Saturday, December 15, 2012

Twelve Apostates - Young Atheist Activists

At Skepticon 5, I met young girl who responded to something on the table about prayer in schools.  She mentioned her school had Christian prayers displayed was visibly upset by it.  Her mother mentioned wanting to do something about it, but she also mentioned her son's opposition to it.  He didn't want to make waves.  This took place a few hours before Jessica Ahlquist was scheduled to speak.

They weren't that familiar with Ahlquist's case or that she was speaking later the same day.  I hope they stuck around to see Ahlquist speak, and more so, I hope they got a chance to speak to her.

Kids like Jessica Ahlquist and Damon Fowler go through tremendous turmoil for standing up for what is right.  They get treated like freaks for daring to stand up to religion being put into public schools in violation of the Constitution.
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.
Even considering that, I hope that family I met at Skepticon ends up standing up to the school's violation of our Constitution, but I certainly won't blame them if they do not go through all the drama that would entail.  I'm not really sure what I would have done if there had been a prayer banner up in my high school.

I suspect the most likely possibility is that I would have said something to a few people, never gotten any support, given up, and been annoyed as shit by it until graduation.  I already went that far without speaking up about how much the Pledge of Allegiance bothered me.  "Under God" first bothered me at least as far back as 3rd grade, but I never said anything about it until I had already graduated.  I never even really considered saying something about it.

Ahlquist and Fowler did what many teenage atheist have not done, and many cannot do it for fear of repercussions even worse than they felt.  They took stands many adults aren't even willing or able to take.  They are to be praised.  They are to be emulated.

And most importantly, their successors are to be supported.  If you know an atheist in their situation, child or adult, please do whatever you can to support them.  Help them to take that stand against religious violations of the Separation of Church and State.  Be there for them when the attacks come from the followers of Jesus.

The world needs more kids following in their footsteps.  Maybe the more we help them along, the less necessary it will be for this fight to have to be fought.

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