After Putting His Initials on a Lawsuit Against a Preaching Teacher, a Young Atheist Outs Himself and Explains Why

Last week, we learned about a lawsuit filed by the American Humanist Association against Fayette High School’s district in Missouri.

The problem was pretty clear: Gwen Pope, a math teacher at the school, led Christian devotional prayers in her classroom every Friday morning, prayers that were announced over the loudspeaker.

Gwen Pope

In addition to all that, Pope’s husband Michael would attend the meetings and Pope was quoted as telling her math students that “God will punish them if they are not good.”

The lawsuit’s lead plaintiff was a student at the school, G.H.:

Now, that student — a junior this year — has outed himself. His name is Gavin Hunt and he explains in Humanist Network News why he decided to step into the spotlight:

… Aside from this, I’m completely satisfied with the education I received from Fayette High School. I appreciate the teachers there, and I owe nothing but thanks to them for everything that they’ve done for me, but that does not change the fact that their current practices are illegal.

Initially, I had planned on remaining anonymous but soon realized that the best way to encourage other students to challenge constitutional violations was to come forward with my identity. I wouldn’t recommend that all plaintiffs reveal their identity for safety and privacy reasons, but it was the right decision for me. The staff and students found out that I was suing the school and I was soon subjected to criticism, and threats. There’s nothing you can do to avoid this type of discriminatory behavior, though there are ways that you can cope with it. You must realize that what you are doing is for a good cause, and that you aren’t the only one in this type of situation. I’m asking those that are going through this, to step forward and consider contacting the American Humanist Association.

Gavin’s was already doing something incredibly brave by putting his initials on the lawsuit. But coming out like this is pretty damn inspirational. Good for him — he did the right thing and it also happened to be the courageous thing. Now, the school should follow suit, drop the fight, admit that what Pope did was wrong, and do whatever it takes to make sure it never happens again.

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.

  • Lagerbaer

    Let the Christian Love commence..

  • Artor

    I hope Gavin carries a digital recorder with him, so he can document all the examples of “Xian love,” he’s sure to be shown in the coming weeks. It may be very helpful to the prosecution if someone gets violent.

    • Fentwin

      You had me up to the “someone gets violent” bit.

      edit; ignore this post, it was BC (before coffee).

      • Artor

        Why? It’s extremely likely that some of the local Xians will physically threaten him over this. Are you imagining that Xians are actually full of love & peace?

        • Fentwin

          People acting belligerent is a tad different from violence. Agreed, a blow hard caught on tape might behoove the prosecution. Your post implied violence would be helpful.

          “Are you imagining that Xians are actually full of love & peace?”

          Only you are imagining me imagining that. :)

          • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

            I don’t think he meant that “violence would be helpful”. I think he means that documenting everything will be helpful to catch and punish, if (or more likely when) someone does something violent and stupid.

          • Jonathan Arthur

            There is not only safety in numbers, but a shared sense of exceptionalism, which some adherents will use as a sign from their god that the war is on, that xtianity is under attack, that heathens (atheists) are overtaking the poor, beleaguered, “minority” 78% of Americans (and their elected officials with a phone connection to their supreme being) who consider themselves followers of the Prince of Peace and are open to whatever they consider protecting their hegemony with a blessing from Yaweh, the impotent desert god. Violence is an option.

          • Artor

            I was trying to imagine what you could possibly have meant, and that’s all I could come up with. I see now you plead reading miscomprehension. That would explain your position better.

            • Fentwin

              lol,

              my position is over here in the corner, avoiding righteous nasty looks.

        • Randay

          Bravo to Gavin. Lucky for him he is white. Violence would be more likely if he were Black.

          • Artor

            Or female. Or atheist…oh, wait…

      • lmern

        Have you already forgotten about the death threats to Jessica Ahlquist?

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/27/jessica-ahlquist-prayer-banner-rhode-island-school_n_1237199.html

        • Fentwin

          Yeas, I remember them well. But thats what they were, threats. Threats of violence are not themselves violence.

          I never said that Christians are all “love and peace” (per Artor), yet we shouldn’t look for violent reactions to bolster our side. Document all of the nasty, snide and threatening remarks, but why basically wish for violent outcomes?

