FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TULSA, OK--In a case reminiscent of the Salem Witch trials, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma today filed a federal lawsuit charging that school officials violated 15-year-old Brandi Blackbear's rights when they accused her of casting a hex that resulted in a teacher's illness.
"These outlandish accusations have made Brandi Blackbear's life at school unbearable," said Joann Bell, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oklahoma. "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."
While the ACLU has defended students' religious beliefs in Wicca and other minority religions, Bell said the Oklahoma lawsuit is believed to be the first in the country involving actual accusations of witchcraft.
In its legal complaint filed today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, the ACLU said that school officials not only suspended Blackbear for 15 days in December 1999 for allegedly casting spells, but also violated her religious freedom when they told her that she could not wear or draw in school any symbols related to the Wicca religion.
The ACLU lawsuit also accuses school officials of violating the young woman's due process rights when, in the spring of 1999, they suspended her for 19 days over the content of private writings taken from her book bag. Officials had searched her possessions based on a rumor that Blackbear was carrying a gun, although no weapon of any sort was ever found. To date, school officials have not returned Blackbear's writings to her.
Before these incidents, the ACLU complaint said, Brandi Blackbear had no discipline problems and had a perfect attendance record. Since being accused, she has "suffered continuous ridicule and humiliation," and "become an outcast among her fellow students," according to the complaint. She has also fallen behind in her school work because of the suspensions.
"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 brought by her own school," said Timothy Blackbear. "But if that's what it takes to clear her record and get her life back to normal, that's what we'll do."
The ACLU is seeking an undisclosed amount of punitive and financial damages on the Blackbear family's behalf, a declaration that the school violated the student's rights, an injunction preventing the school from banning the wearing of any non-Christian religious paraphernalia and an order expunging her school record.
"The actions of the school have inflicted severe emotional damage on a very sensitive young woman. This lawsuit will allow her to reclaim some of her self-esteem by vindicating the violation of her rights in a court of law," said John M. Butler, an ACLU cooperating attorney.
The case is Blackbear v. Union Public School Independent District No. 9, et al. Defendants named in the lawsuit are Union Eighth Grade Center Principal Jack Ojala, Speech Therapist/Counselor Catherine Miller, Union High School Assistant Principal Charlie Bushyhead and Counselor Sandy Franklin.
The Blackbear family is represented by ACLU cooperating attorneys John M. Butler and Aundrea R. Smith of Tulsa.
Although today's case may well be the first in which a student has been accused of actually using witchcraft against a teacher, the ACLU has defended other students who have professed interest in Wicca. In March 1999, a Michigan school settled a lawsuit brought by the state ACLU on behalf of a Wiccan student who was not allowed to wear a pentacle, a symbol of the Wicca religion.
The Wicca religion has been recognized in United States courts and by the United States Army Chaplain's Handbook. It stresses individual enlightenment and Celebrates the seasons and the four elements: earth, wind, fire and water. Proselytizing is forbidden.