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Mississippi Teacher Calls Atheist Student a “Fool,” Humanist Group Intervenes

For Immediate Release

Contact:

Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105, merrillmiller@americanhumanist.org

Monica Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 120, mmiller@americanhumanist.org

(Flowood, MS, Oct. 13, 2015)—In a letter sent to officials and attorneys at Rankin County School District in Flowood, Mississippi, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center decries a teacher’s unconstitutional and disparaging remarks about atheists.

Sent on behalf of a parent whose child attends Northwest Rankin High School, the letter describes a history teacher who frequently made disparaging remarks about atheists and promoted Christianity during class. The teacher, also a pastor of Rehobeth Baptist Church, recently announced to his class, “Atheists are throwing a fit because they don't have their own day. They do have their own day; it’s called April Fools’ Day, because you are a fool if you don't believe in god.” The letter states that, as atheists, the student and parent feel unwelcome in the district because of the teacher’s insults.

This is not the first instance of the school district endorsing religion. In 2013, a former student and the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit challenging the district’s practice of holding religious assemblies. The judgment, favoring the American Humanist Association, included a consent decree requiring the district to stop the assemblies. In July 2015, a United States District Court granted a motion for contempt filed by the American Humanist Association’s legal center, which ruled that the district defied the consent decree by sponsoring an award ceremony with Christian prayers and by permitting Bible distribution in an elementary school. The court’s order states that the district will be fined $10,000 for each future infraction.

“The school district’s repeated insistence on promoting religion in a public school shows a complete disregard for non-Christian students’ right to learn free from religious coercion,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

“There is no excuse for the school’s flagrant disregard of the law,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “The district court made clear in its judgement that school officials have a responsibility to abide by the First Amendment.”    

The letter demands that school officials warn the teacher to stop his behavior or he will be subject to disciplinary action, including possible termination. It also demands that all school employees receive instructions not to promote religion or disparage atheism and that the district provide a list of steps it will take to ensure that staff do not promote religion during school hours.

The letter can be viewed here.

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Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.