High School Atheist Ostracized by Town — Atheist Community Steps Up

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

When a high school atheist tried to stop prayer at his graduation, he was ostracized, threatened, and kicked out of his house. But the atheist community stepped in.

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

Damon Fowler
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 are 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 cancelled the prayer.

Then Fowler’s name, and his role in this incident, was leaked. And, 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 of all this, let’s be very, very clear about the facts and the law here: 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. And 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 that 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.

Bastrop enterprise
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 cel 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 assisting Damon, and will help put him through college; and as of the last report I’ve seen, Damon is currently living with his sister, also in Texas. 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. (UPDATE: The scholarship fund is now closed. Info on where you can make donations is at the end of this piece.)

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.

Scarlet letter
Damon Fowler was ostracized by his school, his town, even his parents. But he 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 cancelled. 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. At the closing of the scholarship fund, the atheist community had donated over $31,000. Essentially filling the role that his parents have abandoned.

Why am I bringing this up?

Church sign
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.

Helping hands
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.

Good without god billboard
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.

Damon Fowler’s scholarship fund is now closed. If you’re inspired by this story to make a donation, Damon has asked donations to go to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the ACLU, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, the Secular Student Alliance… “any will do. As long as it’s going toward students, secularization, or teaching critical thinking over superstition.”

High School Atheist Ostracized by Town — Atheist Community Steps Up

46 thoughts on “High School Atheist Ostracized by Town — Atheist Community Steps Up

  1. 1

    Kids like Damon are true American heroes. It takes a lot of guts to take a stand that isn’t popular with the majority.
    He earned every bit of the support we gave him.

  2. 3

    Good article. The only changes I would make is to not capitalize the word “god”, as Christians don’t have a copyright on the word. We (and minority religions) shouldn’t give them such… credence. Also, I would add the word “their” in front of “god”, as again, it puts Christianity on a pedestal. That’s part of the reason they act as they do… act as though they’re persecuted, because they are so used to their god being referred to as “the” god. It bugs me when atheists pass the chance to plant this seed, and cling on to their prior indoctrination.

  3. 4

    Mike, the rule is quite simple. When the term “god” is used as a proper noun, it is capitalized. Christians, Jews, and Muslims use the word as a proper noun, so we capitalize it in that context.
    We do the same for words like “mom” and “dad.” I don’t say, “did you see mom the other day?” but “did you see Mom the other day?” Capitalizing “god” is hardly saying Christians have a monopoly on the word.

  4. 7

    Anyone who is in favor of prayer has little to no understanding of the first amendment and secular politics. You’re all fascist morons.

  5. 8

    I was so amazed at what this community did that I was literally choked up.
    I saw this on reddit, passed it around to those I knew, and donated when Hemant added the story to his site, as did so many others.
    This is the first time that so many of my atheists friends, who like myself, are wasting away all alone in little suburbs and hamlets, really understood the bloc of solidarity that we do have.
    I’m proud of that young man for standing in the face of that storm, and proud of everyone who spread the word and helped in whatever way they could.

  6. 9

    I am not an athiest. I was in fact raised Southern Baptist. All the same, what this child did put him as an example to his generation for standing up for his beliefs. He is Right. Prayer does not belong in school, it belongs at home, at church, or in the privacy of your own thoughts. And when he stood up for his beliefs he was horribly abused, to discourage others from backing him up. Thank you to the men and women who stood beside this child.

  7. 10

    Is anyone old enough to remember them telling us that if the Commies took over, anyone standing up for what they believe, and resisting the beliefs imposed by the state, would be thrown in jail? I dunno about you lot, but I’d rather be thrown in jail than exiled and abused. Is it just me, or does this seem, I dunno, un-American?
    Also, I haven’t exactly done a lot of Bible study, but I’m trying to remember the part where Jesus tells the nonbeliever to get the hell out and Jesus’ followers gang up and threaten to beat the crap out of the nonbeliever. Are these people being, maybe, just a little, un-Christian?
    Just, you know, sayin’.

  8. 13

    I sort of see what is going on here – someone offends an arbitrary social norm, everyone in the local society reacts against him, tribally – but I’m really surprised at how strong and sustained was the tribe’s gut reaction, and how reason didn’t prevail eventually. Is it something in the water down south?

  9. Kae

    I have long held the belief that it is something in the water that just makes people behave like superstitious pricks. especially when a “child” points out that the “adults” are breaking their own rules. I’m familiar with stories like this on an intimate level, having grown up in a place called (and I shit you not,) Yeehaw Junction, FL. I barely got out with my sanity intact. Fowler is an inspiration to lonely atheists trapped in southern hells everywhere. The universe could use more like him, and those that offered aid.

