Texas High Schoolers Accused of Threat
to Hang Jewish Student

source: Houston Chronicle, June 2, 2000


SANTA FE, NM Three students at Santa Fe High School have been accused of threatening to hang a 13-year-old Jewish student, the Houston Chronicle reported.

According to the Chronicle, the three suspects, facing the juvenile court equivalent of a charge alleging they made a terroristic threat, were arrested May 17, officials said. A June 12 trial date has been set.

The two 16-year-old boys and a 15-year-old boy are accused of calling Phil Nevelow a "dirty Jew" and threatening to hang him, school and police officials said. Nevelow's father, Eric Nevelow, a 25-year veteran of the Galveston County Sheriff's Department, where he is a major in the jail division, said his son has been the target of repeated anti-Semitic harassment.

"This has been going on for at least two years," he said, adding that complaints to the school's principal have done no good.

Students have surrounded his son making the "Heil Hitler" sign, chanted anti-Semitic remarks and scrawled swastikas on book covers in front of him, Nevelow said.

His son's school work has suffered, contributing to his failure of two classes and his attendance at summer school classes this year, he said.

He said his son is the only Jewish student in the 4,300-student school district.

The Anti-Defamation League has asked to meet with Santa Fe Superintendent Richard Ownby on June 14. "I'm not sure our communications have been real good here," Ownby said of the school district's response to complaints lodged by Nevelow's parents.

Police who arrested the three teen-agers at school said the boys expressed neither denials nor remorse for their alleged actions, said Police Capt. Keith Meenen.

The school district is at the center of a constitutional fight over the appropriateness of student-sponsored prayer at public school events. The ACLU filed a lawsuit, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, seeking to end organized prayers at football games there.

The case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in March. William Harrell, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said that the attacks on Phil Nevelow are the result of the school district's refusal to keep prayer out of the schools.

"This is nothing new," Harrell said of the anti-Semitic incidents. "Students who stand up against school prayer, or who are not part of the religious majority, invariably suffer this kind of harassment and ostracism. This is exactly why it is so important to preserve the separation of church and state."

Harrell added that in the district, some teachers and administrators have not only tolerated anti-Semitic harassment of students, but have encouraged and even participated in it themselves.

At graduation ceremonies this spring, a student speaker invoked Jesus Christ's name in violation of a ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which outlawed any public prayer at public high school football games and limited prayers at graduations to nonsectarian and nonproselytizing speech.


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