Welcome to Human Sacrifice

That's essentially what an elementary school in Pleasantville, Pennsylvania, said, when it organized a school performance entitled "Bizarre Bazaar" in which third, fourth, and fifth graders were to participate in dramatic re-creations of Aztec human sacrifice. Parents were appalled that human sacrifice would be portrayed in school theater for young, impressionable students. Keith Klinger, one of the objecting parents, said he was "very disappointed that those in charge ... didn't see anything wrong with this type of production, especially around Christmas." But, of course, to many public school administrators, Christmas is generally considered more controversial than human sacrifice.

McNear Elementary School in Petaluma, California, arguably went further by sponsoring an el Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. Parents and others strongly disapproved of the program, not because it taught about the cultural significance of this traditional Mexican holiday, but because students were encouraged to take part in rituals related to it, such as creating altars and bringing photos of deceased family members to school. Children were led to place the pictures of their dead relatives and pets on the altar in remembrance of them. Objecting parents considered this a form of religious activity. One outraged parent remarked, "They can teach about it, but they're not supposed to be celebrating I have the right to send my daughter to school to learn math, reading, and writing without having a religious ritual shoved down her throat."

What about the parents' concern over the religious implications of the holiday? As it turns out, "Day of the Dead" is an ancient Meso-American holiday, celebrated on November 1 and 2, "that honors death by emphasizing it as an important part of the cycle of life."

Some go so far as to worship the dead. Many believe that during this period the spirits of the departed return to their homes to visit family and friends. Some practitioners provide a wash basin and clean hand towel to allow the visiting souls to freshen up before a feast they provide for them. The smell of burning incense and the light from many candles are arranged to assist the spirits find their way.

The United States Justice Foundation (USJF) officially objected to the event as an endorsement of particular religious views. USJF's chief litigation attorney, Richard Ackerman, noted the hypocrisy of those who are so adamant about restricting Christian expression while having no problem with the promotion of other religions in public schools. "This is irresponsible," said Ackerman. "As a Christian parent, I would be beside myself if my child came home and said, Hey, we put offerings on the altar of the dead in class today.'... I just can't even imagine if they had a Palm Sunday event. People would be freaking out."

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