          • lmern

            No one said anything about wishing for violent outcomes. I’m not certain how you came to that. But I think it’s incredibly likely that Gavin may experience threats of violence, which is exactly what artor suggests the recorder is for. So that those ‘loving christians’ can be held accountable if and when any of them approach him.

            • Fentwin

              “It may be very helpful to the prosecution if someone gets violent.”

              Thats basically looking for a violent outcome. How do you read it?

              Yes, I do not doubt that Mr. Hunt will get his share of nastiness, death threats and what not. That is still a step behind “violence”, actual bodily harm.*

              * This post has been determined to be the rantings of a doofus.

              • lmern

                “That’s basically looking for a violent outcome.”

                Um… no… No it isn’t. What? >.>

                • Fentwin

                  Violence; destruction, physical force, to injure someone.

                  So it would be helpful if Mr. Hunt has to endure as such?

                • Fallulah

                  IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO PROSECUTE THEM IF HE HAS THE VIOLENCE RECORDED. My god, take some reading comprehension.

                • Fentwin

                  It was a simple mistake(Im sure you’ve never been burdened as such eh?), I realized it and owned up to it.

                • Mary Howerton

                  No, it would be helpful if he documented threats IN CASE he is the victim of violence. Face it, Fentwin, you read the post wrong. No one is encouraging violence, but we ARE encouraging holding violent people accountable for their actions.

              • SeekerLancer

                No one is wishing for any violence to happen, just to have solid evidence if it did.

              • Hockey Bob S.

                Don’t be so obtuse – you must be a theist. ;-)

                It
                means, very simply, that it would prove useful for the prosecution to
                have recorded evidence, in case one of the Neanderthals-for-jesus
                crosses the line. How could you possibly have misconstrued such a benign
                and simple sentence?

              • moose

                Oh, for Pete’s sake, he meant that IF an act of violence occurs against this kid, then a recording will help the prosecution of THAT crime (because it would be a new, completely separate, court case). There is no legal prosecution of a crime going on right now. There’s a civil case against the school. He wasn’t referring to helping the judge in this case–the Constitution should be sufficient.

              • atoswald

                Perhaps poorly worded, so as to be misunderstood, but I don’t think he was hoping for violence. I took it that he was certain some christians would lash out, and hopeful that any violence would be caught on tape so that the perpetrators could be prosecuted.

              • trog69

                It seems like you’re reading this wrong on purpose.

          • Artor

            Wishing for violence is not the same as expecting it, and being prepared.

          • shuteme

            I disagree. If you threaten someone, that is an act of violence. If a person threatens you to the extent that you believe they intend to harm you, regardless of wether or not they actually touch you, you can and should have them charged with assault.

      • Fentwin

        Wow, down votes for not supporting violent behavior from any side of any issue.

        • HollowGolem

          I think it was a downvote because your interpretation isn’t a sensible one. The post in question wasn’t recommending violence, but recommending that Gavin be mindful that it’s a possibility, especially from high school kids, and he should be careful.

          • Fentwin

            aarrrggghhhh ; I admit, reading comprehension fail on my part. It only took about 1/2 an hour for the morning fog to wear off.

            Artor was saying the recording would be helpful.

            Apologies all, its all on me, I stand as the embarrassed doofus I can be at times.

            • Hockey Bob S.

              Kudos to you for escaping that fog… for a minute there, I thought you were a Poe; good to know that’s not the case.

        • Jonathan Arthur

          A down vote for either ignorance or obtuseness. Look at it any way ya want, though. It’s a free country.

        • Randay

          No, I suppose the down vote was for you being dumb and ignorant.

      • Greg G.

        Xtians would never torture someone for months and burn them at the stake if they thought they could get away with it. They will always be content waiting for the person to drop dead, a la Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11.

    • RegularJoe

      I also hope he has good friends who are willing to be witnesses (and perhaps protection) for him should he be shown that love in an up-close-and-personal manner.

