Is the Controversy Over?

Nathan Black of The Christian Post is reporting on the war of words between Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute and myself.

At least Black mentioned my book title… unlike *some* Christian “family” groups I know… And he gets bonus points for noting that certain comments I made in my original posting were sarcastic.

Since my last posting on the topic, I haven’t heard anything from IFI. Maybe they figured out they have no real argument to use against me.

Groups like IFI dabble in fear-mongering. They want me to be worried that I might lose my job if I keep advocating atheism on this site. They want school officials to think twice about why they hired me. They want parents to regret having their children in my classroom. They want English teachers to fear assigning a challenging book that may be “too controversial.” They want gay people to feel uneasy about coming out.

The way to respond to groups like this is to not be afraid of them.

Call them out when they lie, dare to publicly disagree with their ridiculous beliefs, and let other Christians have to defend these groups’ actions. Eventually, those Christians will be too embarrassed by IFI-like interpretations of their faith and not support them any longer. (Christians have the ability to take the power away from groups like IFI — much more so than the rest of us.)

For what it’s worth, my job is perfectly safe.

My administrators know that I maintain separation of work and blog, and they respect my right to free speech in my private life even if that means sharing minority opinions on controversial issues. Other teachers aren’t always so lucky.

I said it before, but thanks for your support. The emails and comments mean a lot.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Wow.

    Talk about coddling. Take a look at the tone used to describe you, versus the tone used to describe the IFI.

    He may have been a bit more observant of your intentions, but this piece feels anything but friendly.

  • http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com William Brinkman

    I’m glad to hear that your job is safe, because we need more good teachers like you.

    And here’s the Babbler’s take on the situation: http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com/2009/08/very-happy-bolingbrook-christian.html

  • Sven

    Wow, there’s a real nice respose on the ‘The Christian Post’ post:

    HIs blog is his right, and it is hardly inflammatory! How in the world can a parent have objections to being taught by this person?

  • TXatheist

    They want me to be worried that I might lose my job if I keep advocating atheism on this site. They want school officials to think twice about why they hired me. They want parents to regret having their children in my classroom. They want English teachers to fear assigning a challenging book that may be “too controversial.” They want gay people to feel uneasy about coming out.

    The way to respond to groups like this is to not be afraid of them.

    Hemant, that is a perfect synopsis. This is not something I would have expected out of you ~3 years ago and why I erroneously labeled you passive. I still wish to retract that incorrect adjective.

  • Tim Van Haitsma

    Call them out when they lie, dare to publicly disagree with their ridiculous beliefs, and let other Christians have to defend these groups’ actions. Eventually, those Christians will be too embarrassed by IFI-like interpretations of their faith and not support them any longer. (Christians have the ability to take the power away from groups like IFI — much more so than the rest of us.)

    This is exacly what happened a decade ago when the Michigan chapter of the AFA came to my town. They wanted to put filters on the internet in the libraries. Initially they had the tacit support of the community b/c they where a christian group, but when the librian and I and a few others opposed them, they got nasty. When their true colors started to show the council backed away from them fast.

    My favorite memory of that was when the mayor told them that if they where christians they should not bear false witness. He was was an elder in his church and was orginally on their side. Always stand up to bullies.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Yup, it looks like they’re trying to “chill” anyone from standing up and saying “I am an atheist”.

  • Beastoire

    Off on a slight tangent… William Brinkman said:

    And here’s the Babbler’s take on the situation: http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com/2009/08/very-happy-bolingbrook-christian.html

    The Bollingbrook Babbler said:

    A spokesperson for the [Valley View] school district said that Lunger’s [a Christian blogger and teacher] job is safe.”The majority of our parents are Christians. We’d lose the next election if we fired someone for being a Christian. Plus we know that he keeps his personal beliefs out of the classroom. Now if he were an atheist blogger in the same situation, it might be different, but we’ll deal with that if it ever happens.”

    Isn’t this just a straightforward statement of the education authority’s outrageous double standard for Christians and non-Christians? They don’t even try to veil their motives for allowing a Christian to say whatever he wants: “most of our parents are Christian”. They imply that if the teacher was an atheist expressing his opinion he would probably have lost his job. I don’t happen to think that Luger should lose his job, but that’s for reasons of free speech, not because I am concerned over who will win the next election!

  • http://cycleninja.blogspot.com Paul Lundgren

    I disagree, Hemant. I got a notice in my inbox that some trolls were attacking you again in this recent post in whose direction I steered you. It really sounds like the IFI is simply trolling anonymously. Everybody go let them have it.

  • http://thehappyhuman.wordpress.com John

    *Thumbs up*

    Good on ya, Hemant.

