The Student Who Mentioned Jesus During Her Graduation Speech Was Never Going to Go to Jail

I was reading an article by Paul Strand of the Christian Broadcasting Network about how high school graduates are being encouraged by Christian lawyers to talk about God during their graduation speeches because we got your back… even though it’s news to me that anyone was persecuting them in the first place.

The article is set up like a battle between the forces of Good and Evil; they’re the good Christian soldiers who just want to share God’s love and we atheists/secularists are the wicked ones trampling all over religious freedom.

But there was one bit that caught my attention:

“Any student who’s been asked to speak at graduation should know this: the school district cannot tell them not to mention their religious faith,” [attorney Jeff] Mateer, general counsel for Liberty Institute, told CBN News.

In 2011, a judge threatened to throw valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand in jail.

“The court’s order said there could be incarceration if anyone mentioned Jesus or said ‘amen’ during any of the speeches,” Liberty Institute attorney Justin Butterfield said, but a federal appeals court disagreed.

Mateer’s right about that first statement. Student speakers can give a shout-out to God if they want to — but the school cannot be a part of that. That means prayer can’t be an official, formal part of the ceremony. That’s why school officials often say they will not pre-screen speeches — so they can’t be held responsible when it’s full of Godly phrases (*wink wink nudge nudge*).

It’s also important to note that even when students pray on their own, they may be alienating and excluding several students in the process. It may be legal, but it’s still a dick move, especially when you know there are atheists (and other non-Christians) in the audience.

Anyway, it was Strand’s next statement that got to me:

In 2011, a judge threatened to throw valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand in jail.

What?! A Christian student was threatened with jail if she mentioned God? I couldn’t believe it! That’s crazy! I started looking for information on the case but every Christian site I visited seemed to repeat the same soundbyte… with no reference to what the judge actually said. The incarceration bit didn’t appear in the articles I wrote about the graduation… and I feel like I would have noticed a threat of jail made against a school valedictorian.

I even looked at Judge Fred Biery‘s final ruling against the prayers — which was awesome, by the way — but there was no mention of jail.

Finally, I found what all the fuss was about. In a flurry of litigation leading to graduation, Biery had issued an “amended order.”

Here’s what he wrote (PDF):

… it is hereby ORDERED that the Medina Valley Independent School District and its officials, agents, servants, and employees, as well as all persons acting in concert with them, are prohibited from allowing a prayer… to be included in the June 4, 2011 graduation ceremony for Medina Valley High School.

These students, and all other persons scheduled to speak during the graduation ceremony, shall be instructed not to present a prayer, to wit, they shall be instructed that they may not ask audience members to “stand,” “join in prayer,” or “bow their heads,” they may not end their remarks with “amen” or “in [a deity’s name] we pray,” and they shall not otherwise deliver a message that would commonly be understood to be a prayer, nor use the word “prayer” unless it is used in the student’s expression of the student’s personal belief, as opposed to encouraging others who may not believe in the concept of prayer to join in and believe the same concept. The students may in stating their own personal beliefs speak through conduct such as kneeling to face Mecca, the wearing of a yarmulke or hijab or making the sign of the cross.

Because this suit seeks to enforce fundamental constitutional norms, it is further ORDERED that the security requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(c)is waived, and that this injunctive order shall be effective immediately and shall be enforced by incarceration or other sanctions for contempt of Court if not obeyed by District official and their agents.

It’s strong language, yes, but it’s saying that school officials cannot have any part in a graduation prayer. It also says that students should not use this platform to invite others to pray with them. If they’re sharing their personal beliefs, it’s fine.

That’s the same position, by the way, held by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom From Religion Foundation and all those other heathen-y, “anti-Christian” groups.

And what did Hildenbrand say at graduation?

“In the Son Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”

That’s purely personal — she even said In Jesus’ name “I pray,” not “we pray.” It wasn’t inviting everyone to join her in prayer. More importantly, she wasn’t influenced or pressured by her school administration to say any of that. What she did was perfectly fine — and no church/state separation group argued against it.

And yet, the way the story was spun by the Christian media, you would think Angela could have been handcuffed the moment she stepped offstage.

What she did wasn’t brave or noteworthy — it rarely is when you’re saying something the majority already agrees with. Students across the country are always free to mention their religious beliefs in a graduation speech — even if it’s a metaphorical “fuck you” to all the non-Christians students — and many do. More importantly, FFRF and AU and the ACLU aren’t trying to stop those students. They’re only concerned when public school officials get involved in any sort of graduation prayer.

What Strand’s story suggests is that Christians don’t have any actual stories of persecution. They have to resort to patching some together using whatever bits of string they can find.

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.

  • Frazzah

    What is all this praying? Can’t they do anything themselves. Constantly asking god to intervene.

    • Lee Miller

      Nope. Poor things. Totally helpless. Totally dependent on God to tell them what to do and how to do it. Even what brand of toilet paper to wipe with. Pathetic.

    • Willy Occam

      So much for all that “Free Will” God supposedly gave them. What a waste.

  • Renshia

    Lying for jesus, that’s A okay. If they couldn’t do that, they would still be burning us at the stake.

  • thesauros

    There’s a hymn that has the line in it, “Every hour I need Thee.” I used to think how silly that is. Now, as a thirty year veteran as a follower of Jesus I can only see the truth of it. Atheists see Jesus as being my crutch. Not by half! He’s my stretcher, my ambulance, my total support. Through my weakness I’ve never been stronger.

