Evangelist behind efforts to ban schools' Halloween celebrations

October 31, 2003


See Picking on Satan and Rev. Poff

New Harvest Ministries' Preaching Christ Church evangelist Mark Poff holds Halloween masks at his Main Street church in Kingsport. Poff is sponsoring a drive to get school systems to not allow students to celebrate Halloween. David Grace photo.

KINGSPORT - Halloween is the one time of the year when you can find vampires, football players and fairy princesses strolling through school hallways.

But school officials say that over the years they have heard complaints from people who don't approve of Halloween celebrations in schools, and one local evangelist is leading a charge to ban the observance of Halloween in school classrooms. Mark Poff of New Harvest Ministries' Preaching Christ Church in Kingsport said he has started a petition to ban Halloween in schools. Poff hopes to garner 3 million signatures in the nationwide campaign.

Kingsport's city school system has already stopped Halloween celebrations and all other holiday events in the schools, said Director of Schools Richard Kitzmiller.

While the school system doesn't have a policy regarding holiday celebrations, schools have been instructed to keep classroom time focused on curriculum.

"To my knowledge we don't do any Halloween parties or parties for any holiday. Long ago, we started really protecting academic time and focusing on instruction. To my knowledge, we don't have any holiday celebrations,'' Kitzmiller said.

Sullivan County Director of Schools John O'Dell said the school system doesn't have a formal policy on Halloween, but individual schools and teachers can choose whether children can dress up or if parties are held.

O'Dell said he has heard complaints from local residents that Halloween should not be celebrated in schools because of its pagan origins.

"I have gotten a few comments made to me about Halloween and the Wiccans ... but I don't think many children think of that when they think of Halloween. They think of Halloween and trick-or-treating. They don't put a religious connotation to Halloween. For most teachers who have something, and most elementary schools do, it's just a fun day," O'Dell said.

Rogersville's school system does not permit Halloween parties during the school day, although there is a costume dance for K-4 students that is being sponsored by the Beta Club.

Superintendent Ravan Krickbaum said the Board of Education decided seven years ago that classrooms could have only one party per year, and it was decided that party would take place on Valentine's Day.

"We used to have parties for every occasion, and it just got to be so much that our board decided they detracted too much from teaching time," Krickbaum said. "We didn't stop the Halloween parties for any religious reasons. It was just a decision on the part of the board that having parties is not a part of the mission of this school."

The Hawkins County school system takes no position on Halloween parties in the classroom. Secondary Education Supervisor Lynn Norris said principals at each individual school set policy for classroom Halloween parties.

"It's really a non-issue in our district," Norris said. "Our principals decide what is an appropriate way to celebrate holidays at their school."

But Poff believes that schools are forcing Halloween on children and promoting a belief system that is not accepted by Christians.

"From a Christian standpoint in the school systems, we've had prayer taken away, the Ten Commandments and things of that nature ... since we have infringed on atheists' rights. Next year we are going to have 3 million signatures that say if any sign of Halloween is plastered in the schoolrooms, in the halls, then they are infringing on our rights," Poff said.

The petition drive is a serious effort, Poff said, and he has contacted an attorney to help with the legal aspect of the issue. Poff said his ministry is connected to others across the nation, and he plans to send out petitions to everyone he can and work for signatures everywhere he goes.

Poff believes that although children may not realize the origins of Halloween, the holiday is part of a practicing religion in the area. "There is cult activity big time here in Kingsport alone," Poff said.

And while Halloween activities may be done in the name of fun, Poff said he believes it has evil influences.

"I believe it is a major trick of the devil. The enemy wants to make us think that these things are all right, when in fact, you give somebody like the devil an inch, he's going to invade your mind and spirit. This kind of activity is dangerous," Poff said.

With 3 million signatures in hand - the number three picked for the Holy Trinity - Poff said he will approach local school boards and ask for a change.

O'Dell said banning Halloween doesn't mean the school system would have to ban all holidays. But that could be considered.

