Principal to Atheist Student: Why Are You Starting a Hate Group?

You want to know how important the Secular Student Alliance is?

There’s an incredible testimonial on Reddit from a high school student in Oklahoma who wanted to begin an atheist group his junior year. After word about the group got out on Facebook, the student was called in to the principal’s office…

… On my way there I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I was going. I walked into the office with a myriad of dirty looks directed straight towards me. I found my way to the main principal’s office when the door was slammed behind me. The first words out the principal’s mouth were “I have information that you are trying to start a school led hate group”.

Following my meetup with the principal the [faculty] sponsor we had lined up mysteriously told me that she was unable to sponsor the club. When I asked for a reason she told me that she was told it would be a very bad career move…

During this entire ordeal, the SSA was there to support him and guide him through the way.

The student is now a senior at the high school. He may not have started a group, but he says he learned a lot throughout the process:

I learned about the politics involved with the education system and that social pressure is more powerful than I thought. I also learned that no matter how far someone geographically is, they can still be there for you. Throughout this whole ordeal the staff at the Secular Student Alliance was there to talk with me and help me.

Our staff is incredible about helping students who are atheists — especially in states where that perspective is so unpopular. And it won’t be long before we seriously expand our high school outreach.

The story also stresses to me the importance of faculty sponsors for groups like these. I’ve always said to myself I wouldn’t mix my activism with my work. But after reading this, how could I possibly refuse to be the sponsor of an atheist group at my school? I couldn’t. I don’t need to wait until I have tenure to say that.

If you have the ability and desire, please consider supporting the SSA. Help us help students like this one.

(Thanks to everyone for the link!)

  • http://yetanotheratheist.net Yet Another Atheist

    Our high schools are the cavemen on the evolutionary scale of education. *sigh*

  • Mark O’Leary

    A nice letter to the teachers union would have been in order, I think. They would probably like to know about the coercion brought to bear against one of their members.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    It sounds like the principal is really saying;

    “I have information that you are trying to subvert the long held monopoly at this school of discrimination and defamation against atheists. How dare you do that. Get out of here!”

  • Daniel

    Huh.

    I was under the impression that students groups that couldn’t find an advisor would get one assigned.

    Closing the legal loophole of otherwise only teacher approved groups existing.

    Maybe just in some states?

  • Steve

    As if the mere need for secular student groups weren’t enough proof of an oppressive environment.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    How is it a hate group? I don’t follow that “logic”.

  • http://twitter.com/eliza_57 eliza_57

    This account is chilling. And unfortunately, not surprising at all. Thank you for sharing it.

  • http://twitter.com/jtradke jtradke

    Hemant –

    If you actually quote more of the story, the principal is not the bad guy here. He was reacting to all the complaints he received (from the actual bad guys: reactionary zealot parents), but once he had some time to actually speak with the student and hear his side of it, he came around:

    The rational side of him showed and he calmed down. He told me that as long as the group promotes community outreach and isn’t about targeting a group of people he was fine with it. We shook hands and he told me to come by his office when I was done with all the paperwork.

    He was prejudiced based on misinformation, something we’ve all been guilty of before, and eventually reached a more rational stance.

  • Steve

    You should know better than expect logic from fundamentalists.

    The principal didn’t come to that conclusion herself. She was contacted by about 50 parents who pressured her to do this. Who thought that anyone who doesn’t share their faith is out to get them. Because of course if you don’t believe, you clearly hate god and his followers.

  • Snuggly Buffalo

    The principal only “came around” after the student made it clear he wasn’t going to back down and was willing to get the legal system involved if necessary. And there’s still the fact that the teacher sponsor backed down because she was told it would be a bad career move.

  • Richard Wade

    The teacher sponsor had her job threatened, either by the Principal acting on his own, or because he was caving under pressure from some “outraged” parents. Either way, the Principal was out of line, and betraying his role as a leader of the school. He failed to promote intellectual freedom and honesty. Then after meeting with the student, who was remarkably tenacious and courageous, the Principal caved again probably not because the student’s argument was convincing, but because of the implication that he could be facing a lawsuit.

    But don’t worry, the Principal still managed to slip out of it like an eel by covertly scaring the teacher out of sponsoring the club. That way he can adhere to his own prejudice and that of the bigoted parents, yet still hold up his hands and say “Hey, it’s not my fault, none of the teachers will sponsor the group.”

    The Principal is teaching the whole school a class called Chicken Shit 101.