  10. 16

    I appreciate the link very much, and I thank you for your attention to this important story. I am convinced, now more than ever, that this is exactly why we need a strong and at least somewhat organized atheist community.

  11. 17

    (…)having grown up in a place called (and I shit you not,) Yeehaw Junction, FL.
    And of course I had to go check that this is indeed a real place. It is. It’s right by the Ronald Reagan Turnpike (toll road). You can’t make this stuff up.

  12. 18

    Exceptionally bias garbage:
    When this event first hit the scene I said simply this; If the school promotes the prayer- WRONG, however, if the students and as in this case, the valedictorian (or any other student for that matter) leads the prayer as a sign of his/her own beliefs than it is in full bounds of the law to allow this.
    The schools cannot schedule or lead prayer. This is a rather simple fact and easy idea to understand.
    The young man deserves all he brought upon himself. If you want to try and bully people’s freedoms with threats behind closed walls, you should be ready to accept the consequences, whether they be positive or negative.
    I have no personal weight on the side of prayer or against it as long as it is done within the legal guidelines there to protect all of our religious freedoms in the US.
    That being said, I have no (not an absolute inkling) of empathy for people who try to bully other beliefs with their own.
    This young atheist, in the over a dozen articles I have read and forums I have followed over the weeks, is simply a coward and a bully.

  13. 19

    Greta, I agree with everything you wrote in this article. It sickens me that these people call themselves Christians. What you describe is pure hatred being expressed by these “religious” bigots. The support that you wrote about is the love that we are wired for.
    The “evil” is in the hearts of those who attacked this brave young man.

  14. 20

    This young atheist, in the over a dozen articles I have read and forums I have followed over the weeks, is simply a coward and a bully.

    Bully? His school was planning to have an official, school-sponsored prayer — something that is blatantly illegal as well as immoral. Yes, what they wound up doing — having a student lead the prayer, rather than having it officially led by the school — was borderline legal (depending on whether the school egged her on to do it)… but it’s not what they had originally planned on. And it was their original plans that Fowler protested. How is it “bullying” to insist that the school not follow through on those original illegal plans? Do you think it’s “bullying” to insist on your legal and moral rights?
    And “coward”? How on earth do you figure that? Fowler risked ostracization, public condemnation, and more, in order to stand up for what he thought was right. Even if you don’t agree with his position… how on earth do you see his actions as cowardly?
    You seem to think that, because he insisted that the school not do something that was illegal and immoral but that was popular and that lots of people wanted, it was “bullying” to insist that they not do it. If so — that is a vile and despicable position. Shame on you.

  15. 21

    Talk about bias he didn’t even read the story properly enough to understand that 🙂 Ah the joys of living in Canada…

  16. 22

    The only bullies in this story are the christian bigots who choose to ignore their own rules as stated in Matthew 6:5-15. Damon is brave and is standing up not just for his own but everyone’s rights.

  17. 23

    I’m mostly with Catlin (upthread) on this one. I was raised Methodist and I’m mostly OK with other people being whatever as long as they don’t act like the alleged Christians in this story did. Disagreement = OK. But rising up as a community to punish and exile a lone kid? Turning your own child out of your house? I don’t think so.

  18. vel

    I suppose no one should be suprised with the actions of the Christians in this story. They are told over and over to hate their family, to reject anyone who dares not agree with them and their petty god. This is when supposed “liberal” Christians should finally realize just how hateful and ignorant their faith really is and no amount of apologetics/magic decoder ring using will cover it up.

  19. vel

    Otomis pitifully seems to ignore that the laws of the US are all about protecting the minority from the majority. Oh and Otomis, you seem to be quite a lot like your fellow Christians. You seem to think you can lie, attempt to twist things and no one will notice. Happily, that’s doesn’t work and you, and your religion, can be seen as the pathetic things that they are, totally dependent on fear and ignorance.

  20. 27

    Gimme that old time religion so I can beat the crap out of anyone who so much as questions me.
    THAT is their message, nothing more, nothing less.

  21. 28

    It profoundly sickens me that those who are most aggressive and extroverted are those who have the most “political” power in the Christian faith and are the same people who are profoundly ignorant of what it means to be a Christian.

  22. 29

    It profoundly sickens me that those who are most aggressive and extroverted are those who have the most “political” power in the Christian faith and are the same people who are profoundly ignorant of what it means to be a Christian.

