In what has to be one of the most fascinating cases to come before the federal courts in a long time, the parents of a Tulsa teenager are sued Tulsa Union Schools as well as several school administrators and employees accusing them of violating her civil rights when they suspended her for allegedly casting a spell on a teacher and writing a fictional story about a school bus shooting.
The news of this law suit broke in the Tulsa World on 10/26/2000, in a report titled "Civil rights lawsuit filed against Union Public Schools".
In this report it was revealed that Brandi Blackbear, represented by American Civil Liberties Union attorneys had filed a federal lawsuit against Union Public Schools and several officials accusing them of violating her civil rights. Those named in the law suit were Jack Ojala, Union Eighth Grade Center principal; Catherine Miller, Eighth Grade Center counselor; Charlie Bushyhead, Union Intermediate High School principal; Sandy Franklin, a Union counselor; and school board members Philip Barr, William Bruner, Derek Rader and Frank Spiegelberg.
This initial report went on to detail that the law suit alleged:
In December 1999, at Union Intermediate High School, Brandi was suspended for 15 days after she was accused by officials of practicing the pagan religion Wicca and putting a hex on one of her teachers who had become ill.
News of the law suit spread like wildfire and reports of the "Union Witch Trial" began appearing on national media almost immediately as the Associated Press detailed the story in a report titled "Accused 'Witch' Sues Tulsa Schools" on 10/26/00. This report quoted Timothy Blackbear, Brandi's father as stating:
"My daughter has done nothing except want to go to school and never missed a day until the eighth grade when she got suspended."
The report quoted Brandi Blackbear as stating:
"People still make remarks and stuff in the hall. They'll like look at me and walk away really fast or they'll start talking about me behind my back."
In the subsequent Tulsa World report, dated 10/27/00 and titled "Parents Sue Union Over Alleged `witch hunt' of Daughter", John Mack Butler, one of Blackbear's attorneys was quoted as follows:
"This is taking us back to the Salem witch-burning times."
In the same report, the father of Brandi Blackbear summarized the case in a nutshell as follows:
"It's hard for me to believe that in the year 2000 I am walking into court to defend my daughter against charges of witchcraft."
The fact which Mr. Blackbear overlooks is that Tulsa Union Public Schools are located in Oklahoma, a so-called 'Christian State' where the public schools are often an extension of the church. A state where U.S. Supreme Court rulings are treated as mere suggestions and a place where students, their parents and school administrators scoff at the idea that religious services at school facilities and during school sanctioned activities run counter to the 1st Amendment. A place where "freedom of religion" simply means the right to practice the 'Right Religion' and no other.
The report went on to detail one of the several allegations in the Blackbear law suit:
"Brandi was advised that she could not use any kind of emblems or any other paraphernalia that even remotely pertained to the Wicca religion, although numerous students openly displayed other religious symbols including the Christian cross"
This allegation if proven factual will once and for all establish the existence of something some of us have long suspected, that there is only one "Right Religion" in the State of Oklahoma.
In addition to Tulsa World and Associated Press reports on the "Union Witch Trial", it also became "big news" for both Reuters which reported on the law suit in a report titled "School Suspends Girl for Casting Spell", dated 10/30/00 and ABC News which reported the "trial" in a report titled "Not-So-Practical Magic High School Expels Student for Casting a Sickening Spell", dated 10/28/00.
Both reports contained the following quote from Joann Bell, executive director of the ACLU's Oklahoma chapter
"outlandish accusations" had made Blackbear's life at school unbearable.
"I, for one, would like to see the so-called evidence this school has that a 15-year-old girl made a grown man sick by casting a magic spell.".
A lawyer for the school district declined to comment for either report. This is the approach taken by Union Public Schools throughout and one likely to continue. Leaving one only to speculate that school officials are afraid of having a spell cast upon them if they speak up.
In US District Court in Tulsa, Oklahoma on 7/17/2002 Judge Claire Eagan ruled in favor of Tulsa Union Public Schools and issued a summary judgment in favor of the school district. This ruling was handed down just days before the trial was schedule to start.
The Tulsa World reported on the outcome of the case in a report dated 7/19/02 and titled "Judge rules in favor of district". That report quoted Judge Eagan's order as indicating:
Blackbear testified during a deposition that she is not, has never been and has never wanted to be a Wiccan.
Blackbear also admitted that the defendants have not done anything to keep her from practicing any religion.
In view of this testimony, the court finds that Brandi does not hold a sincere belief in the religion of Wicca.
Blackbear has admitted that religion played no role in the decision to discipline her in December 1999.
The referenced report went on to quote Blackbear's attorney John M. Butler as stating:
The order may not be "exactly correct" on those points and said his client's purported statements may have been "taken out of context."
The report went on to quote Mr. Butler as indicating an appeal is probable and that he is optimistic that Blackbear will prevail at that level.
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