28 May 2011

Atheist student shunned by entire community including his parents for opposing prayer at graduation ceremony



AlterNet   -   May 25, 2011

High School Student Stands Up Against Prayer at Public School and Is Ostracized, Demeaned and Threatened

By Greta Christina, AlterNet



Whatever you think about atheists -- good, bad, mixed, indifferent -- this story should seriously trouble you.

Damon Fowler, an atheist student at Bastrop High School in Louisiana, was about to graduate. His public school was planning to have a prayer as part of the graduation ceremony: as they traditionally did, as so many public schools around the country do every year. But Fowler -- knowing that government-sponsored prayer in the public schools is unconstitutional and legally forbidden -- contacted the school superintendent to let him know that he opposed the prayer, and would be contacting the ACLU if it happened. The school -- at first, anyway -- agreed, and canceled the prayer.

Then Fowler's name, and his role in this incident, was leaked. As a direct result:

1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community.

2) One of Fowler's teachers has publicly demeaned him.

3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to "jump him" at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.

4) Fowler's parents have cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and thrown his belongings onto the front porch.

Oh, and by the way? They went ahead and had the graduation prayer anyway.

Before we get into the details, let's be clear about the facts and the law: Nobody -- not Fowler, not the ACLU, nobody -- is telling anybody at Bastrop High School that they can't pray. People can pray at graduations and other school events all they want. The sole issue here is whether a public school can have a prayer at a graduation or other school event as an official, school-sponsored part of the program. Individual prayer? Hunky dory. Off-campus prayers at churches or private events? Knock yourself out. Government promotion of a religious agenda? Not so much. What with the First Amendment and the "establishment of religion" bit and all.

It's a law and a Constitution that protects everybody, not just atheists. If you wouldn't want to be subjected to a government-sponsored Buddhist prayer, you ought not to be subjecting others to a government-sponsored Christian prayer.

Okay. I hope that's clear.

So here's a little more detail about what exactly happened with Damon Fowler.

1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community. He's become the center of what he terms a "shitstorm": he has been harassed, vilified, targeted with insults and name-calling and hateful remarks. He's been told t he's the Devil. He's been told, "Go cry to your mommy... oh, wait. You can't." (A reference to him being disowned by his parents.) He's been told that he's only doing this to get attention. A student's public prayer at a pre-graduation "Class Night" event was turned into an opportunity for the school and community to gang up on Fowler and publicly close ranks against him -- teachers as well as students. (Here's video). And people seen defending him have been targeted as well.

As just a taste, here are a few comments on the Bastrop Enterprise news story about the controversy: "I personally see him as a coward." "I hope they [Christians] put enough pressure on this kid to convert him and save his soul from the fire of hell." "The kid was likely a recluse and apathetic about most everything until now." "If he don't want prayer at graduation he can stay at home and not come to graduation." "Afterall, that's what she or he wants isn't it to be singled out! This just makes me ill." "I hope that the little athiest is offended." "What he is really doing is trying to shove his views down people's throats." "Why does this student only now decide to get engaged in what is happening at the school? Is it nothing more than our own self-destructive human nature to break down anything of which we may not approve?" "That student should just have to have his/her one man graduation ceremony all alone." "Satan continues to prowl and is deceiving many in this world."

2) One of Fowler's teachers has publicly demeaned him. From the story in the Bastrop Enterprise:
Mitzi Quinn has been on the staff at BHS for almost 25 years, much of that time as a senior advisor. In the past, Quinn said there have been students who were atheist, agnostic and other non-Christian religions who "had no problems" with the prayer.

"They respected the majority of their classmates and didn't say anything," Quinn said. "We've never had this come up before. Never."

Throughout her time working with the student, Quinn said they never expressed their personal beliefs or that they had any problems with other students' Christian faiths.

"And what's even more sad is this is a student who really hasn't contributed anything to graduation or to their classmates," Quinn said. (emphasis mine)

In other words: Because the majority of students want an unconstitutional prayer at their graduation, therefore they're in the right. Because nobody's ever had the courage to speak up about this before, therefore the law was not being broken, and everything was okay. (After all, it's not like anything bad happened when Fowler spoke up...right?) And because Fowler hasn't "contributed anything" -- other than, you know, a model of risking safety and security to stand up for a principle he believed in -- therefore his basic legal right to not be targeted with religious proselytization by his public school is irrelevant... and he deserves to be publicly derided by one of his teachers.

3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to "jump him" at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.

Enough said.

4) Fowler's parents have cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and thrown his belongings onto the porch.

Let's be very, very clear about this one. At a time when their son was being bullied, threatened, publicly pilloried, and ostracized from his school and his community, his parents joined the party. Their initial response was to hold him in their house against his will, take his cell phone and cut off his contact with the outside world, and even cut him off from contact with his older brother, Jerrett. Their more recent response has been to cut off financial support, kick him out of the house, and throw his belongings onto the porch.

Fortunately, Damon isn't entirely alone. His brother Jerrett is bringing Damon into his own home in Texas, and will help put him through college. And Damon is fortunate enough to have the backing of the atheist community, who are providing encouragement, emotional support, practical assistance, and even a scholarship fund.

More on that in a moment.

Since that's a lot of what this story is really about.

There are a lot of hot-button issues in Damon Fowler's story. There's the depressing fact of how common this kind of story is: the fact that, despite the law being unambiguous on the subject, public schools around the country are continuing to sponsor prayers and otherwise promote theocracy, in flagrant violation of the law... apparently in the hopes that nobody will want to make waves and speak out against it. There's the lack of understanding in the United States about fundamental civics: the all-too-common belief that "majority rules" in every situation, and the all-too-common failure to comprehend the principle that the minority has basic civil rights.

There's the ugly reality of anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination across the country -- especially in high schools. According to JT Eberhard, high school specialist for the Secular Student Alliance, "In Alabama, Auburn High School is refusing to allow an SSA affiliate. In Cranston, Rhode Island, a public school is facing an ACLU suit for refusing to take down a sectarian prayer [a banner posted in the school gym]. In Texas we had a student who was told he could have a secular club if he called it a philosophy club and didn't affiliate with the SSA. The list of similar situations is a mile long and these are only the ones I've become aware of in my first four and a half months on the job. The Fowler incident is much closer to being the norm than the exception."

