It’s so easy to shut down minds, so hard to open them

Never underestimate the power of small groups of crazy people. All it takes is motivation, small-mindedness, and persistence, and any group can promote ignorance and limit people’s choices.

A South Carolina library system has closed down its summer programs for young adults after receiving threats and allegations that it was trying to promote “witchcraft” and “drug use.”

The Pickens County Library System’s half-hour summer programs for middle and high school students were supposed to take a light-hearted look at the topics “Secrets and Spies: How to Keep a Secret by Writing in Code or Making Invisible Ink” and “What’s Your Sign?” Another program was to examine astrology, palmistry, and numerology; and others were to feature tarot cards, tie-dying t-shirts, how to make a Zen garden, and yoga.

Now the programs are cancelled in the wake of phone and e-mail threats from the community, believed to emanate from a single local Baptist church. The astrology program was labeled as “witchcraft” by callers, while the Zen garden and yoga programs were objected to as “promoting other religions.” The t-shirts workshop? “Promotes the hippie culture and drug use,” callers said.

This kind of stuff goes on all the time—we’ve had plays shut out in Morris because a few religious kooks demand it—and the problem is allowed to fester because usually the offending activity is being run by an organization that wants to promote smart, healthy activities for community youth, and did not sign on to battle with Jesus zombies. Libraries should not be centers for fighting local cults. Unfortunately, it means that the local cults usually get a free ride, and can say what they will because no one will organize and fight back.


  1. Robster, FCD says

    Well, if the palmistry, numerology, tarot, etc, workshops are taught by a skeptic who points out that its all full of shit, believed by people who will pay money for the pleasant feeling of knowing something about their future of fate…

    Wait, that’s what they do in church.

  2. Brian Thompson says

    Shame about the zen garden thing. They’re pretty, and there are plenty of folks both religious and secular that view gardening in any form as a peaceful, relaxing, outdoor pasttime. I doubt there was any promoting of any religion involved. Its just gardening.

    …I hate the baptist church.

  3. says

    I support hippie culture. I’ve always wanted a tie-dyed shirt.

    I came a simple realization quite a while back: I just could absolutely never live in South Carolina. Too much racism, religion, conservatism, and outright stupidity professed to be some type of culture.

    That, and I hate the heat. Screw summer, give me winter that lasts 5-6 months.

  4. says

    I wonder if the same sectartians, who are threatening others, also perceive themselves as being persecuted by such entertainment.

  5. Karen says

    Ooooh, I bet they would just HATE the class I took on ‘Magic, Witchcraft, and Ancient Mystery Cults.’ The state of Florida paid the bill, even!

    I wonder if any of the more rational local churches would be willing to host these programs. While it’s the fundies that cause the fuss, I always end up wondering why the religious folks that know better don’t stand up and call them out.

  6. says

    While it’s the fundies that cause the fuss, I always end up wondering why the religious folks that know better don’t stand up and call them out.

    Posted by: Karen

    I think in the back of their minds, the self-proclaimed “peaceful” believers tend to side with these fundamentalist lunatics.

  7. Diego says

    My sister is a young adult and children’s librarian and when she was in grad school she had a similar experience that earned her a lot of street cred in the librarian community.

    She made a book display for gay pride month for a class and got permission to put it in the library she worked in as an intern. The local moral police were offended by its existence and had it removed and set the crazier members of the county commission on the warpath to ban all future offensive displays in the library. Although the head of the library agreed with her she could not officially support my sister. But the local gay rights and university faculty got behind her and the media made a big stir so the crazies did not entirely get away with it.

  8. Diego says

    “I just could absolutely never live in South Carolina.”

    Well, maybe they’ll secede again. We can always hope. ;)

  9. commissarjs says

    Yoga and zen gardens promote religion?

    Do these people really believe that witchcraft and magic are real? Some bat guano, finger wiggling, and the correct words really allow you to cast a spell?

  10. NC Paul says

    Addendum: I should point out that the nominally secular Russian authorities (aided and abetted by the Russian Orthodox Church) aren’t much better, but I doubt love and forgiveness is writ large in the Russian police’s mission statement.

  11. Caledonian says

    Do these people really believe that witchcraft and magic are real?

