They drag prayer lower than I ever could

Damon Fowler’s school has decided that ‘thou shalt not lie’ doesn’t apply if you’re lying for Jesus.  PZ and Jen McCreight hit the nail on the head with this one.

There are times in life when you’ve lost a loved one or experienced some other piece of misery when the phrase “I’ll pray for you” is an extension of sympathy.  Sure, it’s cosmically meaningless, but at least it conveys a unifying wish of wellness.  In my experience, this is the rarest use of the phrase.

Then there are times when “I’ll pray for you” is spat with a sneering curl of the lip and no sincerity whatsoever.  Usually, this happens during–and typically at the end of– a debate, when you have just spent 45 minutes showing some dim bulb that he has neither evidence, facts, logic, nor reason with which to support his side of the issue, and like a boxer on the ropes with his last gasp he takes a wild roundhouse swing, “I’ll pray for you!”  It is always done with condescending arrogance designed to make you feel inferior that says, “Not only am I right and you are wrong, but I am a better person than you” or “You obviously can’t take care of (fill in the blank) yourself, and god won’t help you on his own, so I’ll ask since he listens to me more.”  It is a Christian’s passive-aggressive way (or a passive-aggressive Christian’s way) of putting you down. It can mean, “You’re such a wretched specimen of humanity that you need divine intervention in order to avoid your just punishment of eternal torment by fire.”  This is usually how I encounter the expression, and I usually just smile at the weakness of it and silently thank the believer for dragging their own beliefs through the mud.

And then there are times when a group of believers decide that prayer as a means of individual spite is too noble.  Those are the times when prayer is used expressly for large scale divisiveness.  That is how Bastrop High School and one pious student have elected to use it.

The terrible irony here is that even though they apparently think the best application of their beliefs is as a snide put down used to ostracize non-Christians, they will simultaneously demand that we respect their beliefs as beautiful and unifying.  Sadly, we live in a world where irony and foul play are not physically painful.

Listen to the lady introducing the students.

“I want you to please make sure you give these young people the respect they have earned.  This is their graduation and a happy time for them and we don’t want anything to distract from that.”

What a fucking liar.  It’s just fine when they parade a huge distraction out on stage, but when a student asks his school to obey the law all of a sudden it’s that student, not the school, distracting from graduation.  Hypocrites.

Unfortunately, the faculty’s loose concept of respect appears to have trickled down to their charges.  Listen to the student in the video.

“I respect those who do not share the same beliefs as I do.”

They say the truth always comes after ‘but’.  And on that stage, ‘but’ was followed by a smug bit of sectarian preening cheered on by a herd of supportive believers.  If this student is not flat out lying like her role models at the school, then she has a very odd definition of the word ‘respect’.

So now that I’ve vented my personal take on these assholes, here’s my professional take.  What likely happened is that the school consulted their legal adviser who told them, rightly, that the school cannot endorse a prayer.  So instead they asked a student to do it, the valedictorian in this case, who was already scheduled to speak.  This way the school can say “hey, it wasn’t us – the student did this all on her own”.  Though underhanded and bearing no expression of concern for anybody but the Christians, this little piece of fuckery may actually be legal since it’s technically not the school endorsing the prayer, but rather a student on the school’s time.

I will spend this morning consulting my army of legal advisers at work to see what can be done and will update as soon as I know anything.  In the meantime, please continue to give Damon support.  This road will not be easy, and he’s doing it in the face of familial exile and a huge smear-campaign from followers of a religion that claims to make people more moral.  Show him there’s a welcoming community of like-minded people willing to take him in.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • RTH

    This girl says in the video that she was initially chosen to deliver the invocation. She then does exactly what she was initially chosen to do. She and her friends have also been posting on her Facebook page since Wednesday about how she planned to do something like this.

    This was not student-initiated prayer. It was school district-initiated prayer. The fact that the school district went through the charade of distancing itself at the last moment from the prayer that the district put in place does not change that.

    Last night I sent all of this information and the links to the video and to the girl’s Facebook wall to the Morehouse Parish superintendent of schools. The district has actual notice that something like this is planned for the graduation.

    Again, from a legal standpoint I don’t think this truly qualifies as a student-initiated prayer. Even if it does, though, this whole episode has been so obviously repugnant, hateful, and exclusionary that it might serve as the basis for having “student-led” (wink, wink) graduation prayers ruled unconstitutional.

  • tab

    It’s “legal”- assuming no proof of coaching can be shown, these typically hold up in courts.

  • RTH

    tab: First, there was coaching in this case. The girl was initially asked by the school to give a prayer.

    Second, it’s not at all clear that student-led, sectarian prayer at a public school graduation is unconstitutional. See Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe. The facts here aren’t exactly the same, but the BHS case might be the case that clarifies the law.

  • Alex Songe

    With that recent cheerleader case at SCOTUS, wouldn’t the valedictorian be speaking as a representative the school? If the school merely knows, they would be responsible for intervening.

  • RTH

    Correction: In my more recent comment above, I wrote that “it’s not at all clear that student-led, sectarian prayer at a public school graduation is unconstitutional.” I meant to type “constitutional.” Either word would work since I was talking about uncertainty, but since I was referring to tab’s claim, “constitutional” would have made more sense.

  • WTF

    This is ridiculous and sick. To think of what Damon went through is horrible. I’m Atheist, and if stuff like that happened in my high school when I graduated, I probably would have put my foot down as well. Why didn’t they do a Muslim prayer? or a Hindu prayer? or a Buddhist prayer? ect. Aren’t we as Americans allowed (LEGALLY) to worship whatever gods we want to, even if its a hamburger (example not trying to offend.)

    Props to Damon, for taking that extra step that not a lot of people want to. And I’m not trying to say that Christians are terrible people and should all go away, but they should keep their religion to themselves. Let us as “sinners” CHOOSE whether we want to be “saved” or not. But don’t force high schoolers and children to be something you want them to be by pulling this stuff.

    This makes me sick.

  • Kat

    As a Humanist, I am outraged at the actions of this school and the hundreds of schools across the country that are looking for legal loopholes to completely ignore the civil liberties of one person (and all the others who are not as brave as Damon to stand up and say they are also Atheist).

    I don’t have a problem with anyone having their beliefs, as long as they don’t INFLICT their belief upon anyone else. Once they inflict their belief on someone else, they lose all of my compassion, patience and tolerance.

    I couldn’t ever consider moving into the “Bible belt” and the country at large is fairly irrational regarding Christianity. I am getting sick of hearing the (Christian) bullies complaining they are the ones being attacked by every other religion and crying even louder when it’s us non-believers trying to end the bullying. Stop the Madness.

    To this note, non-believers shouldn’t be inflicting their beliefs on believers. We have every right to demand our civil liberties, our equality in every aspect but we don’t have a right to tell believers that they are crackpots that need to grow a brain and a heart.

  • Clint

    Imagine the outrage if a Muslim had given the invocation. The talking heads on radio and cable would be screaming bloody Sharia! The most troubling aspect about this story is the lack of support from this kids parents, having grown up in the Mormon church I was forced to go to church under the threat of getting my ass beat and being grounded for eternity. Quite frankly forcing a child to be religious is a form of child abuse.

  • Russell P.

    I think we are reacting to a slippery slope, even though it’s a very likely one. It’s okay for students to do this as long as the school doesn’t have anything provably willing to do with it. It’s like saying possession of weed is okay, but we’ll bust you for smoking it. The grounds need to be respected, not who on the grounds endorses something. Keep religion away from the public places. It’s a where issue, not a who issue.