There are rants about religion to be had here as well. There's the level of not only hostility, but panicked hostility, when entrenched religion gets its privileged status threatened. There's the way that religion relies on social consensus to perpetuate itself -- and how, when that consensus is threatened, it commonly reacts by smacking down dissent and expelling dissenters. There's the idea that the unverifiability of religion -- the beliefs in invisible, inaudible, intangible gods promising an afterlife nobody can know anything about -- means that the harm done in its name has the unique capacity to spin off into the stratosphere... since there's no reality check. There's the image of religion as a colossal fortress protecting a house of cards: powerful, massive structures and institutions staunchly buttressed and hotly defended to ensure that nobody ever examines the ideas inside and sees how flimsy they are.

And of course -- duh -- there's separation of church and state. There's the principle that a public school should not be sponsoring prayers at graduations. What with that being a government establishment of religion and all, and thus being -- oh, what's that word? -- unconstitutional.

All of that is important.

But there's something else important going on here.

And that's the way the atheist community has stepped up to the plate.

Damon Fowler has been embraced and welcomed by the atheist community. Atheist writers have been all over this story from the moment it broke: it's been covered on Friendly Atheist, Pharyngula, BlagHag, the Richard Dawkins Foundation, Atheist Revolution, The Thinking Atheist, Atheist Underworld, WWJTD, Rock Beyond Belief... the list goes on. Several atheist organizations are applauding Fowler for his courage.

American Atheists said of Fowler, "This kid deserves mad props for letting his principal know on no uncertain terms that ACLU would be contacted if the prayer wasn't canceled. Good job, Damon, you speak for the freedoms of people who are trapped in the bible-belt!" JT Eberhard, high school specialist for the Secular Student Alliance, said, "Despite the vile threats, bullying, and hatred his community has given him, we recognize Damon for what he is: a brave student speaking up for religious liberty and inclusion." Freedom From Religion Foundation spoke about "his courage in speaking out for his and other students' rights."

And it's not just the atheist thought leaders. It's the on-the-ground community. Fowler has received an outpouring of support from atheists around the country and around the world. The "Support Damon" group on Facebook has over 10,000 members as of this writing. The Reddit post from Damon and his brother Jerrett discussing these events has been loaded with expressions of empathy and outrage. Atheist forums and blog comment threads about Fowler all over the Internet have been extensive and passionate. And many atheists have written letters to the Bastrop High School administration expressing their support for Fowler's position and their opposition to the prayer.

This support isn't only emotional, either. Emotional support is not trivial, of course; it's hugely important, especially when you're being ostracized, targeted with a hateful smear campaign, and driven from your home. But a tremendous amount of practical and financial support is coming from the atheist community as well. Many atheists have offered Fowler transportation, legal advice, meetup groups, places to stay, physical protection, connections with others who could provide additional practical help, and more. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has given Fowler a $1,000 college scholarship.

And perhaps most dramatically, Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta has established a scholarship fund for Fowler, so he can attend college despite being cut off financially by his parents -- and the response has been overwhelming. As of this writing, the atheist community has donated over $15,000. Essentially filling the role that his parents have abandoned.

Why am I bringing this up?

One of the chunks of mud that's most commonly slung at atheists is that we're selfish. Amoral. That without a belief in God and the afterlife, people would have no moral compass, and would just act to please themselves, without any consideration for others. That without a belief in eternal punishment in the afterlife for bad behavior, eternal reward in the afterlife for good behavior, and a supernatural authority figure refereeing it all, people would have no reason to be good people, and no reason to avoid doing terrible things. That without religion, people would have no compassion, no sense of justice, no empathy, no desire to see society running smoothly... and would just do whatever we wanted to do.

But when Damon Fowler was suffering and in need, the atheist community stepped up. It provided compassion. It demanded justice. It offered emotional support. It offered practical support. It opened its wallets. It made it unassailably clear to Damon Fowler that he was not alone: that although his school, his community, even his parents, had all turned their backs on him, atheists would take care of him, as best they could, until he could take care of himself. It made it clear that, even though he no longer had a home in Bastrop, he had a home in this movement. When Damon Fowler was suffering and in need, the atheist community proved itself to be a real community.

If atheism means we just do whatever we want to do... then apparently, what we want to do is take care of each other. Apparently, what we want to do is help people who have been injured. Apparently, what we want to do is speak out against wrongdoing. Apparently, what we want to do is put a stop to injustice. Apparently, what we want to do is make sacrifices for people in need.

A whole lot more than the Christians in Bastrop, Louisiana.

I'm not saying that atheists are morally superior to religious believers. I don't think that, and I'm not saying it. I'm aware that many religious believers are good, compassionate people with a strong sense of justice. I'm even aware that many religious believers, indeed many Christians, are appalled by what's happening to Damon Fowler, and oppose it with every breath in their bodies. And I'm aware that many atheists are hostile, self-involved schmucks. (Believe me... I'm aware of that.) That's not my point.

My point is this: Human beings don't need God to be good. Human ethics seem to be wired into our brains, through millions of years of evolution as a social species, and every human being who isn't a sociopath has them. Some of us act on them better than others... but we all have them. Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Rastafarian, Wiccan -- and atheist.

And my point is this: The next time someone tells you that atheists are selfish and amoral? Remember Damon Fowler. Remember the religious community that bullied him, harassed him, ostracized him, and drove him out.

And remember the atheist community that took him in.

If you want to support Damon Fowler's scholarship fund, you can do so with the ChipIn widget at the Friendly Atheist blog. The widget closes on May 31.

Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.


This article was found at:



RELATED ARTICLES ON THIS BLOG




US high school administrators coerce teachers to deny students their legal right to form atheist groups





Hundreds of fundamentalist religious schools in US use public funds to indoctrinate students with anti-science and bigotry



Radical Christian extremists aim to undermine public education by targeting high school kids for indoctrination into fundamentalist worldview


Creationists weaken U.S. education system, only a quarter of high school students adequately taught evolutionary biology


Teaching evolution in science classrooms under attack in the US and UK by anti-science creationists


Christian dominionists target children between 4 and 14 as the most vulnerable to spiritual manipulation


Arkansas politician wants public schools to indoctrinate students with literal interpretation of the Bible


Virginia school board takes down 10 Commandments posters to avoid lawsuit, students walk out in protest


Texas school board members injected their personal religious beliefs into social studies curriculum


Reactionary Christian fundamentalists take over Texas school board, rewrite history books to indoctrinate America's children


Nebraska education administrators get mixed messages from lawyers on legality of promoting religion in schools


Third Wave 'Spiritual Warfare' movement indoctrinating young children to do battle for the Lord


Child Evangelism Fellowship complains it is banned from converting children in public housing project


Federal Court of Appeal asked to stop California college proselytizing and imposing religion on students


Advocacy group battles illegal Christian fundamentalist proselytizing in U.S. public schools


Fundamentalist Christian 'punk' band uses deception to evangelize and indoctrinate in U.S. schools