    Central to their religion beliefs is the idea that reality is full of evil spirits trying to tempt them. Evil spirits, either persuaded to simulate effects or commanded through arcane knowledge, constitute ‘magic’.

    It’s in the Bible that people can alter reality through sheer will – see all of the magicians that the various saints rebuke – and they’re convinced they believe everything in the Bible.

  12. says

    “Promoting other religions.” Yep, that’s why some parents (and students) freaked out about learning ancient Greek mythology when I was in high school.

    Unfortunately, PZ, libraries have become the place to fight cults, being that this country is turning into a confetti of closed cultures. If the larger community had rallied around that library no threats could have stopped those programs. That says more than what a group of bullies did.

    In light of all I’ve said regarding learning about various religions, remind me again why atheists “are just as fundamentalist as the fanatics”? How many libraries have we shut down? How many abortion providers have we shot and killed? How many books have we burned? How many books have we banned instead of read (and given a thumbs down to), like Behe’s?

  13. says

    “…I just could absolutely never live in South Carolina.”

    or Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma….and on and on and on. Getting harder to find a place…

  14. says

    My local library is pretty good about keeping a wide range of books, but when I went to see if they had Dawkin’s “God Delusion,” I couldn’t find it in the catalog, or on the shelf. I assumed they hadn’t ordered it, so I got the ISBN off the net and asked about them doing an inter-library loan– which my location is EXCELLENT about. I was surprised when the librarian told me that they already had the book. She said she was just afraid to put it out. From talking to her previously, I know she shares a lot of my anti-religion sentiment, but I guess she’s a bit more timid than I.

    I told her that when I got it back (and it’s a great read, btw!) that she had to display it next to the Billy Graham-type nonsense I always see on the new arrivals shelf!

  15. Mystic Olly says


    Oh, I agree!

    I currently live in Hokkaido, Japan,

    Blissful deep snow, -5 temperature from December to April.

    Damn it I hate the Sun.

    Missy O.

  16. says


    I think in the back of their minds, the self-proclaimed “peaceful” believers tend to side with these fundamentalist lunatics.

    Not necessarily. Many of them are blissfully ignorant about the kinds of stuff other ‘believers’ do, or, if they are aware, don’t see what it has to do with them. Yes, I’m sure some are quietly egging them on, but in my experience, most have no clue that anything is even happening. (Speaking as a former Methodist who is continually shocked by the depths of depravity so many ‘Christian’ sects get up to)

  17. craig says

    “…set the crazier members of the county commission on the warpath to ban all future offensive displays…”

    Rhonda Storms?

  18. Justin Moretti says

    I walked out on the Church youth group I was a member of (and also walked out on several good friends) because the level of apocalyptic Muslim-hating, heathen-hating bullshit being slung around. Also the “speaking in tongues” and “going into holy rapture” (arms upraised and all that shit). In retrospect, I wish I had stayed and fought it. I feel really bad about that now.

  19. Dunc says

    Libraries should not be centers for fighting local cults.

    Where would be better? Like the good Doctor said: “You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have – arm yourselves!”

  20. says

    I agree with the poster who wondered if these weren’t threats. Moreover, the library being a branch of government, these are threats against a government official. I wonder if the PATRIOT Act has sway in South Carolina? Call Bill Dembski and get him to report these cretins to the Homeland Security detail . . .

    But I digress.

    This library should quietly work with the local garden clubs to do gardening stuff. The study of the zodiac can be integrated with two different groups: astronomers (star-gazing, the real science in looking at stars) and anti-gamblers; astrology and “just knowing” how to beat games of chance go hand in hand. This would be a great lesson on how gambling is gambling and why, and what the dangers are.

    This won’t guarantee that the local Baptists won’t come unglued — it’s difficult enough keeping them glued in a humid climate like South Carolina in the best of times — but it will add to the irony of the situation in the newspapers, and it will make great theater when some fat, Baptist preacher shows up to thunder against a hundred ladies from the garden club all dressed up with their hats, carrying pansies and petunias. It’s not exactly Bull Conner and the fire hoses against the church ladies, but it’ll do.

    I mean, it’s ironic as hell some so-called Christian preacher rails against zen gardening, considering that he’ll respond that life did, indeed, begin in a garden.

