PT: for sunday local; how bout a quote with herdahl’s mug?
“I wait and wonder when I’m going to get my old life back again. But I think I’ll be waiting for a long time.”
By Monique Harrison
ECRU – Most nights, Lisa Herdahl says she lays in bed, staring at the ceiling and waiting.
“I lay there, waiting for my life to be normal again,” said Herdahl. “I wait and wonder when I’m going to get my old life back again. But I think I’ll be waiting for a long time.”
The life of Herdahl and her six children, including five who are school-age, was turned upside down in December of 1994, when she filed a lawsuit against the Pontotoc County School District after learning that students at North Pontotoc Attendance Center were praying over the intercom and that Bible history classes were being taught to students at the K-12 school. Herdahl says her lawsuit, which was filed with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and the People for the American Way, has led to death threats.
“I’ve had people say, ‘Wouldn’t it be terrible if your children just disappeared one day?’ As a mom, that is the most frightening thing you could ever go through. We are constantly watching our backs.”
Earlier this month, the case was heard in U.S. District Court in Oxford, with Judge Neal Biggers expected to hand down a ruling in several weeks.
At one point, Herdahl said she was so frightened by the threats that she almost dropped the suit.
She said it was the encouragement of her eldest son, 16-year-old Kevin Engle, that convinced her to see the lawsuit through.
“He told me he would be harassed regardless,” Herdahl said. “He told me we should stand for what we believed in, since we were going to pay the price anyway.”
Pontotoc residents say they find it tough to believe most of the threats.
Pat Mounce, chair of the Pontotoc County Citizens for School Prayer Committee, said while some threats might have been made, they are by no means representative of the overall attitude of Pontotoc County.
“This is a warm community,” Mounce said. “But, every community has problems. For the most part, though, I don’t feel threats have been made – at least not by the religious community or by the school.”
Classmates of Herdahl’s eldest son say he has been treated no differently. Several said they have openly discussed the school prayer debate with Engle, who teachers and administrators describe as a likable teen. Classmates say they never remember arguments getting out-of-hand.
Herdahl acknowledges that the past few months have been easier for her oldest son.
She said her other four school-age children, who range in age from 7 to 12, have endured more ridicule from classmates.
“Younger children don’t understand,” she said. “They hear what their parents say, and they can’t think for themselves. They repeat things. And that’s why my kids are being called devil-worshipers. That’s why other children think they are bad people.”
School officials say they have worked to see that children are closely supervised, and that no such ridicule occurs.
Despite the ridicule she says her children have been forced to endure, Herdahl said she would still file the lawsuit, if she had to relive the past 15 months.
“I have no regrets,” she said. “We did the right thing. That’s what I have to keep reminding myself.”