Christian fundamentalist boot-camp for kids indoctrinates them to fight 'bloody' religious war


'Arming' for Armageddon: Militant Joel's Army Followers Seek Theocracy


Christian Reconstructionists Are Trying to Take Dominion in America


Australian Anglican bishop denies evangelical group is using school chaplain program to convert children to Christianity


Australian evangelical group aims to convert children through government funded school religious programs


Vote-seeking Australian government opts to spend $437 million on school chaplains instead of qualified counsellors

Opponents of Quebec's religious education coarse fear that when religions are held up to rational scrutiny all are irrational


Canadian Supreme Court hears case pitting religious freedom of parents against religious freedom of their children


Battle over ethics course in Quebec schools goes to court - Catholic high school wants exemption


Quebec bans teaching a belief, a dogma or the practice of a specific religion in government subsidized daycares


Some Canadian provinces discriminate against non-Catholics and unbelievers by publicly funding Catholic schools


The Alberta town where all public schools force Catholic dogma on non-Catholic students


Dublin Archbishop says Irish church not indoctrinating enough children, secular society advancing


Church of England's proselytising plans will target children for recruitment and indoctrination


Irish children subjected to religious dogma in order to get an education in school system dominated by Catholic church


Atheist Ireland says children's right to be exempt from religious class a theoretical illusion


Parental rights vs children's rights: debating the role of religious institutions in Irish education system


German teen expelled from government funded Catholic school after exercising her human right to religious freedom


UK theology think tank says it is wrong to exclude God from classroom, superstition and reason should be equal partners


Secularists campaign to change UK law that makes religious assemblies in schools compulsory, government and church resist


Groups call on British government to replace compulsory collective worship in schools with inclusive assemblies


U.K. school inspectors report that Christian theology and non-religious beliefs not being adequately taught in compulsory religious education classes


European Court of Human Rights says crucifix not a symbol of indoctrination, reverses ban in Italian public schools


European Court of Human Rights rules crucifixes in Italian schools violates children's religious freedom to believe or not


15 comments:

  1. Protect teen students’ rights to form atheist clubs

    by Secular Coalition for America November 11, 2011

    School officials are placing undue burdens and obstacles in the way of students trying to establish atheist and freethought groups at their middle and high schools across the country. The Equal Access Act (originally passed to protect religious groups rights to form and have access to school facilities), which guarantees the right of students to have a club regardless of religious or nonreligious content if the school allows any other extracurricular clubs, is being ignored by school administrators when nontheistic students seek to form clubs in schools.

    As the numbers of nontheists increases in the general population in America, so are the numbers middle and high students self-identifying as nontheists, and they looking to form their own clubs and school groups. In fact, in 2010, the Secular Student Alliance, the nonprofit organization that assists secular college groups organize and thrive, hired a full-time staff person just to handle the requests and issues stemming from high school students and the groups they are forming. However, one person and one organization will not be enough to counter the myriad ways that countless school officials across the country are trying to prevent atheist student clubs.

    The problem is so egregious that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued “Guidelines for the Equal Access Act” in June 2011 to address the numerous complaints of groups being denied permission to form school groups. The Guidelines stress that the unpopular content of a group’s speech cannot be used to discriminate against them or deprive them access to school facilities.

    The Guidelines and the Equal Access Act itself, however, are being disregarded by school officials in schools across the country. Atheist, agnostic, and humanist students are being denied their rights to gather together as people with a common worldview. Not only are the groups being denied the right to form by schools, but also the rights to advertise in a school newspaper, post signs in designated club areas, and use any other mediums or facilities given to other extracurricular groups—all forms of access protected by the Equal Access Act, according to Secretary Duncan in the Guidelines.

    Students are being singled out by school officials and administrators, making them easy targets for bullying from other students. These are three examples of school officials and administrators violating students’ rights during the 2010-2011 school year:

    Brian Lisco’s efforts to form a secular club at Stephen Austin High School in Texas were stymied by argumentative administrators who attempted to dilute the club’s mission ...

    Duncan Henderson was informed that freethinkers’ clubs were not allowed at his school after he put in a request at his junior high school in Alabama. ...

    Skyler Curtis was eventually allowed to start a freethinker group at Rising Sun High School in Maryland, but only after the word “atheist” was removed from the group name. ...

    Even though the law is on the side of secular students, those charged with enforcing and respecting the law, such as school administrators, students, and parents, are using intimidation, bullying, and coercion to block atheists, agnostics, and humanists from equal access. Nontheistic students should not have to take extreme means, such as lawsuits and media attention, in order to form a school club.

    The Secular Coalition for America believes that nontheists and secular allies need to stand up for the rights of students and force school officials and administrators to enforce the Equal Access Act when appropriate to ensure nontheistic students have the same opportunities to form social groups and clubs as other students.

    read the full article at:

    http://www.secularnewsdaily.com/2011/11/11/protect-teen-students’-rights-to-form-atheist-clubs

    ReplyDelete
  2. Junkyard Prophet Profits Mightily

    by: Freedom From Religion Foundation April 3, 2012

    In the wake of publicity and complaints, Superintendent Jim Stanton of Dunkerton [Iowa] Community Schools has received a verbal lashing from parents at a school board meeting March 13 about an assembly for junior high and high school students presented by the Christian ministry group You Can Run But You Cannot Hide and its musical group Junkyard Prophet.

    Stanton apologized and agreed to make changes to the assembly procedures for the school in Dunkertown, a town of about 800 people. The assembly the week before included images of aborted fetuses and derisive comments about gay people.

    FFRF received a copy of the assembly contract in response to a request for records from the school. The contract required the school to pay $2,000 to You Can Run But You Cannot Hide.

    The contract says of the ministry, “We have an agenda for truth and not [sic] agenda for opinion.” It says, “We fully warrant our productions to be factual; connective with the students, encouraging to produce an atmosphere of thought and responsibility for the student and the world they live in.”

    The group posted two video clips of portions of the assembly. One is here. The other is here.

    The contract specifies that boys, girls, and teachers would be separated for a second portion of the program. The contract says, “The boys will be doing a huge exploration of music, dealing with different artists, what they stand for and don’t stand for, their lyrics and more.”

    The contract says, “The girls will deal with issues such as the beauty of being a bride, purity, your heart, knowing whom you follow and more.” KCRG reported that the girls' program included a statement that girls would have “mud on their wedding dresses” if they weren’t virgins and that they should assume a submissive role in the household.

    The boys were reportedly given the group’s theocratic view of the Constitution during a portion of their program.

