Maryland residents became enraged when they learned that the owner of a children's play museum infrequently played Christian music and has on her website: "Every child is God's gift to this earth. We endeavor to honor Him in all of our affairs."
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-- From "Play space owner defends herself against claims that she's pushing religion" by Brigid Schulte, Washington Post Staff Writer 5/18/10
In the days before three Montgomery County kindergarten classes were slated to go on a field trip to the Be With Me Playseum, an indoor play space in Bethesda, the organization's staff prepared for what they hoped would be the first of many visits.
The owner of the fledgling business, Gina Seebachan, bought tiles so each child could make a handprint to take home as a keepsake. She organized books by authors the children were reading for story time. If the trip went well, Seebachan thought, business might really take off.
Then, without warning, Westbrook Elementary School, which all four of Seebachan's children have attended, canceled the trip.
All because, Seebachan says, she mentions God on the Playseum Web site.
Last month's canceled school visits were just the latest in what some friends and neighbors call an unsubstantiated whisper campaign that has gone viral, with Web postings accusing Seebachan, an evangelical Christian, and the Playseum of being less about creating a play space for children and more about saving their souls. In a well-to-do, liberal community, where separation of church and state is virtually a religion, Seebachan's references to God, and the use of the politically loaded word "life" on the Playseum Web site, coupled with the echo chamber of the Internet, made for a combustible mix.
In anonymous postings on local Web sites, parents accused Seebachan of handing out antiabortion literature at the Playseum, accepting support from right-wing Christian groups and playing Christian rock music at the play space. Most damning, one anonymous poster who said she was Jewish claimed that Seebachan told her that unless she accepted Jesus as her personal savior, the client and her children would go to hell.
She has no literature about abortion, she says. Her sponsors are all secular, local businesses such as Safeway and Strosniders hardware store. She does send a portion of her profits -- about $6,000 so far -- to a religious organization in India that finds homes for destitute children and trains them to become church leaders.
Despite Seebachan's denials of evangelical intent, the rumors circulated on the Web. She began to get malicious anonymous phone calls from people slamming her for foisting her faith on others. Visitors demanded to know her staff's religious background. "One is from Peru," Seebachan said she would tell callers. "One is from Sri Lanka. One is vegan. One is kosher Jewish. I have a guy from Trinidad and a gal from Congo. I honestly have no idea what religion they are. "
Then came Westbrook Elementary's cancellation. John Ewald, the school's principal, said that "several" parents contacted him with concerns about the Playseum trip, but he was not more specific.
Seebachan says she was told that if she removed mentions of God from the Web site, the school visit would be rescheduled.
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