    As for the feigned innocence that Hemant presents, of atheists not wanting to ban all reference to Jesus, even in a personal way, it’s only the law that stops that ban from happening.

    • Michael W Busch

      Atheists see Jesus as being my crutch. Not by half! He’s my stretcher, my ambulance, my total support. Through my weakness I’ve never been stronger.

      Some might say that, but I would not. I would say that you are far stronger than you think you are, since there is no Jesus (whatever historical Jesus there may have been has been dead for a very long time). You and other people make things better, not some supernatural force.

      As for the feigned innocence that Hemant presents, of atheists not wanting to ban all reference to Jesus.

      [Citation Needed]

      In case you hadn’t noticed, Hemant is defending the student’s right to say what she said. He’s simply pointing out the absurdities of Munchhausen martyrdom.

      And very few of the commenters here would want to “ban all reference to Jesus”. You appear to be confusing a desire for a secular government (a good thing) with Marxist-Leninist atheism (not a good thing).

    • Frank Key

      It is so silly for you to make that assertion. I am around Christians all the time who say Jesus or Bible or quote a passage. The difference is that my acquaintances are not using civil institutions to foster their beliefs on anyone within hearing range. We have conversations that allow for mutual discourse on the things we agree or disagree on.

      Such give and take is not the case when prayers are given at public school graduations; city council meetings or other civil gatherings. In those arenas it is always a one sided presentation of one religion’s POV in a setting where no such bias is lawfully permitted.

      Keep it private and keep it out of unaligned civil institutions and no atheist will have a problem with you saying whatever words you want to say.

    • WallofSleep

      “… it’s only the law that stops that ban from happening.”

      Not really, dude. You should try to expose yourself to more atheists. Many of us have no interest in REAL religious persecution, and many of us would stand against such a thing.

      Are there some atheists that want to ban religion? Sure, atheists can be dicks, too, just like christians. We’re only human after all.

      • thesauros

        “Are there some atheists that want to ban religion? Sure.”

        My point is that “atheism” or grass roots “atheists” seem to select for such characteristics when it comes to anointing their leaders.

        I understand that this is always/usually the case in any field. The most dominant rise to the “top.” But in a world where atheists are trying desperately to prove how nice they are, people like Silverman, Ra, Stephanellie, Myers, and of course the four horsemen, et al are not helping the cause.

        • Michael W Busch

          My point is that “atheism” or grass roots “atheists” seem to select for such characteristics when it comes to anointing their leaders.

          There are no “anointed leaders” of atheism. There are simply some people who are better known or more eloquent or better informed than others.

          But in a world where atheists are trying desperately to prove how nice they are, people like Silverman, Ra, Stephanellie, Myers, and of course the four horsemen, et al are not helping the cause.

          Your tone-trolling is noted, and disregarded since you do not appear to understand the diversity of goals that atheists have. And as to why it is appropriate to not be “nice”, I will recommend Greta Christina’s book:

          • baal

            Her book is why being angry is a reasonable response to the shit atheists get and a number of arguments on why religions (the religoius) are bad. She does not argue that being angry means you should not be nice.

            • Michael W Busch

              Depends on the definition of the word “nice” (hence my quote marks above). Thesauros’ definition appears to be something like “not loud and angry about the abuses committed in the name of religion”. And that is one of the attitudes the book takes down – it is one of the things that makes Greta especially angry.

            • thesauros

              She does not argue that being angry means you should not be nice.”

              I can tell there are a lot of like minded people here. I feel very loved.

              • baal

                I don’t think your list of names is at all equivalent. The folks on it vary substantially in how much of an asshole they are (or are not) as well as in how much they accept that they are assholes (or not).

                My semantic issue is that nice implies an object whereas angry doesn’t need one. I’m perfectly capable of being angry sitting here on my stool but being ‘nice’ sitting on my stool doesn’t make as much sense. I can be very angry with you (and look it or not) and still get you a cookie (being nice).

                Atheists have real reasons to be angry and shouldn’t be faulted for being angry. How we treat others, however, is always open to discussion.

                I accepts MWB’s comment on Thes’s usage.

                • thesauros

                  Atheists have real reasons to be angry”

                  I agree. But I think you’re target is off, as is Greta Xina. People like Hitchens say that religion poisons everything. It’s humans who poison everything, including religion. Including atheism and the “movement” that revolves around it.
                  Our intentions are often good, but the result eventually turns to crap. It’s almost impossible to read the news without the majority of items dealing with human corruption. It’s who we are and to pretend otherwise is foolhardy.

                • Michael W Busch

                  It’s humans who poison everything

                  Yes*. But it is also humans, and no one else*, that fix everything.

                  And a big part of fixing things is to not accept wrong ideas.

                  Religion is often bad because it wrongly claims supernatural sanction of wrong ideas that lead to bad actions, so that they are not rejected even when they lead to horrific evil. e.g. “This man raped children. But he’s a priest, so he doesn’t answer to human laws.” or “God says women are worth half as much as men, so they are.” or, one that made Hitchens particularly furious, “Suffering people are closer to God, so let’s leave these people to suffer and die rather than getting them the treatments that would cure them”.

                  (*subject to argument about the chimps and a few other species on Earth, to the possibility of intelligent aliens, and to the limitation that almost all of humanity’s actions have been confined to one pale blue dot)

                • thesauros

                  I think that if I made claims similar to these, an atheist would say, and rightly so, “citations needed.”