    “This school assembly is shocking," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The anti-gay and religious propaganda was offensive to students, teachers and parents. The school is entitled to a full refund, and You Can Run But You Cannot Hide cannot be allowed into any public school again."

    FFRF previously warned other schools to take notice. see:

    http://www.secularnewsdaily.com/2012/04/03/junkyard-prophet-profits-mightily-5

    ReplyDelete
  3. Secret recordings reveal anti-abortion group spreading falsehoods in schools

    by: British Humanist Association April 3, 2012

    Recordings of talks given by the anti-abortion group, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) have revealed that the group seriously misinforms parents, pupils and staff about the effects of abortion, and the nature of Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). SPUC school speakers have falsely linked abortion to breast cancer and ‘post-abortion trauma’ (which is not a recognised medical condition). The British Humanist Association (BHA) and Education For Choice (EFC) have called on schools to stop inviting speakers in from organisations whose literature and presentations are riddled with misinformation, and on the government to take immediate steps to prevent such groups having access to children in schools.

    Members of local humanist groups attended talks given to parents in Milton Keynes, Wakefield and Bournemouth, and more recently, members of Feminist Action Cambridge (FAC) were able to attend a talk given to secondary pupils in a school. The meetings in Milton Keynes and Cambridge were recorded.

    SPUC’s talk to pupils focuses on the supposed harms of abortion. EFC has previously obtained SPUC’s 2008 PowerPoint presentation, which included graphic images of aborted foetuses and misinformation relating to pregnancy, contraception and abortion. The presentation FAC saw last month has been updated, although some of the fictions exposed then are still being repeated now, four years later. Claims presented include:

    • The morning after pill ‘can cause an early abortion’ and may be damaging to women’s health and future fertility – but legally and medically, emergency hormonal contraception does not end an established pregnancy and is therefore not the same as abortion. There are no serious or long-term health problems associated with taking emergency contraception.

    • Abortion increases a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer – but Cancer Research UK explain that ‘pregnancies that end in an abortion do not increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer later in life’.

    • Abortion can lead to ‘suicidal tendencies’ ‘depression’ ‘drug and alcohol abuse’ – all symptoms of ‘post abortion trauma’ – ‘Post Abortion Trauma’ is an invented condition and is not recognised by the medical profession. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges’ report, ‘Induced Abortion and Mental Health’ explains that ‘The rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy were the same whether they had an abortion or gave birth’.

    continued in next comment...

    ReplyDelete
  4. continued from previous comment:

    Young people witnessing such presentations are subjected not only to misinformation but a stigmatising and at times distressing portrayal of a safe, legal medical procedure which a third of women in the UK will experience.

    Paradoxically, SPUC’s own ‘Safe at School’ campaign opposes what it calls the ‘explicit nature of sex education in schools’, addressing parents across the country about the perceived harms of SRE. SPUC courted controversy last year when it held an event for parents in Tower Hamlets jointly with a number of other groups, including SREIslamic, under its ‘Safe at School’ banner. The meetings attended by local humanists focussed on generating fear amongst parents about the contents of their child’s SRE teaching, and informing them how to withdraw their children from SRE. Parents were also told that the government is considering introducing compulsory sex education (which it is not), and that they should write to their MP in opposition to this.

    BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘It is deeply disturbing that anti-choice groups are so easily able to enter schools and present these damaging fictions, and that they are fear-mongering with parents, again through the spreading of stories which are untrue. Parents and teachers should be aware of the falsehood of the claims made by SPUC, and the government should be more pro-active in preventing groups that persistently make false claims of this nature from having access to vulnerable children, especially in schools.’

    EFC’s Laura Hurley said: ‘Exposing pupils to presentations that misinform them and cause them distress goes against all good educational practice and is an abdication of schools’ pastoral duty of care. It is time that schools took responsibility for providing good quality, evidence-based education about abortion themselves and stopped their reliance on a range of outside agencies whose educational provision does not meet the basic standards which would be required in delivery of any other subject.’

    For related articles see:

    http://www.secularnewsdaily.com/2012/04/03/secret-recordings-reveal-anti-abortion-group-spreading-falsehoods-in-schools/

    ReplyDelete
  5. Choice, not compulsion, the proper place for God in schools

    by Rob Boston Secular News Daily January 10, 2012

    After the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month, we heard the usual din from the intolerant voices of the Religious Right asserting that the violence happened because God is not allowed in public schools.

    It’s an inaccurate, simplistic and offensive argument. For starters, prayer and other religious activities are not banned from public schools; only school-sponsored or mandated prayer has been declared unconstitutional. There’s a world of difference between the two.

    The Religious Right’s chorus is loud and strident, to be sure. Thankfully, theirs are not the only religious voices out there. More thoughtful commentary is also being heard. Among them is this piece by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan.

    “In America our public schools are intended to be religiously neutral,” Hamilton observes on his blog. “Our teachers and schools are neither to endorse nor to inhibit religion. I believe this is a very good thing. When my kids were growing up I wanted their teachers to teach them science, reading, math, and history. I also wanted them to care about my kids. But I did not want my children’s public school teachers teaching them religion. That was my job as a parent, and the job of our church, Sunday school, and youth group.”

    Hamilton also provides a perceptive Christian response to those who argue that God has been expelled from the classroom.

    He writes, “We don’t need mandatory, non-sectarian prayers read over the loudspeaker to ‘put God back in schools.’ God never left the schools. God is still at work through the hundreds of thousands of gifted teachers and administrators, committed parents, and passionate volunteers who seek to help give our children ‘a future with hope.’”

    I was also struck by the first comment to Hamilton’s blog. It comes from John, a young man who says he graduated from a public high school in 2009. John says he never felt he had to hide his faith or that it was hampered in school.

    “No, my teachers didn’t teach religion, and we didn’t have a group prayer to start the day,” John writes. “But that didn’t matter. My prayer life was dictated by my own sense of spiritual discipline, it didn’t need to be required by the school. My religious education came from my parents, my church, and my Bible.”

    John asserts, “Often times I find those that are claiming that our schools don’t allow God, are people who have not been in a public school for many, many years and are misinterpreting what they hear.”

    I’ve had the same thought many times. I’m a public school parent, and when I hear the Religious Right talk, the schools they describe sound nothing like the ones I’m familiar with. In the schools my daughter and son have attended, no student has ever been ejected for saying grace over lunch, religion is objectively discussed when it’s relevant to the curriculum and plenty of student-run clubs that focus on religious (and non-religious) topics meet during non-instructional time.

    Hamilton reminds us there is a place for religion in public education – and that place is governed by principles like equal treatment and non-compulsion. Voluntary school prayer exists, but mandatory school prayer has long been expelled.

    Good riddance to it. Under the model Hamilton celebrates, our public schools do what they must in a multi-faith, multi-philosophy society: welcome all young people – be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist or none of the above.

    P.S. I noticed that Hamilton earned his undergraduate degree at Oral Roberts University! That just makes his comments all the sweeter.

    http://www.secularnewsdaily.com/2013/01/choice-not-compulsion-the-proper-place-for-god-in-schools/

    ReplyDelete
  6. Britain Grants Asylum to Afghan Atheist

    A 21-year-old Afghan who says he does not believe in God has been granted asylum by the U.K. over fears of religious persecution if he were to return to his conservative society.

    by Nico Hines, The Daily Beast January 15, 2014

    A 21-year-old Afghan atheist has been granted asylum by Britain over fears of religious persecution if he were forced to return home.

    It is believed to be the first time a lack of religion has been accepted in an asylum application under the United Nation’s 1951 Refugee Convention. The young man, who wishes to remain anonymous, fled Afghanistan in 2007 after a conflict involving his family in the war-torn nation. His lawyers argued that it would be unsafe for him to return home given his rejection of Islam.

    When he moved to the West at the age of 16, he was still a practicing Muslim but the teenager says he gradually lost his faith. He even dabbled in church attendance to “see if Christianity had any meaning for him,” according to legal papers submitted to the British government as part of his case. “After a while, he realized that it did not and that he had no religious beliefs,” his lawyers wrote.

    Under Sharia, he would be regarded as an “apostate” for renouncing Islam, and his lawyers claim he could be sentenced to death if he was outed as an atheist in Afghanistan’s conservative society. In 2006, the United States government protested against a high-profile case of an Afghan Christian convert who was told by the Afghan Supreme Court to convert back to Islam or be executed. He was eventually released after the intervention of President Hamid Karzai.

    Britain’s Home Office accepted the argument that an atheist could be under threat in Afghanistan and approved the application. The ramifications are unclear: no legal precedent has been set by the decision but it may prove difficult for the government to reject further asylum applications from people born in strict Islamic societies who say that they don’t believe in God. A spokesman for the legal team involved told The Daily Beast that they had anticipated media interest in the case but did “not necessarily” think it would attract further atheist asylum seekers.

    The asylum application was submitted by Kent Law Clinic, which is a free service partially staffed by students from the University of Kent’s Law School. Claire Splawn, a second year law student, who describes herself as a “missionary kid” and Christian drafted the application. “We argued that an atheist should be entitled to protection from persecution on the grounds of their belief in the same way as a religious person is protected,” she said.

    She argued that it would have been virtually impossible for the man to blend in with the Afghan community without exposing his own beliefs. “In Afghanistan, and even in Kabul, life is lived in such a way that everyone is connected with everyone else. There is no sense of privacy, and his lack of religious beliefs would become very quickly known,” the application stated.

    In 2010, a tragic story emerged from the Maldives, where the local media reported that Ismail Mohamed Didi, 25, had committed suicide after colleagues at the airport where he worked discovered that he was an atheist.

    It is compulsory for citizens of the Maldives to be Sunni Muslims, and the air traffic controller, whose apostasy was being investigated by his bosses, had reached out to international charities about applying for asylum in Britain as an atheist. He never left the country; his body was found hanging from the control tower of Male International Airport.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/15/britain-grants-asylum-to-afghan-atheist.html

    ReplyDelete
  7. News from a spy in the ACE camp

    by Jonny Scaramanga, Leaving Fundamentalism January 20, 2014

    Every now and then I get an email from someone who is currently in Accelerated Christian Education and hating it. In some ways, these emails are tragic. I think it always sucks when children are given a deficient education, but it’s worse when there’s an alternative available and it’s against the child’s express wishes. In other ways, they’re kind of awesome. It gives me hope that the ACE indoctrination program isn’t working, and it means these students won’t have so much unlearning to do later in life.

    Tyler Stoltzfus is the most articulate of the students I know combating the system from within. This is his story.

    ***
    Hello, everyone. My name is Tyler and I am currently undergoing my senior year in an ACE school called Gospel Haven Academy. I’ve been enrolled in this school for what I shudder to call my entire academic career. (If you don’t like the high school PACEs, you should see their kindergarten counterparts.)

    I hasten to say that, next to most of the people I’ve read about or talked to, my experience has been downright pleasant. In fact, until about halfway through my sophomore year, my opinion of the ACE would’ve been wholly different to what it is now. (Most of my classmates are still of the opinion that this is a decent curriculum.) I accredit this partly to the type of community in which I’ve grown up. It’s a small town with the largest settlement of Amish in the world. My father grew up Amish. My mother was not herself Amish, but both of her parents were. (I don’t mean to brag, but I even speak a little bit of Dutch myself.) As you’ve probably guessed, we were never exactly on the cutting edge of science. Most of my peers, when asked, would tell you that they’d love to go to the Creation Museum in Cincinnati, and learn about the science behind creationism. (As if there was some.) When the ACE PACEs told us that before the flood, there was a large water canopy surrounding the earth, we believed them. I consider myself extremely lucky to be, as far as I know, the only graduate from my school that understands that we share an ancestry with apes, and that the evidence for this is overwhelming.

    For any supporters of ACE in my audience, I feel like the point needs to be made that presenting pseudoscience to impressionable children is wrong. In my humble opinion, telling a proven myth as a fact is a form of child abuse.

    For a long time, (and I wholeheartedly attribute this gap in my understanding to my time in ACE) I didn’t realize that if something is unreasonable, you just shouldn’t believe it. The relentless war on reason within Accelerated Christian Education is not only enduring. As far as I can tell, it is succeeding.

    As one of the “lucky” ones who got to participate at ACE’s International Student Convention (ISC) more than once, I can confidently say that for the whole time during every rally, during performance competition, and during any type discourse between me and an adult from some other school, or, God-forbid someone on staff at ISC, it was one of the most repressive feelings that I’ve ever had.

    continued below

    ReplyDelete
  8. I remember clearly one specific time while eating dinner in the cafeteria for which you had to go through dress check to get your food, some of friends and I were scolded for not having our top button closed. A man came up to us and said, and I quote, “Now, fellows, I know that we don’t always see the little things — but God sees.” The girls on our volleyball team (for which, you also had to go through dress check) were nearly thrown out of the game for rolling up their sleeves. (For those of you that don’t know the ISC dress code, it’s worth reading)

    Despite all of that kind of thing, I managed to have a good time. I actually made some good friends. I just wish they wouldn’t make it so difficult with their unreasonable guidelines.

