After Her Teacher Compared Atheism to Smoking (Saying Humans Naturally Rejected Both), a Young Atheist Took Action

The summer before Sara Sheppard began her senior year of high school in Katy, Texas, she took an Economics class. Her teacher was well-liked by the students but Sara noticed that he spent a lot of time talking about Christianity in the classroom:

Sara Sheppard

As the semester went by I realized that his passion for passing on his knowledge was not focused on economics but focused on religion, prayer, and spirituality. Instead of teaching economics he would teach us that certain historical people were among the greatest because of their spiritual enlightenment. He also expressed to the students that it was human nature to have a spiritual and religious component, therefore making atheists unnatural and against human nature. This teacher went so far with this idea to even compare atheism to smoking and how the body originally rejects smoking just like “the mind rejects the concept of atheism.”

Even though she called him out on that last statement, explaining that he shouldn’t say things like that in the classroom, it didn’t change anything.

Reporting his conduct didn’t seem like a safe option — it could have made her a target of students and other teachers. So Sara did the next best thing.

She recorded the lectures with her iPhone.

And then she passed those recordings along to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Attorney Stephanie Schmitt soon sent a letter to the district’s superintendent and it appeared to remedy the problem… the teacher stopped discussing faith in the classroom.

Sara wrote about the aftermath on her website:

I had a few friends in the same class that were angry with me and said I destroyed his freedom to religion, but in reality his actions were unconstitutional and were not related to economics at all. This was economics class, not Sunday school.

How’s that for bravery? She did what no other student had the courage to do. In fact, in a short speech she gave to the Humanists of Houston group last week, she explained that the teacher told another student (a friend of Sara’s) the following semester that Sara “took away his right to talk about Jesus.” (A right that public school teachers don’t actually have when they’re in front of students in the classroom.)

Sara later earned a $500 scholarship from the FFRF for her activism (“Enough for two college textbooks,” she joked). At the 6:30 mark of that video, she reads some of the comments her teacher made on the recording.

It’s just another example of how one student, willing to speak up against proselytizing teachers, can actually cause change to happen. The teacher may have known more about economics, but Sara knew more about the Constitution.

By the way, Sara earned an “A” in the Economics class :)

I spoke with Sara last night. She had one important piece of advice to other students who may be in her situation: Don’t be afraid. If you witness a teacher trying to push religion on you, let a group like FFRF know about it. Or let a trusted teacher or administrator know about it. If you don’t say something, the proselytizing will go on for years to come.

Incidentally, in 2006, Matthew LaClair also recorded his teacher, a Creationist, preaching in the classroom, saying “all the biblical prophecies have come true, dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark and all non-Christians belong in Hell.” Once he made those recordings public, the teacher learned his lesson the hard way (though he, like Sara’s teacher, never lost his job over the incident).

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.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I actually don’t find that statement offensive at all. I don’t know about human nature and although I think it’s completely useless in this century, there was certainly a time during our evolution that being a believer was a huge advantage…if not only for the tribal aspect. It’s as vestigial today as our appendix but I think we should recognize it as part of being a human and take a certain pride in overcoming it.

    • MyScienceCanBeatUpYourGod

      Well, you know, it is a metaphor that compares rejecting mythology to voluntarily poisoning yourself.
      The metaphor is backward, atheism is when you quit smoking.

      • chynna

        You have absolutely nailed that one.

    • eric

      “It’s as vestigial today as our appendix.”
      I disagree, from firsthand experience. Don’t know what your parenting situation is, but I’m in the process of going through it, and I can tell you that no 1-3 year-old would ever come up with religion unless some adult gave it to them. It’s just not a belief that we are born with.
      A young child will independently come up with what we might call “animism lite.” That is, thinking objects have personalities on their own but without any idea of venerating or worshipping them. Even that’s debatable, as most of the time they seem to be completely in on the joke, as it were (i.e., most of the time they appear to know they’re playing a game of make-believe).

      • Art_Vandelay

        I have two girls and I agree with you completely. Religion is not innate in us but the inability to reject other people’s bullshit is. There was a time though when surrendering your critical faculties to a larger group of people greatly increased your chances of survival.

      • 3lemenope

        I think the argument goes that ‘animism lite’, left unchecked, unchallenged and unreplaced by something more rational, will lead that person as an adult to start constructing more elaborate and metaphysically coherent notions about the hidden consciousness and/or inner life of the world and its contents. Kids are insulated from most consequences of their notions, and so are rarely if ever motivated on their own to revisit them for testing or elaboration. Adults faced with existential crises might start to do so.

        And how else does one explain that religions have cropped up in something like 99.9% of societies on Earth, independently of one another? There does seem to be something about being human that leads us to construct fanciful explanations for what we perceive, and become emotionally invested in those explanations.

