High School Teacher Bragged About Stopping Atheist Club From Forming, but He Won’t Be an Obstacle Anymore

A few weeks ago, I shared a story about a high school teacher who sent the Secular Student Alliance a strange letter referencing the SSA’s Educators’ Brochure (PDF). Here’s an excerpt from his letter:

It was from one of those students that I received this brochure. Not surprisingly, they could not get a teacher to sponsor the club. As educators we are dedicated to conveying the truth to students… They should not feel the need for a safe haven.

Educational staff has the responsibility of preparing students to be responsible adults. We expect all students to be treated with respect. We are not, however, obligated to protect those who choose to be deviants in society.

I’m happy to say there’s an update to the case. Everything looks to be resolved, says the SSA:

We brought the situation to the school’s attention and explained why it was unacceptable. Pointing to the law, the moral landscape, and the bullying that secular students often face, we made it clear that discrimination against nontheistic students in school cannot be tolerated.

They agreed. The teacher backtracked and pledged never to discriminate against students for any reason. The administrators reaffirmed their commitment to diversity and the rights of all students to form clubs. They spoke with the teacher to ensure his understanding of the law and to emphasize the consequences should any evidence surface that he’s not obeying it. They made it clear that his personal views would not interfere with how he treats students and that he needs to make sure every student does feel welcome in his classroom.

The students are preparing to get their Secular Student Alliance club up and running as soon as the school year starts, with the administration’s and the Secular Student Alliance’s full support. With our eyes — and the administration’s — on the situation, teachers will be on their best behavior. Discrimination will not stand on our watch.

That is great news for everybody involved, especially the students who will now be able to start their group. JT Eberhard deserves a huge deal of credit for getting the administration to see the light.

On a side note, I think it’s a good thing that the SSA is choosing not to release the names of the teacher or the school. You might be able to persuade me otherwise, but I think putting names on this type of case would allow us to say, “Oh, this only happens in that state” and ignore it. By keeping it anonymous, it makes the point that these sorts of shenanigans happen all over the country.

Normally, we’re fortunate when students have the courage to speak up.

In this case, I guess we have to thank the teacher for whistleblowing on himself.

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.

  • LesterBallard

    I’d like to see his ass fired.

    • http://www.facebook.com/rogi.riverstone Rogi Riverstone

       I’d like to see his brain educated

      • Guest

        I’d like to see his brain fired.

        • NickDB

           Sounds like that happened a long time ago.

      • LesterBallard

        Yeah, that’ll happen.

    • Isilzha

      Well, there’s something to be said with knowing that he has to swallow his bile and play by the rules.  As long as there will be some monitoring and oversight to make sure he does that, then I don’t think outright firing is necessary.  People like him really need to learn the lesson that they MUST keep their religion to themselves, especially when they’re teachers.

    • rhodent

       He has agreed to never discriminate against students.  Firing him after that would be vengeance, not justice.  It would also mean that in the future, teachers acting the way he did have no reason to back down when confronted — why do that when you’re going to be fired either way?  Finally, it would turn him into a martyr in the eyes of the theocrats.  Heck, it might even propel him into a career talking about the evils of secularists where he might actually make more money than he does as a teacher. 

      For all of these reasons, I think that if there is to be any punishment of this teacher, it should be minor. 

      • LesterBallard

        I’m sure he’s a martyr already. Just disagreeing with fundies means you’re persecuting them. And I wouldn’t care how much money he made as long as he wasn’t teaching in public schools.

    • Baby_Raptor

      This is what I was going to say. he deserves actual punishment for that shit…Instead, he’s just making apologetic noises. 

      No, fire him. He’s proven that he has no respect for his students or their rights. 

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        It is possible to take disciplinary action short of firing someone.

    • The Captain

      I bet your the kind of person that yells to the manager and demands the waiter be fired if he drops your food on the way to the table.

      • LesterBallard

        Yeah, cause this was just a fucking accident.

        • The Captain

          Everyone does something stupid in their career at some point. Most people have the decency to give them a second chance though and see if they do it again before calling for heads.

          • Andrew Glasgow

            Captain, Replace atheists with black folks and see if what you are saying has any merit.  If he was blocking the formation of a club based on race or gender, you would not feel like giving an obvious bigot a second chance, but since his deeds were done because of religion, he should be given the benefit of the doubt?  Sometimes, we should only have one chance at doing the right thing in this life, if we choose to side with intolerance, maybe we shouldn’t be in that position again…maybe I’m wrong.