    Recently, I remember doing music PACE #5. For you to understand this, you need to know that music is extremely near and dear to me. In that PACE, the statement is made that, “If any music means different things to two people, it is then automatically suspect, and should probably not be used.” It’s extremely hard to understand their reasoning behind this. I think one would be hard pressed to find any song that mean the exact same things to two people, regardless of whether that song is secular or religious. But then, in that particular PACE they also said that Christian rock is still in the spirit of the devil, and should not be something to which we subject our emotions. I laughed this off really very easily.

    But, let’s be honest, there is some excellent material to read on this blog about the horrors of the material taught by ACE (I did not pay Tyler to say this – Jonny). The somewhat-overlooked crime, I think, is the method by which the material is taught. My school is currently in the process of switching to a different curriculum. (Unfortunately, they’re starting from the bottom up, so I don’t see many benefits from that.) Some of the things taught in the science and history books are broadly similar to the lies taught be ACE, and, don’t get me wrong, it makes me angry as hell, but at least they’re learning to learn. At least their creativity is not stifled. At least they can ask questions without waiting half an hour to get a half-hearted response because the teacher they’re asking went through a f***ing weekend of training.*

    The biggest injustice, in my opinion, is not that these children are taught pseudoscience, revisionist history, or right-wing propaganda, though those things make me angry as hell, as I said. The biggest injustice is that the thinking of the people who go through this God-forsaken curriculum is stifled to the point that people accept the things they learn from this curriculum as God’s own truth, and believe it as fact without a hint of skepticism that so creates the intelligence of the best among us.

    * Tyler is exaggerating here, but not by much. ACE supervisor training (the only compulsory qualification to run an ACE ‘learning center’) actually takes four days.

    Check out Tyler’s blog, All But Objective. http://allbutobjective.blogspot.ca/

    To read the links embedded in this article go to:

    http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/news-from-a-spy-in-the-ace-camp/

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am a High School Atheist Going to Christian School That Uses a Curriculum Written by Fundamentalists

    If teaching God’s point of view requires teaching blatant mistruths, maybe it’s time to rethink.

    By Tyler Stoltzfus, AlterNet January 22, 2014

    Hello. My name is Tyler. I’m 17 years old, an atheist, and currently in my senior year of high school at a private Christian institution that uses a curriculum known as Accelerated Christian Education.

    If you’re unfamiliar with ACE, it’s a school curriculum for children K-12 written by fundamentalist Baptists. As you can imagine, these are probably not the most qualified people to write an educational program. On its website, ACE describes its methods this way: "By integrating character-building principles and Scripture memory into the academics, the program helps children grow to see life from God’s point of view."

    If teaching God’s point of view requires you to teach blatant mistruths, maybe it’s time to rethink God’s point of view.

    When conversing about my atheism, I invariably feel like I’m at an AA (Atheists Anonymous) meeting. Not that atheism is a disease to cure. It’s just that when you talk about it to people who believe in God, or God forbid, are religious fundamentalists, behind questions like “Why?” or “For how long?” I get the impression they think there’s a psychological or emotional problem that’s causing my disbelief.

    No doubt, this reaction is to be expected, but I don’t have to like it. Having only a high school education, there are only a handful of topics I consider myself worthy to discuss with an individual of learned status. Most of the time I prefer to listen and cull the available knowledge from someone smarter than myself. The topic of the existence of God has been something different.

    I have a reputation at school for loving to play devil’s advocate. (Pun intended.) I do it because I want to know that my opponent has fully thought through his or her ideas. But in this specific case, I am not disagreeing for the sake of disagreement. I am disagreeing because I really think that my opponent is, for lack of a better word, wrong. Wrong about what is arguably the most formidable question known to man.

    Granted, this position becomes far more difficult to hold when it’s not only my peers with whom I disagree. As far as I can tell, the entire culture around me takes an opposite stance. My parents, my relatives, my friends, my classmates, my teachers, and my principal, if they believe as they profess, are all theists. Christians, more specifically. There may be the odd closeted atheist or agnostic here and there, but I have no knowledge of where any of these like-minded people might be or how to go about finding them. If I left my house and drove for 15 minutes, I can confidently say I would have more than 20 churches at my disposal.

    So it's by no small coincidence that I am enrolled in a Christian school. And I’m an atheist. Sounds like fun, right?

    A part of me enjoys going through ACE and finding its weak points. In the interest of honesty, were I given the the chance to start over and do my education elsewhere, I’m not sure I would change a thing. I think that ACE is at least partially responsible for my questioning nature.

    continued below

    ReplyDelete
  10. As an aspiring rebel, I was never one to accept everything I read in my PACEs as absolute truth. When ACE told me that things like rock music was bad, I would shrug it off and listen to the Beatles anyway. It never mattered to me what any ACE executive would’ve thought. Even when they were right in front of me while I was at the ACE International Student Convention, what they thought of me just couldn’t have made less of a difference to my opinion of myself. Passing ACE’s excessive dress code was a necessary evil that I actually remember as a good time. I met some new friends and bonded with some of the ones I already had. Though, if I’m honest, I didn't have fun because of ACE; I had fun in spite of it.

    Maybe it should come as no surprise that I wouldn’t take ACE's science (or, more accurately, pseudoscience) as the truth either. From what I had learned about evolution from ACE, I knew it was a theory that any freshman worth his salt should have seen through. Contained inside those PACE questionnaires are some of the most flimsy arguments in favor of creationism ever devised. Even if there was real evidence for divine creation of the universe, I can tell you with absolute certainty, that at this point, you’re not going to find it in ACE.

    It was only when I started to think about it that I realized there is a whole scientific community backing up this theory of evolution. I realized it would take a massive conspiracy on the part of the scientific community to cover up the idea that maybe evolution wasn’t airtight. This is no problem for ACE. From what I can tell, they think there is a massive conspiracy to disprove God with the theory of evolution. The problem with that should be plainly obvious. To say that evolution disproves God is fundamentally wrong. It says nothing of the sort.

    With an open mind, I began a simple Google search to find the evidence behind the theory of evolution. Imagine my genuine surprise when I found a mountain of it. I had always been led to believe, not just by ACE, but also by organizations like Answers In Genesis, that the fossil record disproved evolution. It doesn’t. Not only did I find fossil evidence, I found DNA and vestigial evidence as well. I found out that there is no denial of science among evolutionary biologists.

    Needless to say, my opinion of Accelerated Christian Education only deteriorated from that point on. All it takes is one broken egg to realize they are all spoiled. Being too young to understand what was going on at the time (as I suspect most ACE students are), I didn’t realize the complete demonization of the word “socialism.” I didn’t understand that ethically, they should not have been feeding me the type of right-wing propaganda that seems so obvious now.

