In 1692, leaders of the the Massachusetts Bay Colony held court in Salem, Massachusetts, hoping to purge the village of witchcraft. The prosecutions were a sham of course, relying as they did on "spectral evidence" and coerced confessions that the accused had communed with the devil. When that wasn't enough to secure a conviction, there was always the dreaded and dehumanizing body probe - the search for "witch's tits" (scars or birth marks in reality) to show that the accused had suckled a demon.
Witches as we know didn't pose a threat to Salem at all, but non-conformity did. And that, some historians say, is why prosecutors targeted women, and to a lesser extent men, who by word or by deed rebuffed Puritanical virtues.
With that in mind, its hard to miss the parallels between the hysterics of colonial New England and the witch hunt that spread through Holmes County, Florida after a group of high school students came to the defense of a gay classmate who was being bullied at school. When the students complained to the administration, the Principal launched an investigation - not into incidents of homophobic harassment, but into a secret "gay pride" society he suspected of infiltrating his campus.
The Principal in this "peaceful, Christian, family-oriented community" began by outing the gay student to her parents, telling her homosexuality was morally wrong, and ordering her to stay away from younger students. He interrogated another 30 classmates about their sexual orientation, and warned them not to "go down that road" because homosexuality is against the Bible.
He convened a school-wide "morality" assembly, and prohibited students from wearing rainbow belts, pink triangles and other heretical elements such as t-shirts and stickers that read "I Support My Gay Friends" and "God Loves Me Just the Way I Am."
After suspending a number of students, he admonished one of their parents that "if there were a man in your house, your children were in church, you wouldn't be having any of these gay issues." He offered to secretly send her daughter to a private Christian school in Tennessee or to a juvenile detention center.
And stealing a page from Salem's playbook, he called a number of female students into his office and lifted their shirts to see if "gay pride" was written on their bodies.
Last month the ACLU won a First Amendment lawsuit against the School District (no sexual harassment claim; no assault charges?). But the community struck back, calling a town meeting in support of the Principal, and demanding that he stay on as a teacher once the district removed him from his leadership post. Seems most of them just can't figure out what it is he did wrong. See here and here. As for the young heroes who stood up to this bully, they've predictably been tagged as the heretics in this melodrama and all but run out of town.
Seems every age has its scapegoats.
Image: "Examination of a Witch" by Thompkins H. Matteson, 1853.