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Stories of Atheist Discrimination

Stories of Atheist Discrimination

Public School Prayer Complaint Turns Nasty — Bastrop, LA (2011)

Damon Fowler, a high school student at Bastrop High School, complained about an unconstitutional school prayer planned for an upcoming graduation ceremony. The school initially agreed to cancel the prayer, but Fowler’sname was leaked as the one behind the complaint. As a result, he has been publicly demeaned by teachers and students, physically threatened—including death threats—and was ostracized from the community. He was thrown out of his house and financial support was withheld by his own parents. A student gave a prayer at the graduation ceremony anyway—another attack against Fowler and perhaps other atheist students—instead of a moment of silence. The AHA now administers a scholarship fund for Fowler.

Prayer Banner Case Ends Up In Federal Court — Cranston, RI (2011)

Jessica Ahlquist, a student at Cranston High School West, filed a federal lawsuit asking that a prayer banner be removed from the public school. The banner, which violates the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, includes the phrases “Our Heavenly Father” and “Amen.” Local authorities are asking that the banner remain. 

According to a story in The Providence Journal, “students and adults have called [Ahlquist] a ‘stupid atheist,’ an ACLU tool, a witch and a ‘media whore.’ They’ve also threatened her through e-mails or at school, she says. A former classmate told her that, if she knew what he really thought of her, she would kill herself, she says.”

Creationist History Teacher Confronted — Kearny, NJ (2008)

During his junior year of high school Matthew LaClair, of Kearny, NJ, took a history class from a teacher who used his position to promote his personal religious beliefs, including creationism. Matthew went to school officials and his teacher and was rebuffed. It was only after he produced audio recordings of his teacher in class did he get any attention. This resulted in LaClair becoming a target of harassment, including death threats. He also lost friends and many of the people in his town turned against him. It took many months of working through the tactics of a non-responsive school system before his determination resulted in teachers being trained on state-school separations issues.

The Student Education Assembly on Religious Freedom was created at LaClair’s high school as a result of the turmoil. In 2008, LaClair received the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Pioneer Award.

Faith Healing Kills — Oregon City, OR (2011)

Dale and Shannon Hickman have been convicted of second-degree manslaughter after failing to seek medical attention for their newborn baby, delivered in their home two months early. The couple,Members of Oregon City's Followers of Christchurch, decided instead to pray and anoint the 3-pound, 7-ounce baby with olive oil. David Hickman lived less than 9 hours following the attempt at faith healing.

At trial, medical experts testified that there was a 99% chance that, given proper medical attention, the baby would have survived. As a result of this case, Oregon’s lawmakers have removed a religious exemption that could minimize the couple’s jail time to 18 months.

Richard Dawkins Dissed By Country Club — Rochester Hills, MI (2011)

The managers of the Wyndgate Country Club decided to cancel a fundraising event featuring Richard Dawkins, the well-known evolutionary biologist, author and atheist. The cancelation came after one of the club’s officials saw Dawkins on “The O'Reilly Factor,” discovering for the first time he was an atheist. The official decided that was cause enough to cancel the confirmed engagement, which had to be quickly moved elsewhere.

The AHA is assisting the Center for Inquiry in a possible legal response.

Atheist Marching Band Hated For More Than Blowing Vuvuzelas — Bryan/College Station, TX (2010)

During the annual Bryan/College Station Christmas parade the Brazos Valley Vuvuzela Atheist Marching Band took part. The 18-person band played “Jingle Bells” while wishing people a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, and merry Kwanzaa.

Many residents declared their disdain, likening atheists to the Ku Klux Klan, pedophiles, and labeling them a “hate group.” One local resident was quoted as being concerned for her children because “it was hard for them to believe and understand that there are actually people out there that don't believe in God."  Video

No Pray, No Play — Hardesty, OK (2007)

Nicole Smalkowski, a public school student at Hardesty High School, ended up in court after incidents at her school over her family’s atheism. As a member of the basketball team, Smalkowski refused to take part in The Lord’s Prayer offered by coaches. She was soon kicked off the team, after being accused of hurting morale and stealing someone’s shoes, which she denies. Back on the team the next year, she was once again kicked off for not taking part in the prayer and for saying the Pledge of Allegiance without “under god.” School officials said she was kicked off for threatening to kill someone. Again, Smalkowski denies the allegation.

Smalkowski had to endure harassment and mistreatment by students and teachers, resulting in her parents opting to provide homeschooling. “You know they would call me devil worshipper. I’d walk down the halls, people would laugh at me. They would look at me really weird and stare me down,” she said. A lawsuit was eventually settled.  Video