  • http://atimetorend.wordpress.com atimetorend

    I suspect you could add to that list of “they want’s“: They want to stir up their base supporters to be afraid and angry in order to solicit more money from them in order to gain more political power.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Keith (the pastor)

    Laurie has stopped e-mailing with me as well. You are right in your assessment that the point of these conversations was either to frighten or to promote a firing. As Laruie and I discussed her reasons for contacting your bosses, she e-mailed such statements as, “I never claimed that contacting Hemant’s bosses would lead him to repentance” and “My goal in contacting Hemant’s bosses has nothing to do with evangelism or building a relationship with Hemant. I believed a week ago and still today that they have a right to know about their employee’s unprofessional and irresponsible public suggestion regarding me.” The statement about repentance is a big one and she has repeated it a few times in our e-mails. “Repentance” is the Christianized way of saying “change.” She was not wanting you to change, she was wanting you to be frightened or fired.

    To be very clear, this is the last question I e-mailed … the one that has apparently ended our dialogue: “How does contacting his bosses about that unprofessional and irresponsible comment help the teens he teaches? What outcome could come from that that would benefit the teens or prevent their exposure to his influence?” That she will not plainly answer this question, shows, IMO, that her goal in this was something she cannot write or say for fear of legal consequences.
    Glad it’s over … hope it stays over. Happy for you, Hemant.

  • http://40yearoldatheist.com 40 Year Old Atheist

    I just have one thing to say – you are a role model for all of us, Hemant.

  • Christy C.

    I am an occasional reader of this blog and just learned of this situation. Whoever this Laurie is should get a life. Tattling to Hemant’s employer reflects the mentality of a 9 year old.

  • Siamang

    Insightful comments, Keith.

  • http://brielle.sosdg.org Brielle

    I’m sad Laurie didn’t feel it important enough to respond to my comments. :-(

    As a spam fighter, I feel my efforts in putting the banhammer down on them are validated when they personally respond to me (even if it is a nasty response). I can remember when I got my first super-kook stalker. Yes, she’s insane (I still have yet to find the ear implants she says the nazi’s put in me), but it was my trial by fire essentially.

    Hemant, you handled this whole ‘incident’ with a level of elegance that shows the difference between leading by experience and knowledge, and leading by fear and damnation.

    Kudos :)

  • http://www.lifestylermag.com Lauren

    @Mike the Infidel –

    I agree. I found it odd that a few times they made comments like “The atheist said …”. But then frequently used Higgins’ name when describing IFI’s side of the story.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    A couple things…

    Beastoire: The story was a satire of this situation. It’s not actually something that happened :P

    Regarding Paul Lundgren’s discovery of the anonymous trolling: Hemant, if you can, I’d check the IP address of the poster of those comments against the IP for the IFI’s website and the IP Laurie Higgins used when she posted here.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    Hemant – I’m not sure that groups like the IFI dabble in fear mongering. I am not very familiar with their objectives and mission. However, my understanding from the various accounts of the situation is simply that you expressed your feelings on certain issues publicly, and they expressed thoughts on certain issues publicly. Everyone has said what they wanted to say, and has been well within their right to free speech to do so. Because I don’t know otherwise, I assume you are a reasonably intelligent human being and therefore must be aware that your personal beliefs and politics can affect your employment, whether that should be the case or not. So, I must conclude that before you open your mouth on this blog you have the forethought to know the potential for your comments to have impact in another arena of your life.

    I would think Higgins and the IFI would make the same assumptions, and therefore I fail to see their actions as fear-mongering, but just an expression of their beliefs as your postings were an expression of your beliefs.

    I don’t think most Christians have lost respect for Laurie Higgins and the IFI any more than they have for you and other athiests. I think the actions on both sides have been reasonably aggressive, and perhaps a bit childish.

    With all that said, its probably good you still have a job because we don’t need any more unemployed people in this economy.

    Hopefully in the future, any debates that you have with others and others with you can be more productive than this one.

  • Pingback: In the Atheist Closet | Reasonable Dissent

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    I’m glad your job is safe, Hemant. And I’m very glad you stood up to this lying and bullying.

    So now I’m curious: Has the Laurie Higgins anti-Hemant campaign gotten any traction whatsoever? I know it hasn’t with the school administration… but have there been any parents who she’s successfully fearmongered? Or has it pretty much been a controversy in her mind only?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I think it’s great that the activity for which they chose to attack you – that you run a blog in your private life – is what allows you to expose them to the world.

    Isn’t it ironic? don’t ya think?

