Wiccan teacher says religious beliefs led to loss of job at Osceola school

Orlando Sentinel, Jan. 30, 2003
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/
By Susan Jacobson, Sentinel Staff Writer

KISSIMMEE — The Osceola County school district claims to pride itself on diversity.

But when administrators became aware that a rookie teacher was a Wiccan — a follower of a neopagan religion that honors nature — the teacher, Aaron Perry, soon found himself without a job.

Perry, 30, said that shortly after he was hired Jan. 13, students at Neptune Middle School peppered him with questions about the black clothes he wears and about a small Wiccan tattoo of eight arrows on his temple. It looks like a snowflake.

The situation reached critical mass when a student complained to a guidance counselor that Perry had told his eighth-grade ecology class that he was “Goth” and “anti-Christ.” The girl also contended that Perry used profane lyrics by rapper Eminem in class.

“Everybody thought I was a Satanist,” he said.

School superintendent Blaine Muse said the district does not have to give a reason for firing a teacher if it is done during a 97-day probationary period prescribed by law, and he said he didn’t know why Perry was let go.

Perry admits telling the students that he used to like certain clothes and music associated with Goth culture. But he denies the rest of the allegations, which he said were made by a youngster from an evangelical Christian background who “interpreted everything I said as the word of the devil.”

The district’s Web site proudly refers to the schools as “dynamic . . . dedicated . . . diverse.” But Perry said he has no doubt that he would not have been fired if he had been working in a less conservative community.

Wiccans, also called witches, previously have been the target of conservative critics. President George W. Bush, when he was governor of Texas in 1999, told ABC, “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion” and urged the military to reconsider allowing Wiccans at Fort Hood to worship.

Perry said Neptune Principal Judy Zieg asked him about his tattoo two days after he was hired and, when she found out, told him not to explain it to the students. A week later, he said, Zieg told him she didn’t want him to discuss his beliefs in class. Zieg could not be reached.

Perry, a history teacher, contends he was terminated illegally because of his religion. He is challenging the district to get back a job he said he enjoyed. He moved to Central Florida from Gainesville to take the position. His last day was Monday.

“I have no doubt they dumped me because of my religious beliefs,” he said. “I don’t think they were distinguishing between Satanism and Wiccanism.”

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