Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Price of Religion: Hatred and Death Threats

It is at times like this that I am so glad that the man who wrote our establishment clause in the First Amendment is not amongst the living to witness what we have descended to.  Here is a story you will not be seeing on Fox 'news' anytime soon.

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NORTH LOUISIANA has been described as “the buckle on the Bible Belt” – and not without good reason, as high school student Damon Fowler at Bastrop High School has discovered to his cost.

On the eve of his graduation, the atheist student contacted the school superintendent to let him know that he opposed the inclusion of a prayer at the graduation ceremony. He pointed out that government-sponsored prayer in the public schools was unconstitutional and legally forbidden – and that he would be contacting the ACLU if it went ahead. The school agreed to substitute it with a moment of silent reflection, which was subsequently scuppered by a Christian student.

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 cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and threw his belongings onto the front porch.

Oh, and the school went ahead and had the graduation prayer anyway.

According to this report, Fowler has 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.

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.
If he don’t want prayer at graduation he can stay at home and not come to graduation.
I hope that the little athiest (sic) is offended.
What he is really doing is trying to shove his views down people’s throats.
Satan continues to prowl and is deceiving many in this world.
A piece published yesterday by PoliticusUSA points out that Christian fundamentalists have persecuted atheists and agnostics for the past 30 years with accusations that non-believers are aggressive and are “throwing atheism in our faces,” when the opposite is true.
There is a dangerous trend of Christian fundamentalists taking over the government to change the nature of America. It may be in part because in America, like the rest of the world, Christianity is on the decline and the number of Americans claiming to be Atheists, Agnostic, or non-religious has increased by 15 percent leading to an alarming trend of fundamentalists making a last-ditch effort to force Christianity on the country.
The young man who protested prayers at school events is not an isolated case, and around the country young people are standing up to school officials and fundamentalists who “force their religion down the throats” of non-believers regardless of age or station in life. The Constitution does not forbid religious fundamentalists from praying whenever and wherever they please, but it does maintain the separation of the government and religion and it means no public school prayer.
The article concluded:
Evangelical Christian leaders recently conceded in an interview that there were Christians around the country who were prepared for armed conflict to enforce Christianity if necessary, and they claimed the military and Congress had been infiltrated by fundamentalists; it is a foreboding that should frighten every person in America. If any American thinks they are safe from fundamentalist Christians whose intent is replacing the Constitution with the Ten Commandments and its Stone Age punishment (stoning), they are deluded and do not comprehend the level of violence extremists are capable of inflicting in god’s name.
If in America in 2011, one student faces public threats without a theocratic government or the Ten Commandments as the law of the land, imagine the violent Crusade and Inquisition a group of well-armed, angry fundamentalists will unleash if given authority and power.
Last month, an interviewer asked four evangelical church leaders if their intent of using violence to force Christianity on Americans was tantamount to the Taliban in Afghanistan. They replied that, ‘yes, they were the same as the Taliban except they were better armed, better organized, and had the full support of conservatives in positions of power’.
Still think fundamentalist Christians are harmless? You should be mortified.
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If Thomas Jefferson lived in Bastrop, Louisiana, he would have been strung up or run out of town for his irreligious views, which included observations like the following:
Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.--letter to Peter Carr (August 10, 1787).

It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.--Notes on Virginia (1782).

Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.--Notes on Virginia (1782).
I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians.--letter to Richard Price (January 8, 1789).
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State.--letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT. (January 1, 1802).
History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes--letter to Alexander von Humboldt (December 6, 1813).
Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.--letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper (February 10, 1814).
In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.--letter to Horatio G. Spafford (March 17, 1814).
Getting back to the original story, I am not sure what is more disheartening.  The death threats and hatred of this young man by the students and community, or the pathetic, almost violence-enabling response of the educators (the one group of people who should know better and care enough to want to ensure the safety and well being of their students).  This is the base of the Republican Party, people, just in case you ever lose sight of it.  This is the America that Sarah Palin thinks is the "real" America, small town USA, where being a non-believer can possibly get you beaten to a pulp or killed.

The irony in all of this, and it never ceases to amaze me when dealing with Christian fundamentalists, which I do on a regular basis in the Deep South, is how would Jesus have reacted to someone like Damon Fowler?  Could you imagine Jesus trying to beat him up and threatening to kill him?  How about calling him the devil or disowning him (like the way his parents have)?  Apparently, to the people of Bastrop, Louisiana, yes.  You would have thought a religion founded by a man who befriended the homeless and prostitutes would have kindlier followers, but like with all religions based on ancient credos, and contemporary populations looking for simple answers to delude themselves into thinking their material impoverishment perfectly acceptable in this world, you would be wrong.

For those Christians reading this, I would for once like an explanation for this type of behavior.  Please, tell me, how kicking your child to the curb, because he refuses to believe in your religion, could possibly uphold your faith and values, and is keeping with a man who washed the feet of commoners.

BTW, here is an interview with Damon Fowler, along with his brother, about his experiences in Bastrop High School, as well as the response from fellow non-believers to his plight.  It is well worth the read.


And good luck, Damon.  You have shown more maturity in youth than all of the members of your community.

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