  • beckster

    However, my understanding from the various accounts of the situation is simply that you expressed your feelings on certain issues publicly, and they expressed thoughts on certain issues publicly.

    Sending an e-mail to a select group of people in an attempt to disrupt Hemant’s job is not a “public” expression of an opinion. It was an underhanded stunt. I would have a different opinion on this situation if she had simply posted her thoughts online or wrote a letter to a newspaper, but she made a sorry attempt to ruin his reputation with his coworkers and boss. Hemant is the one who is expressing his views in a public forum. He didn’t attempt to go after her job with a secretive e-mail to her boss and coworkers.

  • http://www.scoutingforall.org Brian Westley

    Just don’t let them catch you unfolding a hexagonal cylinder in class!

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    Beckster – my understanding that the “select” group of people was actually a fairly large group of people, hence the use of the word “public”. That may be inaccurate, nontheless, Higgins can express her opinion to whoever she wants, publicly or privately. Hemant can do the same. That is the beauty of free speech. I really fail to see the underhanded nature of Higgins actions any more than Hemants actions were underhanded.

    At the moment :: His job is safe…everyone has said their piece – let’s move on to more exciting issues.

  • http://aurorawalkingvacation.blogspot.com Paul

    Jon, you are painfully disingenuous. She tried to get him fired. That is hardly a harmless exercise of free speech. It is a personal attack.

  • medussa

    Jon – I disagree with your post. I believe you disagree with my atheist standpoint. And that’s perfectly alright in this context. And me telling you this is also alright.

    However, when I contact your employer, the school administration, parents of your students, I am not making a public statement, nor a private one to peole I know. Further, when I mischaracterize and spin your statements above and claim I KNOW you disagree with me in this and many other points (of which I have no knowledge), and further deduce that you are therefore a danger to your students and society at large, then I am simply harassing you, and trying to get you fired. And to deny that is to be a liar and a coward.

    Higgins can disagree with Hemant as much as she wants. He has never denied her that right. This didn’t get messy until she took action, and that action was deeply unethical, ironically as she trumpeted moral superiority over atheists.

    And in the meantime: I’m happy for you that you feel the subject is dealt with. That does not mean the rest of us need to move on to the next subject of more interest to you. This is not a site set up for Jon’s entertainment, but rather for the discussion of issues.

  • Siamang

    Jon,

    Stop blowing smoke up our asses. The gloves came off when Higgins started contacting Hemant’s employers behind his back.

    She knew what she was doing, as pastor Keith’s correspondence with her shows.

    There’s a little rule in effective communication: you got something to say to me, have the guts to say it to my face.

    She took the weasel way. She doesn’t need you making excuses for her. She seems amply qualified to do that on her own.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Regarding Paul Lundgren’s discovery of the anonymous trolling: Hemant, if you can, I’d check the IP address of the poster of those comments against the IP for the IFI’s website and the IP Laurie Higgins used when she posted here.

    The IPs are different. No conspiracy theory needed :) Just a troll.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    So now I’m curious: Has the Laurie Higgins anti-Hemant campaign gotten any traction whatsoever? I know it hasn’t with the school administration… but have there been any parents who she’s successfully fearmongered? Or has it pretty much been a controversy in her mind only?

    No parents have asked to have kids removed from my classes. My job hasn’t been disrupted in any real sense.

    If she thought she could stir the pot, she was grossly mistaken. It’s good to know she has fewer followers than I gave her credit for.

    Is it in her mind only? Not so much. When you contact someone’s supervisors and issue press releases, people will see it. In that sense, her words weren’t ignored. But once they were read, it seems they were quickly dismissed.

  • Neon Genesis

    So, I must conclude that before you open your mouth on this blog you have the forethought to know the potential for your comments to have impact in another arena of your life.

    Is this a thinly veiled threat to Hemant?

  • http://mimi-n-moe.blogspot.com/ Karen

    I can’t believe she set out to destroy your career, and bravo to you for handling it with dignity and respect.
    I would keep track of everything and keep a log, just in case this woman gets out of hand. You never know when you may need to to contact an attorney.
    It is good to know your fellow educators and students support you and stand by you! I hope it is all over with.
    ~Karen

  • Rachel

    Jon – You’re full of crap. She didn’t just publicly state an opinion about Hemant. She emailed his bosses and tried to have him fired or at least disciplined just for being an atheist.

  • ChameleonDave

    And he gets bonus points for noting that certain comments I made in my original posting were sarcastic.

    Really? Surely the comments would have to be saying the opposite to what you meant, or at least contained deliberately bitter irony, in order to be sarcastic. It seems that neither you nor those Christians know what the word means.