"Most schools have some kind of a Christmas function. From time to time, we have issues with that as well, but not as many. ... There is no religious connotation to it at all, although it is perfectly legal at Christmas if you have a program to have Christmas songs. You just can't proselytize. ... I think we can take them (holidays) individually. ... Most of what happens in the school relative to school parties are left up the principal," O'Dell said.

O'Dell also said that parents have the right to withdraw children from any holiday celebration that interferes or infringes on their religious beliefs.

Staff writer Jeff Bobo contributed to this report.

Copyright 2003 Kingsport Times-News.

Rev. Poff
Rev. Poff

Who is Mr. Poff?

Re. "Evangelist Behind Efforts to Ban Schools' Halloween Celebrations,'' I understand removing holiday celebrations from the school day in the interest of focusing on curriculum. However, I totally disagree that it should be banned in its entirety. No decorations? Do you honestly think that a paper pumpkin or a lifesize rubber monster will corrupt us or distract our children from their schoolwork?

We were created and placed on this planet with minds of our own and entrusted to make the best decisions possible. Some people do that and others do not. Why remove from us all what only a sampling of our society takes out of context? And who is Mr. Poff or his congregation or any of us to decide what is right for everyone? We can only decide that for ourselves.

Let the schools operate as they always have unless it becomes obviously detrimental to the student body as a whole. Perhaps if Mr. Poff and those who choose to gnaw at similar irrelevancies did that, they would have more time to concentrate on issues that really matter: the hungry, homeless, abused and ill. Try mentoring for children of broken and single-parent homes. Taking down a decoration and preventing celebration of a holiday won't do anything but satisfy what I feel is a selfish desire to impose personal beliefs on the community.

Mandy Haga

Copyright November 4 2003, Kingsport Publishing Corporation.

Rev. Poff
Rev. Poff

Poff an extremist

Re. "Evangelist Behind Efforts to Ban Schools' Halloween Celebrations,'' perhaps Mark Poff's time would be better spent collecting signatures in an effort to remove real problems from our nation's classrooms rather than imaginary ghouls and goblins. With all the problems facing our youth today, the one he chooses to focus a national effort on is Halloween parties?

It's one more attempt by a religious extremist to use the government to force Christianity on others, whether they want it or not. If Mr. Poff can't come into your house and preach to your child, he'll try to do it through the government schools. He'll tell your children that he's stopping Halloween for their own good, that he's protecting them from the devil.

What he's really saying is that individual parents who let their children trick-or-treat and wear evil-inspired costumes such as fairy princesses and Army soldiers are sending their kids on the fast track to Hades, and something has to be done to shut the train down.

He makes it clear that his efforts are driven by vindictiveness. He says, "From a Christian standpoint in the school systems, we've had prayer taken away, ... since we have infringed on atheists' rights...'' His answer to this false infringement is to infringe back? How mature.

I'd like for Mr. Poff to tell me of just one instance where someone has been told they can't pray silently in school. Just one. It's the organized public prayer in the presence of non-willing audience members that is not allowed. Does it matter to God if you pray silently? Does that make the prayer null? Those who want to pray can, and those that don't want to hear it are protected.

Win-win situation, right? Not for Mr. Poff and others like him. Not allowing vocal prayer only relegates Christians to silent prayer. But banning Halloween means a complete end to an innocent tradition passed down for generations.

What's wrong with letting kids exercise their imaginations? I guess it's that fear of a rise in third graders participating in ritualistic sacrifice. No goblin scared me more on this Halloween than Mr. Poff, who came to steal a child's freedom to have fun, and the parents' freedom to raise their child their way, and not his.

Marc Charles
Kingsport Copyright Novenber 5 2003, Kingsport Publishing Corporation.

Way to go, Mr. Charles

I love it, I love it, I love it! Marc Charles' letter in the Nov. 6 edition, "Mr. Poff an Extremist," was fantastic. I also wrote a letter but was nowhere near as eloquent as Mr. Charles. Way to go! Robin Carter Kingsport

Copyright November 11, 2003 Kingsport Publishing Corporation.

Rev. Poff
Rev. Poff

Taking a stand: I'm not an extremist!