          • Baby_Raptor

            There’s a huge difference between dropping a plate of food and denying ponies their rights, verbally harassing them and then publicly gloating about it. 

            This wasn’t “something stupid.” This man was purposely discriminating. And he felt so proud of what he did that he openly bragged about it. 

          • LesterBallard

            This is the time he got caught. Would not be at all surprised if there had been other incidents like this.

      • Coyotenose

         A man is publicly bigoted towards children over religion and your knee-jerk reaction is to make up illogical things about people who think he shouldn’t have authority over those children. Classy.

  • Conspirator

    It’s always nice to be civil in these cases when possible.  And going public would have opened them up to all sorts of harassment.  In the case where it can be solved quickly and the school appears to understand what was wrong and that they need to fix it, sure, keep it anonymous.  However if a school chose to back that teacher, then they should be shamed publicly.  

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      I agree.  If it is known that popular blogs like the FriendlyAtheist will keep things anonymous if things can quickly and easily be resolved, and only name names if there is lots of push-back, then the offenders will be more likely to do the right thing once it is brought to their attention.  Often times, the Christian privilege is so systemic that the perpetrators don’t initially even know they are doing anything wrong.

      • Conspirator

        Yep, and a public attack would have sent them and the christian right into full on christian victim mode.  

      • Alchemist

        This teacher knew full well he was breaking the law. A thorough reading of his letter in full makes that abundantly clear.
        He brags about what he’s done but refuses to put his name to it. He shows himself to not only be a coward but a proud bigot.
        He should have been sacked. If those are his attitudes to students of any kind he has no place in the classroom.
        I think the school has been cowardly and craven in their handling of this absolute outrage. They knew all too well what was going on. The students couldn’t get a staff member to sponsor their club and administration refused ti assign one as the law requires. They knew but did nothing, and by doing nothing they gave tacit approval. Do you think that a slime bucket teacher like this one kept his vile beliefs to himself? Of course he didn’t, he’s dumb enough and proud enough of his beliefs that he went out of his way to brag to the SSA about it.
        Anyone that proud and stupid would likely be shouting about his backward beliefs from the rooftops.

  • http://twitter.com/enterprise1705 David Ross Jr

    This is great news.  JT and the SSA are awesome!!

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    The end result is very gratifying. But I can’t help wondering what’s going through the teacher’s mind right now.

    I don’t doubt he backpedaled feverishly when he discovered that the law wasn’t on his side, and that he was risking losing his job. So now he’s behaving. That’s the most one could hope for, alas.

    In his mind though, I suspect he’s feeling persecuted. That the world is being ridiculous because it’s SO CLEAR that God wanted him to do what he did, and the U.S. government Needs Jesus. In his mind, I am sure he feels *he’s* the reasonable one, the RIGHTEOUS one.

    That kind of thinking scares me. Every morning that I awake I am so fucking glad I don’t live in a theocracy.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

      “Persecution Complex” seems to be one of the important tenets of modern-day Christianity.  What better way to garner sympathy from the rank-and-file?

  • A3Kr0n

    I wonder if this little incident will be brought up during his performance review.

    • CanadianNihilist

      The logical conclusion would lead us to think it most certainly would.
      So no, it probably won’t.

  • Gunstargreen

    Bravo, it’s nice to see that teacher received an education of his own.

  • Ken

    I hope (but doubt) that the severity of this situation has been conveyed to the teacher.  He broke the law.  Many people who break the law are punished without prejudice either for vengeance or mercy — there is a set penalty and they get it.  And this guy definitely broke a law greater than hurting some students’ feelings.  Christian zealots easily slip into indignant righteousness mode without actually accepting their culpability in breaking a law.  For a cult that wallows in guilt and repentance, they really don’t practice it very well, so I’m not holding my breath.

  • Keulan

     I’m glad that the school administrators did the right thing in this case. I’m doubtful that the bigoted teacher actually thinks he did anything wrong. It sounds to me like he only backtracked on this because in order to avoid punishment from the administrators. Hopefully he won’t be foolish enough to do something similar in the future.

    • machintelligence

      I wouldn’t hold my breath…

  • Heidi

    Kudos to JT on this. I hope that future SSA packets will include information for students about what to do if they experience this kind of discrimination in trying to set up a club. I mean, you can’t count on every law-breaking idiot to out himself. Kids need to be armed with the knowledge of their legal rights.


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