    It looks more like hyperbole than sarcasm, to me.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Surely the comments would have to be saying the opposite to what you meant, or at least contained deliberately bitter irony, in order to be sarcastic.

    He was clearly not actually saying that it would be a good idea for people to have a kiss-in in front of her house. So yes, sarcasm is the correct term.

  • Jerad

    Wow, some people really need to study up on the whole free speech thing; Not once did the government try and stop anybody from speaking their mind on publicly owned land.

  • http://hypatianshore.blogspot.com/ Matthew C Pickard

    I am angry over this – just livid. I sent them this email.

    ————-

    I’ve just read what you tried to do to Hemant Mehta. Your organization is disgusting in how you went after Mehta and his job.

    If you ever wanted show how tolerant your brand of Christianity is, you’ve utterly failed.

    You disgust me, and I am an angry because of it.

    No doubt, you’ll put this in your perceived persecution files as a defense of your actions, and take it as confirmation for your abuse.

    No doubts there.

  • David

    I’m grateful to Laurie Higgins for leading me to this excellent blog.

    As I’ve said before, Laurie Higgins is such an offensive person that she actually works against herself.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    The gloves came off when Higgins started contacting Hemant’s employers behind his back.

    She knew what she was doing, as pastor Keith’s correspondence with her shows.

    The gloves came off when Hemant attacked the IFI’s warning.

    Pastor Keith’s correspondence and comment here does not show much. If I was Laurie, I probably wouldn’t correspond with him either given the leading nature of his questions.

  • http://jonathan-keith.com Jon

    Is this a thinly veiled threat to Hemant?

    How in the world are you getting that?

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    The gloves came off when Hemant attacked the IFI’s warning.

    Attacked? Are you serious? He told a joke, and Higgie threatened his job over it.

    Get some damned perspective.

  • Siamang

    Pastor Keith’s correspondence and comment here does not show much. If I was Laurie, I probably wouldn’t correspond with him either given the leading nature of his questions.

    Well the questions were leading… they were leading toward understanding that Higgins’ motivation wasn’t to change Hemant or seek understanding from Hemant. They were to exact political revenge on Hemant for saying the things he did.

    So, yes, it’s plain to see to everyone here exactly where Keith’s questions were leading. They were leading to the truth of what Higgins actions were motivated by.

    The gloves came off when Hemant attacked the IFI’s warning.

    Oh reaaallly? So folks are having a kiss in rally, and Higgins (to use your word) ‘attacks’ that… gloves still on at this point.

    And then Hemant posts a blog post about her blog post, and BAM, that was just TOO much! Gloves were totally off then. Hemant went TOOOO far in making a blog post about HER blog post! How DARE HE?!?!?!

    And calling up Hemant’s employers was, what, a de-escalation?

    Wow. Awesome thinking there, Jon.

    Waitaminute. Back in the original thread about the IFI, I posted that I would kiss a dog in front of Higgins house, if I lived in Chicago.

    Are you going to call my boss now and tell them I support bestiality? What a SCANDAL!!!!

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    While the back and forth updates were both interesting and informative, I’d be happy to hear the IFI has decided to direct it’s negative ranting towards someone else.

    Your professionalism was very evident to this reader.

  • Scott Turner

    Let’s hope the IFI crusade is over for Hemant’s sake. Why is it that Christian crusades are always so ill-fated?

    Hemant is on-target when suggesting we call out the IFI and similar religious folks on their ridiculous ideas and behaviors. They should not be permitted to hide behind the skirts of moderate Christians – and moderte Christians need to be continually reminded that the IFI and similar groups all fall under the umbrella of Christianity. If moderate Christians are forced to continually distinguish themselves from the more extreme groups, then the whole irrational fabric will fray.

  • http://bluegrassfool.blogspot.com/ Scott

    I agree – if there’s one thing a “christian” hates, it’s assertiveness. They expect everyone to be passive with them “because they’re a christian”, and do as they say.

    In my book, once you tell me you identify as “christian” is the moment you fall on deaf ears. If I want to hear kooky stuff, I’ll go home and watch cartoons.

  • Keith (the pastor)

    My previous post about my conversations with Laurie Higgins included a misstatement that Ms. Higgins rightly called me on. She does hope (and had indicated to me prior to my post) that Hemant changes … however, she does not believe she can cause him to change. I indicated that she did not want him to change, and this was in error.

    Also, I want to emphasize that my understanding of Ms. Higgins motives were my opinions, she never stated in our conversations that she wanted Hemant fired or frightened.

    Hemant, I’m glad that no impact on your employment has come from this, and I’m glad this thing is over.


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