    Don’t these bozos ever read their own book?

  21. MyaR says

    As far as the non-loony fundies go, I didn’t see anything about the threats being publicized before the announcement that they were just canceling the program. While she probably felt she needed to move fairly quickly to prevent the preschoolers from having to walk between picketers (and what preschooler will be doing that alone, without parent, guardian, or older sibling?), there’s not much excuse there, I think. Sounds like she didn’t handle it too well.

  22. says

    WTF, astrology is explicitly endorsed by the Bible. Right up in the front of the book, even.

    Genesis 1:14-16

    14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

    15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

    16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

    It’s right there. One of the purposes of the various lights in the sky is for signs — Astrology.

  23. says

    I suppose they don’t have any Harry Potter in that library.

    Posted by: Greco

    They probably do. Of course, now that these twisted zealots feel as though they achieved some sort of victory with their terror, it’s probably only a matter of time before they take bolder steps to censor the library and its contents.

  24. says

    In retrospect, I wish I had stayed and fought it. I feel really bad about that now.

    Justin Moretti – don’t feel bad. All you would have done is consolidate the group against you. People like that need an enemy, and you would have been a tangible one! You kept your head and walked away; bravo. I simply walked away, too.

  25. Hank Fox says

    I actually counted the books in the religion section of my local library a few months back. There are OVER A THOUSAND. I didn’t make an exhaustive search, but I could find THREE that had to do with skepticism.

    If this sort of thing happens in your local community, and you do actually care about it, I’d suggest enlisting the local university and student body to arrange an extreme public uproar to demand that the display be put back.

  26. Billy says

    I’m happy to report that it’s not always bad news.

    I’ve worked in two public libraries — both in Oklahoma(!) — when they housed displays by groups like PFLAG, NORML, and Christians for Choice. When the inevitable complaints poured in, our response was always polite and firm: the library is an open forum and we invite all viewpoints. If you don’t like a display, here’s the schedule, here’s an open spot, and we’ll be happy to sign your group up for a display in … say, next March?

    I was rarely on the receiving end of those complaints, but my impression was that the groups associated with more “liberal” causes understood this policy and cooperated. The Jesus crowd … less so.

    And let me tell you, the angriest, most threatening, most obscene exits from the library were performed by Christians. (Unless you count the guy who was trying to smuggle out 15 DVDs. He didn’t mention his wrathful god or gods. But that’s another story … )

  27. G. Tingey says

    “”I just could absolutely never live in South Carolina.”

    Well, maybe they’ll secede again. We can always hope. ;) ”

    Ahem, has anyone looked at THIS:
    If you get this weeks. cartoon, click for the archive, and select the one for 03/15/06
    labelled :March 15, 2006 – “Civil War II”

  28. Greg Peterson says

    And if it weren’t for astrology, the Wise Men would never have found Baby Jesus and brought him all that gold and the other two things I can’t spell without looking up.

    By the way, what the hell ever happened to the gold and stuff? The gospels give off this “Jesus was poor” vibe, but he was a total, like, trust fund baby. After the deal with the missus, Joseph probably invested it on hookers and blow.

  29. Mooser says

    And most of all: the kids cannot have any fun! Deadly stuff that, fun, and pathological the flights of imagination associated with magical thinking.
    Got to keep your mind on Jesus!

  30. Cain says

    I currently live in Hokkaido, Japan,

    How’s the Mr. Sparkle factory doing?

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  31. says

    “By the way, what the hell ever happened to the gold and stuff? The gospels give off this “Jesus was poor” vibe, but he was a total, like, trust fund baby. After the deal with the missus, Joseph probably invested it on hookers and blow.”

    LOL! Oh Greg, I heartily thank you for that.

  32. Grimgrin says

    Another article on this atrocity.

    I would be shocked to learn that the pastor didn’t incite his followers to make terrorist threats against a library, or at the very least, fail utterly to take any action to stop them, once it was pointed out that someone in his church was threatening to blow up a library.

    The Rev. David Gallamore of Rock Springs Baptist Church in Easley said he didn’t object to the summer series, only the segment that focused on the occult.

