Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: A high school student wants to form an atheist club. The administration tells him no.
Often, this ends in one of two ways: The student backs down, not wanting to get in any trouble, or the student informs a group like the Secular Student Alliance and it begins a long drawn-out battle (see: Pisgah High School).
But at Central High School in Aberdeen, South Dakota, there was a happy ending.
Adam, a student at the school, was told by Principal Jason Uttermark a few weeks ago that he couldn’t form an atheist club because the district had a policy against allowing any sort of religious club. After Adam informed the SSA about this, they contacted the principal:
There was allegedly [a] district policy in place to not allow religious-oriented clubs or meetings to take place. This policy didn’t take into account the Equal Access Act, which allows for any extra-curricular campus group to be formed if any [extra-curricular] group exists. Once we brought this law to the Principal Uttermark’s attention, he handed it off to the superintendent and the school’s counsel.…
On March 10th, the school district’s attorney got in touch with us to let us know that the school was rescinding their decision to block the group, and that Adam would be able to build his community!
Wonderful news! Giving them the benefit of the doubt, it was clear the principal was just abiding by the rules as he knew them and that he wasn’t intentionally discriminating against atheists. When confronted with evidence contrary to his understanding of the law, he informed his superiors and they quickly reversed course. No complaint letters were needed, the adults learned a valuable lesson, and Adam will get his club.
If all administrators had the students’ best interests at heart as was the case in Aberdeen, these kinds of situations would all get resolved the same way. Unfortunately, we see too many school officials who feel more beholden to their church instead of the children regardless of what the law says.