Devil, Demons and Hell

We are in no way attacking children. What we are attacking is a very evil day known as Halloween, the one day of the year set aside for Satan. What blows my mind are people like Gina Stewart, Robin Carter, Robin Stewart, Mandy Haga, and Marc Charles who say that Halloween is just a fun time. I suggest they do their homework. They will find nothing fun about it at all. As a matter of fact, they will find it to be very dangerous.

Marc Charles wrote that I was an "extremist." In fact, I am. I'm an extremist for Christ. Where are all the Christians? For so long all I heard was that the body of Christ needed to take a stand. We sit back and let the nonbelievers take the prayer out of our schools and take out the Ten Commandments. What will be taken next? It's time the body of Christ put their walk behind their talk and take a stand and say they no longer want their children exposed to witches, ghosts, goblins and Harry Potter or any thing else dealing with Halloween. It's time we Christians made some noise of our own.

Mandy Haga wrote that we needed to concentrate on the poor and hungry. Our home church fed an entire homeless shelter Thanksgiving dinner last year and went into the projects and gave Christmas to 300 needy children, and we are going to do the same again this year. The bottom line is that Christians have sat back long enough. Now we are taking a stand and we're not turning back.

Mark Poff

Copyright November 4 2003, Kingsport Publishing Corporation.

Rev. Poff
Rev. Poff

Halloween evil?

I realize that when my wife and I moved here last year, that we were moving smack in the middle of the Bible belt. But Halloween is evil? I mean no offense to anyone's religion - we are all entitled to believe what we want. However if my memory serves me right Halloween was a night that people believed was the most haunted of the year due to the position of the moon or some reason like that. Halloween was not ever intended to be a day of paganistic worship.

Now in modern times it is one day a year when children can get together with their friends and families and go trick-or-treating, say hi to neighbors they don't normally see. They get to stick their heads in a tank of water and try to pull out an apple just to see if they can get one, and the only thing they worship is the candy they are gathering by the truckload. You more than likely still see them and their parents in church on Sunday. So relax a little, let the children be happy and have fun. I already have a five-pound bag of tootsie rolls to hand out.

Chip Iley
Piney Flats

Copyright November 4 2003, Kingsport Publishing Corporation.

Rev. Poff
Rev. Poff

But Halloween is evil

Devil, Demons and Hell

Halloween is one of the strangest days of the year. Parents dress their children as witches, ghosts, and demons and send them through the neighborhood knocking on doors chanting "trick or treat" and holding out sacks for goodies.

This is also a time of strange parties at school and church where we decorate with jack-o-lanterns, witches on brooms, black cats with arched backs, and orange and black streamers. What should be the attitude of God's people towards Halloween? Bible-believing Christians should cringe at the thought of Satan worship, witchcraft and occult rites. But how many of these same Christians will dress their children as ghosts and demons send them out to trick or treat again this year?

How many churches and youth groups will still practice the occult traditions of this ancient festival again this year? Can any born-again, God-fearing, devil-hating Christian give one scripture that endorses such a thing? Anyone in their right mind has to see that Halloween undoubtedly is associated with paganism, witchcraft, and devil-worship. It should be obvious that the symbols and traditions of the Halloween observances with its goblins, demons, witches, skeletons, and ghosts is dabbling with the very things which the Word of God forbids and is an open invitation to demon activity.

Halloween is the celebration of the devil's existence yet there are those who will say "But we don't worship demons on Halloween, and it doesn't mean the same thing today as it did in the past. Today it's harmless, innocent, a time of fun for the young people." Then what about "abstain from all appearances of evil"?

Tom Shuler

Copyright October 26 2003, Kingsport Publishing Corporation.

Picking on Satan and Rev Poff

I support Rev. Poff on the Halloween ban. He is not picking on children, he is picking on Satan. People are missing the point here. Rev. Poff has made the devil's hit list. He has taken up his cross and hit the adversary head on. The persecution has now begun for him and his family.

Christians need to express our support for Rev. Poff by prayer and speaking out. We have been silent for too long and now look what's happening. Prayer has been taken out of school, the Ten Commandments are being taken down everywhere you look and they're trying to change the Pledge of Allegiance - just a few ways Americans are being deceived by Satan. He wants us to think these things are all right and best for the American people. This country was founded on God by our forefathers and there are groups that are trying to change our history.

