Did a Teacher Caught Up in a Student Sex Scandal Get a Lighter Sentence Because She Brought Up God?

A little more than two years ago, a teacher in a district very close to mine was charged with “aggravated criminal sexual abuse” when she was caught with a 16-year-old male student inside a car at night behind a department store.

Take the fact that she’s attractive, throw in society’s double standards, and you can guess the kind of attention this scandal received.

I bring this up now because the teacher just got sentenced — “two years of probation and 30 days in jail.” There’s a separate discussion to be had about the (lack of) weight of that sentence, but articles mentioned a letter she wrote to everyone involved in her fiasco — I’m not sure if it was voluntary or not — in which she apologized for everything she did.

Part of the letter, written in January before her sentencing, included an update on her life and how she’s changed for the better:

[The teacher] said she has been working as a bank teller, that she bought a house, began dating a church-going man, and that, “most importantly,” she found God again.

I realize I’m taking a story that has nothing to do with me and making it all about my own views… but whatever. I’m offended by the implication of what she was saying.

As if believing in God makes her a better person.

As if her godlessness (or passive religiosity) was part of the reason she made an awful decision in the first place.

Can you just imagine how that would have looked the other way around?

[The teacher] said she has been working as a bank teller, that she bought a house, began dating a a godless man, and that, “most importantly,” she lost her faith.

It would never happen. No doubt her lawyers would have advised her against it.

And now I’m left wondering whether the sentence would have been harsher if she admitted to the judge that she had become an atheist over the past two years.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://profiles.google.com/vanbakel Rogier van Bakel

    Good question, Hemant. The double standard is pervasive in our so-called justice system. See, for instance, http://moralcompassblog.com/2013/04/16/judge-lets-thieving-pastor-off-easy/

  • CanadianNihilist

    I think the sentence was light simply because she is a woman. If you did this hemant, I don’t think you’d even have time to mention religious views before they locked you away.

  • rustygh

    This does still work. I’ve seen more then a few cases were the judge goes easier on people claiming god, reborn, or just like this back to god. It will only change if we continue to fight against religion. Separation is only a start, finally banning religions in the future is what’s best for humans. For sure in two hundred years it will happen, I can only dream sooner.

  • Birdie1986

    People are simple, so saying you believe in god has become shorthand for saying “I’m good.” It’s too hard to think about how complex people really are, and that morality isn’t handed to you by some benevolent deity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rick.wiggins.965 Rick Wiggins

    Do they let felons work as bank tellers? Does she have to register as a sexual predator?

  • Christopher Borum

    The article says she has to register as a sex offender for 10 years. Which is still light compared to what I’d have to do as a 40 something male if I got caught with a 16 year old girl. Or boy, probably, for that matter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=746759036 Wrich Printz

    I have very mixed feelings. First, i don’t think it is ever Ok for a teacher to have sex with one of their students. The balance of power is too broad, and to me, age does not enter in to it at all. No if the student is 16, and no if the student is 50. If you are teaching high school, or Pottery at the local Rec Center. Keep your focus on teaching, and helping others. If you can’t do it, stop teaching.

    Second, I think our rules regarding voluntary sex for physically adult-minor’s borders on the absurd, and is counter to our nature. NOTE: I am not now, nor have I ever been (even when I was that age) attracted to that kind of relationship. I think that most of the problem comes with Older Men hitting on younger women and using the power imbalance to COERCE sex, and that is why you see such a broad difference in reaction to Male teacher vs Female Teacher. While Females could use such power- for the most part it is assumed to be un-needed, and thus voluntary- which in most folks mind is less of a problem.

    Note: That is clearly not the case in every occasion, but it has been for many. I am not sure I want to punish voluntary sex with people who are 16 yo- as much as I want to discourage adults in positions of power abusing that power.

    I would rather young adults had safe sex EVERY SINGLE DAY with their peers (not with their teachers), rather than engage in violent behavior (and that includes Football). Sadly, the emotional earthquake that would set up in our society makes that idea highly unlikely- but lets all go get a game where we drive over people and kill sex workers, shall we?

    I would agree that belonging to the Jesus Death cult does give you an advantage when dealing with other self deluded types, as you share the same mumbo to their jumbo.

    I highly doubt my Bonobo inspired culture will ever come to pass, so put on your buckle hat and grab your blunderbuss. Puritan culture is here to stay.

  • Mario Strada

    It’s the usual felon that found god. It’s disgusting.
    On the other hand, the fact that now “she works as a bank teller, is married to a church going man and she found god again” maybe means she is already being punished enough?

  • sam

    ‘ and that, “most importantly,” she found God again.’
    Did she say where she found it? Let me guess, it was underneath the sofa cushions.