        • KatKalls

          I used to view organized religion as a way to start to teach your children right from wrong, and being part of a community. That is, until the organized religions became so political and vitriolic against anyone outside their particular group. When they were charity and love oriented, I viewed them with kind of a fond benevolence, and thankful that they were so helpful with the downtrodden. Now, they are extreme, judgmental and becoming violent against those outside their groups (again). It is past time that the tax-free status be revoked, and any person who cannot seem to distance their religion from their teaching job needs to go back to school to learn the laws and the constitution. Perhaps, they should also be given a dictionary to learn what “freedom of religion” really means.

    • 3lemenope

      I don’t find the statement itself offensive, either, but the statement wasn’t offered in isolation as a random observation. It was offered by a guy who has a pattern of proselytizing, and so his intent in offering his observation seems less to illuminate and more to belittle atheists.

      • Art_Vandelay

        Right. He completely stumbled on it, no doubt. If an anthropology teacher said it, it’d be profound.

        What’s with the down-votes though? It’s kind of an innocuous comment.

        • 3lemenope

          I dunno. Folks have ants in their pants? I blame Facebook.

      • chynna

        Most of us who deal with reality and knowledge has major issues with teachers ramming their fake belief systems down the innocent throats of impressionable minds. I find it reprehensible at the very least that any adult would stoop so low a to take this kind of coercion into the school system.

    • chynna

      Most of us who deal with reality and knowledge has major issues with teachers ramming their fake belief systems down the innocent throats of impressionable minds. I find it reprehensible at the very least that any adult would stoop so low a to take this kind of coercion into the school system.

    • Hat Stealer

      The way I see it, humans have managed to survive this far by reverting to instincts such as empathy, logic and reason. But we’ve also been helped out by things such as fear, tribalism, xenophobia, and many of the other emotions that religions pander to. We now want the more positive evolutionary emotions to win out over the bad ones, which many of us find are no longer needed to survive. But they’re still there. The haven’t gone away just because we don’t need them anymore. So I don’t think that we can say quite yet that we’ve overcome the instinct to believe blindly- but we’re getting there.

      • Art_Vandelay

        “We” meaning skeptics…most of the people that read this board. Yeah definitely not society as a whole.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    O Noez! She interfered with his “right” to impose his religious beliefs on a group of other people’s children.

    • Jasper

      The Right to violate others’ rights…. right

    • canamrock

      Best part is in any other context, the same sort of Right Winger that’s most likely to hate his most would be SUPER HAPPY about something like this: “How dare that government official not do the job he was paid for? MY taxpayer dollars go to him to teach free market economics, not _____.”

      • evodevo

        Global Warming !!!111!!!!

  • GubbaBumpkin

    The comparison seem poorly thought out. Many people enjoy smoking, or become addicted to it. It takes a rational decision not to succumb. Whereas in the realm of religion, rejection of atheism is generally not the product of a rational process.

    • TnkAgn

      And no loving parents would force their children to take up smoking. But they’ll take their kids to some cockamamie church to be force-fed utter nonsense every week.

    • smrnda

      The other thing is that, though tobacco companies deny that their product is harmful or *as harmful as you think* and try to make people think it makes them cool, they don’t go out and say “you will burn in hell if you do not smoke our tobacco!”

  • Rational Conclusions

    Updating Matthew 28:18-20:

    As good students, you have read the reiterations of the “fems” (flaws, errors, muck and stench )of religion. Therefore the seeds have been planted in rich soil. Go therefore and preach the truth to all nations, reiterating as you go amongst the lost, bred, born and brainwashed souls of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as Rational Thinking makes its triumphant return all because of you!!!!

  • Sven2547

    Sara later earned a $500 scholarship from the FFRF for her activism (“Enough for two college textbooks,” she joked).

    Ain’t that the truth.

    • TnkAgn

      The current trend among college students is to go e-textbook, when possible. It is cheaper. I myself remember buying “used” texts at 80% of new, and selling them back the the bookstore at about 20% of my original cost. A scam with a long tradition, is that.

      • Quintin van Zuijlen

        So you paid on the order of $200 per textbook? I’ve bought two textbooks now, both in pristine shape, one nobody could guess has already been usedd, and I don’t even expect a third to penetrate the €200 barrier for total expenses. You’ve definitely been scammed.

        • TnkAgn

          That was in the ’70s, but adjusted for 40 years worth of inflation? Yeah.

        • Highlander

          That’s the way university book stores work in America. Fortunately, the internet is changing that shit. No longer is the university bookstore the sole source of text books. Students can now go to the store, write down the ISBN numbers and titles and find the books on the internet for a fraction of the price, and they maybe they won’t get stuck with an expensive book that they will never open again when the instructor decides to write a new edition and the book store won’t buy it back from them because they can try to sell it online too.

          • John Ridley

            A friend at work told me the other day that once he figured out that many classes wound up using about 50 pages out of a 400 page, $150 textbook, he just went to the library, grabbed the reserve copy and photocopied pages as necessary.

            • Jim Jones

              You can buy a portable scanner from China via eBay which scans the books into a micro SD card. Item 221270079701 is typical and can do about 400 pages.

              • John Ridley

                That works well now. Not so much 30 years ago when he and I were in school. I was definitely the exception at the time because I had a computer.

                • Jim Jones

                  I was the exception at the time because I had a scientific calculator, not log tables!.