    • Fentwin

      Artor,

      I sincerely apologize to you and all you who commented here. Reading comprehension fail on my part. I realize now (as it should have been obvious) that you were saying the recording of any violent or belligerent behavior would help the prosecution. Complete disconnect.

      To the others who prefer insults, (bronx cheer:)

      Again, from the depths of my embarrassment, I apologize for this misunderstanding.

      • Fentwin

        Sweet Corn Dog Jesus!

        lol, you even get down voted for recognizing your mistake. ts a hard crowd I tells ya.

        • llamayams

          OMG “Sweet Corn Dog Jesus!”
          I’m stealing that.

          • Artor

            Jesus Tittyfucking Christ!
            -Team America

      • Mark_Nowitzky

        Fentwin,

        I took the same meaning you did the first time I read it (even after 1/2 cup of coffee)! “Helpful … if someone gets violent” is a little ambiguous. I suppose “Helpful … ‘should’ someone get violent” would’ve been more clear.

        I wish language was more exact. No wonder there’s a zillion interpretations of the bible.

      • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

        It’s something that i love about this community, just how many people are willing to apologize & admit when they may have made some mistake or been in error. The (general) willingness of the Atheists i interact with IRL & on-line to do this genuinely warms my heart & inspires me to do the same more often. Thanx.

        • Artor

          Your avatar is awesome!

  • Dennis Vander Houwen

    I hope that Gavin documents the harassment as well and in those cases also files lawsuits. I am not normally a litigious person but of late I have felt a real need to stand up against bullying of any kind. He deserves to be safe and feel safe at his school. What a brave kid.

  • http://loathsomehuman.wordpress.com/ Keane

    Wishing this kid the best of luck against the incoming tide of hate.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    Hopefully, the teacher will stop preaching; the administrators will make it clear religion shouldn’t be a part of the classroom; and the adults in this situation will act like reasonable adults. But I know– it’s christianity, it’s america, it’s small town privilege. The adults won’t be adults. They’ll behave like toddlers having their favorite rattle taken from them. They’ll scream persecution as they make threats to others. So to Gavin, go luck navigating the up-coming shit storm. We’ll be rooting for you

    Edit: Pepe, you’re right. I need coffee too.

    • Pepe

      I’m guessing you meant “persecution”, unless you actually wanted to type “prosecution”, in which case I need more coffee.

  • DesertSun59

    Stand up, be brave! And it doesn’t hurt that he’s easy on the eyes.

  • Randay

    “God will punish them if they are not good”–at math?

    • Chill Chick

      Hey, the bible says pi = 3. Believing in any other value is sinful.

      • OhioAtheist

        As a college math professor, I would deduct 2 points on God’s test for a rounding error.

  • Randy Wanat

    Isn’t it charming how any time someone challenges Christian privilege (or is even perceived to have done because of bullshit pseudojournalism from Fox News), there are death threats levied against the challenger? Kind of says a lot about the power of their God if they have to threaten death to anybody who merely wants the law properly enforced upon EVERYBODY, rather than only upon certain people. USA! USA! USA!

  • wtbusdriver

    I wish I’d had his courage 40 some years ago when I had an English teacher that would preach during class about how we should tithe and other mentions of her almighty.

  • Heidi McClure

    Well done, Gavin. I am so proud of students like Gavin, Jessica Ahlquist and the others who refuse to allow Christian privilege to keep them silent. People need to stop condemning their generation as lazy and entitled. Our generations didn’t stand up like this. If we had, these young men and women wouldn’t need to do it now.

  • L.G. Keltner

    He’s a brave young man. I hope he can stand strong against the tide of hate that’s surely coming his way.

  • Fentwin

    Well, you do seem proud of it, still.

  • baal

    Police protection should be available on the basis of credible threats without cost to the family. Most of these things settle for legal fees + an apology.

  • baal

    I had the same thought.

  • https://www.facebook.com/jean.hoehn/info?collection_token=1524166867%3A2327158227%3A35 Phatchick

    I’m a christian and I’m behind this kid 110%. There is no good reason for this woman to be preaching to her classes and if I were the parent of one of her students I would be extremely upset about this. Whether they want to admit it or not, teachers have a lot of influence on their students and in trying to influence religious belief this one stepped over the line.

