A 6-year-old schoolyard preacher and his sister were suspended for a fourth time Thursday for violating school rules.
"Now is the day of salvation," 6-year-old Matthew Strode shouted at a crowd of reporters, schoolchildren and TV cameras as 5-year-old Pepper stood beside him holding a Bible. "Hell has enlarged herself and opened her mouth without measure."The two children, returning Thursday from their third suspension, arrived at Eastfield Elementary School in a car driven by their mother, Robin.
They stood at a teachers' entrance and waited for a cue from their 10-year-old brother, Duffey, who was outside the school gate. Duffey was suspended for 10 days last Friday for refusing to stop proselytizing and go to class.
"For God so loved the world . . .," Duffy called from the gate, setting off a stream of preaching from his younger brother.
"Fools make a mock at sin," Matthew shouted at Principal Jim Gorst, who asked him to come inside the school. The boy stood his ground as Gorst repeated his request several times.
The children are not being suspended for their preaching, Gorst said, but rather for remaining outside the school building when school rules require them to be inside.
He said if the children would agree to come to school Friday and discontinue preaching, the suspension would be dropped.
Gorst complained that the children were being encouraged by publicity.
"If the news media was not here and if the offers for talk shows were not present, I believe in my mind they'd be back in school," he said.
Pepper does not preach because she doesn't want to, the children's father, David, has said.
School officials call the preaching a disruption, while parents have complained that the fire-and-brimstone tone of the sermons is frightening other children.
But the children's parents, who moved to Marion 17 months ago from Pennsylvania, call the suspensions an attack on their constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.