Atheists as ‘Future Targets’

Sometimes, it pays to track online mentions of the organization you work for. The Secular Student Alliance’s Jesse Galef (who also contributes to this site) saw a tweet this morning which included this image:

MY FUTURE TARGETS :)
I’ll pray for you.

*Deep breath* Ok. Calming myself down…

Every indication is that the person tweeting was talking about converting them to Christianity, not shooting them. But, as JT Eberhard notes, if the tables were turned and an atheist called members of a Christian group “targets” and posted their picture, there’d be a *huge* outcry. (And rightfully so.)

So how do you handle this?

JT and Jesse figured out who made the tweet, what school she attended, and they alerted the principal to the Tweet along with a note indicating why they were taking precautions about this — more from a anti-bullying stance than a “call the cops” one. I think that was the right move — not ignoring the message and not overreacting to it by any means.

JT summarized the reason this sort of thing shouldn’t be ignored:

As I have said before, if an adult punches another adult out of displeasure with their atheism, thanks to the legal protections in our favor and the reality of a lawsuit, the assailant would have just volunteered to purchase his victim’s next vehicle. In high school the perpetrator would receive detention or a few days of suspension. High school atheists do not need the same protection as post high-school atheists — the need more. Sadly, up until now they haven’t gotten it, but that is thankfully changing.

(via WWJTD)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    why is it in Excel? Was there a spreadsheet to determine the weakest prey?

    • Erik Cameron

      Also the first thing I noticed.

    • Anonymous

      Seems like there are different tabs/sheets for different clubs. Notice the “SSA” title. Maybe a list of clubs distributed by the school. Hence the photo

  • Rich Wilson

    What’s the ‘saw a tweet’ link supposed to be to Hemant?  It’s broken.

  • Anonymous

    It’s highly unwise to refer to people as targets, because it’s generally interpreted in the worst way.  I think it was a statement of innocuous intent, but so easily interpreted otherwise.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t consider getting harassed by some jesus nut at school every day to be innocuous.  It may not be a death threat, but it’s not innocuous. 

      I once got harassed on a plane by some very annoying idiots because they say the title of a book I was carrying (The Moral Animal if I remember correctly).  All I had done was board the plane and take my seat.  They then launched an attack on me soon after.  I hadn’t said one word to them.  I asked them to leave me alone, stopped responding to them, etc, but they wouldn’t let up.  Eventually I changed seats (this was pre-9/11 world).  Now, imagine being stuck in a school with people like that!  Ugh! 

  • http://twitter.com/TortugaSkeptic A secret red slider

    I agree with how it was handled, but on another note, I couldn’t help but notice the very close male to female ratio, which made me pretty happy.

  • Cobo Wowbo

    The student that tweeted must have gotten some backlash, her tweets are now protected.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    This was handled very appropriately, and JT expressed his rationale very well on his blog. We should neither panic about such possible threats, nor should we shrug them off.

    And to this,

    High school atheists do not need the same protection as post high-school atheists — the need more.

    Absofuckinlutely right!

  • Anonymous

    What was the principal’s response?

  • http://twitter.com/dartigen Dartigen

    I still feel that assault is assault regardless of where it happens.
    And I am pretty sure that minors can be charged with assault. (Heck, some schoolyard fights I’ve seen could go as far as ‘assault with a deadly weapon causing grievous bodily harm’.)
    Besides, I’m sure most bullies would stop resorting to physical bullying if they knew it could end with them having a nice chat to the police about Why We Don’t Hit People. (Parents might not care if their kid is suspended, but they’ll generally sit up and take notice if their kid is charged with assault.)

    This picture just goes to show that wording is everything. It’s not always just what you’re saying – it can also be how you’re saying it. Someone obviously wasn’t thinking very hard.

    • Gus Snarp

      You may be right that they can be charged, but the problem is that school policy generally assumes schoolyard fights and bullying to be some kind of youthful hijinks and not a serious crime, therefore the police are not called. I think a lot of bullying would be reduced if students who assaulted other students were taken to the principal’s office to wait for the police to arrive and haul them downtown for arraignment.

    • Sware

      I agree.  Choice of words is so under-rated but clearly important as this illustrates.  It’s certainly possible that the offender had no ill intent in mind beyond being an annoying evangelical pest trying to convert.  But how can anyone, particularly any secular/ atheist group, know when our daily existence is cause for so many people to be fearful, hateful and downright vile in their treatment of us?  If this came my way with my picture in it, I’d absolutely consider it sufficient reason to watch my back.