            • chynna

              You are suppose to read the book. Now just use the pages refer to in class. I guess you have no clue as to what education is really about. Learning is what you do in your own time, not what just happens in class.

        • John Ridley

          You should check out textbook prices in the US. You’d faint. Several hundreds of dollars per term is the norm. Also they like to come out with new editions on a rapid basis (for no good reason, teaching the same material) to ruin the market for used books.

        • Bokuden

          Econometrics – 228
          Business Law – 335
          Intro to Investments – 247

          That’s what each book would cost me new for this semester. I bought International editions instead that were 50-60/each.

          • Quintin van Zuijlen

            So that’s why it says “not for sale in the US” on the front

      • David Kopp

        Yeah… except you can’t sell those e-textbooks back. It’s still a racket, and an even more profitable one because they don’t have production costs any more, or leftover stock.

        • Artor

          And some tablets will detect the foreign zones and disable them, or brick the reader. Beware of DRM!

          • Ricardo

            just a friendly reminder that pirate pdfs don’t have DRM :D

      • smrnda

        I used to order by textbooks from textbook pirates in China , or I would get cheaper international editions from India. A book that back about 10 years ago cost over $100 could be had in paperback from India for around $15.

        • Kass

          Thanks the Supreme Court that isn’t illegal. :)

      • Jim Jones

        How about ebay or half.com ?

        • Dustin

          ebay and amazon are the way to go. The trick is to buy the book that’s the edition right -before- the one you have to buy from the class. 90% of the time they will be so similar that only a few problems will be different. Then when you need the problems, just either download the pdf somewhere or ask a friend for a photo copy or something. I stopped paying for books once I realized it was a massive rip off.

          • Vlad Tepesdracula

            I’m a university student. Nowadays, the first thing teachers in my school ask is: “Do you have access to a computer at home or a portable one?” if the answer is yes, they give you a PDF of the text book. They encourage us to buy the actual book, but understand that they are expensive as hell.

            • chynna

              That is a serious copyright infringement.

          • Jim Jones

            What about the interwebs? Although I would guess there is not much there.

    • chynna

      She is lucky is she can get 2 book for $500

      • Chiggles

        Insane. I could buy at least 4 for that in the UK back when I had uni in the early 2000′s.

        • Steph

          I’ve managed to buy all my textbooks for 3 years of undergrad and 1 year of postgrad in the UK for less than that! Amazon has really saved me a lot of cash.

          • Fred Bailey

            This textbook-prices thing is the result of Ronnie Reagan. Librarians and colleges asked him not to do it, precisely because it were certain to drive textbook prices through the ceiling. But Ronnie was ‘closing tax loopholes.’

            Before the Reagan ‘reform,’ textbooks carried an exemption from the tax on assets. The books a publisher has on hand are assets, and taxable at the end of the fiscal year, but not textbooks. Why? Because textbooks have a limited market, but doing a larger print run drops the unit cost significantly. The exemption meant that textbooks could be produced in larger runs, because it wouldn’t matter if a few thousand were left hanging around, waiting for next year.

            After the reform, the tendency was to try to print them in tiny runs to skip the tax burden. Some were printed on demand, even. And, as everyone knew they would, textbook prices went ballistic. Reagan’s reform still stands, but it has been mitigated by the practice of e-book publishing, as the commenters here have noted.

            Just a little history. You continually call it a scam, but there’s a ponderable basis for it.

            • Jim Jones

              IIRC his dumbassery also resulted in books being pulped before the end of the tax year to save money. But then Reagan despised anything remotely ‘green’.

        • chynna

          This year my son bought one for $375.

          • Frederum

            Get back on topic.

            • chynna

              You do not have the authority to tell anyone what the fuck to do.

              • Frederum

                This article is about a student who protested her teacher preaching to students and you ADD kids turned the comments section in a bitch session about textbook prices. You even managed to bash Uncle Ronnie which reminds me of how conservatives can turn any conversation something about Obama.

    • Dutchess

      College textbook prices are almost as big a scam as religion, almost.

      • Hat Stealer

        I feel this way about how colleges price themselves in general.

  • Bitter Lizard

    Once again, a Christian is denied his God-given right to have rights that people who are not Christians don’t have.

    • Burzghash

      Wrong. A Christian was denied from illegally pushing his religion on others in a publicly funded classroom, which is against the constitution.

      It’s cute that you christians whip out your persecution complex as a knee-jerk reaction to getting called out on your illegal bullshit, though.

      • Eliot Parulidae

        Bitter Lizard was being sarcastic, champ. He’s one of the sassiest atheists here.

        • Bitter Lizard

          Thank you. I generally think sarcasm works best when played straight, so if someone doesn’t mistake me for a religious apologist, I must be doing it wrong.

          • Tainda

            You’re sassy!

          • Burzghash

            Apologies then – without a sarcasm font, and people actually spouting things equivalent to what you said verbatim, it’s very hard not to think such absurdity is earnest :(

            • Bitter Lizard

              No worries. When people mistake the parody for the real thing, it only serves to prove how close to the mark it is.