Christians need to support our brothers and sisters in Christ against adversaries by speaking out and prayer. The bottom line is everything is being done to remove God from everything the public eye can see and nothing is being done to remove Satan. Poff may be an extremist, but at least he's a Jesus extremist.

Doug Jenkins

Copyright November 4 2003, Kingsport Publishing Corporation.

Halloween not forced

Re. "Evangelist Behind Efforts to Ban Schools' Halloween Celebrations," I say let the kids be kids. There are far more worse things that go in school these days - for instance, peer pressure, bullying, drug and alcohol experimentation - than to have to worry about a holiday where kids can dress up in a costume, play games and receive some candy.

Parents have the right not to let their kids participate in these holiday celebrations if they so choose. Schools do not "force Halloween on children and promote a belief system not accepted by Christians." No one is forcing children to participate. What next: is Mr. Poff going to be trying to ban Halloween ads on television, newspapers, or even telling us to avoid going into Wal-Mart because they sell costumes and candy? I wonder if he ever went trick-or-treating as a child.

Robin Stewart

Copyright Novenber 10, 2003 Kingsport Publishing Corporation.

'Cult activity'

In the Oct. 31 edition an article states that evangelist Mark Poff believes Halloween is part of a practicing religion in the area. In the very next sentence, he refers to this as cult activity. Which is it, Mr. Poff? Doesn't the First Amendment give everyone freedom of religion? I wonder who gave Mr. Poff the authority to decide which religions are valid. There are several churches in the area that have Halloween activities. I guess we should shut them down too.

I participated in trick-or-treating as a child. So did my children. None of us are "devil worshippers," but we have consumed mass quantities of ill-gotten candy.

Robin Carter

Copyright November 9, 2003 Kingsport Publishing Corporation.

Keep the parties

Re. "Evangelist Behind Efforts to Ban Schools' Halloween Celebrations,'' as a native of Kingsport and a graduate of the Kingsport city school system, I have to comment that in today's world of terrorism, violence, and poverty, it is difficult to understand why someone would take it upon themselves to take up a crusade against a children's holiday such as Halloween. Children dressing up as their favorite cartoon character, action hero or movie star is not harmful to anyone. Halloween is nothing but light-hearted fun for children of all ages. Some of my fondest childhood memories are the school parties on holidays, Halloween being one of them.

I would suggest that Mr. Poff spend his energies on an issue that would actually help the people of Kingsport or the country, instead of attempting to stop something that provides an avenue of creativity and enjoyment for all children. I would urge the school boards of the city and county to realize that allowing such fire and brimstone paranoia is in fact harmful to the children of our area. While the academic aspect of school is certainly valuable, schools are also entrusted with socializing our children. Let the children have their parties. Life is too short not to celebrate at every opportunity.

Sarah Cox

Copyright November 9, 2003 Kingsport Publishing Corporation.

Halloween is fun

Re: "Evangelist behind efforts to ban schools' Halloween celebrations," I am a 28-year-old mother of three young children, two of whom attend school in Kingsport. My children had Halloween parties and had a great time. They talked in class about pumpkins, Indian corn, fall leaves, farms and scarecrows. They went to a pumpkin patch and learned lots. The last day of school they had a little 30-minute party with snacks. What was the harm in this? Then they went trick-or-treating. Why does enjoying Halloween makes us devil worshippers?

For Thanksgiving they will talk about things they are thankful for, turkeys, Pilgrims, Indians and family. Then for Christmas they will talk about snow, weather, trees and Santa. Then they will probably have a little 30-minute winter holiday party.

I see nothing that is harming my children or others. There is no talk of devils or God, just some fun learning. The way things are going they will probably want to ban America from having any holidays and put us in jail if anyone dares celebrate anything. If you don't want to celebrate Halloween then don't. If you don't like Christmas or seeing the Ten Commandments on a wall, don't read it. People are wasting their energy on such nitpicky things.

Gina L. Stewart

Copyright November 11, 2003 Kingsport Publishing Corporation.