The October bacchanalia turns into a religious issue for the nation's public schools
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Conservative Muslims consider Halloween haram (forbidden), since they believe it represents the "shaytan," or devil, and also because it is a non-Muslim holiday. Likewise, religiously observant Jews discourage Halloween celebrations because of the holiday's Christian and pagan (and therefore non-Jewish) roots.
Halloween's roots lie in a Celtic festival, Samhain, celebrated in northern Europe millennia ago. The Celts believed that on Samhain, the souls of the dead returned to their former homes to be entertained by the living. So people built bonfires and offered food and shelter to these spirits to ward off evil spells.
Later, the holiday we know as Halloween evolved from Christian origins: According to legend, Pope Gregory III decreed in the eighth century that the Feast of All Saints (previously celebrated in May) be moved to November 1--the dedication day of All Saints Chapel at St. Peter's Basilica. The day before was the feast's evening vigil, "All Hallows Even," or "Hallowe'en."
But recently, conservative Christian parents, in particular, have become vocal about their belief that Halloween is a dangerous holiday that glorifies the devil. They have begun demanding that schools stop celebrating Halloween on the grounds that it violates their religious rights.
"For a significant number of people, it represents the full expression of an occultic viewpoint," says Robert Knight, director of cultural studies for the conservative Family Research Council. "If you're going to kick Christian celebrations like Christmas out of the schools, and leave Halloween in, you're going to have a reaction. And if they're going to be evenhanded in not establishing religion in the schools, they're probably going to have to do away with Halloween."
The controversy is also rooted in past hurts. Conservative Christians are angry that, following a June 2000 Supreme Court decision, they can't pray publicly before public high school football games. They're angry that their children are taught evolution in biology class, while the biblical story of creation isn't taught. And they are frustrated that their kids are taught yoga in public-school gym classes and learn about earth-based religious ceremonies and Latin American traditions such as worry dolls--but there can be no religious instruction about Jesus or Christmas or Easter.