The Great Oregon Witch Hunt By Stephanie Fox Part 2 of 2 IT WAS IN the secret meetings tha

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The Great Oregon Witch Hunt --------------------------- By Stephanie Fox Part 2 of 2 IT WAS IN the secret meetings that officials may have made the decision to remove all books pertaining to the occult from the school library. Student president Shannon McPherson protested. "It's lousy," he said. "They're trying to keep us in the dark." The school superintendent, Ken Carver, denied that the books had been removed from the shelves. He claimed that he had merely "checked out" all 40 of the books "just like anybody can." He then passed them on to a censorship committee made up of parents and teachers. With the books gone, the lack of information availible on witchcraft only helped spread to alarm through the school student population. Any excuse was enough for one student to accuse another and they enacted medieval tests to determine whether another student was a witch. One student was suspected because she wore a black sweater and skirt. She was approached by another student who pressed a paper cross against her arm. "You must not be a witch," the student accuser said. "because the cross didn't burn you." Other students used the situation to get attention. They pretended that they were witches; they left death-threat notes on other students' lockers or claimed they'd hexed or been hexed by other students and teachers. The school superintendent made up a list of all students who had ever checked out any of the occult books and distributed it to the teachers. Those on the list were watched for possible involvement with witchcraft. Reverend Thomas advised parents to watch their children for signs of occult activity. He told parents and students to look to him and other local ministers to lead the fight against non-Christian religions such as witchcraft, Hinduism and Buddhism. "If you arn't a Christian, you can't fight it," he declared. "The devil will deceive you. This is a spiritual battle and the Devil is as real as God is. We have witches here in Oakridge from the very pits of hell." But the reverend and police chief had log since lost control of the situation, and the monster they'd created began to turn on them. Thomas was receiving negative letters from other ministers around the country. "They tell me I'm off the wrong end. Well, that's what told Peter and John," he said. Betty Taylor, one of the original women accused of being a witch, hired a lawyer who started making slander-suit noises. Accusations could no longer be made without proof for fear of litigation. Although it was announced that there would be other meetings, none was ever held. ------------- SEVERAL WEEKS after the final meeting, the Walkers appeared on a statewide television talk show. They told the audience that after learning about Paganism and Witchcraft from legitimate members of the Old Religion and other occult groups, they concluded that Newell wasn't a witch, although they still disliked her and thought she might have some responsibility for their daughter's suicide. They said they saw nothing wrong with Witchcraft and nature religions and felt everyone should be free to choose his own style of worship. "We don't believe in banning any religion," they said. The reverend continued to rail against witchcraft, other non-Christian religions and liberal Cristianity, which he called "tommyrot." But he could no longer make direct accusations against individuals for fear of legal action. The police chief was subsequently demoted. Ironically, durring the entire episode no one ever explained how so-called witchcraft had led to Ginny Walker's suicide. Since the episode Oakridge has again become the quite little town it once was. But beneath the surface here, and in places like it, runs a fear of things and people who might be different. Persecution takes many forms and comes in many guises. Witch hunts--- real witch hunts--- are not dim memories from the Dark Ages. They are real, they still happen and they can happen again. ============= This article is from the February 1989 issue of: FATE magazine 3510 Western Avenue Highland Park, Illinois 60035


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