It seems I have a conservative “family” group angry with me because of this website. And they’re trying to attack my character (and my teaching position) as a result.
Most recently, they said that parents should keep their children away from Chicago’s Millennium Park. Why? Because gays (and straights) were going to be kissing each other as part of the Great Nationwide Kiss-In.
IFI said kissing itself wasn’t obscene, but certain kinds of kissing were obscene:
An adult kissing a pre-pubescent child or a high school-age adolescent in a sexual or romantic manner is both obscene and inappropriate despite the protestations of the North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) to the contrary.
Romantic or sexual kissing between two consenting adults who are in love and who are closely related by blood is both obscene and inappropriate despite the protestations of defenders of incest to the contrary.
Romantic or sexual kissing among “multi-partner” unions, like those profiled in a recent Newsweek article, are both obscene and inappropriate despite the protests of polyamorists to the contrary.
Romantic or sexual kissing between two people of the same biological sex is both obscene and inappropriate despite the voluble, vigorous, and often vitriolic protests of homosexuals to the contrary.
In other words, IFI director Laurie Higgins is saying witnessing two gay guys kissing is the same as witnessing pedophilia and incest.
Like I said, ridiculous.
In my posting, I sarcastically wrote that “The only thing that could make this kiss-in even better is if it took place just outside Higgins’ house.” Obviously, I didn’t mean on her property (that’d be illegal). And not purposely in front of her children.
In fact, I also wrote in my posting:
Meanwhile, Higgins can do whatever she’d like to with her children. She might feel more comfortable if each kid came equipped with a blindfold. She could then tie it around them in case they dare go out in public where (*gasp*) gay people might be engaging in some harmless PDA.
Unless you want to ban kissing altogether (which IFI says they do not want to do), then you have to deal with the fact that it happens — in public places and even in public schools. To avoid reality and warn families that gays might be kissing (so keep your kids away!) is paranoid and extreme.
Back to the story.
A couple days later, I discovered that Higgins emailed my boss, my high school’s entire administrative staff, and every school board member to inform them that what I do in my private life was very unprofessional.
… He, of course, has a First Amendment right to write whatever he pleases on his blog “The Friendly Atheist” during his free time, but it’s unfortunate that a role model for students would write some of the things he writes.
What more could parents hope for in their children’s teachers than a little old fashioned vindictiveness.
The underlying message, of course, is: “Look! You hired an ATHEIST! And he BLOGS!”
What my private life (i.e. this site, the volunteer work I do with non-theistic groups, etc) has to do with my ability to teach high school math, I don’t know. I keep them separate. What goes on in my “atheist” life doesn’t come into play when I teach. I respect church/state separation. I would never talk about my religious beliefs in class. Hell, I teach math. Religion rarely comes up in discussion.
I should also mention that this email never got sent to me… in fact, Higgins sent it to everyone except me. (I later received it from another source.)
Not surprisingly, everything is fine at work. My superiors respect my right to free speech and their concern is with my professional work, not my private life. For what it’s worth, my teaching evaluations over the past couple years have been excellent, thank you very much.
Anyway, school officially begins tomorrow. And I still have my job.
Maybe that fact upset Higgins. Because yesterday, she tried another tactic: Sending out an official press release condemning me to her followers:
Judging from his blog, Mehta’s mission in life is to spread the gospel of atheism to students across the country, making disciples of all men and women. Judging from his blog, he also seeks to spread the message that homosexuality is morally equivalent to heterosexuality.
I love how she uses Christian imagery to attack me. (Spreading a gospel and making disciples of men and women is a bad thing? Higgins must really dislike Jesus then…)
I am an atheist (shocking, I know) and spreading science and reason is a passion of mine. But, like I said, the “godless” thing is what I do in my private life. When I’m at work, I teach math. In the classroom, I don’t discuss my religious and social views. And I’d be outraged if any teacher (atheist, Christian, whatever) did that.
Higgins links to my page of speaking engagements. Does she realize that many of the engagements involve me talking about my visits to churches? Does she realize I am sometimes invited to speak by pastors, at their churches? Does she realize that if I speak to a primarily-atheist audience, there’s no need to “spread atheism”?
She makes it sound like I teach children that 1 + 1 = 2, homosexuality should be mandatory, a2 + b2 = c2, and that God is imaginary.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by Higgins’ accusations. People like her constantly dismiss ideas that contradict their pre-existing beliefs. It’s the type of thinking that makes the Creation Museum possible.
Higgins goes on to argue (emphases mine):
Of course, teachers have a First Amendment right to blog or speak publicly about anything they want. And parents have every right not to have their children in the classroom under the tutelage of someone whose publicly articulated views they find fallacious and deeply troubling. Having a First Amendment right to speak freely does not guarantee public approval or public silence. And the public response may be that parents choose not to have their children in the class of those who espouse views that parents find foolish and destructive.
Parents have a justifiable concern that the personal views of teachers may find their way into the classroom, either through curricular choices or classroom commentary. Those parents who want nothing more than that their children will believe in God may find someone whose mission in life is to persuade young people to reject a belief in God to be a poor role model.
So let me get this straight… if you’re a parent, Higgins would like you to find out the religious and social views of all your kids’ teachers ahead of time. Then you can decide whether or not your child should be in their classroom?
I don’t think she believes that. Her main concern, as she writes, is that those views will find their way into the classroom.
That’s a concern I share, too.
Guess what? My personal beliefs haven’t made their way into my classroom. They wouldn’t. (They couldn’t — school hasn’t even started yet.) In the years that I have been teaching, no parent or student has ever accused me of spreading atheism in the classroom.
Still, Higgins goes on about how “emboldened, hubristic liberal activists” are making their views known in public classrooms.
After writing about how those teachers want to make their students ideological clones, she then points out that I have never done these things. (Subtext: He’s still an atheist, and he teaches your children!)
But even if Mr. Mehta does not view his math classes as opportunities to proselytize, there still remains the fact that he is a role model and he regularly engages in very public discourse on very controversial topics. For many parents, views on homosexuality and belief in God are two of life’s most important issues — issues that are critical to both civilized and eternal life.
Really? Homosexuality is one of the most important things parents worry about? I know I’m not a Christian, but I would think homosexuality doesn’t play much of a role in any parent’s day-to-day thoughts. Not unless their kid is gay. Higgins might be one of the few exceptions to that rule, because she seems to be obsessed with other peoples’ sexuality.
But again, she admits I never mixed my personal beliefs with my professional life. That fact alone makes the rest of her press release completely irrelevant. Instead of stopping there, though, she digs the hole a little deeper by comparing atheism to racism:
Many parents would recoil at having their children spend a school year under the tutelage of a teacher — particularly a charismatic teacher — who in his or her free time blogs favorably about racism and travels the length and breadth of the country preaching racism. Similarly, some parents may recoil at having their children spend a year under the tutelage of a teacher who spends his free time blogging favorably about atheism and homosexuality and traveling the length and breadth of the country preaching favorably about atheism.
You would think someone with this much of a concern for education would know a bad analogy when she sees one…
So to summarize:
I have opinions in my private life that I am very passionate about, opinions which I do not share with my students when I am teaching.
Therefore, parents should be frightened of me.
Thanks for clearing that up, Ms. Higgins. Next time you’d like to wage a personal attack on me, at least do me the favor of mentioning my book — the publicity is always nice.
Stay in touch! Like Friendly Atheist on Facebook: