MONTGOMERY, AL—A controversial new bill pending before the Alabama Legislature has deeply divided the state along theological lines, sending right-wing fundamentalist Aesopians into an uproar. HR 1604, if passed, would broaden nutritional guidelines used in the state's school-lunch program, permitting a wider variety of fruits and vegetables to be served, including grapes, the consumption of which is a sin according to Aesopian doctrine.

Members of the First Universal Church Of Aesop.

"The state of Alabama is trying to bully us into submission," said Herman Bray, Pastor of the First Universal Church Of Aesop in Huntsville. "They're trying to rob us of our most cherished beliefs and send our children the message that grapes are acceptable for eating."

Clutching a worn, leather-bound copy of Aesop's Parables, Bray explained his congregation's strict opposition to the law.

"The Holy Writ of Aesop makes it plain that the fox, in his anger at the unreachable grapes, cursed the offending fruit and made all grapes sour forever," Bray said. "It is common sense—and a core belief of the Church Of Aesop—that this is a directive from Aesop Himself against grape consumption. Grapes are plainly exposed as a foul, sour-tasting fruit which dirties both body and soul, and this is a strict tenet of our dietary code." Alabama Aesopians are threatening to take their children out of school if the bill becomes law.

"Our beliefs and history have been laughed off by the secular media as fiction, as 'fables,'" Bray continued. "But the fox-and-the-grapes incident is not just some fantasy concocted by the Aesopian Right. Our research has determined that it most likely occurred between 605 and 602 B.C.E. in the province of Phrygia, was witnessed by a young Aesop and ultimately recorded in what became the Holy Book of Aesopians. Our church's archaeological and historical data all confirm the details recorded in the Aesop account."

A page from the Aesop scriptures.

The Aesopians' claims have provoked strong reaction among academics. "They think what? That this is a directive not to eat grapes?" asked Darrin Schmidt, professor of folklore and mythology at NYU. "The whole point of the story is that the grapes aren't sour at all. I think that's pretty unambiguous." Bray dismissed Schmidt's comments as "heretical anti-Aesopian hate speech."

Curtis Milner, president of the Birmingham-based Aesopian Coalition, said his organization is prepared to go all the way to the Supreme Court if Alabama passes what he calls "an openly hostile, blatantly anti-Aesopian piece of legislation."

"These lawmakers are attacking our most closely held beliefs," Milner said. "Not only is it disrespectful; it is a clear violation of the Constitution of this land."

According to Milner, the beliefs of the Aesopians are simple and direct. "We honor the courage and the noble sacrifice of Aesop, who gave His life to educate the world, not backing down even to the day of His execution by the wicked Athenian despot Peisistratus," Milner said. "That event, though tragic on the surface, was actually a day of exhilarating triumph over evil, for as a result of it, the histories painstakingly recorded by Aesop gained immortality."

"He died for us all," Milner added.