Earlier today, I posted about the Ten Commandments plaques that hang in every classroom in Muldrow High School (Oklahoma). As the story went, after an anonymous atheist student contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the FFRF contacted the school and the plaques will now almost certainly be taken down after the school board discusses the incident at Monday’s meeting.
But the plaques won’t be coming down without a fight.
“It’s Christianity under attack within our own country,” said Josh Moore, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Muldrow, Okla.
Parent Denise Armer told KHOG she supports the students’ efforts to save the Ten Commandment plaques.
“If other kids don’t want to read the Ten Commandments, then they don’t have to,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that they have to make everyone else do what they want.”
I guess no one taught these Christians the way the law works. Give it a couple of days, though, because they’re about to find out.
During this whole debacle, which really picked up steam on Wednesday, the student who alerted the FFRF to the constitutional violation has been under the radar. Some commenters online have even insinuated that there was no student — that FFRF is just picking on them because they’re Christians.
Well, let’s put that rumor to rest right now.
Gage Pulliam is the junior who began this whole controversy and he told me his side of the story today, the side you’re not hearing in all the news reports currently out there.
Gage, an atheist for several years now, sat in classrooms with these plaques since freshman year. It didn’t take long for him to realize that they were actually illegal. After browsing Reddit Atheism (where these kinds of stories are rampant) and looking at the FFRF’s website, he finally mustered up enough courage a couple of months ago to contact them. In order to offer some proof that this was really happening, he took a picture of one of the plaques in his Biology classroom when no one else was looking. FFRF took it from there and sent the district a complaint letter last week.
Things really picked up steam in the middle of the week after a friend of Gage’s found out what he had done and told a few others. Word spread quickly. In small town Oklahoma, Gage told me, little things can become big deals when they involve religion.
By Thursday, students were passing around petitions to save the Commandments and spreading word that one local church was giving away shirts with the Ten Commandments on them for free so that everyone could wear them this coming Wednesday.
At least one pastor seems to understand where Gage is coming from, though. Aaron Tiger, a pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church, reached out to him via Reddit, toed the line, and publicly wrote about why Christians should obey the law in this case even if they didn’t agree with it:
So what do we do? Do we fight to keep the 10 Commandments on the walls or do we make sure that God’s laws are written on our hearts and lived out in our lives? Is it more important to wage a legal battle about freedom of religion or is it more important to wage a spiritual battle for the souls of our neighbors… It is vitally important that we support our administration and our school board. They have laws that they must follow to run a state and federally supported school. They did not initiate these 10 Commandments to be taken down, but they understand the position that the school is in. There is a school board meeting on Monday night at 6:00 P.M., and we are inviting all our church members to go to support the administration.
I asked Gage what his parents thought about all of this. He said his mother, a non-theist, has been supportive the whole way though she’s worried about his safety. His dad, who’s religious, wasn’t supportive at first, but came around to Gage’s side after hearing more about the issue. The biggest concern on dad’s end is for Gage’s sister, an eighth grader.
She’s in middle school, and the way her classmates are treating her, you would think she was the person who contacted FFRF in the first place. There’s been no physical harassment, but students have said mean things to her, some won’t look at her, and in one instance she couldn’t even get a class project done because her group members refused to talk to her. She understands why Gage is fighting this battle and generally agrees with it (as much as an eighth grader can, anyway), but it’s still tough to deal with the entire school bus “screaming at her.”
Some students have also told Gage’s girlfriend that he should stay from them or else they’ll punch him. Gage sees these as petty threats that probably won’t be carried out, but still.
So why did he agree to let me “out” him on this site?
He actually wanted to remain anonymous. But on Thursday, when students were reacting to this obvious discrimination against Christians, other students began getting blamed for alerting FFRF, including some of Gage’s atheist friends. He didn’t want to be the hero (to us) or the target (of the bullies), but he couldn’t bear to see his friends getting treated badly for something he did. That’s when he began telling the students who were pointing fingers in the wrong direction that he was the one who started this. He hoped that this post would help take the heat off his friends, too.
All signs point to the plaques being taken down very soon, but Gage still has a year left at Muldrow High School. Was he worried about any ramifications during his senior year? Gage said his parents were concerned that his future teachers, unhappy with the plaques being taken down, might alter his grades as a passive method of revenge… but Gage didn’t think they would do that. They might dislike him personally, but he couldn’t see them taking it out on his GPA. In fact, in the years he’s been at that high school, he’s rarely seen instances of proselytizing in the classroom.
Gage ended our conversation with one final point:
“I want people to know this isn’t me trying to attack religion. This is me trying to create an environment for kids where they can feel equal.”
I can’t tip enough hats to him. I hope his bravery sets an example for other students who witness this kind of blatant disregard for church/state separation. Let them learn from Gage and build up the courage to do what’s right even when it’s unpopular to do so.