      • Ormkvad

        … read The Bitter Lizard again until you fully understand the sentence before going full retard.

      • Mikel Syn

        Never go full retard.

    • chynna

      WRONG, no one has the right to dictate to the impressionable minds of kids trapped in a classroom while a teacher rants about his fictional beliefs against the wishes of the parents.
      Everyone in the class have the right o their own religion, Christian do not have the right to ram their ideology down the throats of ever one in their wake

      • Skrilla Mcskrillerson

        he was being sarcastic, read the sentence carefully and it’s obvious at the end :p

        • chynna

          Please explain the obvious part

    • Blueberrytim

      fudgin trolls

    • Xeen

      *Whoosh* so many replies failing at sarcasm 101. Well put Lizard, rok on.

    • YolyK

      Sarcastically well said, Bitter Lizard!

  • David

    Although I was a Christian until 18, I became secular around the time of 15. I had an atheist friend who dissed our teacher really well. He informed the school that the teacher spent about the last ten minutes of our English class encouraging us to read the Bible, not for comprehension purposes but for faith. The teacher called him out in the middle of class for infringing his rights. My friend responded with something to the effect of, “You’re not allowed to preach about religion in a public school. As soon as you leave the classroom, you can tell anyone you want about your god. But because you work for a publicly funded school, and your salary is paid for by the taxes of many people who don’t share your religious believes, you have to restrain yourself from talking about said beliefs, and teach the actual curriculum, (this last quote is verbatim) because, you know, you’re a teacher not a preacher.” The teacher shut up didn’t say anything, but later my friend found out the teacher tried to give him a referral (a disciplinary paper that must be signed by your parents). The school said no.

  • the moother

    I just lost 11 minutes of my life listening to the abominable nonsense that Sara posted on YT of the proselytising.

    That economics teacher probably thinks he’s so smart and so enlightened because of the “knowledge” he has acquired through religion but it’s quite clear that he’s a complete and utter moron.

    I’d be surprised if he can get his shoes and his socks on in the right order in the mornings.

    • Rob McClain

      You reminded me of a Mad Magazine parody of Planet of The Apes from the 70′s. Charlton Heston’s character is screaming at the apes: “I know I said to put your shoes and socks on, but not in that order!”

  • Tainda

    Way to go Sara!

    I will say I’m glad the teacher wasn’t a complete jerk and flunked her or graded her unfairly.

    • baal

      The teacher might not be a complete idiot despite the overt religiosity. If she got a bad grade, he’d be open to charges of retribution.

      • roguewaver

        If she got a bad grade but had earned a good one, yes. It would be more than a little wrong if she automatically got a good grade no matter what.

        • Gabriel Hickey

          This latter case is what you worry about?

          • roguewaver

            No, simply stating facts. It has no priority whatsoever with me as far as worrying goes.

  • Yootha

    They SHOULD lose their jobs.

    • Colin B

      Better they are at least given a chance to change their ways. Calling for them to lose their jobs over something relatively minor like this is pretty vindictive. No need for it.

      • Ewan

        I think there’s something to be said for grading things based on how obviously wrong they are, and this is pretty obviously wrong. Sometimes people can break the law in entirely well-meaning ways – maybe they think everyone in the class is a christian and they open the class with a quick prayer; I can see someone doing that in (if you’ll pardon the phrase) good faith. It’s still worth correcting them, but it’s not like they’re being deliberately horrible, or making a major impact on the class.

        However, this is not like that. This guy is acknowledging other beliefs and explicitly attacking them and the people that hold them. That’s not something you can do by accident, or by not thinking, it requires both an awareness of diversity, and a deliberate choice to act badly. Secondly, he’s spending ‘a lot of time’ on this – imagine his passion was classic cars instead of religion; there’d be not constitutional problem with his mentioning it in class, but if he was spending a lot of time talking about the wonders of ’50s hot-rods instead of economics, and attacking motorcycles as ‘unnatural’, I think people would have a problem with that.

        So, he’s being deliberately offensive, and deliberately wasting time goofing off from doing his job. I’m not sure how that’s ‘minor’.

        • Colin B

          I’m not from the US so maybe I’m missing something here.

          I’m not defending what he did but firstly, he did not continue once requested and secondly what he was doing could hardly imo be considered anything but minor. Wrong for sure, but minor. Calling for his job comes across as excessive and helps to keep the crazy, unreasonable atheists stereotype right on course.

          Sara dealt with this is the best way possible (nice one Sara!) and no-one had to get metaphorically tarred and feathered. Needs to be kept in perspective.

          • Ewan

            “he did not continue once requested”

            Yes he did, she pointed out the problem, he continued. He only stopped when she brought in the big guns from the FFRF with the (implicit) threat of a court case and went way over his head to management.

            He knew he was doing wrong, he chose to act badly on purpose because he thought he could get away with it. Is someone who will only act responsibly when threatened really the sort of person who should be teaching?