  • Drew R.

    We should start a crowdfunding thing to get him a Google Glass so he can record everything he sees including video of his abusers giving him verbal threats and such.

  • Mary Dante

    I am a spiritual believer and stand with this kid, I do not agree with the hard handed tactics these supposed christians use…stand tall and proud young man!

    • Drakk

      these supposed christians

      You were doing so well.

  • Lee Miller

    How do schools keep doing this over and over? The people who lead them usually have some kind of formal education. Even in rural Missouri districts the Superintendent often has a PhD or EdD degree . . . surely at some point they discuss legal and constitutional issues in their programs? Just incredible. And how can any legal counsel let this get by?
    Fayette is a small town, but it’s also a university town (Central Methodist University) so it’s not like there are no educated people and scientists around.

    • midnight rambler

      It’s not entirely surprising. I used to work with a former high school principal who had a PhD in education. When I mentioned reading The Secret Life of Plants, and how it describes how Soviet scientists had totally proved that plants communicate telepathically, she kept saying “Wait, is that real? Come on tell me, IS THAT REAL??”

  • Lee Miller

    By the way, Gwen Pope needs to go on a diet.

    • mdoc

      Nasty and unnecessary comment.

      • Lee Miller

        No more so than this teacher’s imposition of her own standard of self-righteousness on her students. If she can tell them they’re going to be punished by God, I can tell her she’s fat.

        • mdoc

          Why? For revenge?

  • Gehennah

    It’s 2013, how is it teachers still do not understand that this is illegal?

    • Anna

      They understand it’s illegal. They just think their god has given them the right to do it anyway.

  • Dave

    Bulls*it doesn’t belong in our public schools. Period. How many times do you evangelicals need to hear it? Stop wasting the court’s time with your religious bull!

  • Sly Cooper

    “Coming out”

    What a mockery of what gays go through. He took someone to court, apparently you Americans do it all the time. Big fucking deal.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I admire Gavin’s courage. I hope enough people help him to be safe, to feel confident, and to be able to concentrate on his schoolwork. Let’s keep track of his progress.

  • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

    Because Christianity hasn’t been about following Jesus for quite some time. It’s more about cultural dominance and maintaining/regaining unwarranted and undeserved privilege. Threats are what abusers use against victims to cow them into staying silent and compliant when nothing else does the trick. That’s why the religion is hemorrhaging members; just like abuse victims often see worse abuse as they are in the process of escaping, this rash of threats against non-believers, more than any other thing I can see about modern Christianity, indicates that slowly the religion is dying.

    I’ve only met a few Christians who managed the trick of loving their neighbors (real love, not the fake bullshit “love” that is really abuse that most Christians think is love) or turning the other cheek when offended. Most of them react quite strongly and aggressively to their dogma being questioned. The threats come out immediately as well–if not direct physical threats, then the singsong “I hope you’re riiiiiiiiight” vague threats of some future retribution for those who deny the “truth.”

  • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

    I have great optimism in the future when I see brave young people like Gavin standing up for what is right. I truly hope that he is not hurt by his stand by these ambassadors of the “prince of peace” and “lord of love,” and that he continues a life of action against wrongdoing.

  • midnight rambler
  • William S Kilgore

    Why are “atheists” so fearful of things they claim don’t exist? God, Jesus, heaven, hell, Christmas, Easter, etc ad nauseum. If these things are meaningless to you and purely figments of the imaginations of others, than none of those “silly” things should matter to you. Perhaps you should consider celebrating Festivus.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      Sigh. We aren’t scared of God, Jesus, heaven, hell, or any religious holidays. We are scared of the people who believe in those things and the laws, rules, regulations, and social norms they promote. And more than scared, we are angry about those laws, rules, regulations, and social norms because of the harm they do.

    • phantomreader42

      Why are christians such stupid, lazy, lying sacks of shit?

    • phantomreader42

      William, why is your faith so pitifully weak that you and your fellow cultists threaten to MURDER people for daring to suggest that you should STOP BREAKING THE LAW, ASSHOLES!?


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