                • Michael W Busch

                  There is no evidence of anything supernatural existing, and considerable evidence against the particular supernatural claims you are making, therefore those claims can be dismissed until and unless sufficient contrary evidence is provided. If you assert otherwise, the burden of proof is on you.

                  And the examples I gave of religion enabling evil are, in order: the Catholic Church enabling tens of thousands of cases of sexual assault, one of the many instances of misogyny in the Qur’an, and Teresa of Calcutta’s policies in her houses for the dying. Those are all common enough knowledge that formal citations did not seem to be necessary (you have access to Google). I could have given other prominent examples: racism and denial of history in Mormonism; various groups denying life-saving health care to others for religious reasons – especially abortion, contraception, and vaccines; people being tortured and killed because of accusations of witchcraft; and many others. But Greta Christina’s book already does that.

        • coyotenose

          And yet you can’t point at prominent atheists who actually do want to ban religion, only libel people you’ve heard of. You’re still lying about people.

          • thesauros

            If you assert otherwise, the burden of proof is on you.

            Yes, and if you assert that the existence of this universe is supported by materialism, the burden of proof is on you. Why is it that atheists always say, “I’m a materialist because I don’t believe what you believe.” Wouldn’t you be better off producing just one flake of evidence for naturalism?

            • Michael W Busch

              Yes, and if you assert that the existence of this universe is supported by materialism, the burden of proof is on you

              Wrong. Atheism/materialism is the null hypothesis for explaining the universe ( ). It’s what all other hypotheses are tested against. You have to come with evidence that your purported claims are better explanations for the universe than the null hypothesis.

              • thesauros

                So you’re willing to believe this is a material universe only, not only with no physical evidence that this is possible but with scientific evidence showing that this is not possible?


                I don’t need to prove a supernatural Cause to anyone. I’ve already got a universe worth of evidence, plus the evidence from observation, testing and verification. That’s good enough for me. If that isn’t enough evidence for you, I can’t help it.

                • Michael W Busch

                  So you’re willing to believe this is a material universe only, not only with no physical evidence that this is possible but with scientific evidence showing that this is not possible?

                  There is no scientific evidence “showing that [materialism] is not possible” – in fact, all of humanity’s current understanding of science is entirely consistent with an entirely mundane natural universe. If you think otherwise, you do not understand the relevant science. I say this as a professional scientist, and encourage you to actually learn about science – in particular, physics and astronomy. Wikipedia’s coverage is a generally good place to start.

                  I don’t need to prove a supernatural cause to anyone.

                  You do if you want anyone to take you seriously. There is no such evidence for such a thing in any field of science – be that astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, or history. You say you have “evidence from observation, testing, and verification”. Your personal testimony to that is insufficient.

                  And even if you could demonstrate some sort of Aristotle-style prime-mover first-cause deity, which again is not required to explain any currently-available evidence, that is not the same as Christianity. Christianity is provably false – it is based on the claims made in the Bible, which is in large part myth (there was no Adam, no Noah, and no Moses), in large part forgery (the Book of Daniel is a forgery, as are many of the epistles), in large part self-contradicting ( ), and in large part simply wrong ( ). Whatever historical Jesus may have existed was nothing like the character portrayed in the Gospels, and there is an argument going as to whether or not there was a historical Jesus at all.

                  And I am not inclined to continue this derailment, so I will simply refer you to a piece by JT Eberhard, another one of the bloggers here at Patheos: , and again encourage you to actually read up on science.

                • thesauros

                  “You do if you want anyone to take you seriously.”

                  (Smile) My today, and tomorrow and every day after that will go on just fine whether or not you take me seriously.

                  There’s a line that goes, “The reason we have so much trouble communicating with others, is because our lives are so full of contradictions, we can’t even communicate with ourselves.”

                  This is nowhere more true than in the life of someone who believes in materialism, naturalism, atheism. For an atheist must say to h/himself, “I’m an atheist / materialist and that means that I’m going to believe that this universe has a naturalistic explanation – yet-to-be discovered – and I will wait (or even die waiting) until it IS discovered in case I make the mistake of appealing to a god of the gaps. In the mean time, until the scientists who are working very, very VERY hard at finding a natural explanation for our existence, I have no choice but to believe the following absurd, illogical, incoherent line of thinking:

                  Because the immaterial doesn’t exist, the immaterial laws of mathematics, laws of logic, laws of physics / science that govern and control the universe and all live upon the earth, are just things that humans invent to explain how things work. These laws do not exist apart from human thought.

                  The only force known to make irreducibly complex machines is intelligent design. That’s why we atheists are in the curious position of ignoring something we know to be capable of explaining what we see in biology, in favour of totally unproven explanation.

                  Because I’m committed to atheism, I must believe that:

                  Material things don’t need a cause to begin to exist

                  Material things can just pop into existence at any time

                  Nothing actually means something (re: the beginning of matter)

                  Something actually means nothing (re: vacuum and quantum events)

                  An infinite regress of cause explains things

                  Life can come from non life

                  Inanimate and inorganic gases can evolve

                  We atheists don’t believe anything that isn’t scientifically proven. However we do believe in the existence of a multi verse.

                  We believe you can’t prove a negative (God doesn’t exist). However we believe this negative that can’t be proven.

                  Matter has always existed

                  The universe is Necessary

                  There is no truth and that’s the truth

                • Feminerd

                  Aaand with that, the strawman rise to life and dances a jig.