          • chynna

            Excuse me, but forcing his personal religious beliefs onto minor children is a reprehensible act when the parents have not given permission for him to do so. He has also failed in his job as a teacher by not sticking to the planned curriculum
            as well.
            This teacher has gone way out of the bound of the scope of his position.

      • Artor

        Breaking the law, putting the district at risk of an expensive lawsuit, and not actually doing the job he was paid to do isn’t worth getting fired? I don’t suppose you’re hiring for any well-paid positions, are you?

        • what?

          When are teachers “well-paid” ?

          • Artor

            I wasn’t looking for a teaching position, but if Colin has such a high bar for firing offenses, I figured I could screw around quite a bit and still get paid. It’s better to do that with high-paying jobs than low-paying ones, if you can get away with it. The nameless Econ teacher is an amateur. He should be screwing off at an investment firm, making millions while he’s out golfing or blowing old people’s pension checks on hookers.

      • Cthulhu0818

        They have “Zero Tolerance” rules in place for many ridiculous things for the students.
        Why not a Zero Tolerance policy for the teachers?
        (I don’t disagree with you, but the questions was begged, so I asked it.)

        • Agrajag

          “zero tolerance” is a nonsense policy for students AND faculty. Instead, one needs to actually look at how serious a rule-violation is before one decides on an appropriate reaction.

  • Laurafaye

    I went to high school in Katy, TX, so this doesn’t surprise me at all. Does anyone know what high school this was?

    • Sara Sheppard

      Summer school for that year was at Morton Ranch High School. The teacher is from Mayde Creek High School. And I graduated from Katy High School. A little confusing. :p

      • Laurafaye

        Hey Sara! I graduated from Taylor High School in 1999. These types of things were typical, I’m afraid. I’m so glad you stood up for yourself and the Constitution. I wish you the best in all your future endeavors.

        • Sara Sheppard

          ah that’s cool! Yup you know how it is in Katy, Texas. :p haha. And thank you!

          • Agrajag

            I noticed you said you lost a few “friends” over this incident. I put that in quotes, because seriously, that kind of friend you’re better of without. I hope you noticed, you also gained a lot of new fans. You’re known form Calcutta to Stavanger today :D

      • subnerdo

        way to go, Sara!! Also, you’re really pretty.

        • Sara Sheppard

          awhh thanks (:

          • RobertoTheChi

            I am so proud of you, Sara! You stood up and did the right thing and I thank you for that. We need more young people (and people of any age) like you. I can only hope my daughter will be as brave as you if someday she is ever in a similar situation. You have a bright future ahead of you, Sara.

  • grumpy_otter

    I love your articles but I wonder if you could make links open in new windows?

    • Art_Vandelay

      You can right-click and the first option on the drop down is “Open Link in New Tab.” If you have a Mac, try cntrl/click.

      • Paul Reed

        If you have a scroll-wheel on your mouse, see if it doubles as an extra button (ie: can you click it?) If so, then clicking it should by default open links in a new window or tab.

        [Edit: if it's not a default setting, you should be able to change it in your browser's settings]

    • Mario Strada

      You can also CTRL-CLick to make link open in new tabs.
      There is also another way using Firefox and grease monkey scripts, to add target=”_blank” in any link that starts with HTTP. But that’s a bit harder. It would nevertheless be nice if Hemant could run a server script to do the same.

  • TnkAgn

    Good work, Sarah.
    I graduated from high school in 1967 from a small burg in Upstate NY. Although the locals were probably 98% religious, I never once had an experience anything like yours. Seems we’ve gone retrograde in parts of the country over the years.

    • Rob Cahill

      Its the dying wasp analogy. Most dangerous close to death. Fundies are trying to keep it alive but educcated people are not swallowing it anymore.

      • chynna

        Not really, Christianity is heavily invested in minority groups, they are carrying o the age old traditions.

    • http://twitter.com/ravenclawwit ravenclawwit

      I grew up in upstate NY too (graduated HS in 1998) and I too never experienced anything like this. I knew plenty of people who were religious, but it just seems like in NY, even the religious people are more content to practice their faith quietly and mind their own business instead of trying to push it at others or attack other people’s beliefs or lack thereof. And teachers in the north seem to know that this kind of thing won’t be tolerated. I live in the south now (NC) and it’s so different, I had culture shock when I first moved here. Sadly, incidents like the above are commonplace in this area.

      • monyNH

        I was about to claim that I also had never experienced anything like this, growing up in NH (graduated in ’90)…but then I had a flashback to some guy handing out miniature New Testaments just at the end of the driveway of school as we students were leaving. It didn’t take place in school, and I’m sure he was keeping in the letter of the law by staying juuust off school property, but still–a pretty rare occurrence of proselytizing in our area.

        • http://twitter.com/ravenclawwit ravenclawwit

          Hmm. And even that is a pretty low key example of proselytizing. I mean if someone tries to give you a New Testament you can just say no thanks and keep walking. Down here it’s totally bizarre and in your face. I had a dude outside of a Home Depot get in my face one day and ask me if I’d been “saved”.

      • Frog_licker

        I went to school in NC (born and raised) and never experienced this in the public school system, granted I lived in a large city.