  • future target

    That’s me! blonde in front row in green dress.
    I cant believe how much this photo has been shared. this girl made our SSA famous!
    Thank you all for standing up for us. we live in a small town and its been pretty tough getting this group going, we’ve have signs torn down,principles tell us we cant write slogans of any kind on them, putting limits on us that far outweigh those of the christian group. my friend was harassed by a class mate for being a member, to the point that she was crying her eyes out in class, and as far as i know he just got a warning, if even that.
     its been pretty hard but the few of us in the group are still glad to be there, and proud. I’ m glad that this girl has caused us to have more support than we ever did before. thanks for your support!

    • CS42

      Very sorry that you and your friends are going through such difficulties.  Hemant, myself, and several other readers of this blog are educators and it is appalling to hear that faculty isn’t giving you the support you deserve.  Are there other faculty at your school (guidance counselors, for example) who you can turn to when the principal isn’t supportive?

      • Ndonnan

        school chaplin maybe??????

    • http://profiles.google.com/goblinbabies Sara Waldecker

      I had to deal with harassment from my classmates and fellow teachers to a disturbing extent when I was in high school. It sucks, but I assure you it gets a good deal better after graduation. No one has harassed me since, not once!

      • Rich Wilson

        It’s not perfect after graduation, but you do have much more freedom in picking the people you associate with.  You’ll always run into people you have to deal with, but for the most part your life relationships are yours to make.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-A-Anderson/100000016895400 John A. Anderson

    Personally, I would have called the police, if only so the person who sent this would get an uncomfortable visit from Officer Friendly. If my own kid had been targeted, the person (if another adult male) would have gotten an uncomfortable visit from me. I’m harder to bully than a high school kid.

    • EJC

      Why just another “adult male”? How very sexist. If an adult female threatened your child you would not pay her a visit?

      Talk about misguided.

      Also, “Officer Friendly” is no more. Police forces are now militarized thugs who are no longer here to serve and protect communities. I fear police more than I fear any idiot making a blase threat.

    • Charles Black

      John the idea that the police are on our side is nothing more than wishful thinking at best. The real reason the police exist is to enforce the will of the 1% who do nothing more than leech off the rest of society & destroys the environment.

      • Matthew Greene

        And yet the first person you will call when your house is burgled or your car stolen is……….

        • EJC

          Not the police.

          There are other ways of taking care of property and other crimes that do not use police forces.

  • Simon

    Please explain to me how this is different than what Sam Brownback did…

    • http://twitter.com/kariedgerton Kari Edgerton

      Because the girl tweeted “Gov Brownback sucks” this person tweeted “My new targets” implying violence at the most, bullying at the least. Brownback is a grown up and can handle himself, these are kids who can basically do nothing within the confines  of school.

      • Simon

        I think reasonable people can disagree that “bullying at the least” is what this was. I also think that calling the principal on an individual student should really only be a last resort. I’m glad they didn’t have twitter when I went to school.

        • EJC

          No Simon, “reasonable” people agree this is a clear case of a threat. This is not “bullying in the least” — and if I may point out Simon, in middle school and elementary school I was a frequent target for bullying. It ended in a sexual assault on me in a locker room where the coach turned a blind eye. There is no such thing as “bullying in the least.”

          REASONABLE people don’t make threats or bully people Simon. Figure it out.

          • Simon

            So you’re saying Hemant is unreasonable? These are his words: 

            Every indication is that the person tweeting was talking about converting them to Christianity, not shooting them.

            PS I was picked on and bullied too (though not sexually assaulted).

            • Ladydreamgirl

              Yes, because attempting to convert someone to Christianity could never be done in a bullying way! /sarcasm

            • EJC

              Way to try and build a straw-man here…

              Reasonable people do not use threatening terms the way the OP did. And you are very disingenuous in your “argumentations”.

    • Donalbain

      If only there was some way to explain the difference between referring to children in school  as TARGETS and a random insult against  an adult politician..
      There must be some way in which the two are not the same..
      Come on.. I can do this..

      Oh. I know!

      They are not at all similar, you fucking moron.

      • Simon

        They are not at all similar, you fucking moron.

        Please don’t use profanity against me this way.

        • Donalbain

          Concern troll is concerned. Fuck you, you fucking moron.

  • http://ltt.bottle-imp.com Daniel

    I was at one of those edgy, rock n’ roll churches for a funeral earlier last week and they had literature all over the place about targetting the young and growing “religiously unaffiliated” demographic. I almost took photos of it to share, but decided against it. Anyway, was notable, but mostly in a funny sort of way.

    • Alt+3

      The church my cousin got married in had a bunch of brochures like that. I skimmed through a few and I’m not convinced that whoever wrote them has ever met a teenager.

      They also had a Jesus manga.

  • Paris Hilton16

    I’m in that photo, too. (Middle Row, Far Right) What’s really sad is that I work with that girl. I used to think that she was good-natured, but now I see otherwise.


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