  • Smiles

    At the private christian high school I attended, the girls basketball coach (a man in his 40s, with family,and his own kids attending the same school) had an ongoing sexual relationship with a 16yo player (who was “coincidentally” the team captain). The press covered his first arrest, but the school/church paid them off or something. One evening of coverage and zero updates…not even when he made bail and violated his parole (earning a second charge)…because it was her birthday… Yeah, I think the god-card plays well with the system as it stands.

  • Mick

    I thought it was standard procedure in America. Defendants say they have found god in order to get a reduced sentence and prisoners say they have found god in order to get early parole. To my ears the claims are oozing insincerity but Americans in authority seem to go for that sort of stuff.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rocky-Morrison/100001552602936 Rocky Morrison

    I thought liberals were all for rehabilitation.
    What’s the point of a long prison sentence? Revenge? Deterrence? I am always told those arguments don’t help the death penalty position…why would they help with this kind of case?
    Counseling and Probation are in order.
    After all, isn’t the goal rehabilitation?

  • Julien

    Just as a side note, I don’t like the term “lost her faith” – it’s negative, it (obviously) implies a loss. Something like “she left her religion” is much better. It might even get a bit of sympathy from religious folks if they assume she were leaving a cultish religion.

  • Ibis3

    Banning is unnecessary and counterproductive (not to mention repugnant to a freethinking ethos). Education, ridicule of superstition, prosecution of religious fraud, holding religious organisations to the same standards as other non-profits, and secular community building should suffice.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

    So you support rehabilitation then?

  • indorri

    This is more “there’s discrimination in favour of Christians for criminal sentencing” rather than “she should be more severely punished”.

  • Pseudonym

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Hemant inferred something that the person in question didn’t imply.

    She didn’t say that “finding God” makes you a better person. She said that it made her a better person.

    That could be true. Or it could be a cynical ploy to play on a judge’s prejudices to get a lighter sentence. Or it could be something in between, or something else entirely. We don’t actually know.

  • Gregory Lynn

    Instead of getting pissed off, I’m going to imagine how fun it would be to be a judge and get one of these letters.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Oh Fuck off. You’re just here to piss on people you disagree with. Take your immaturity elsewhere.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Another jailhouse conversion or jailhouse revival of faith. They’re oh soooooo inspiring, and oh soooooo genuine and sincere. Yeah, she found God again. She found it in her lawyer’s briefs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jerome-McCollom/100000327150215 Jerome McCollom

    If she had said she was now an atheist, in some states she might have gotten a life sentence or the death penalty.

  • Pseudonym

    I do agree with you in part. The main punishment is that she has lost her career, will never work with children ever again, and will permanently carry the label “sex offender”.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/ferulebezelssite/ Ferule Bezel

    Did you read the article. She will only carry the label “sex offender” for 10 years. She is 29, once that period is over, she will still be young enough to start a new career.

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ Daniel Wall

    Your turnabout point is particularly good.

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ Daniel Wall

    I don’t believe Hemant has objected to rehabilitation, at least not above. Perhaps you should comment on the argument he actually presented.

  • CelticWhisper

    Could be. Beavis and Butthead found him in a can of Cheez Ballz, so that hiding place is used up.

  • http://mittenatheist.blogspot.com/ Kari Lynn

    Except that the internet is forever and when her new employer googles her name they will find this blog post or another website with the information. So, she may not officially carry the label “sex offender” on a registry permanently, people will still be able to label her a sex offender professionally and socially.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

    Excellent. Someone voiced my somewhat unpopular though valid opinion for me. Nice job being tactful while mentioning it.

    Our sex-with-a-minor laws are designed to punish people for abusing power but they also punish any minor who wants to have consensual sex with a non-minor.

    I think treating all cases of sex-with-a-minor the same is a mistake. I don’t know this case well, but I would be curious to know if it was consensual on the 16 year old’s part. If this was consensual and the student was not a minor, then this would be purely an ethical issue between the teacher and her school.

    So to recap, the case breaks down into (imo):
    - abuse of power
    - sex with a minor
    - non-consensual sex

  • Spuddie

    South Park ran with this a couple of years ago. Whenever someone brought up that a female teacher had sex with an adolescent boy, adults would ignore the situation and kept asking, “was she hot?”

  • Spuddie

    Not for bonehead conservatives. We just put them out on a farm or hunt them for sport.

  • A Reader

    Agreed–female teacher + male student, and everyone just sort of pats the guy on the back and says “well done” (even if the “relationship” was against his will). I’m sure people thought it was nice that she found god again, and it didn’t hurt her case, either, but tbh her sentence was light because of the gendered nature of these issues.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    Not to mention, the age of consent is 16 in many places. I do think the teacher should have lost her job, though. It seems like a commonsense rule of being a teacher: don’t have sex with students. Even if he wasn’t in any of her classes, it’s still abuse/misuse of her position as an authority figure.