  • primenumbers

    Excellent work Sara!

  • LaurenceQuint

    Brava, Sara! The world needs more of you.

  • UWIR

    Some states have laws against recording teachers, and many schools have policies against it. I don’t know whether these laws and rules have survived a test case, but it’s something to be aware of.

    • Mario Strada

      you can always apologize later, but if the contents of the recordings are damning enough, not many people will be focused on the legality of recording in class. POlus, plenty of students record lectures for later listening.

      • Artor

        I’m reminded of the lecture hall sequence in Real Genius.

  • Eliot Parulidae

    The “religion is human nature” argument was my Achilles heel for awhile. Since religion arose as a way to cement human community, not having faith meant I was antisocial and perhaps an evolutionary aberration. I later realized that living in Tennessee was giving me an exaggerated sense of the importance of religion in modern social interaction.

    I’m proud of this youngster for taking such a risk where I might have been shamed into silence.

    • David Kopp

      Good for you. Faith is certainly A way to have a community. But it is not THE way (as in, the only way) to have one. Given what else is carried out in the name of religion, I’d even argue that it’s a less than stellar method of community, too.

    • ThisIsTheEnd

      I’ve never understood the “religion is human nature” argument. Xenophobia, using violence to solve problems and treating women like cr*p are also in human nature. And yeah she’s very gutsy, if I was her parent I’d be very proud.

      • Eliot Parulidae

        It reminds me of the paleo people: “Our ancestors were lactose intolerant, and today lactose tolerance is uneven across populations. Therefore, milk is bad for EVERYONE.” No, we are not cavemen, the only thing constant is change.

        I am sympathetic to our ancestors, who daily confronted terrifying and beautiful things in nature that they couldn’t explain, who struggled to hold their tribes and villages together against impossible odds. But they represent where we’ve been as a species, and we have to pay attention to where we are, where we’re going, and where we want to go. The future matters as much as the past.

        • islandbrewer

          I do think it’d be a good thing to unleash the occasional sabertooth tiger in a crowded mall once in a while.

          You know, just for fun, and to encourage exercise.

    • John Ridley

      Everyone is born an atheist, until they enter the brainwashing station.

    • Agrajag

      Everything humans do can be claimed to be human nature. That’s hardly an argument that those things are GOOD. Being jealous is human nature. Agression is human nature. Xenophobia and racism is human nature. Bullying it human nature. War is human nature. So what ?

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    Nicely done, Sarah!Stay rational and go out there and be awesome(er). :)

  • LesterBallard

    This is why, though I respect our host here, I am not a friendly atheist. I’m not going to kiss their privileged Christian asses. Good for Sara Sheppard; kick their asses.

    • baal

      I think there is substantial metaphorical space between being friendly and kissing christian ass.

      • LesterBallard

        “Substantial metaphorical space”? Right between the cheeks?

        • LesterBallard

          By the way, Baal, that wasn’t personal; just a joke.

  • ORAXX

    Like a lot of vocal Christians, this teacher clearly does not know what his ‘rights’ actually amount to. He also doesn’t seem to have a very good grasp of the history of his own faith.

  • Katarn

    And that professor was Kevin Sorbo.

  • ron

    This beautiful, and brave young lady did something every student should be doing. Taking their teachers to task for attempting to teach religion in school.

  • Paula M Smolik

    All I have to do to get to heaven is act like Mother Teresa. Collect millions and watch the poor starve and die from lack of medical care.

    • chynna

      wow, do not let any of the faithful hear you talk about the dark side of Mother Teresa. You could be stonedt death.

  • Baby_Raptor

    People naturally reject smoking? That’s news to me and quite a lot of other folks…

    Liars for Jesus. Gotta love them.

    • Artor

      Do I have to? Really? I’d rather not.

  • compl3x

    I wish I was this enlightened and brave in high school. There were a few instance both in primary and high school (both public) when religion entered into the scene and absolutely crossed the line. I wish I knew what I know now and would have spoken up.

  • Steven Manning

    “absolute respect for freedom of conscience”.

  • James Daley

    You go girl! It’s finally time that an atheists stood up and said enough.

  • sageman

    Just wanted to say the bitter comments below do nothing to further the cause of atheists and our freedom of choice. This girl did something awesome with out insulting or belittling another’s beliefs. I realize this is the internet but blogs and forums are where people formulate an opinion of our beliefs and values and when they see comments that are vitrolic or antagonistic they become even more hostile towards our cause.

  • Mateo

    I took sara picture there yayayaya

  • QuestioningKat

    I really, really hate saying this…Did anyone notice the difference in accents between the teacher and student? Cue sound effect : loud vinyl record scratch.

  • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

    Good for her!

  • William Theodore Bearaldstein

    I had a civics teacher who preached conservative ideals, but I didn’t wan’t to be an ass so I didn’t report it. Same situation with a science teacher I had who refused to teach parts of a unit on evolution because it was, “Just a theory.” Again, I didn’t wan’t to be an ass.

