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 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.


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