Damon Fowler is a brave student. Living in the bible belt, he demanded that administration-endorsed prayer be removed from his graduation commencement.
My graduation from high school is this Friday. I live in the Bible Belt of the United States. The school was going to perform a prayer at graduation, but due to me sending the superintendent an email stating it was against Louisiana state law and that I would be forced to contact the ACLU if they ignored me, they ceased it. The school backed down, but that's when the shitstorm rolled in. Everyone is trying to get it back in the ceremony now. I'm not worried about it, but everyone hates me... kind of worried about attending graduation now. It's attracted more hostility than I thought.
My reasoning behind it is that it's emotionally stressing on anyone who isn't Christian. No one else wanted to stand up for their constitutional right of having freedom of and FROM religion. I was also hoping to encourage other atheists to come out and be heard. I'm one of maybe three atheists in this town that I currently know of. One of the others is afraid to come out of the (atheist) closet.
Though I've caused my classmates to hate me, I feel like I've done the right thing. Regardless of their thoughts on it, basically saying I am ruining their fun and their lives, I feel like I've helped someone out there. I didn't do this for me or just atheists, but anyone who doesn't believe in their god that prayer to Yahweh may affect.
Moral of the story: though the opposition may be great, majority doesn't necessarily mean right. Thank you for reading. Wish me luck at graduation.
EDIT: Well, it hit the fan a couple hours ago. They've already assembled a group of supporters at a local church and called in the newspaper. I've had to deactivate my Facebook account and I can't reason with any of them. They refuse to listen. The whole town hates me, aside from a few closet atheists that are silently supporting, which I don't blame them looking at what I've incited here. Thanks for the support though.
If anyone would like to offer support, the superintendent is who I emailed and the school's website is mpsb.us
Thanks for the support. It's really helping. This has just gotten sickening.
Edit: I've had requests for my Facebook info... I don't mind giving that out at all. Damon Fowler - Bastrop, LA. I could use all of the support I can get. Not sure if this link will work: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001146281052
The guy has serious courage to stand up to his entire class, knowing he's getting ostracized for it. Of course, the local news paints things against him.
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.”
She sounds so shocked. With an environment like the Bible belt and the way people there were and are treated for being atheist, being vocal about your rights is a dangerous, humiliating task. I'm grateful that I've never had to live in a part of the nation where being atheist marks you as a second class citizen, and where speaking out would give you this kind of negative attention. The worst part about Mitzi Quinn's response, though, was this:
“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.
This woman is an educator (an english teacher according to the school's website) and she treats one of her own students in such a disparaging way. This argument only serves to make the student feel bad and offers no real substance. It is despicable. I messaged Damon Fowler with some small words of encouragement, but I also e-mailed Mitzi Quinn. I encourage you to also e-mail Ms. Quinn yourself (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let her know that this is absolutely inappropriate. A school should be a welcoming environment for any student, no matter their faith. Here's my e-mail to her.
I'm writing to you regarding your comments on the Bastrop Enterprises website regarding Damon Fowler's demand that prayer be removed from commencement. (http://www.bastropenterprise.com/features/x2132687894/Student-challenges-prayer-at-Bastrop-graduation). While I certainly respect your disagreement with the student in question, I find your treatment of the student to be entirely unprofessional and inappropriate. To say that the student in question "really hasn’t contributed anything to graduation or to their classmates" is an inappropriate and hurtful statement directed to one of your students that is altogether questionable. Whether you agree with his stance or not, there is no reason to ever throw ad hominems at the young students that you are supposed to be supporting.
Beyond that, he is in the right to protest. If a school were to have a prayer to Allah, or to Vishnu, or to the Goddess of many Pagan faiths, you would feel any student would be within their rights to protest and rightly so, even if that student were the only non-muslim/hindu/pagan in the school. The right of the students and parents to pray during graduation has not been impacted, only the official state endorsement of the prayer. I trust you are a reasonable woman, and I ask that you listen to reason in this regard and offer a public apology for speaking rudely to one of your students, even as you strongly and passionately disagree with him.