Roanoke Times Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: MONDAY, October 31, 1994 TAG: 9411150019 SECTION: NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL PAGE: A-1 EDITION: METRO SOURCE: The Washington Post DATELINE: LENGTH: Medium
Schools in Howard County, Md., have notified parents this year not to send their children to class dressed as ghosts or witches, and black cat decorations are disappearing from classrooms. Elementary schools in Ohio and New York are replacing traditional Halloween parties and parades with a ``Harvest Festival'' celebration or ``Read Across America Week.''
Churches in Atlanta and Sacramento that once created elaborate haunted houses as fund-raisers are instead holding ``Hallelujah Night,'' where the child with the best Biblical costume wins the biggest prize.
All of which suggests that in the 1990s, Halloween has become a battleground in the conflict over family values.
``We hear so much about the supposed separation of church and state and how Christianity has no place in the schools,'' read a recent newsletter of Citizens for Excellence in Education, a conservative organization based in Costa Mesa, Calif. ``Yet the schools promote the Halloween celebration which is so obviously tied to the religion of witchcraft. We must ask why.''
This approach is ``very clever,'' said Deanna Duby, education policy director of People for the American Way, a civil liberties group that monitors the religious right. ``If you can define something as a religion, then you have a constitutional argument for getting it out of the schools.''
Duby added, however, ``I think it's very important for school districts to allow kids to opt out'' of Halloween celebrations because ``there are parents out there who are genuinely concerned.''
Halloween originated as the ancient Celtic harvest festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) in Ireland and ancient Britain, when the spirits of the dead were thought to revisit their homes, and all manner of ghosts, goblins, witches and demons were believed to be roaming about. In the 9th century, the Catholic church grafted the Christian onto the pagan when it named Nov. 1 All Saints' Day, and Oct. 31 became All Hallow's Eve.
The holiday was introduced to the United States in the last century by Irish immigrants as a largely secular occasion for trick-or-treating and making mischief. But some conservative Christian activists are unearthing its pagan roots in their attack on the holiday.
``The devil is real. It's not something that is just fun and games,'' said Allan Siegel, media relations director for Jeremiah Films, a Christian film and video company in Hemet, Calif. ``There are Satanic organizations, demonic organizations. ... This is their holiday, and that's why we don't want to glorify it and teach our kids about it.''
At $19.95 apiece, Jeremiah Films has sold nearly 30,000 copies of ``Halloween: Trick or Treat,'' a documentary that conjures up the holiday's sinister side. There is footage of modern-day druids and witches dancing around bonfires and raising chalices in smoky rooms. A woman identified as ``Sarah, Witch Queen of Germany,'' recalls a ritual where a woman passed out when a horrible voice spoke through her.
Most haunting of all, the video features an interview with a bearded young man who claims he was sexually and emotionally abused as a child captive of a Satanic cult. One Halloween, he says, he was forced to plunge a knife into the heart of his friend, a little girl named Becky, as she hung bound on an altar.
``There are children all over the world who are losing their lives on Halloween night,'' said the man, identified in the film as Glenn Hobbs, a former Satanist. ``Nobody wants to face the facts of what's going on.''
The Halloween video is distributed by the same company that has sold more than 100,000 copies of a videotape accusing President Clinton of murder and money laundering.
Becky Varian of East Liverpool, Ohio, said she was stunned to learn the true history of Halloween at a Bible study. ``As a kid, it was one of my favorite holidays,'' said Varian, 35, who teaches a college course on death and dying.
Varian told her child's teacher that she didn't want her 7-year-old son Dylan participating in Halloween activities. She dissuaded Dylan from dressing as the demonic Jason from the movie ``Friday the 13th,'' explaining that ``the Bible has scripture that would consider that evil.'' As a concession, Dylan will dress up this year as a hunter, like his dad - ``something not so scary.''
``As a Christian, I believe you can open these spiritual doors, like playing with a Ouija board,'' Varian said. In college, she was involved in a group that channeled spirits. ``I wouldn't want my kids doing that. Some might think it's fun and games, but we believe as Christians that's opening the door to Satan.''