    “We weren’t against the reading program itself at all,” Gallamore said. “We just take the stand that we don’t live life by chance or by looking at the signs, but that our life is in God’s hands and he is in charge of what takes place.”

    He said he was concerned about the session planned for June 14 that included astrology, palmistry, numerology and tarot card reading.

  33. says

    I did a Google search on “Rhonda Storms”.

    I am ashamed to say that she’s from my home state of Iowa. For all non-fundy Iowans, I would like to personally apologize to Tampa, Florida, especially the GLBT community there.

    Here’s a few choice links for you:

  34. says

    It looks like some followers of the ignorant minister posted in teh comments to that story. The good news is that they morons at least seem to be outnumbered and out argued by the more sensible people.

    If only the library hadn’t just knuckled under.


  35. Neon Ovenlight says

    Really, how do you threaten a library?

    “stop with the homo witchcraft bacchanal, or we’ll stop reading.”

  36. Kseniya says

    Perhaps she is speaking in metaphor.

    “If you have an anonymous call of a bomb, what do you do?” asks Library Director Marguerite Keenan, explaining her decision to cancel the YA programs. “You clear the building, you close the building for the protection of the children. And that’s hugely sad.”

  37. woozy says

    1) I don’t care if a library reading program promotes reading about things I disagree with (although I’d complain non-threatening) such as astrology or even christian theories (well, in that case I’d bitch about federal funding, I guess) as long as there were other themes. I figure getting kids to read and think even if it is about drivle is a good thing and if I think they are reading propaganda I can teach them how to think critically about it.

    2) Sheesh. Even gutless caving in and changing the program is better than shutting it down. Libraries and schools are the most important institutions we’ve got and we’re just letting them rot away. *sad*

  38. Kseniya says

    I think what happened was that they got complaints and vague threats and so they shut down the summer program – not the library itself. The bomb-scare thing was, I think, presented as an analogy. “If you get a bomb threat, you clear the building no matter what. We got threats, so we’re clearing the schedule, just in case.”

    Still. Threats are threats. If the NEA is a terrorist organization, then these church-goers belong in Gitmo, like, last month. Hop to it, DHS dudes! Like, now! Don’t be hypocrites – go get ’em! You can’t miss it. Head south on I-95 until you see a kid playing a banjo.

  39. says

    Promoting other religions

    isn’t it in the US constitution that you can all do whatever the hell you want religion-wise? it’s one of the basic human rights.

    ah, christianity – violating HR legislation since BCE 2000.


  40. archgoon says

    I’m surpsied by the lack of outrage at “Secrets and Spies: How to Keep a Secret by Writing in Code or Making Invisible Ink”. Everyone knows that those sorts of programs are secretly funded by the NSA to trick people into using weak encryption so the government can more easily spy on you.

  41. Jason Spaceman says

    A related story here in Canada:

    Advocates smouldering over boy’s pot suspension

    Advocates for a suspended Saskatchewan high school student are demanding a probe into the boy’s treatment after his research into the effects of marijuana triggered a storm of controversy and harsh punishment.

    New Democrat MP Libby Davies is among those concerned that 15-year-old Kieran King was suspended, forced to miss his final exams, and threatened with police action despite the fact he says he has never used, or even seen, the drug.

    In a news release, Davies called for an investigation into Wawota Parkland School Principal Susan Wilson’s actions in the case. The MP also said the Grade 10 student’s research into cannabis in comparison to alcohol and tobacco is reasonable.

    “I respect Kieran’s right to debate issues that are important to young people,” Davies said.

    “There are a lot of academics that agree with Kieran’s assessment of the comparative health risks of marijuana, alcohol and tobacco. It sounds like he’s done his homework.”

    King became interested in the subject months ago when his class was given a presentation about the dangers of cannabis. Feeling the argument was one-sided, King began researching the subject on his own, came to the conclusion that marijuana was less dangerous than either alcohol or tobacco, and began sharing his findings with other students.

    King has said on several occasions that he has never used or even seen marijuana.

    One student complained to the school principal, who became concerned that King was advocating the use of drugs. Wilson, the principal, warned she would call the police if King talked about it again, The Globe and Mail reports.