                  Naturalism does not say there are no immaterial things. Mathematics, logic, and physical laws are descriptive of things that exist. The universe exists; math describes how it works. Humans invented the forms, but the relationships the math describes would exist regardless of whether anyone figured them out. Things would fall to Earth at a rate of 9.8 m/s^2 regardless of whether we knew that or not. Evolution would happen regardless of whether anyone thought it did or not. PV=nRT even when humans didn’t know what R is, what moles are, what atoms are, what molecules are, or how to purify gases.

                  As for the rest of it: we don’t know where matter came from in re the Big Bang. After that, we’re pretty sure what happened. Not 100% sure, but pretty sure. All matter in the universe exploded outward at tremendous pressure and speed. As it slowed, it cooled (you know how that goes, losing energy lowers your state of matter). Eventually it turned into nebulae and stars and planets, and some of the planets developed atmospheres and liquid water full of random organic molecules. On at least one planet, those organic molecules became self-replicating. At that point, you pretty much have a virus. And then life on Earth kept developing through a process of serendipity and natural selection.

                  We have scientific, experimental evidence for pretty much all of this. It might sound crazy or illogical to you, but it’s probably what happened. We know that amino acids will arise spontaneously out of “primordial goo” in labs. We know that these amino acids can form long chains of RNA, and that RNA will replicate itself. In other words, we know that the precursors of extremely primitive life can assemble themselves out of nutrient rich environments similar to what we think early Earth was like.

                  I don’t believe in a multiverse. Most atheists I know don’t believe in a multiverse. I think a multiverse is possible, but we certainly can’t test it right now, so it lives in the same realm as God right now (probably untrue, definitely unknown, not worth considering without further evidence). I don’t think multiverse theory is necessarily unfalsifiable, though, so it gets more credence than God. There’s also some math that suggests multiverses are possible, and at least we can develop tests to see if multiverses are consistent with our universe or not. As unbelievable as the multiverse idea is, the idea of God is even more whacked out. That’s saying something.

                  I guess, in the end, it comes down to you need to learn some actual science before you sneer at it so much.

                • thesauros

                  You guys are priceless with your lab conditions that you think mimic early earth, with inorganic and inanimate gases evolving. And then with the self-replicating RNA.

                  Each and every decision that the scientist in the lab makes is an Intelligent Design decision to either remove one by-product and not another or to empower one compound and not another. Each of these actions puts into the system huge amounts of specific information.
                  Any success that these experiments may have, have been achieved by Intelligent deliberate and conscious actions of an Intelligent Mind. The experiments themselves are clearly NOT simulations of actual events and are instead a clear indication of an Intelligent Agent
                  working to bring about a desired outcome.

                  Computer Based Algorithms are probably the clearest case of Intelligent input. None of the experiments to date would have been possible without functional information being put into the system, information that simply would not have been there in the conditions atheists tell us
                  existed at the primordial earth. Computer programs to simulate natural selection all have a target selection programmed in. There was / IS no such foresight in nature.

                  “Target selection” does not simulate natural processes.

                  Rather, it highlights the Intellectual powers of the computer programmers. Every computer algorithm is a testament to Intelligent Design.

                  As well, any ribosyme replication has been brought about by the Intelligence of the Ribozyme Engineers:
                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones who enable self-replication to proceed.

                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones who select molecules that have a slightly enhanced ligase capacity.

                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones that preserve the optimal molecules.

                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones that enrich the molecules by repeated selection and amplification.

                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones who intervene before any of the other ways that polymerases perform.

                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones who anticipate the future function in a way that is not possible in nature.

                  . Intelligent Designers are the ones who choose RNA sequences knowing beforehand the required condition to bring about self-replication.

                  And then they say, “Look! Life could have arisen by natural means.”

                  It’s heartbreaking to see what happens when intelligent people bring their presupposition of atheism to the evidence which in turn twists and corrupts any possibility of reaching a correct conclusion.

                • Earl G.

                  Wow. Every single thing you said in this comment was false. I did not think that was even possible.

                  The funniest thing is that your own made-up rules preclude the existence of your favorite deity. If you’re down on infinite regress, something coming from nothing, and “intelligence” not being needed to make everything, then you can’t have a deity. You would have to break at least one of those rules to explain where your deity came from. Either it came from nothing, or an unintelligent process made it, or some other intelligent thing created it (and some other intelligent thing created that one, and another created that one, infinitely). Have you seriously never bothered to think about this?

                  And your arbitrary leap from vague deism to your specific brand of Christianity? Glaringly obvious that you didn’t bother answering that. “I don’t understand basic chemistry, physics, and biology … therefore I believe in talking snakes, magical boats, sea monsters, and blood sacrifice!” Brilliant.

                • thesauros

                  “Have you seriously never bothered to think about this?”

                  I was about to ask you the same thing. You see:

                  . Either matter is eternal (and we know that it isn’t) OR

                  . The Immaterial Creator of matter is eternal

                  If you think this is a false dichotomy this would be a good place to list the other options.

                  When it comes to the term eternal, asking,
                  “What caused this Eternal Being to begin to exist?” OR
                  “When did this Eternal Being begin to exist?”
                  is incoherent, absurd and illogical. It also shows that you’ve never seriously bothered to think about this.

                • Earl G.

                  No counter to the fact that everything you said in your previous comment was false. I will take that as tacit agreement that you were lying.

