High School Atheist Wants a Scholarship

Michelle Dubert-Bellrichard, a high school student from Wisconsin, has an opinion piece in the Telegraph Herald newspaper (Iowa).

She’s an atheist and she wants a scholarship.

Students who are active in their church are greatly looked upon when it comes to applying for money. For some scholarships, the only people eligible must be members of a church and participate in its activities. Now, I believe I deserve a scholarship, because I am an activist in my beliefs, and I have struggled through the many consequences of being an atheist, but no such scholarships are offered locally for people like me.

I am a dedicated student who happens to be an atheist, but I get no acknowledgement for it, unlike my fellow religious peers. It takes more will to say I have no faith, and more effort to prove myself to be an upright citizen. I believe all schools should disband any scholarships that focus solely on religion, and they should award students who demonstrate their beliefs, no matter what they may be, more passionately.

She tells a touching story of coming out and being harassed as a result:

… My sister was the first to stray (to my knowledge) from the flock, and I was impressed by her bold move. She took a lot of flak for it, and once we started to bond, she really opened my mind to the world of atheism.

However, once school started, that was when I was tested. I am the minority at school, and I constantly have to defend myself. During the second semester of my freshman year, I was yelled at and humiliated by a teacher to stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance. When I refused, and the Pledge finished, the teacher took me into another room and questioned my Americanism. Then he concluded by saying whenever the Pledge would happen, I would have to go into another classroom, by myself, and wait. It took everything I had to stop crying and muster up enough courage to take this “meeting” down to the principal’s office.

I may have won that battle, but it had many repercussions.

It may be harsh to disband any religious scholarship (assuming they are being offered by churches and not the school), but Michelle is correct in saying students should be commended for reasons other than the religious label they (or their parents) place on themselves.

Thankfully, there are a couple scholarships for atheist high school students:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation offers a top prize of $2,000 for high school seniors in their annual essay contest.

American Atheists offers a top prize of $2,500 for high school seniors who can demonstrate their activism.

Hopefully, Michelle can apply for (and win) those contests. Looks like she already has the qualifications and writing ability.


[tags]atheist, atheism, scholarship[/tags]

  • Jen

    I don’t remember applying for any religious scholarships in high school, though I bet good money that church and church-related activities accounted for at least some people’s scholarships at my school. It seems fair to me that a public school shouldn’t be offering religious scholarships. Now, if the Kiwanis decide to offer a scholarship and require church attendence or something along those lines, I am not sure if the school should either help with the process, or even tell students about it. It seems unfairish, but at the same time, there are a lot of poor people who would like to get to college any way they can. Sooooo… I don’t know. I am not sure anyone would join a church just to get a scholarship, but even the idea that someone would be forced to out of economic necessity makes me uncomfortable.

  • Maria

    I’m glad he stood up for himself. I solve the pledge problem by standing and saying everything but the “under god” part.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    No offense to her, but unless I’m missing something, the religious scholarships are being offered by religious organizations, who have the right to set their own terms. If she can find scholarships without such restrictions, or who will honor her activism, great, but the tone of her deserving a scholarship seems little off.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    No offense to her, but unless I’m missing something, the religious scholarships are being offered by religious organizations, who have the right to set their own terms. If she can find scholarships without such restrictions, or who will honor her activism, great, but the tone of her deserving a scholarship seems little off.

    I agree with Bad. If it’s a private organization then they have the right to offer a scholarship for whatever criterion they want. There were hundreds (probably thousands) of scholarships I wasn’t eligible for because I wasn’t a minority, a female, a child of a veteran, born in Delaware, spoke a foreign language, a person with a disability, willing to commit to one career before even entering college, willing to sign my life away to the military, etc.

    If she is applying to a state school and they are offering religious based scholarships that is a different story, but I find it highly unlikely that this is the case. And if she is applying to a private religious college, well, again, they have a right to offer scholarships based on whatever they want. There are many denominationally supported schools that give scholarships to members of their denomination and that’s their perogative. If you want to go to a religious school then don’t complain when they encourage religious involvement.

    I was yelled at and humiliated by a teacher to stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance. When I refused, and the Pledge finished, the teacher took me into another room and questioned my Americanism.

    I applaud her courage, but it seems like this had more to do with the teacher being a Republican than with religion. I don’t say the pledge either for religious reasons, so I probably would have gotten chewed out by that teacher too for being un-American (which I wouldn’t deny).

  • http://meritboundalley.wordpress.com Joe M

    I ran a search for secular-targeted scholarships and came up with this page. Hopefully, that will also help Michelle.

    As to disbanding religion-based scholarships, I’m on the same page as Bad and Mike.


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