  42. says

    I do not have religious objections to Tarot reading myself, but as a Tarot player, I am disappointed at what appear to be one-sided presentations of Tarot cards only in terms of divination.

    Tarot cards, according to playing card historians, were not originally designed for fortune telling. They were created for playing a type of card game similar to Whist. Tarot card games are still played today in France, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. There also appears to be a small but growing number of players outside Europe.

    If public educational institutions foster the notion that Tarot is only about divination and the occult, then they are not doing the job for which we pay them.

    I think that taxpayer funded institutions such as public libraries and public schools which are designed to educate the public should give equal time to the card playing aspects of Tarot. Tarot is often presented in this country only as something to accept or reject in terms of its alleged accuracy in predicting the future. When other options such as card playing are being supressed, one is not actually free in how one views or uses the cards.

    I must ask why must all presentations of Tarot in this country have to be occult related? Why do we not expose the young people to actual card games played with Tarot decks? Teens should be aware that Tarot cards are not just used for the occult or for divination. We should teach teenagers the rules for Tarot card games too. It is highly possible that young people may come to prefer the card games over the divination practices. They should be given an informed choice. We should educate young people about all aspects of culture including Tarot and not present one sided depictions of these matters.

    I do not wish for these Tarot presentations to be banned or cancelled as they have in some parts of the country, but I do think they should be more balanced by including some information regarding Tarot’s role in the history of card games.

  43. judgemc says

    I live in South Carolina. (please send HELP!) The favortie pastime around here is to speak in tounges. I kid you not. There are grown people who take great pride in throwing themselves on the ground and babbling like idiots. There are also a few churches in this area that still dance with snakes. One group tried to ban the Harry Potter books from schools. It didn’t work. And my town is soon to get a brand new mega church. oh joy.
    I am moving as soon as it is finacially possible.
    One side note, after living here for a while I have noticed that there are the same number of churches in town as there are drug stores. I can’t help wondering if the two are related.

  44. woozy(I'm an athiest; my god is Aithy-- a six foot pink bunny) says

    #15 “Promoting other religions.” Yep, that’s why some parents (and students) freaked out about learning ancient Greek mythology when I was in high school.

    Argh! I just wrote a long comment about Greek mythology being the actual reason I became an athiest at age eight, but a cgi-blip deleted it.

    In short, I figured that if a religion was true once it’d be true forever so it wasn’t really fair for people to say Greek Religion wasn’t true just because people stopped believing in it. It’d be just as fair to say God isn’t true because cavemen didn’t believe in him before biblical times or that he won’t exist if people stopped believing in him.

    That lead my to think about why people believe what they do. 1) There’s no god or gods and people made stories to explain things and these stories changed over time. If this is true the world would be like it is. 2) There is a god or gods and he told some or all people about themselves. Over time these stories changed over time. But if this were true the gods would have kept reminding us and there’d only be one religion. If this is true the world would be like it is. 3) There is a god or gods but he never bothered to tell anyone about themselves. In fact, since most things can be explained by science all he/they would have done is make the universe and then sit back and watch. But who made them? If no-one needed to make the first maker, then no-one needed to make the universe. So why would these gods come around and make the universe and then not do anything else when the universe could just as easily make itself as the gods could make themselves? If this were true than the world would be like it is but our religions would have nothing to do with the actual gods.

    So it’s either 1 or 3 and 1 is simpler and makes more sense so it is probably true. 3 could be true but its pretty weird and if the gods aren’t the gods of our religion we shouldn’t assume anything about them we don’t know for sure and we don’t know anything about them for sure. Maybe they are the devil and will send you to hell for believing in God. Or maybe they love the color green and will send you to hell for ever wearing red and not green. Since we can’t know we’d better choose the most likely (#1) and hope for the best.

  45. raven says

    Fundie cultists can be good for laughs. My favorite is when they get together and burn books. I’ve read where a few Harry Potter book burnings have taken place here and there.

    It would be a great video for youtube. The looney extremism of these wingnuts makes more atheists than Dawkins ever will.

  46. nobody says

    “My local library is pretty good about keeping a wide range of books, but when I went to see if they had Dawkin’s “God Delusion,” I couldn’t find it”

    Maybe because his name is Dawkins?