    Ronald, I appreciate your anger towards the people who are ostracizing Damon Fowler, and your revulsion at/ rejection of their actions. Obviously, I share it. But here’s something you might want to consider:
    You do not get to be the sole arbiter of what it means to be a Christian.
    There are countless ways to be a Christian. There are Christians who insist that Christianity means hating homosexuality; there are Christians who insist that Christianity means loving and accepting homosexuality. There are Christians who insist that Christianity means women being subordinate to men; there are Christians who insist that Christianity means women being equal to men. There are Christians who insist that Christianity means trying to get other people in line with your religious beliefs; there are Christians who insist that Christianity means respecting and supporting different beliefs. Etc. Etc. Etc.
    And all of these people can back up their positions with Scripture. The Bible itself is so vague, and so internally contradictory, that it can be used to back up pretty much any position. I guarantee you that, whatever version of Christianity you believe in, there are plenty of people who think you’re getting it totally wrong.
    This idea that Christians who behave appallingly aren’t true Christians? It isn’t supportable. Unless you have a time machine and can prove that Jesus (a) really existed and (b) agreed with everything you think, you have no reason to think that you know what it means to be a Christian. You don’t get to make that judgment for everyone else.

  23. 30

    The young man deserves all he brought upon himself.

    Really? He deserves the threats of violence? He deserves the death threats? Maybe even deserves someone carrying out one or both of those threats? There’s no polite way to put this, but fuck you. No one deserves that.
    And your idea that the school can just offload the prayer to a student in that nudge-nudge, wink-wink way makes a mockery out of the intent of the constitutional amendment. If that were legal, why bother having a student do it. Why not just get a priest to give a “motivational speech” (unreviewed, of course), or just claim that all the teachers there are “off the clock” for the duration of their public speaking and can exercise their free speech rights however they please. Why bother with this part of the constitution at all if it’s that trivially easy to avoid?

  24. 31

    I think the “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” not-technically-school prayer that happened demonstrates an important point. I have zero legal expertise, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if a lawyer told me that prayer was legal – that no one was abusing their power in a way that the law can control.
    But societies have a lot of power that the government can’t control. Threats of physical violence are, I imagine, illegal, and kicking your son out of the house is probably child abuse or abandonment under some conditions. But people can “hound, pillorize, and ostracize” whoever they want to, legally – that’s free speech. Private people have an awesome amount of social power, and the law can’t and shouldn’t restrict that (excepting certain extremes like libel and assault and so on that violate other rights.) But a society has just as much moral obligation to use its social power well, as a government has moral obligation to use its legal power well.
    A lot of the “shitstorm” that Fowler is living in is not illegal – but it is still religious oppression. It may not be a crime, but it is exactly as contemptible and evil as it would be if the government did the same thing.

  25. 32

    Greta, I understand your position on what it “means to be Christian”. There are many different ways to interpret the bible and the interpretation, in my opinion, is dependent upon how open or closed the individual or organization is and how far along they have evolved in being able to love their fellow human beings. Jesus criticized the leaders in his faith for being hypocrites and misleading their followers. He did not criticize those outside the faith. His sermon on the mount is the example of how a life is to be lived. Unfortunately, it seems to be forgotten.
    I know there are plenty of people who disagree with me because they think that my non-violent beliefs are the beliefs of a pacifist and anarchist. Greta, what I judge in myself and others is how far we have evolved in our ability to love our fellow human beings and I fail everyday in that endeavor and if I am aware of that failure I can correct it. If I see examples of how others fail to love I will speak out about it. We love our neighbors as ourselves. The problem is if we do not know how to love ourselves then our neighbor is going to have a hard time with us and we will experience the natural consequences of our lack of love and others will see Christianity as harmful which it is when so many express such hatred and fear and call it “christianity”.

  26. 33

    I am outraged by the abject cowardice displayed by the Bubba Gestapo, this kid has shown that he has more honor and strength of conviction than the average person twice his age. I am glad that for once, we have pulled together in support of Damon. These deluded theocrats must be fought and show that we will not back down.

  27. 34

    This story literally brings tears to my eyes. I think it hits a personal place for many Atheists, as well as anyone who has been ostracized by their families at a young age for expressing their beliefs. The out-pouring of support is overwhelming to read about, to say the least. I know from personal experience that having financial stability is so very important when that familial safety net is ripped away. It can never replace the emotional one, but it does help keep one afloat until another, more supportive ‘family’ can be established as an adult.
    The boy, well, man, has shown tremendous courage against the, “sit down, shut up” mentality that so many marginalized groups are expected to emulate in deference to the majority. There aren’t words to express my pride that there are students and young people such as him coming up through the ranks to inspire others to take a stand against these illegal happenings.
    His parents don’t realize it, but they should be proud that they raised such an independent and strong young man. Unfortunately, as with many parents, they will never comprehend the depth of their loss and their betrayal.
    I can only hope to instill real family values into my children. Values that don’t include disowning your child when they grow up to think independently, even and especially when they think differently than you.
    Wonderful post, Greta. Thank you for spreading this around.