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    Hate group?? Obviously we need to put out more information about what we are and what we hope to accomplish. Atheism doesn’t have to mean hate…sheesh.

    The parents who sent in complaints should also learn something. Education all around. That school needs an Atheist group.

  • SecularDad

    I know of at least one high school in Oklahoma that has a secular student group. They can and do happen if there are kids and teachers willing to stand up for themselves.

  • Samiimas

    How is it a hate group? I don’t follow that “logic”.

    Atheists are hateful, remember how Atheists have been leading campaigns nationwide to deny the right to marriage to a minority?

    Wait, I’m thinking of a different group. Atheists are the group who’s most ‘Radical’ members consist mostly of middle-aged Brits who write books and makes speeches at conventions.

  • anon

    That this took place in Oklahoma doesn’t surprise me. I used to live down there. My kids’ public elementary school couldn’t celebrate Halloween because it was “Satan’s birthday” – I shit you not!

    I’d found a terribly cute children’s book called “Little Witch’s ___” (cookbook, maybe? Can’t recall now.) It was terribly cute, but the school made the librarian give it back to me because “it promoted Devil worship” or some such crap. (Actually, I think it was because it didn’t portray the witch as hideous, deformed and evil. Books like that were acceptable to them.) Meanwhile, they had a whole shelf full of books promoting worship of a deity that not only condoned but *prescribed* wholesale murder, theft, rape, slavery and infanticide for non-believers. (And people wonder why I didn’t raise my children in that religion!)

  • anon

    That this took place in Oklahoma doesn’t surprise me. I used to live down there. My kids’ public elementary school couldn’t celebrate Halloween because it was “Satan’s birthday” – I shit you not!

    I’d found a terribly cute children’s book called “Little Witch’s ___” (cookbook, maybe? Can’t recall now.) It was terribly cute, but the school made the librarian give it back to me because “it promoted Devil worship” or some such crap. (Actually, I think it was because it didn’t portray the witch as hideous, deformed and evil. Books like that were acceptable to them.) Meanwhile, they had a whole shelf full of books promoting worship of a deity that not only condoned but *prescribed* wholesale murder, theft, rape, slavery and infanticide for non-believers. (And people wonder why I wouldn’t raise my children in that religion!)

  • anon

    I saw this story reposted on a blog with the comment.

    “I could not agree less. I am a proud atheist. I take the debate with me everywhere I go, but I think it can only go to the same places religion can go. I don’t think atheism is a religion, but it is currently still an opinion. Unless your school has room for a religious group, there should not be room for an atheist group. Students can be atheists at school. They can talk about being atheists, but I’m not sure that the district can allow one and not the other. The best I can agree with is science club. I’m really sorry that I can’t agree with this, but it really doesn’t sit well with me.”

    Personally, I am not extremely familiar with the SAA and how much atheism is discussed versus secularism…nor do I know the policies regarding Christian extracurricular groups. Does this blogger have a point?

  • LL

    I’ve always said to myself I wouldn’t mix my activism with my work. But after reading this, how could I possibly refuse to be the sponsor of an atheist group at my school? I couldn’t. I don’t need to wait until I have tenure to say that.

    Hemant, I admire your conviction and energy. :)

  • Sheila

    As a resident of Oklahoma, all I can say is: THIS. Wouldn’t be surprised at all if the school in question is the one my son currently attends. The entire staff is comprised of xtian fundies, as far as I can tell.

    And anon, you are correct on the Halloween thing. But here’s the deal; I grew up here and when I was a kid, we always had Halloween parties at school. This ‘war on xtians’ BS has started up in the past 8 years or so.

  • Daniel

    Anon – I have worked at five schools so far in my career. All had Christian clubs – often multiple Christian clubs. One had a single Atheist/Agnostic club.

    I have no idea what the reason for the relative lack is (Christians are certainly the majority, so I would expect there to be more Christian than Atheist clubs in general), but there are most definitely religious clubs on schools.

  • http://intwaste.blogspot.com Dale

    I am currently working on getting my teaching certificate in order to help :)

  • anon

    @ Sheila: Broken Arrow and Arrow Springs Elementary ring a bell? I blame the uptight fundies at Rhema Bible College.

    I grew up in another part of Okla., back in the day when we *could* celebrate Halloween (although not with seriously scary costumes). My, how times have changed. And NOT for the better.

  • MikeC

    That’s just pathetic. Chicken Shit 101, indeed.

  • http://www.atheistatom.com Atheist Atom

    I already support SSA


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