Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Sharon Burns is a huge fan of British heavy metal band Iron Maiden. And for some reason, that love resulted in her becoming the target of a group of parents who misunderstood her intentions.
Burns posted on her Twitter account a photograph of her and her husband Rob, most likely taken in the parking lot at an Iron Maiden concert, both flashing the “devil’s horns” (pinkie and index fingers raised). It’s a gesture that long ago became tied more directly to the heavy metal world than to any devil worshipping anti-religion. There’s also a photo of a homemade poster on which the number 666 is crudely written. The name of her account, by the way, is @EdenPrincipal.
The post prompted either someone named Debbi Lynn or LC, each of whom has been credited for it, to start a petition on the website change.org titled “Eden High School Principal, Sharon Burns, Needs to be Transferred Immediately.”
It immediately drew a counter-petition, We Need Mrs. Burns, begun by someone identified as R.R., to defend the principal.
As of Monday, the anti-Burns petition had fizzled out after gathering 553 signatures, and was marked as closed. The pro-Burns response had amassed a whopping 20,182 supporters and was still gathering steam.
In the drive for signatures, the petition that sparked the controversy stated that “our school is based on inclusion, and openly displaying Satanic symbols (on a public social media platform) that directly goes against the principles of the vast majority of families who represent the school, is not inclusive. As parents we are demanding her transfer to another school. Please replace her with another principal who aligns with the values of the families at Eden and will not sabotage the teaching or upholding of those values and will not try to introduce impressionable students to Satanic practices or symbolism.”
The word “inclusion” must take a bit of the focus here. I recently spoke with a parent of both a former and current Eden student who preferred not to be named.
This parent spoke in complete support of Sharon’s ongoing efforts to make Eden a truly inclusive school. He said she found a space for non-Christian students to gather to recognize and practise their own beliefs outside of class time. And he also lauded her efforts to ensure that young LGBTQ+ students felt safe and comfortable within the halls and classrooms.
As a recently retired DSBN teacher who had the pleasure to work with Burns when she was the vice-principal at Laura Secord, I have watched in awe as this volunteer firefighter and cancer survivor has used her social media presence to build up the Eden profile in an effort to include all students in campus life. She is by far one of the most enthusiastic school-boosting principals I have ever seen in my 29-year career.
Is that not the true meaning of inclusion?
The use of the phrase “Satanic practices” comes next. Loving a heavy metal band and appropriating its symbols does not make one a Satanist. I was a huge fan of Iron Maiden beginning with their first album back in 1980. While in high school, I copied their logo and drew rough sketches (very rough!) of their mascot, Eddie, all over my notebooks.
I can attest to the fact that I am not now nor have I ever been a worshipper of Satan. My love for the driving beat and screaming guitars of bands such as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden did not lead me down that path. It was and still is aggressive, loud, virtuosically-played fast-paced rock that has appealed to me for more than 40 years.
When Iron Maiden released their third album, The Number of the Beast, in 1982, church groups were up in arms over the title song. Back then, just as these concerned parents might be doing today, the lyrics were misinterpreted. The song is actually about someone accidentally discovering a black magic ceremony in the middle of the night and running away from it in fear. It most definitely does not encourage or espouse the worship of the devil.
A quick search of the internet Monday resulted in finding that the accusation against Burns had captured worldwide attention. Music-oriented websites such as Louder Sound, New Musical Express and Ultimate Classic Rock all picked up on the story. So did the New York Post.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Iron Maiden’s lead singer Bruce Dickinson reaches out to Sharon and Rob. Dickinson, by the way, is a licensed commercial pilot. He also created his own pilot training company, has hosted television documentaries, written novels and film scripts and competed in fencing internationally. He is well-known as an upstanding contributor to British society.
Anyone who knows Sharon Burns knows her contributions to the NOTL community. For many years she has participated in the Terry Fox Run locally, and has been an advocate for breast cancer charities.
The fact that she loves listening to a heavy metal band should not preclude her from being a principal at any school.
The petition-starters speak of the values of the families at Eden. I would assume by that they mean the Christian values upon which the school was originally founded.
I probably don’t have to explain to many of the readers of The Local that Eden Christian College, as it was then known, was begun by the local Mennonite Brethren community. It sat on Niagara Stone Road until 1996, when it was brought under the auspices of the DSBN and moved first to Scott Street and then to its current location on Lake Street in St. Catharines.
Once it came under the DSBN’s purview, it effectively ceased being a Christian school. Yes, I know Eden has a chapel, or Spiritual Life Centre. As I have always understood, that Centre and the spiritual advisors who staff it are funded by private donations. As well, chapel time is conducted outside of the regular school day so as to not infringe upon public school curriculum.
I know that many in the community still refer to it as a Christian school. And I am not faulting anyone for standing up for what they believe in.
But it’s important to remember that as a publicly-funded school in Ontario, no one has the right to push for the dismissal of a school leader because of a post that so obviously shows her support for a rock band and not for the prince of darkness.
Should Burns have perhaps refrained from posting those photos on that Instagram account? Probably. She has wisely since removed them from her profile. Perhaps it would have been acceptable for her to have posted them from an account not linked in any way to the Eden community.
And perhaps the offended Eden parents would have gotten better results by just talking to Sharon about their concerns. By starting a petition on change.org they began a public battle that was impossible for them to win.