  28. 35

    For one, I am happy that we get to see a typical example of christian love, tolerance, ethics, and kindness. It reminds me so much of what I have been subjected to by even my own family.
    Is it any surprise that theists are held in contempt and derision by rational people? I am awed by the courage shown by Damon. I hope from this point on, he has the good things someone of his courage and ethics deserves.

  29. 36

    Regarding the quote from Quinn in bold:
    “And what’s even more sad is this is a student who really hasn’t contributed anything to graduation or to their classmates,”
    I just wanted to say that pointing out that having a public graduation prayer in school is unconstitutional and opposing it is the single best thing he could have done for his graduation and his classmates, even if he did nothing else (which would be besides the point anyways). I think it does two things: one, pointing out that public prayer should not be in schools in itself is obvious. Secondly, that it might encourage other atheists to step up and speak out. Of course he was ostracized, and I’m sure the religious people did their best to harass him so that other atheists might be discouraged from trying to speak up. But if you look at what happened to him after all that drama, I think it’s pretty clear that we do have plenty of support. Damon Fowler might have lost his parents from this (and I don’t know if this really might be considered a loss at all; that depends on how close he was with his parents), but I think he has gained quite a bit of support otherwise. As atheists, we are willing to help each other, and no amount of harassment from religious people is enough to shut us up.
    We should speak up about religion causing harm whenever it happens, and if people try to harass us as a result, we’ll still have support.

  30. 37

    I don’t attend church. But I see the value in a system of religion. You know, there are fanatics in the world that use religion to preach “truth” and judge others. But i most cases, in practice, people in many churches focus more on the goodwill and selflessness that religion tries to install into people. More good children came out of generations where Christianity was in public schools. Since it got “whined” out of sight, children have been behaving badly ever since.
    You have to understand that a percentage of the parental population don’t know how to raise kids. This is where a system of guidance comes into play. If a kid has bad experiences at home, chances are that kid will get good values at school. Now, school teaches nothing about good values. Its all boring academics and cruel socializing.
    Atheists think that absolute “truth” that you can see, smell, and hear is the answer to life. NOT. You end up lost without anything to guide you. You take away empathy and selflessness. Then your kids turn purely sarcastic from all the material evils sold to them. Then they spend their time senslessly exposing their naked bodies on webcam websites. All the while, atheist parents are oblivious.
    Regarding the kid getting ostracized at school. Having prayer is a positive experience that “adds something” good and sets an example. Complaining about it only subtracts something and adds negativity. That kid needed to learn that just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you gotta be disrespectful and shoot your mouth.
    I seriously feel sorry for you people’s kids. The ugliness of our present generation coincides with the increase in atheism. I could personally care less if Jesus actually walked on water. But I will admit that what he taught us is invaluable compared to what you people are removing from children.

  31. 38

    Joe M.:
    There were quite a lot of hidden assumptions in that…
    1) The current generation of young people are unusually immoral or ill-behaved.
    (Adults have been saying this about every generation of kids for hundreds or thousands of years. Meanwhile, the quality of human life steadily improves from generation to generation.)
    1a) Children of atheist parents are worse-behaved or more poorly parented than other children.
    (citation needed)
    2) Without religion there can be no values.
    (I’ve never seen a student handbook that didn’t specifically endorse respect, non-violence, and intellectual honesty. I haven’t seen one in the last ten years that left out diversity. None claimed religious support for their rules.)
    3) Valuing truth is inconsistent with principles and empathy.
    4) It is discourteous to claim one’s rights under the law
    4a) This is a valid reason not to claim one’s rights under the law.
    (Hard to keep society together if this were true…)
    5) Jesus’ ethics were exceptionally good.
    (Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean isn’t perfect, but it’s more effective and reasonable than the ethics in the gospels and was written first. The ethics of Kant, Mill, and Locke are each overwhelmingly better than the gospels’.)
    5a) Selflessness is good.
    (Competing claim: “I am exactly as important as each other human being. Because I’m the only one living my own life, pursuing my interests is my job first, to the extent that doing so is both just and possible.”)