                  Other options?
                  -The natural universe IS eternal. You’re lying again when you say ‘we know it isn’t.’ That’s false. (Or you’re equivocating some definition of “matter” with “non-supernatural reality.”)
                  -Your “immaterial creator” is not eternal.
                  -Your “creator” is not immaterial.
                  -Your “immaterial creator” was the product of some other “immaterial creator” who was the product of yet another “immaterial creator” …
                  -Neither the natural universe nor your “creator” is eternal.
                  -Your “immaterial creator” is actually Thor, and he’s real mad that you’re not worshiping him.
                  -Your “immaterial creator” doesn’t exist.

                  Just to name a few.

                  Regardless, we know these are true:
                  -You don’t understand what spacetime is and how it works.
                  -You don’t understand how causation works on different scales of physics.

                  Oh, and nice job dodging questions about your “I don’t grasp cosmology, therefore … talking snakes!” brainchild.

                • $43768042

                  i am also a christian with a good 30+ years of believing. and, buddy, i gotta tell you how wrong you are.

                  jesus never calls on us to be morons, noroes he command us to be rude, insentive or douchey. i would suggest that you jump off your pedestal, re-read the gospels(maybe paying extra attention to the sermon on the mount), lose the self-righteous indignation and leave people alone.

                  in his name.

        • WallofSleep

          “My point is that “atheism” or grass roots “atheists” seem to select for such characteristics when it comes to anointing their leaders.”

          And just like that, you make me regret giving you the benefit of the doubt. You clearly know very little about atheists, atheism, or the secular foundations of our country, and you demonstrate an unwillingness to learn.

        • phantomreader42

          So, thesauros, the only thing you can do to prop up your fragile faith in your sick death cult is to libel atheists. How very christian of you! Isn’t that imaginary god of yours supposed to have some sort of problem with bearing false witness?

        • Guest

          but you gawdly xians never want to ban, oppress or persecute atheists or anyone with different beliefs, right?
          It’s easy for a non-xian to get elected in this country, isn’t it? It’s fair that your houses of superstition are tax exempt and that everyone else in the community has to make up for the short falls created by these tax exempt properties, isn’t it?

          Get me all fired up on a Friday? Fu– you and your imaginary friend you delusional tool.
          Have a great weekend everybody!

        • kaydenpat

          Christians should do more of a good job in proving how nice they are. They’re failing badly with all their outrageous homophobia.

          You be more Christlike and stop worrying about atheists (who are a small minority in the US) “persecuting” you and other Christians (who make up the vast majority of Americans).

          • Mark A. Griffin

            Please never let a bad experience with a Christian come between you and Jesus. Quite frankly bad experiences with people kept me away from HIM for years.

    • Sideshow Billybob

      You come off sounding like you have a drug dependency. You have to have it every hour and, as a “thirty year veteran,” are willing to commit violence to keep that dependency. Calling Jesus your “total support” doesn’t really say much for your independence from this addiction. Even as Hemant is defending the right to talk about it and have it, you call him a liar and say he wants to ban it? Such paranoia.

      • WallofSleep

        “You have to have it every hour and, as a “thirty year veteran,” are willing to commit violence to keep that dependency.”

        Let’s not get all hyperbolic here. I read no such indication in his comment.

    • Artor

      What was that your Big Book says about bearing false witness? You are a shitty Xtian, and Jeebus is doing nothing to help you be a better person.

    • Anonomouse Fred

      WOW it must be opposite day on your planet right now. Usually its the godbots who yammer about the minority atheists using the law to bully the Christians.
      It’s really refreshing to see you turn it around and claim to be protected from the atheists by the laws that you usually hold in such contempt.

      • Houndentenor

        They should hope that if we are even in the majority that atheists treat Christians better than Christians treated atheists. Given the playbook they will have handed us for persecuting dissenters, I wouldn’t count on that. I’m not in favor but I could well be a minority voice in that myself. The wall of separation between church and state protects religion, and it’s moronic that Christians can’t see that. They will most likely live to regret tearing down that proverbial wall.

    • Lucilius

      “As for the feigned innocence that Hemant presents, of atheists not wanting to ban all reference to Jesus, even in a personal way, it’s only the law that stops that ban from happening.”

      Ah. And you can peer inside all our skulls an read our collective intentions … how, exactly?

      Oh, right. You can’t. You’re just full of shit and determined to manufacture supposed persecution to feed your otherwise baseless martyr complex.

    • busterggi

      Hail Hydra (just as meaningful)

      • coyotenose

        MORE meaningful. If someone sincerely proclaims “Hail Hydra!” there’s a better than even chance* that Captain America will come busting through a wall like the goddamn Kool-Aid Man and start making bank shots off of every uneducated cultist in the vicinity.

        *Even in the real world.

        • MsC

          May take him a while to get there. He’s in Cleveland filming “Captain America: Winter Soldier” with Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff. ;)

          • coyotenose

            Shhh, stop giving away their positions to Hydra! Christ :P

    • Baby_Raptor

      I’m sorry you need a mythological sky being to get through the day.

      Maybe you should talk to him about your persecution issues, your lack of reading comprehension and your ego. They all really need work.

    • Tor

      “As for the feigned innocence that Hemant presents, of atheists not wanting to ban all reference to Jesus, even in a personal way, it’s only the law that stops that ban from happening.”

