R.I. education officials say White Zombie encourages Satanism

Tuesday, February 9, 1999

A hearing before the Rhode Island Department of Education this week has centered largely on whether White Zombie, the relatively popular heavy-metal band, is a tool of the Antichrist.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union asks, So what?

In fact, the ACLU lodged a complaint with the education department last year, charging that Westerly High School officials violated the separation of church and state when they suspended a student for wearing a White Zombie T-shirt. The shirt included the group's logo and the number 666. According to the ACLU, school officials twice yanked Robert Parker, a junior, from school for wearing the T-shirt solely because they believed it to be anti-religious. The number 666, according to Christian Scripture, is the mark of the Antichrist.

Westerly school officials “allow T-shirts bearing certain religious symbols or messages, and yet Parker's shirt has been banned based on its content,” the ACLU stated in its complaint filed last November. “For example, shortly after the June suspension, other students were in the same local newspaper, commenting on Parker's situation while involved in their prayer group at Westerly High School. One student was wearing a shirt declaring 'I will serve the Lord.'”

The ACLU alleged that Westerly's preference for Christian or religious T-shirts subverts the separation of church and state. “The suspensions contravene the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment since the school officials permit certain acceptable religious messages” but banned Parker's Zombie shirt.

Steve Brown, executive director for the Rhode Island ACLU, said that at a hearing before the education department last week, Westerly school officials called two students and one teacher to testify about Parker's T-shirt. Brown said all three said they were offended by the shirt because it was an affront to Christianity.

“The school is turning this hearing about a student's T-shirt into a full-scale investigation of rock music and Satanism,” Brown said. “It is surreal in a lot of ways. The school district is going back 40 years and reminding us of a time when Elvis Presley was called the devil reincarnate.”

Brown said that so far the testimony before the state board only supported the ACLU's contention that Parker was suspended because of religious objections to the T-shirt. “The public school should not be making decisions based on whether particular religious beliefs are being offended.”

Besides offering testimony, the school district also paid a consultant to listen to 20 hours of White Zombie's music to determine if the group is a devil-worshipping bunch. Thomas Grady, the school district's attorney, told The Providence (R.I.) Journal that the consultant, after listening to White Zombie discs, concluded the group did espouse Satanism. Brown says the consultant is a former police officer who investigated cult activities.

Neither Grady nor the consultant revealed which Zombie discs the consultant listened to. White Zombie, formed in 1985, has had a raft of independent and major label releases. Rolling Stone magazine recently wrote that White Zombie gained international stardom “with several innovative albums that made the band stand out in a world of heavy metal clones.” The group disbanded last fall and Rob Zombie, the group's founder, is touring to support his million selling “Hellbilly Deluxe” disc.

Nonetheless, Grady said at the hearing that White Zombie's music “intends to involve listeners in satanic activities.”

Brown said that the school's objections raised “serious establishment clause problems” that cannot be justified. Brown said the hearings would continue this week.