    • Artor

      Was this at a public school? You should have said something. The teachers were being asses; standing up to that shit is the right thing to do. A science teacher is paid to teach science. If he’s skipping sections because he doesn’t understand it, then he’s not doing his job and he’s robbing you of your education.

      • TnkAgn

        Although I agree that William should’ve called both his civics and science teacher on their religious bullshit, as a retired teacher, I can tell you that the teacher-student relationship is an odd one, and one that lends to the false notion that the teacher is the font of all knowledge. It is the rare student, a student with the smarts, the confidence, and a sense of independence such as Sarah, who will go up against their own teacher. William was like the rest of us, but he’s with us now, and that’s good.

  • UWIR

    If a Christian teacher has the right to interrupt a lecture to attack atheism, then an atheist student has the right to interrupt a lecture to attack Christianity. Once you open the door to religious discussions, you can’t discriminate as to what you allow.

    • Shelly Liebmann

      The rights (and responsibilities) of public school teachers and the rights of students are different. A public school teacher is bound by the establishment clause in a way that the student is not. Hence biology teachers frequently get sectarian flack from their students when it comes to evolutionary science.

  • Kent Mason

    I have a difficult time simply talking about how other religions were around prior to Christianity in my world history classes. Students freak out on a regular basis. Especially when I inform them that Christianity came from Judaism.

    • evodevo

      I bet you do (and please continue the “good work” of opening their tiny little minds). Is this on the HS or the community college level? At the little CC I taught at, the difference was negligible. Most rural Xtians I taught had NO idea of history, geography, the history of their OWN religion or other religions, comparative cultural anthropology, US history, etc. etc. Ignorance was bliss.

      • Kent Mason

        It is at the secondary level. Junior high and high school. Small town western Oklahoma :-(

      • Kent Mason

        Middle and high school in western Oklahoma.

  • Connor Irvin

    I had an English teacher who had an open mind get fired for openly being an Atheist. He didn’t teach it, he didn’t mention it, but the students who were close new. It spread, and he essentially lost his job because of it. That of course wasn’t said but everyone knew it. It was depressing.

  • CuriousCorndog

    I had an English teacher in high school, I am in the bible belt mind you, who essentially got fired for being an Atheist. He never taught it, he never mentioned it, and he really was one of the best teachers I have ever had thanks to his open mind.
    Students close to him knew that he was and it spread and other “christian” students complained (for no reason at all) and it got him fired. Everyone who was close to him knew why, and it was because he was Atheist. It is depressing

  • Agustin Ross

    To those who say its unconstitutional, you are right, but its more than just that. its immoral to force any religious view onto anyone.

  • Kevin Samuel Coleman

    If the teacher stops I wouldn’t want them to lose their job over it. People make mistakes and people learn. If he lost his job, he would be made into a freedom of religion martyr.

    • Shelly Liebmann

      I think it is dependent on how bad and persistent the offense is. This particular teacher did stop (with this warning-do not know if he will start up again with a future class) and hence should probably not lose his job-though he was petulant, indicating he really did not learn his lesson. The summer session teachers may on average not be as qualified as the normal year teachers there perhaps-he may not have been a regular, and lacked a perspective on the limits of teaching as an opportunity for your own personal soapbox. If he is a competent teacher who otherwise serves his students well, he needs to be watched, and explicitly warned of his limits if (or when, if he maintains his unfortunate attitude) he re-offends. If he continues to re-offend, well, someone who refuses to learn most likely shouldn’t be allowed to teach either.

      However, the 2006 creationist teacher mentioned as post-script at the end, spouting his dinosaurs on Noah’s ark, all Bible prophecies came true and all non-Christians belong in Hell should be fired on the spot with NO chance to save his job. He distinctly disqualified himself as a public school teacher. What he said is clearly unconstitutional entirely sectarian abuse of his teaching position (in a public school) that sails light years beyond all zones of gray; it is in no way defensible through claim of ignorance as to where the line is drawn.

  • atheisticallyyours

    How come I did not get to high school with such brave, intelligent, atheist beauties as this? ;)

  • Ronald Davis

    It’s sad that incidents like this even occur in the first place. One of the few places we need to fight most to keep secular is our schools. I’m glad that students are willing to stand up for this ideal. Now we just need to keep Creationism out of Texas schools!

    http://secularatheist.blogspot.com/

  • Rain

    His arguments and logic seemed so formidable and convincing. *yawn*

  • Tony English

    Aww, another poor oppressed christian.

  • Luce

    Some christians have such a skewed perspective of what “freedom of religion” actually means. And it’s just beyond me that he can’t understand why you should be speaking about ECONOMICS in economics class, not JESUS.

  • WTF2013LOL

    Public school is NOT sunday church school

  • WTF2013LOL

    Yes Yes Yes, please tell us about your imaginary sky friend, lol

  • JJ

    It’s impossible to actually fire teachers unless they really go out of their way to get fired. Even then, they normally just get transferred to another school.

    The tenure clause in teachers’ contracts needs to be revoked, so we can actually remove people like this from the education system.

  • Eric Smiles

    The best thing I’ve read this month.