      I think it has something to do with the First Amendment of the Constitution. The government (which includes public school officials) shall have nothing to do with establishment of religion. You are free to believe in your gods all you want, but if you are a school principal, you may not lead the audience in a prayer to any deity, including the Christian god, Shiva, or Zeus.

      The speaking graduates are free to speak freely (again the First Amendment) about their own beliefs, as long as they do not call upon others in the public assembly to bow their heads in a prayer they may not believe in.

      The issue has nothing to do with atheists wanting to ban Jesus. That was the idea of the Founding Fathers. They simply said the government has no business promoting ANY religion, or lack thereof.

      BTW, leading a group at a public assembly in prayer to any deity is an establishment of religion. If you need to pray, go to your closet as your Lord commanded, or go to your house of worship.

      • baal

        Tonight’s school dance will be in honor and worship if Shiva. All students can pick up their vial of oil for anointing the giant stone lignham and spend as much time in that activity as they shall desire. Any christian offended by the anointing can not look or walk around it. No student may leave before the dance in His honor and tonight’s dance request will focus on bringing on the end of the cycle of the universe. The local temple has been generous enough to loan reliquaries to the other 6 major deities of our region so I don’t want to hear complaints that Ganesh was over looked on the way in again.

        • $43768042

          i ialways kinda hoped my kids’ school would’ve tried something like that.
          i had a prayer to odin all ready to go.
          alas, sanity prevailed…

    • Mario Strada

      Really? If you are such a good Christian why don’t you read the article again, ask yourself in all honesty if Hemant goal is really the ban of all religion and then come back.
      Also, that sin of pride doesn’t look good on you. I’d be careful.

      • thesauros

        “If you are such a good Christian”

        Where have I ever said that I’m a good person?

        I imagine you and I get very different impressions of Hemant’s blog posts. But when I scroll down through his posts, it is very difficult for me to not see a person who enjoys inciting supercilious thoughts among his readers regarding Christianity. The comments that follow his “headlines” do nothing to calm that observation.

        • Michael W Busch

          a person who enjoys inciting supercilious thoughts among this readers regarding Christianity.

          Supercilious with regards to Christianity, maybe – Christianity is wrong, after all.

          Supercilious with regards to Christians, no. People deserve respect, while ideas do not.

          And from what I’ve read, Hemant is generally good about distinguishing the two.

          • thesauros

            People deserve respect,”

            Ya, the respect comes through really strong on this blog – Pfft!

            • Michael W Busch

              Once again, Hemant is generally good about distinguishing between criticizing ideas and criticizing people. When he criticizes people, it’s because of their actions – such as claiming persecution where there is none. And he frequently praises people who happen to be religious but who are doing good things (go look at the last week’s worth of posts for examples).

              Not all of the people who comment here are so careful, but many are. And if you feel that you are being treated disrespectfully here, let me make sure something is abundantly clear:

              Saying “Christianity is wrong” is not being disrespectful towards people. It’s challenging wrong ideas.

              And someone saying “You are wrong” is not by itself being disrespectful towards you.

            • Thackerie

              People get the respect they earn. Lying, boastful christians don’t earn any respect on this blog. Maybe you should ask your Jesus to help you become a more respectable person.

            • Carmelita Spats

              Respect for your belief in a trinitarian-incarnational-atoning-resurrecting-ascending-soon-to-be-returning god who was his own father and impregnated a horny teenager with himself so that he could sacrifice himself to himself so that premarital sex can be forgiven? A Sky Fairy who hates adultery and impregnates another man’s fiancee with black cosmic goo, Holy Spirit jizz? Respect for your belief in a genocidal monster known as Yahweh-the-Yahoo, His Brat and their Pigeon? Or maybe, you demand respect for a belief in a spaceship piloted by talking, lava-eating, sea clams. ALL of those claims deserve mockery. Christianity is no more “deep” than Scientology and if your belief deserved respect, you would already have it; you’d be rolling around in respect the way a Televangelist rolls around in other people’s money. The comments you encounter here might be supercilious because superstition is always super silly. Christianity could vanish tomorrow and no sentient being anywhere on the planet would miss it, ever. And that, verily, is the scent of true perspective.

              • thesauros

                Hey Carmelita, if I became an atheist, do you think I would become as nice a person as you appear to be?

        • coyotenose

          And yet you magically can’t explain why, only claim to be psychic as justification for lying about people, like Jesus wanted.

    • coyotenose

      Your first paragraph is nothing but you feigning persecution over something no one said.

      Your second paragraph is you making up things and attributing them to Hemant and other secularists. In other words, you’re lying and pretending to be psychic. Does Jesus love that you lie and act as a false prophet?

    • DougI

      Yeah, and alcoholics can quit drinking whenever they want. You’re an addict, you need therapy.

    • Thackerie

      I feel so deeply sorry for you. I shudder to think about how awful it must be to be unable to live your life without imagining it being run by some kind of god thingy. I’d rather be dead than be a slave to the Jesus meme.

      • thesauros

        No need to feel sorry. I wasn’t a Christian until I was thirty years old. I finally decided that only a fool would turn away from the Love that had been pursuing me. In response, every year, and I mean every year since making that commitment to Jesus has been better than the year before. And this in the face of hurdles that would make most men’s knees wobble. Jesus is the real deal. I hope that some day you discover that for yourself.