    For a long time, I didn’t understand that if a belief is unreasonable and unjustified, you shouldn’t hold that belief. This is so clear to me now, but then, I just didn’t get it. If I recall correctly, ACE’s reasoning was something along the lines of, “Do not follow your own reasoning, because man’s reasoning is not God’s reasoning.” I’m fine with someone holding that belief, but to write a curriculum based almost entirely around it is wrong. The purpose of an education is to teach people to learn and to reason for themselves. A curriculum that does not do this is useless.

    Those are just some of the problems with the material ACE teaches.

    continued below

    ReplyDelete
  11. The real fun begins when you have a look at the method used to teach the material. The children who are subjected to this curriculum sit at an isolated desk by themselves for hours on end, working by themselves, raising a flag when they have questions. It’s basically like a student from any other curriculum doing homework as their regular work—and then for homework, you get more homework.

    With the way this curriculum is structured, asking questions is relatively difficult. Most of the time, ACE instructors have only gone through about four days of training for their teaching position.

    In my humble opinion, questions are the very essence of learning. The easier it is for children to ask their questions, the better. ACE is moving in the wrong direction. From what I’ve heard, the appeal of ACE to most users is that only a few teachers are necessary to use it to the fullest. I can understand this perspective, but my thought is that if you don’t have enough resources to operate a school properly, you shouldn’t be doing it at all. Rather than give children a mediocre education at a Christian school, I think kids should just be sent to a public school. The problem is that this won’t happen because, for most people in the same position as my principal, the primary objective is not education, but indoctrination to Christianity. If you consider ACE from this angle, it’s a bit more successful. As far as I know, I will be the only atheist or even non-Christian ever to graduate from my school.

    I do have a good amount of hope though, as far as the method of teaching is concerned. (Not for ACE, but for my school.) About four years ago, the school board hired a new principal. One of his rather large goals for the school is to switch completely from using the ACE curriculum to a classroom setting. The changes are happening slowly, and from the bottom up, so I don’t see many benefits yet. I have a younger sister, though, whose only experience with PACEs was in kindergarten. I like to think she’ll be taught to question things much more than I was.

    The problems with the new science program are still obvious to many of the people who read some of the material. One section in the book has the heading, “Why I Do Not Believe In Evolution.” The contents are as follows:

    1. Evolution cannot answer my question, “Where did the world come from?”

    2. Evolution is not scientific. The study of science requires

    a. something to observe, analyze, and record,
    b. someone to do the observing, analyzing, and recording,
    c. and the ability to repeat this scientific work.

    In the beginning, the only personality present was God; therefore, He is the only One qualified to answer my question.

    3. Evolutionary ideas are not verified by scientific evidence.

    4. Evolutionary ideas constantly change.

    5. Evolutionary ideas are as varied as the individuals who think them up.

    6. Evolution must be accepted by faith. Faith in evolution is unjustified by works. [Out of everything in this section, this is the one that makes me the angriest. It’s such a fundamental misunderstanding of science.]

    This section, along with one titled “Why I Believe In Creation,” was sent home with my sister and her classmates for approval from their parents. I was extremely interested to hear what this new curriculum had to say about the Genesis account of Creation versus the scientific account. I was utterly disgusted to find out that it was no better than ACE’s version of the story. As you can easily see, it gives Darwin’s bright idea none of the intellectual and scientific respect it deserves.

    continued below

    ReplyDelete
  12. Troubled, I showed the paper to my parents. Once I showed them some of the obvious problems with these things that were taught as scientific facts, they gave me their consent to speak to the principal.

    Let me point out to you, right now, that my parents are both young-earth Creationists. What I did was not try to prove to them that humans are descended from apes, or that Noah’s flood never really happened. What I showed them was simply the problems with how this textbook misrepresented evolution to the students.

    It was with the same intention that I walked into the principal’s office the next morning. (My principal has always been someone I respected. Even if I didn’t always agree with his ideas, he was always largely a reasonable man.) I started to show him some of the places where this book went severely wrong. I wasn’t trying to convince him to teach evolution. All I was asking him to do was not to misrepresent it to them.

    Then he asked a question which, for good reason, made me lose some of my respect for him. He asked me, “Tyler, how do you feel about Jesus?” As if that was somehow relevant to the criticisms I had brought forward.

    With as much composure as I could gather, I told him his question was irrelevant to our discussion and that I would answer it later if he was still interested. Later, we had a short conversation that was not altogether unpleasant, though it really wasn’t enough to bring my opinion of him completely back to where it had been.

    This is the brand of anecdote that is all too common at this point in my life. It’s not that the people around me identify with my criticisms and have rational answers for them. Rather, they misunderstand why I believe what I do and they are only concerned with my (in their opinion) inevitable conversion to Christianity. It seems to me they take for granted that when someone has without bias considered Christianity against its alternatives, that individual will then turn to Christianity and never look back. This is a somewhat ironic phenomenon that is not uniquely Christian, but is rather inherent to any religious belief. Of course, you see the problem. If every religion thinks it is the only one that makes perfect sense, it’s going to be extremely difficult to determine which religion is telling the truth, if any of them.

    This is just one of a number of criticisms I have of Christianity, or of any religious faith, for that matter. It declares itself the only true religion, and then tries to demonstrate exactly why this is the case. The other way around would be infinitely more convincing to me. Yet I feel like the people around me will not hear my criticisms, no matter how persuasive I try to be. I think the reason for this is that questioning is seen as sin, at least by most Christians. They think, “If Satan has you doubting, he’s got you right where he wants you,” and subsequently try to eradicate all thought of skepticism.

    Even if I do convert to some religion (God forbid), I hope I never look back at my atheism with shame or remorse. It’s been one of the most educational experiences of my life thus far. Time spent questioning one’s own beliefs is never time wasted.

    http://www.alternet.org/im-high-school-atheist-going-christian-school-uses-curriculum-written-fundamentalists

    ReplyDelete
  13. Louisiana School Sued for Proselytizing and Religious Harassment of Sixth-Grade Student

    American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana PRESS RELEASE January 22, 2014

    SHREVEPORT, La.—The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana filed a federal lawsuit today against the Sabine Parish School Board, alleging that officials at one school harassed and proselytized a sixth-grader because of his Buddhist faith. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two parents, Scott and Sharon Lane, and three of their children, including their son, "C.C.," who is a lifelong Buddhist of Thai descent.

    "Public schools should be welcoming places for students of all backgrounds," said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "No child should be harassed and made to feel like an outsider in his own classroom, and students should not have to endure school officials constantly imposing their religious beliefs on them while they are trying to learn."