  32. 39

    Interestingly, the school board meeting minutes from June 21, 2011, offer this tidbit about them opening the meeting with a prayer:

    C. Opening Prayer
    Cliff Sparks from Bastrop Christian Outreach Center offered the opening prayer.

  33. 40

    I’m Christian myself, but am an opponent of theocracy on constitutional grounds. Religion is and should be a personal matter. Kudos to the kid at the centre of this for standing up – that takes guts, and the people who threatened, bullied and ostracised him should be ashamed of themselves. What statement are they trying to make – that anyone who opposes them is “Fair Game”? That sounds like the way Scientology operates to me.

  34. 41

    Looking at this story from afar (Australia) It sickens me to see the mentality and bigotry of the people involved in targetting, intimidating a person who is legally in the right. Many people from my country are very worried about the USA and where its heading, it seems many people in your country and particularly those in power would prefer it to be a theocracy. And we all know how they turn out don’t we?

    Oh, and what wonderful parents this child had, to throw him out of the home! They should hang their heads in shame, but alas they probably don’t even have the intellignece to see what they did was disgusting and gutless.

  35. 43

    I not to mention my guys appeared to be analyzing the excellent things from the blog and then at once came up with a horrible suspicion I never thanked the website owner for those strategies. Most of the young boys came very interested to read through all of them and have sincerely been loving those things. Appreciate your truly being really accommodating and then for picking out this kind of very good topics millions of individuals are really wanting to be informed on. My sincere regret for not expressing appreciation to you sooner.

  36. 45

    My real concern here is the inhuman treatment meted out by the only people that have a duty to support him – his parents. If they are christian then they must realise the punishment their faith will accord them in the next life (if of course it exists)

    They clearly believe that loving their God is more important that loving their own child – I wonder what Jesus would have said about that. It never ceases to amaze me how christians ignore their own saviours teachings – what happened to “love thy enemies” and “do good to them that hate you”

    THEY should have been at the gates supporting their son and should be ashamed of themselves

  37. 46

    At risk of sounding totally stupid, I had no idea until a couple years ago (when I was studying American politics at college) that the US actually has (or at least, supposed to have) separation of church and state, and that prayers/religious stuff is not allowed in schools by the constitution. No clue.
    Because here in the UK, there is no such thing. I remember all during primary school, we had to sing hymns and say prayers every assembly, and I also remember that every Thursday afternoon there was a special, hour long assembly totally dedicated to the singing of hymns, for the whole school.

    This was not a religious school. It was a normal, state run, county primary school. I went to three different primary schools and they all had hymns and prayers to some degree, and I also remember a huuuge display in the corridor of one about how God created the world in 7 days.

    Again, not religious schools. Normal, public, state run schools.

    I also remember one humiliating time, when I was about 8 years old, I didn’t sing one of the hymns during assembly. It wasn’t any form of ‘rebellion’, at the time I did believe in God, I was just upset because a boy had pushed me over a few minutes before, and my arm hurt from where I fell, so I didn’t feel like singing. But one of the teachers saw that I wasn’t singing, and after the hymn was over, pointed at me, and shouted at me to stand up, and he said “And why weren’t you singing with everyone else, Rebecca?”

    Everyone in the entire school was staring at me. He wouldn’t let me sit down again, but made me stand up in disgrace, alone amongst the rest of the school sitting cross-legged on the floor, for the rest of the assembly, with the other kids pointing and whispering, and then laughing when I started to cry.
    I cried for hours. It was humiliating. I look back on it now in my twenties and still kind of want to cry, it had that much of an effect on me.

    But that’s the reason I found it so surprising when I found out that religious stuff like that isn’t allowed in the US by law (even if it obviously still sometimes happens). The US is, in general, much more religious than the UK – far, far more people in the US are Christian, and are usually more… I can’t think of the word (don’t you hate it when that happens?) MORE Christian than Christians here. For example, by the time I hit high school, and had religious education lessons, every single one of my classmates said they didn’t believe in God. Every single one. And yet in this high school, one kid says they’re an atheist, and practically the whole school, the whole community, turn against him.

    And yet… we’re the ones who have religion in our schools. The US doesn’t. And I thought with how much more religious the US is in general, that they would have religion in schools to an even greater degree than what I experienced here in the UK. And it surprised me a lot to find that isn’t the case, that it’s even forbidden by the Constitution.

    I suppose that should also shut up those in the US who argue that bad things like school shootings happen because God is taken out of schools – he’s in schools here, but nobody is any more Christian for it. Not in schools there, but far far more Americans would say they are Christian. I think it makes the point that if someone if going to believe or disbelieve in God, they’ll do it because it’s what they actually believe, not because they said so at school.

    … I’m aware I rambled there. I hope my point wasn’t lost and it makes sense. xD

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