OCEANSIDE — A divided school board has rejected an appeal from a group of Christian students that books dealing with witchcraft and satanism be pulled from a high school library.
On a 3-2 vote, Oceanside Unified School District trustees this week upheld a July decision by a committee of teachers and administrators to keep the two dozen books on the library shelves at El Camino High School.
Trustees Richard Lynch and Rodney Imming dissented. While Lynch supported an outright book ban, Imming suggested that the volumes be put on a restricted list requiring parental permission to check the books out.
"If we deny that satanism, witchcraft, that whole realm of things, do not put students at risk, then we are burying our heads in the sand," Lynch said, adding that the volumes "could be very dangerous to a young, immature mind."
But other trustees argued that pulling the books from the shelves would amount to censorship.
"It's like putting a child in a closet because you think it will keep them from getting hurt," Trustee Barbara McCarley said.
Three Christian students, lightheartedly dubbed the "God Squad" by friends, had sought the book ban because they feared that the texts could lead other pupils astray.
The students expressed anger over the decision.
"I think they are full of garbage," said Robert Thomas, a 17-year-old junior who led the fight. "It's obvious they're being pigheaded. And it is obvious they want the books to stay there."
The dispute surfaced in February when Thomas and two high school friends, Adene Murray and Robb Wood, approached El Camino High School officials, expressing concern that the books might prompt youthful readers to delve into satanism and the occult.
Ordered by the library as part of a literature course on mythology, the volumes include graphic descriptions of the ceremony for becoming a witch, as well as depictions of pentagrams and other occult symbols.
As the three students see it, the books amount to little more than "how-to books" on satanism, fountains of dangerous information that could woo youthful readers down a wayward path.
Among the works they cited as glorifying the devil are "The Satanists," "The Popular History of Witchcraft" and a multivolume series published by Time-Life Inc. entitled "Man, Myth and Magic."
District officials agreed to consider the complaints and formed a committee of teachers, librarians and administrators to review the more than two dozen books.
In July, the district's book review committee rejected the students' request, declaring that removal of the volumes would infringe on the rights of other pupils.
Committee members agreed with the the three students that problems exist with youths becoming involved with satanism, but said the best way to deal with such societal worries is through access to information.
District officials had hoped that the matter was resolved, but Thomas and the others requested the audience before school trustees to argue their case.
Thomas has promised to take the case to court if necessary. However, both school district officials and attorneys with the ACLU question whether the group has much of a case.
Greg Marshall, legal director for the ACLU's San Diego chapter, said the issue is relatively clear-cut because the First Amendment "requires toleration" of written and oral information even if one disagrees with the message.