(This is a story from my hometown and it's prompted by a comment Amanda made here yesterday. I wish my hometown newspaper were online so I could link to it—it filled practically an entire broadsheet when it ran several years back, although the length of article was mainly out of a desire to humiliate the newspaper in the neighboring county, but the following streamlined version covers the gist of the matter.)
It seemed to start with a book. A middle-school-aged girl came home from school one day and told her mother that her class was reading Lois Lowry's Number the Stars. When it was her turn to read aloud from the book, she said, she noticed that the passage contained a curse word.
She refused to read the word, she said. Her teacher said she had to say the word outloud, not skip over it. She refused again. The teacher took her to the principal's office and the principal also told her she had to say the word. The girl refused to let such a vile word pass her lips.
Now, what would you do if your child, or your hypothetical child, came home and told you this? Would you call the teacher? Would you call the principal? Would you call the mother of another child in the class to see if she could provide any collaboration of the story, another perspective to the story, before you called the school? I would have opted for the third due to my background in journalism and my own nonconfrontational tendencies; if I'm going to have to complain, I want my facts straight so that I don't humiliate myself in the process.
What the mother in this case did was call an out-of-state civil rights protection organization for Christians. She happened to have the phone number handy.
What the out-of-state civil rights protection organization for Christians did was write a letter to the Board of Education demanding apologies, and they sent a press release to the newspaper in my hometown and the one in the neighboring county.
While the newspaper in my hometown was contacting the Board of Education for more information on the matter, the one in the neighboring county was running the press release. The teacher—who also happened to be a Sunday school teacher-- and the principal—who happened to be married to a minister-- first learned they'd been accused of violating the girl's rights and were facing a possible lawsuit by what they—and all the members of their community—read in the paper in the neighboring county.
They were mortified.
By now the girl had decided to confess to her mother that she'd made up the entire story. No one had ever attempted to force her to read a curse word from a book aloud. She could offer no explanation for why she made up the accusations. I don't remember that it was reported she said she was sorry, although I assume she must have at some point whether stated or not; the article was really much more concerned, as I've said, with making the newspaper in the neighboring town look bad for running a press release as a news article.
Remember I said this story seemed to start with a book? I don't think it did. I grew up in a community very similar to the one this girl did, very close by, and there's no doubt in my mind that she'd had her own filled with many stories of Christian persecution both in her church and in her home; she'd done her share of Lottie Moon offerings.
The story starts there, in that vague feeling of wanting the persecution that happened elsewhere to happen to you here, to feel that your beliefs and values are important enough, worrisome enough to others, that they want to strip you of them.
As Amanda said yesterday, sometimes people set up their own persecutions.