        • Tak

          I’ve figured out why some christians think atheists are only not seeking a ban on all religious expressions because of the law: they fear it because they’ve done it before to other religions. They fear it because if they had their way they would break laws regarding separation of church/state. This fact is demonstrated by the many articles here where Christians DO break the law and/or grudgingly comply after being threatened with a lawsuit.

        • Matt D

          Look….if you want to tell others they are fools because you’ve discovered religion, and then claim love is following you, than I’m forced to agree that you sound like a Christian, so I’ll take your word for it.
          But when you absorb a philosophy that allows you claim you’re better than strangers you haven’t met, I’m going to agree that feeling sorry for you is a relevant reaction.
          Because nobody worthy of respect would ever use their religion to elevate themselves above others. Faith is not a concept that should allow you to claim you are better than everyone else that doesn’t share your ideas….it’s supposed to help you connect with people, not shove them away.

          • thesauros

            But when you absorb a philosophy that allows you claim you’re better than strangers you haven’t met,”

            Where have I ever suggested that I’m better than anyone else?

            • Matt D

              Where haven’t you made that clear?
              By purposely seeking out an Atheist blog to post about your Christian experiences, you’ve already made it clear you think we are wrong. You’ve stated how proud you are of yourself, like handling challenges others would “wobble” doing, or how foolish you used to be before finding faith, or how a diety is the “real deal”. You know we do not share your views, so why are you here if not to tell others your way is better than ours?

              • thesauros

                You’ve stated how proud you are of yourself, like handling challenges others would “wobble” doing,”

                It’s not my way that’s better. It’s Jesus’ way of handling life that has made the difference. While I fail and fail often in attempting to do it His way, to the degree that I succeed, to that degree my life is better than if I’d handled it on my own.

                Look, I’m not any better than any given atheist. I might not be less of a liar than any given atheist. But I am less of a liar than before Jesus came into my life. I may not be less violent than any given atheist. But I am less violent than before Jesus came into my life. I may not be as generous as any given atheist. But I’m more generous than before Jesus came into my life.

                As the saying goes, “I’m not who I should be. And I’m not who I’m going to be, but thanks to God alone, I’m not who I used to be.”

                I have nothing to brag about. Any success that I’ve had in overcoming years of childhood sexual and verbal abuse, 50 years of crippling arthritis, cancer with five major surgeries, the death of our only biological child, the stress of raising 7 adopted special needs kids, and 40 years of developing a quality marriage, other people may have handled these things just fine on their own. I would not have done okay on my own. And Jesus deserves ALL the credit.

        • Michael W Busch

          I wasn’t a Christian until I was thirty years old.

          I have some trouble accepting this claim, since “I wasn’t a Christian until…” statements often actually mean “I wasn’t a true Christian until…”. But let that pass.

          In response, every year, and I mean every year since making that commitment to Jesus has been better than the year before. And this in the face of hurdles than would make most men’s knees wobble.

          Once again, it is you and other real people who have changed your life. It is not some supernatural force.

          Consider how what you have said is identical to what others say after converting or more-devoutly-committing to Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, Judaism, many other religions, and a large number of non-religious philosophies and practices.

          You attribute that you have dealt with what you have dealt with to Jesus. Someone else in a similar situation might attribute it to Allah or to Ganesha or to having properly adhered to the Tao. But what is actually going on is people doing things. You are far stronger than you think you are.

          Jesus is the real deal.

          Your personal testimony does not demonstrate that. Nor does the Bible (quite the contrary, actually).

    • Houndentenor

      I couldn’t stop you from believing or praying even if I wanted to, and I don’t. It’s none of my business what you believe or think or feel so long as you aren’t imposing it on others. No one can stop you from praying. You can do it any time, any place and you don’t even need to make a sound or be in any particular physical position. So why do you think anyone wants to ban something that honestly can’t be banned anyway. No one cares if you pray. We do care if you force others to participate in your prayer or do you not have a problem with doing to others what you object having done to you?

    • Tak

      Weakness is strength!

      • coyotenose

        Heh, speaking of Orwell…

    • onamission5

      And yet, should you ever find yourself in need of one, I bet you’ll call for a real ambulance with a real stretcher operated by real human beings, rather than lie there and pray.

    • Guest


      • Thackerie

        Best response to thesauros so far!

    • Anna

      I am genuinely sorry for the troubles that you have had, and even though I think deities are false, I’m glad belief in Jesus has improved your life. From our previous conversation I remember that you were operating on a sociopathic level, and if you can now feel emotions and experience empathy, well, that’s a good thing no matter how I feel about fundamentalist Christianity.

      But I think it’s wrong of you to say that atheists are concerned with banning anything other than government support and promotion of religion. I truly, honestly do not care what thoughts you have in your head, and I don’t care what you do with those thoughts in your home, your church, or your private organizations. Your personal religious beliefs do not concern me. I’m no more upset by your Christianity than I am by my neighbor’s Buddhism. I don’t care about the altars in her home. I don’t care about her meditation practices. None of it bothers me.

      The only thing that bothers me is people shoving their religion into the government. That includes Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Pagans, etc. A government function is not the place for an official Christian prayer, Buddhist meditation, pagan ritual, or anything else. If people want to pray or meditate at a government function, they can do so silently. It’s not a place for someone to stand up at a microphone and proclaim the existence of one god over another, or religion over irreligion.

      • thesauros

        I agree with you about religious rituals in government by government officials. On the other hand, I doubt that people like Silverman, or Dawkins or for Al Stefanelli. Why don’t I leave you with the words of Stefanelli himself?

