nearly as eloquently), in particular the wish that I could somehow show my support without interfering, because I can imagine what this student must be going through. I will say, though, that I'm pretty proud of how our state is handling things, and especially proud of all the wonderful comments made in response to the Guthrie Times article. I see now that this story quickly reached the pagan community at large, and I find comfort in the thought that all of our collective wills of positive energy will bring this to a swift and peaceful conclusion. And if not, let it open some eyes.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful post that made even me feel as though I'm not alone, and I am certain it will do the same for our young hero in Guthrie Center.