    According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, C.C enrolled in Negreet High School, which serves students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, earlier this year and quickly became the target of harassment by school staff. His science teacher, Rita Roark, has repeatedly taught students that the Earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, that evolution is "impossible," and that the Bible is "100 percent true."

    Roark also regularly features religious questions on her tests such as "ISN'T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" When C.C. did not write in Roark's expected answer, "LORD," she belittled him in front of the rest of the class. While studying other religions, Roark has also told students that Buddhism is "stupid."

    Beyond Roark's classroom, the school also regularly incorporates official Christian prayer into class and school events. School officials display religious iconography throughout hallways and classrooms, including a large portrait of Jesus Christ, and an electronic marquee in front of the school scrolls Bible verses as students enter the building.

    When the Lanes objected to these practices, Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebarb told them that, "this is the Bible belt." She suggested that C.C. should "change" his faith and advised the Lanes that their only recourse was to transfer him to another district school 25 miles away where, in her words, "there are more Asians." Ultimately, C.C.'s parents did transfer him to another school to protect him, but school officials there also unconstitutionally promote religion.

    "The treatment this child and his family have endured is not only disgraceful, it's unconstitutional," said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

    In addition to the federal lawsuit, the ACLU and ACLU of Louisiana will submit complaints and requests for investigation today to the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice.

    A copy of the filed complaint is here. https://www.laaclu.org/resources/2014/012213LaneComplaint.pdf

    https://www.laaclu.org/press/2014/012214.htm

    ReplyDelete
  14. Lawsuit alleges 7 year old quizzed on religion ordered to sit alone at lunch for telling classmates he didn’t believe in God

    By Eugene Volokh, The Washington Post August 3, 2015

    The allegations from the Complaint, which claims the teacher’s actions violated the child’s First Amendment rights:

    1. In February of 2015, A.B. was a second grader at Forest Park Elementary School, a school that is within Fort Wayne Community Schools. During a discussion with classmates on the playground he responded to a question by indicating that he did not go to church because he did not believe in God. This resulted in his teacher interrogating the child as to his beliefs and requiring the child to sit by himself during lunch and not talk to his classmates during lunch for three days. This violates the First Amendment. The defendant’s actions caused great distress to A.B. and resulted in the child being ostracized by his peers past the three-day “banishment.” No meaningful attempt has been made to remedy these injuries and the child seeks his damages. . . .

    7. In February of 2015, A.B. was a second-grade student at Forest Park Elementary School. . . .

    9. On or about February 23, 2015, A.B. and his classmates were on the playground during the school day immediately before lunch when A.B. was asked by one of his classmates if he attended church.

    10. A.B. responded by stating that he did not go to church and did not believe in God. He also stated that it was fine with him if his inquiring classmate believed in God.

    11. The classmate said that A.B. had hurt her feelings by saying that he did not believe in God and started to cry.

    12. A playground supervisor reported to [A.B.’s teacher] what had happened.

    13. At that point the students were going to lunch and [the teacher] asked A.B. if he had told the girl that he did not believe in God and A.B. said he had and asked what he had done wrong.

    14. [The teacher] asked A.B. if he went to church, whether his family went to church, and whether his mother knew how he felt about God.

    15. She also asked A.B. if he believed that maybe God exists.

    16. [The teacher] told A.B. that she was very concerned about what he had done and that she was going to contact his mother — although she never did.

    17. This was very upsetting to A.B. as he was made to feel that he had done something wrong.

    18. A day or two after the initial incident, A.B. and his fellow-student who had become upset with his comment on the playground were sent to another adult employed at Forest Park Elementary School.

    19. This person asked them what the problem was and A.B. indicated that his classmate had become upset when, in response to her question, he had said he did not go to church and did not believe in God.

    20. Upon hearing this, the adult employee looked at A.B.’s classmate and stated that she should not be worried and should be happy she has faith and that she should not listen to A.B.’s bad ideas. She then patted the little girl’s hand.

    21. This was, again, extremely upsetting to A.B. as it reinforced his feeling that he had done something very wrong.

    continued below

    ReplyDelete
  15. 22. On the day of the incident and for an additional two days thereafter, [the teacher] required that A.B. sit by himself during lunch and told him he should not talk to the other students and stated that this was because he had offended them. This served to reinforce A.B.’s feeling that he had committed some transgression that justified his exclusion.

    23. When V.S. was told by A.B. what had happened she called the Assistant Principal of the school and demanded an explanation.

    24. The Assistant Principal set up a three-way telephone conversation with V.S., [the teacher] and himself.

    25. [The teacher] confirmed her involvement in this matter as noted above.

    26. V.S. demanded that the school not isolate her son or punish him for his beliefs.

    27. After three days A.B. was allowed to join his classmates for lunch and all sanctions and restrictions were lifted.

    28. After this three-day period, and after V.S. complained, A.B. was told by [the teacher] and other teachers that he could believe what he wants.

    29. But this was after A.B. had been publicly separated from his classmates and informed that he could not speak to them. All the students in his class heard and were aware of this. He was publicly shamed and made to feel that his personal beliefs were terribly wrong.

    30. No efforts were made to correct the damages that had been done.

    31. A.B. came home from school on multiple occasions crying saying that he knows that everyone at school — teachers and students — hate him.

    32. Even now there are some classmates who will not talk to A.B.

    33. Even now A.B. remains anxious and fearful about school, which is completely contrary to how he felt before this incident.

    34. At all times defendant acted, and refused to act, under color of state law.

    The school district released a statement saying, “It is clear that it is not the province of a public school to advance or inhibit religious beliefs or practices. Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, this remains the inviolate province of the individual and the church of his/her choice. The rights of any minority, no matter how small, must be protected.” So far, the court hasn’t decided any substantive matters in the case, but it did issue a decision last Tuesday allowing the child’s mother (as the child’s legal guardian) to proceed anonymously, so as to preserve the child’s anonymity to the extent possible:

    A.B. is a young child and this suit involves religion and public schools-a topic that “has a tendency to inflame unreasonably some individuals” in most communities, including Fort Wayne. Accordingly, at this time, the Court finds that the risk to A.B.’s health and safety, if his mother is identified by name, outweighs the public’s interest in judicial openness and overcomes the presumption against anonymous litigation.

    The complaint was filed by the ACLU of Indiana.

    read the full complaint at:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2015/08/ABvM.pdf

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/08/03/lawsuit-alleges-7-year-old-quizzed-on-religion-ordered-to-sit-alone-at-lunch-for-telling-classmates-he-didnt-believe-in-god/

    ReplyDelete