        “Intolerance [the author means intolerance aimed at Christianity]
        toward beliefs and doctrines that serve only to promote hatred,
        bigotry and discrimination should be lauded, as should extremist
        points of view toward the eradication of these beliefs and doctrines. It should come as no surprise that the individuals who abide by fundamentalist Christian doctrines would be the first to cry out that they are being persecuted when their dangerous, damaging and disingenuous beliefs come under attack. Most
        of these people lack the maturity and intelligence to act in a
        socially acceptable manner. Many of them are sociopaths and quite a good number of them are psychopaths. All of them are clearly delusional. The fact is that fundamentalist Christians are not interested in coexisting or getting along. They have no desire for peace. They do not want to sit down with us in diplomatic efforts to iron out our differences and come to an agreement on developing an integrated society. They want us to die. Their interpretation of the Bible is such that there is no other course of action but to kill the infidel, and if anyone believes otherwise they are only fooling themselves. As long as they are allowed to exist [He means Christians], we will continue to be inundated with accounts of buses, buildings, markets and abortion clinics being blown up, rape victims being murdered for adultery, wives being beaten (sometimes to death), airplanes being flown into buildings, people being tortured and sometimes beheaded for blasphemy, people being burned for witchcraft and sorcery and all the other horrific, inhumane and insane practices that are part of fundamental Christianity.”
        Al Stefanelli, Georgia State Director of American Atheists, Inc. – September / 2011

        • Anna

          I had never heard of Stefanelli before you posted that quote. And, yes, that’s an extremely strong denunciation. “As long as they are allowed to exist” would seem to imply that he might believe that they should not be allowed to exist, which is certainly not something I advocate. I’m quite sure Hemant does not advocate that. I’m not aware of Dawkins or Silverman proposing outlawing Christianity, either.

          So, I’m not really sure what the point is. You found one atheist who made a negative though ambiguous comment, and suddenly we all want to ban religion? If Stefanelli or anyone else starts proposing laws to outlaw Christianity, then I’d be right there with you fighting him, as I’m sure the vast majority of other atheists would be, too.

  • A3Kr0n

    I’m glad you mention the types of prayer the atheist groups have no problem with. You would think this line of separation would be agreeable to everyone, especially believers. I’m sure the Christians in places like Egypt understand why it’s important.

    • Houndentenor

      The kind of prayer that I as an atheist am okay with is any kind in which I am not forced to participate.

      • baal

        I’m pickier. I’m not ok if it’s a government agent praying in that role regardless of what I’m subjected to.

  • DougI

    Hmm, a fundy lying. There are things in life you can’t avoid, death, taxes and fundies telling a lie.

    • Spazticus

      Sure, because “Lying for Jesus” is a perfectly acceptable, not -remotely- hypocritical course of action, as long as they get what they want. There’s doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, and doing the wrong thing for the right reasons… though lying for Jesus falls under the category of wrong thing for the wrong reasons.

  • Mick

    So they are reduced to this. A teenager says “In the Son Jesus’ name I pray. Amen,” and the Christians think they have scored a spectacular victory. The old timers must be turning in their graves.

  • Georginafs

    The “so-called seperation of church and state” Shock!
    So-called? Freudian slip anyone?

  • Houndentenor

    Of course she was never going to jail. What on earth would they have charged her with and who on earth would convict a high school student for mentioning Jesus in a speech? It’s ridiculous. It just shows you how insane the religious right has become because even 15 seconds of thinking about this rationally would lead anyone to conclude that it’s obviously not true.

    • rwlawoffice

      If she violated the order she had the possibility of being held in contempt of court. She would not be in jail for a crime, but for contempt. I doubt the judge would have done it but I would not want to face the wrath of a Federal judge that believes that I violated his order.

  • Guest

    Who give a flying fu– what some 17 year old has to say? Let them blather on about their imaginary friend and share all their worldly knowledge and experience with the rest of the ignorant 17 year olds. They know nothing John Snow!

    • Michael W Busch

      Do not be ageist. Just because someone is young does not mean that they do not have good ideas. In this particular case, the student may not have had good ideas, but to dismiss her just because she is 17 is wrong.

  • Friendly_Autist

    Stop persecuting Christians, what with your not allowing them to dominate soceity. For shame!

  • Rwlawoffice

    Hemant you left out a portion of the order. The part where it says that the instructors were to review the students speeches and remove any part that violated the order and where the students were ordered not to deviate from the approved reviewed speech. Thus the order applied to the students. It would be within the language of the order for the judge to say that a student who violated the order by saying what was not approved in it would be held in contempt and potentially incarcerated. Would it happen? Probably not. But for the reversal of this order by the court of appeals, the speech she gave could very well have been a violation because she ended her speech with “Amen”.

    Your attempt to say this reporter was lying was actually a lie.

    • TCC

      That is largely contingent upon whether or not a student could be construed as an “agent.” In any case, saying that “a judge threatened to throw valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand in jail” is somewhat hyperbolic.

  • Mordicai

    Having just watched the West Wing episode where some Chinese Christians escape persecution in China by sailing here in modified shipping containers, to which the (fictional) Christian Right have a huge sploosh & are suddenly not troubled by “illegal immigration” this…well, yes. This.

  • Dawn

    They held prayer at my daughters graduation in 2011. She and a few other students stood there looking around. She said she felt really ostracized. I felt for her as this was supposed to be a special day for all of the graduates not just the Christian ones.