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High School Student Stands Up Against Prayer at Public School and Is Ostracized, Demeaned and Threatened
When a high school atheist tried to stop prayer at his graduation, he was harassed and kicked out of his house. But the atheist community stepped in.
May 25, 2011



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.



Sauce.
Tags: christianity, education, free speech, fuckery, god save us from your followers, godless liberals, religion, religious politics
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