  • Nuke the Pope

    Allow us old men the small luxury of fawning over you. It’s really… exciting when a (presumably) clever and friendly mind comes in such a pretty package. You are the girlfriend most of us would love to have. It’s not that we don’t take you seriously as an atheist/scientist/whatever. It’s that people who are knowledgeable about this stuff are a dime a dozen but people who are both knowledgeable and hot looking are much rarer. Meanwhile, while everybody’s (figuratively) climbing all over you, is your mother already doing anything tonight?? ;)

    EDIT: To the horde of assholes who choose to be offended at this comment, please take note: At the time I wrote this it wasn’t yet known that she’s 15. I’d guessed her to be between 17 and 21. No, I don’t want a 15 year old girlfriend, and my own personal standards of “young girl” are meanwhile at age 30. But I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that many Redditors, if she turned out to be legal, would be only too happy to have a pretty girlfriend like her. If you have a problem with that statement, then fuck you.

    • Tjaart Blignaut

      I think the primary problem would be that you are completely off topic. You can fawn all you want, but this article has nothing to do with looks.

    • paizlea

      You claim to take her seriously, but what man has to put up with comments about his looks when he’s trying to make an argument? By changing the subject to how attractive you find her, you have shown her disrespect by not responding to her statement. There’s a time and a place for comments about looks, and this is not it.

    • Sara Sheppard

      I’m 19 haha

      • Pyrate Bob

        I would support FFRF(or anyone) setting up a crowdfund ‘scholarship’ for Sara.

    • Daniel Schealler

      Even if she was 22, I still would’ve found your comment creepy.

      Consider this. It’s a brilliant delivery. The guy in the video happens to be handsome. But you don’t see anyone discussing his looks in the comment thread, or asking suggestive questions about his father. Rather, everyone’s talking about the subject matter at hand. This is as it should be.

      If a woman had given the exact same delivery then every third comment would be about her looks. This is a problem, and it’s a problem that you’re perpetuating and reinforcing here in your comment.

    • Jim Olson

      Sorry Nuke, your objectifying edit made things even worse. Perhaps you could keep your “excitement” to yourself in the future, if you have one.

    • Spuddie

      Stone Philips is asking for your E-mail address.

  • Cthulhu0818

    I am sick unto death that these Xtians use their positions of power to try and bully people into, at the very least, listening to their bullshit. But when they do this to children who are a captive audience and who are forced to show these people respect (While the teacher is showing neither the students or the students families the least bit of respect), I get really irate. You want to preach, go to your church. Otherwise, STFU.

  • Sandrilene

    Hmm. I don’t believe in God any more but I think some evangelicals miss the point of worshipping God in everything you do. It’s not that everyone should become a second rate preacher but that you should try your best even when no-ones watching. Like the ornate angels on the ceiling in medieval churches. No-one can see the detail but you still be the best artist you can be. Or if you’re a teacher be the best teacher you can be.
    I’m not a Christian now but I’m still an idealist.

  • Steven Abreu

    Just don’t try this in the state of NY. The law requires both parties to consent to being recorded, otherwise its murky water.

  • Aleister Gates

    its patently absurd…the ONLY way a child is born is as an atheist…what kind of a retard would ..COULD surmise otherwise??? A child is born …naturally..by way of no experience…no DATA…believing in NOTHING

    • baal

      Grammar, how does it work?

      • Aleister Gates

        Really? Do you not know the answer to that or is it a rhetorical question? Is that not really a petty ..even weak thing to ask? This is how I CHOOSE to write…I find grammar and grammar Nazi’s to be a bit constraining and tiresome… figure most people are quite able to understand what it is that I am saying … and since I have no formal motivation to use “grammar” ..this is how I will continue to write. If you really have nothing intelligent to say…then perhaps you should just not say anything at all…what do you think? Oh wait..hehe…I really don’t give a crap what you think…
        RAOFLMFAO

  • Driven Madness

    Wow, she changed the world. Now she can retire early, and forget about her student loans. Excuse me for a second. *bwhahahahahahaha* Remember, Jesus loves all of you. ; )

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Your blood sugar is getting low, sweetie. Go scream upstairs at your mom for another sandwich.

      • Driven Madness

        I will not have you hitting on me in this respected forum. Please control yourself! Have some self-respect for Christ sake. lol

  • fareasternsoul

    I remembered a University Biology instructor (who wanted to be addressed as professor) who said that the dead is lighter than the living because the soul has weight. When I argued that the loss of weight is the loss of oxygen and other elements in the body which have weight, he then got mad and said “you have no right to question my authority”. well…

  • raerants

    Sorry, my mind rejects the concept of theism. Your argument is invalid. Here is a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head.

  • AngelaEnglund

    Why am I getting a mentally ill vibe off of the teacher?

  • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com/ MarkNS

    He should have been fired.

  • Syn Aptic

    I was only angry hearing the kinds of things this teacher was saying… I would have been mad as hell too. I wouldn’t have been covert about it, though, don’t have that self restraint factor… I would have told the guy off and walked out of the class (then thought about how to handle it) :P


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