RALEIGH – The Governor’s Schools of North Carolina — held every summer at Salem College in Winston-Salem and at Meredith College in Raleigh — began their sessions this week once again under the watchful eye of the legal watchdog Alliance Defense Fund.

The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Christian organization, which has threatened litigation in the past against the state’s education bureaucracies over the Governor’s Schools’ sexually oriented seminars and films shown in previous years, sent a letter (PDF) on June 7 notifying the state Department of Justice “to express concerns…about the content of the Governor’s School curricula and programs.”

Meanwhile, the Governor’s School East at Meredith has scheduled for this Saturday the graphic, R-rated film “Pan’s Labyrinth.” The movie, winner of three Academy Awards, is described as a “fairy tale” set in 1944 Spain, during the fascist regime of Francisco Franco. Christian organization Focus on the Family, on its Web site, described in detail several violent scenes depicted in the film:

Within the first 10 minutes of us meeting Captain Vidal, we watch as he calmly smashes in the face of a teenage boy and then shoots the lad’s father. That’s only the beginning of what amounts to a gory, extremely graphic war-meets-horror film. The harsh post-Civil War surroundings of 1944 Spain is the backdrop for firefights, ambushes and massive explosions. Scores of individuals (mostly soldiers) are gunned down and then shot repeatedly as troops rummage through the dead and injured.

In bloody and excruciating sequences, Captain Vidal is stabbed in the back and in the chest, then in the mouth. (We see the blade slicing in and out.) After the camera shows his open, dangling face wound a few times, it lingers as he painfully stitches up his cheek….

One man takes a bullet in the eye. An injured rebel begs for his life but is mercilessly shot in the hand, then in the face. Another captive is hit hard in the face with one of many torture devices. After his first round of torture results in a mangled face and arm, he pleads with a doctor, “Kill me, kill me now. Please….”

After the same doctor decides a fighter’s wounded and infected leg must be amputated, we see a split-second shot of a saw blade digging into bone. Crudely drawn pictures of a bloodthirsty creature that devours babies depict this demonic-looking being impaling infants with a sword. In Ofelia’s fantasy world, his lair includes a massive pile of small bones, and we watch as he uses his jaws to rip fairies apart….

Two other especially disturbing scenes are worth calling out: After finding Ofelia trying to escape, the captain violently shakes his daughter and hits her across the face. As he walks out he also threatens her life. In a separate instance, a fantasy creature that looks like a human baby is tossed in a fire, and its haunting screams of pain continue for some time as it slowly dies.

The Governor’s School East policy on showing films to students is to provide parents a list of movies with brief summaries, and then to give them options on which ones they will allow their children to view. The options on the permission form are:

“(A) I allow my child to view the GSE films this summer”

“(B) I allow my child to view all films not marked out on the attached form”

“(C) I allow my child to view any films added throughout the course of the summer”

“(D) If there are any films added throughout the course of the summer, I would like to be notified at the below e-mail address for my consent”

The Governor’s School’s description of “Pan’s Labyrinth” for parents was much less specific than Focus on the Family’s:

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) R: This is a fable of morality and character. A girl weaves in and out of the reality of violence in the Spanish Civil War and completing tasks in an imaginary kingdom. This film is rated R for language and some violence.

Last year Governor’s School West made a last-minute decision to replace the sexually- and violently-explicit movie “American History X” with a PG-rated film, apparently after a threat of litigation from the Alliance Defense Fund. “American History X” had been shown in previous years at GSW.

The first week’s schedules for both GSE and GSW were not posted on their Web sites until late Sunday at the earliest. The program is run every summer with approximately 400 students at each location. It is administrated under the state Department of Public Instruction, and the state budget fully funds the program, with $1.3 million set aside for it last year. Students are nominated based on specific areas of academic or performing arts excellence, and pay nothing to attend, other than the cost to travel to the schools.

Alliance Defense Fund’s Michael Johnson, in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Thomas Ziko, who handles legal matters for the Governor’s School, wrote to specifically request “continued scrutiny” over the program’s curricula and activities.

“We request that your office ensure that the programs remain free of any seminars or unapproved sexuality education curricula this year,” Johnson wrote, “and that religious viewpoints will not be unconstitutionally maligned, but instead treated with equal dignity and respect.

“It is our intention to litigate these matters if problems arise as they have in the past….”

Ziko sent Johnson a one-paragraph response.

“You may rest assured that the State Board of Education, consistent with its legal obligations, will strive to provide the best educational experiences possible for all the students who attend these nationally recognized programs,” Ziko wrote.

Paul Chesser ([email protected]) is associate editor of Carolina Journal.