Evangelist behind efforts to ban schools' Halloween celebrations
Halloween is the celebration of the devil's existence yet there are those who will say "But we don't worship demons on Halloween, and it doesn't mean the same thing today as it did in the past. Today it's harmless, innocent, a time of fun for the young people." Then what about "abstain from all appearances of evil"? (Tom Shuler, Kingsport)
New Harvest Ministries' Preaching Christ Church evangelist Mark Poff holds Halloween masks at his Main Street church in Kingsport. Poff is sponsoring a drive to get school systems to not allow students to celebrate Halloween. David Grace photo.
|Halloween is one of the strangest days of the year. Parents dress their children as witches, ghosts, and demons and send them through the neighborhood knocking on doors chanting "trick or treat" and holding out sacks for goodies.
KINGSPORT - Halloween is the one time of the year when you can find vampires, football players and fairy princesses strolling through school hallways.
But school officials say that over the years they have heard complaints from people who don't approve of Halloween celebrations in schools, and one local evangelist is leading a charge to ban the observance of Halloween in school classrooms. Mark Poff of New Harvest Ministries' Preaching Christ Church in Kingsport said he has started a petition to ban Halloween in schools. Poff hopes to garner 3 million signatures in the nationwide campaign.
Kingsport's city school system has already stopped Halloween celebrations and all other holiday events in the schools, said Director of Schools Richard Kitzmiller.
While the school system doesn't have a policy regarding holiday celebrations, schools have been instructed to keep classroom time focused on curriculum.
"To my knowledge we don't do any Halloween parties or parties for any holiday. Long ago, we started really protecting academic time and focusing on instruction. To my knowledge, we don't have any holiday celebrations,'' Kitzmiller said.
Sullivan County Director of Schools John O'Dell said the school system doesn't have a formal policy on Halloween, but individual schools and teachers can choose whether children can dress up or if parties are held.
O'Dell said he has heard complaints from local residents that Halloween should not be celebrated in schools because of its pagan origins.
"I have gotten a few comments made to me about Halloween and the Wiccans ... but I don't think many children think of that when they think of Halloween. They think of Halloween and trick-or-treating. They don't put a religious connotation to Halloween. For most teachers who have something, and most elementary schools do, it's just a fun day," O'Dell said.
Rogersville's school system does not permit Halloween parties during the school day, although there is a costume dance for K-4 students that is being sponsored by the Beta Club.
Superintendent Ravan Krickbaum said the Board of Education decided seven years ago that classrooms could have only one party per year, and it was decided that party would take place on Valentine's Day.
"We used to have parties for every occasion, and it just got to be so much that our board decided they detracted too much from teaching time," Krickbaum said. "We didn't stop the Halloween parties for any religious reasons. It was just a decision on the part of the board that having parties is not a part of the mission of this school."
The Hawkins County school system takes no position on Halloween parties in the classroom. Secondary Education Supervisor Lynn Norris said principals at each individual school set policy for classroom Halloween parties.
"It's really a non-issue in our district," Norris said. "Our principals decide what is an appropriate way to celebrate holidays at their school."
But Poff believes that schools are forcing Halloween on children and promoting a belief system that is not accepted by Christians.
"From a Christian standpoint in the school systems, we've had prayer taken away, the Ten Commandments and things of that nature ... since we have infringed on atheists' rights. Next year we are going to have 3 million signatures that say if any sign of Halloween is plastered in the schoolrooms, in the halls, then they are infringing on our rights," Poff said.
The petition drive is a serious effort, Poff said, and he has contacted an attorney to help with the legal aspect of the issue. Poff said his ministry is connected to others across the nation, and he plans to send out petitions to everyone he can and work for signatures everywhere he goes.
Poff believes that although children may not realize the origins of Halloween, the holiday is part of a practicing religion in the area. "There is cult activity big time here in Kingsport alone," Poff said.
And while Halloween activities may be done in the name of fun, Poff said he believes it has evil influences.
"I believe it is a major trick of the devil. The enemy wants to make us think that these things are all right, when in fact, you give somebody like the devil an inch, he's going to invade your mind and spirit. This kind of activity is dangerous," Poff said.
With 3 million signatures in hand - the number three picked for the Holy Trinity - Poff said he will approach local school boards and ask for a change.
O'Dell said banning Halloween doesn't mean the school system would have to ban all holidays. But that could be considered.
"Most schools have some kind of a Christmas function. From time to time, we have issues with that as well, but not as many. ... There is no religious connotation to it at all, although it is perfectly legal at Christmas if you have a program to have Christmas songs. You just can't proselytize. ... I think we can take them (holidays) individually. ... Most of what happens in the school relative to school parties are left up the principal," O'Dell said.
O'Dell also said that parents have the right to withdraw children from any holiday celebration that interferes or infringes on their religious beliefs.
Staff writer Jeff Bobo contributed to this report. AMY GATLEY Sullivan County October 31, 2003