Here’s another high school atheist you’ll want to keep on your radar: Damon Fowler.
I’m catching up on his whole story, so to help me out (and maybe to help you out), I’m just writing up the bulletpoint version of what went down.
- Damon, a senior, knew that prayers would be said during the graduation ceremony at Bastrop High School, a public school in Louisiana. He shared his concerns on Reddit.
My graduation from high school is this Friday. I live in the Bible Belt of the United States. The school was going to perform a prayer at graduation, but due to me sending the superintendent an email stating it was against Louisiana state law and that I would be forced to contact the ACLU if they ignored me, they ceased it. The school backed down, but that’s when the shitstorm rolled in. Everyone is trying to get it back in the ceremony now. I’m not worried about it, but everyone hates me… kind of worried about attending graduation now. It’s attracted more hostility than I thought.
My reasoning behind it is that it’s emotionally stressing on anyone who isn’t Christian. No one else wanted to stand up for their constitutional right of having freedom of and FROM religion. I was also hoping to encourage other atheists to come out and be heard. I’m one of maybe three atheists in this town that I currently know of. One of the others is afraid to come out of the (atheist) closet.
Though I’ve caused my classmates to hate me, I feel like I’ve done the right thing. Regardless of their thoughts on it, basically saying I am ruining their fun and their lives, I feel like I’ve helped someone out there. I didn’t do this for me or just atheists, but anyone who doesn’t believe in their god that prayer to Yahweh may affect.
- As he wrote in the letter, Damon contacted Principal Stacey Pullen on Tuesday and said he would be in touch with the ACLU if the prayer happened.
- Pullen said changes would be made to the program so there would be no legal issues. (YAY!)
- Mitzi Quinn, a faculty member at BHS for 25 years, decides to open her mouth to badmouth Damon. A teacher publicly trashed a student. Seriously. She said:
“… what’s even more sad is this is a student who really hasn’t contributed anything to graduation or to their classmates.”
Quinn is a senior advisor, by the way. A role model of sorts. How about that.
Quinn also says (I’m paraphrasing here) other non-religious students have kept their mouths shut about the prayer for years, so why can’t Damon? I’m guessing JT Eberhard‘s reaction is the same as yours.
- Damon’s brother, Jerrett Fowler, had Quinn as a teacher and wrote her a letter that you have to read. Meanwhile, their mother cut off all communication with Damon.
- Americans United says Damon has indeed contributed to the school:
He’s taught his fellow students that no matter how hard it is, they should stand up for what’s right. He also represents all those who have been afraid to challenge the unconstitutional practice all these years.
- Reddit gets involved and alerts the whole world to his story. The Freedom From Religion Foundation gives Damon a $1,000 college scholarship for standing up for what’s right. (All the contacts you need for the school district and school board are at that link. And here.)
- The graduation rehearsal happened Thursday night and one of the students led the longest prayer you’ll ever hear at a public school event:
***Update***: Reader Lana provided a transcript of the video:
Teacher: Before we start the program, there are a few housecleaning chores we need to take care of. At this time, I’m going to ask all of you to please turn off your or silence your cell phones. And once the program is completed, I’m going to ask that all of you remain seated until all of the graduates have processed to the end of the program. And one last thing, um, I want to make sure that you please give these young people the respect they have earned. This is their graduation, and a happy time for them, and we don’t want anything to distract from that.
Girl takes stage.
Girl: Will you please stand for a moment of silence, and remain standing for the presentation of colors and the pledge of allegiance. Before I get started, though, let me say this. I was initially chosen to deliver the invocation, but I was recently informed that I would be leading the moment of silence. However, before I fulfill my obligation, I would like to say that I am of the Christian faith. Now, I respect those who do not share the same beliefs as I do. But at this time, I would like to give thanks to the god that has made the class of 2011 a success.
(Crowd cheers from 1:26 – 1:55 mark)
For those of you who share the same, the same beliefs as I do, I ask that you please bow your heads and pray.
(Cheers from crowd)
Our heavenly father, we come with thankfulness and a grateful heart for the friendships and the memories that you have given us as the class of 2011. Even though, for many of us, this’ll be the last time that we gather together as a class, we pray that you will lead us, guide us, and watch over us through all of our endeavors throughout the rest of our lives. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
(Crowd shouts “amen” @ 2:26 mark, cheers and claps to 2:37 mark).
And now, for a moment of silence.
(2:39 – 2:49, loud chattering and noises in crowd).
(more hoots and cheers from crowd.)
I know students are allowed to mention God in their speeches, but this gratuitously? And for this long? What were the school officials thinking?!
Jen McCreight explains the significance of what happened:
This girl used prayer as a weapon to separate the Good Christians from The Others. To alienate. To shun. To mock. And even more disgustingly, the community cheers along like a pack of warriors who have defeated their enemy, and laugh condescendingly at the mention of a moment of silence.
Bastrop High School, prepare to get the living fuck sued out of you. This may not be graduation, but it’s still a school function. It doesn’t matter if you told this girl not to say a prayer – the fact that you let it go on for three minutes is a crime. You should have turned off the mic and pulled her from the stage the moment “but” left her lips.
If that video is any indication of how Friday night’s graduation ceremony will go, they better enjoy whatever prayer is said. It’s about to cost them one hell of a lot of money.
For those concerned, there’s a Support Damon page on Facebook — you can all send your love there.
And I’m going to go ahead and start a scholarship fund for Damon. (The money is going into my personal account, but you have my assurance I’ll send him whatever amount is raised. I’ll provide proof on this site.)