"My New Targets"

The following tweet got noticed by Jesse Galef, the SSA’s Communication Director, this morning.

Secular Student Alliance of GHS #prayingforyou#Jesuslovesyou

Not ok. 

We determined who made the tweet, a student at the school, and we emailed the principal.  I asked first that she be talked to.  Specifically…

…secular high school students face enough social difficulties and bullying without this type of directly threatening language.  Ignoring these types of posts in the past has resulted in instances of bullying, both physical and emotional, that could have otherwise been avoided.

Imagine for a moment that an atheist made a tweet with a picture of a Christian group with the text “My future targets. :) #rationality”.  There would be people shrieking “terrorism” left and right.

We’re not shrieking terrorism, but we are concerned.  Is it possible that this was just a poor choice of words?  Yes.  Which is why all we want to see initially is that the administration make contact.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in cases like this.  Recall the “targets” ad that Sarah Palin ran and the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords?  This serves as a gruesome reminder that it not only the initiator that is worrisome, but also those reading their work.  Prayer and piety are certainly not barriers to discrimination, bullying, or even violence.  We’re fine with prayer, we’re not fine with any of the rest.

School is about education.  Are differing cultures going to butt heads when teens are confined to a tight space for eight hours per day?  Absolutely, which is precisely why this type of thing is not acceptable and must be addressed.  With atheists being such a despised minority, I’m unwilling to take chances with situations like this particularly in the often unstable landscape of a public high school.

As I have said before, if an adult punches another adult out of displeasure with their atheism, thanks to the legal protections in our favor and the reality of a lawsuit, the assailant would have just volunteered to purchase his victim’s next vehicle.  In high school the perpetrator would receive detention or a few days of suspension.  High school atheists do not need the same protection as post high-school atheists – the need more.  Sadly, up until now they haven’t gotten it, but that is thankfully changing.

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.

  • julian

    I disagree with what you said about the ads Former Governor Palin ran. I really don’t see any reason to believe they lead to Gabrielle Giffords shooting.

    That said this was awesome.

    High school atheists do not need the same protection as post high-school atheists – the need more.


    And no, this isn’t favoritism. Given how disliked atheists are as a whole and how light the repercussions for bullying, harassment and abuse are (arguably rightly, though I’m not inclined to agree) we have to pay these sorts of things more attention than we would elsewhere.

    Really, it’s true for any groups of kids and teens.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    And women.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    Speaking of which – I’m delighted to see that that group is not all doodz. 16 students of whom at least 7 are girls – I say “at least” because the pic is darkish in the second 2 rows so I’m not sure about one or two. GENDER PARITY!

    • Hibernia86

      Yes, the Atheist group at my college has rough gender parity as well (though it fluctuates of course depending on who shows up on a given day). And given that 40% of Atheists are female, this gives women a good base to start with. Other groups, like blacks, have a much lower level of Atheism compared to their population size and thus are very much under represented in the general population of the Atheist movement.

  • Michael

    You can’t tell what gender someone is by looking at them in a photo. Small point, not intended to counter yours in anyway, but one I felt worth making.

    • julian

      What you can tell is that teenage atheist boys still refuse to get haircuts.

      Perhaps we should look into this.

  • http://thecanberracook.blogspot.com Alethea H. Claw

    Michael, yes, you can for the most part. Their sex may well be less obvious, but social signals of gender are generally pretty reliable. There would be a few exceptions to that, such as closeted trans people, and any others who are deliberately signalling the wrong gender.

    I give you credit here for good intentions, as most likely attempting to raise awareness of non-gender-normative people. But your comment could also be read as yet another attempted silencing of women skeptics. (Ophelia rejoices that there are many women; you say Oh shut up, you can’t know that!)

  • Ƶ§œš¹

    I’m used to seeing stories where public school students are given harsh punishments for minor offenses; not only are zero tolerance policies problematic, as they don’t allow administrators to distinguish between serious violations (e.g. actual guns) from minor ones (e.g. action figures with gun accessories), but so are unnecessarily harsh punishments for behaviors that would go unpunished in regular society. A recent example of the latter is a student who was arrested for disruptive belching.

    Combine that with a general tendency for public schools to stifle free speech (the “Bong hits for Jesus” case comes to mind) and instill concessions to arbitrary authority, and it seems unlikely that a bullying-oriented assault in high school would be punished by just “detention or a few days of suspension.”

    I agree that addressing the student’s poor choice of words is important, but I’m skeptical that the administrator (if they choose to take action) won’t try to twist this into a case of actual terrorism.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1159674804 robertbaden

      Looks like only one black person at most……..

  • rtootie

    Blaming Sarah Palin was an ugly thing to do young man. I dont like that tweet thing myself but you shouldnt use it to target the former vise president just because she dont beleve what you do. You shouldnt do it to nobody at all especialy a lady.

    What you did could have got Sarah hurt to. Who knows who might be reading this blog. Theres bad people all over the place.

    You owe her a internet apology but I dont think your man enough to.


    • Richard

      I’m laughing so hard. I think that I broke something in my ribs, due to the raw force of my laughing.

      The pain you caused me with your comment means you owe me an internet apology, but I don’t think you’re man enough to do it.

    • http://twitter.com/aynsavoy annesauer

      This has GOT to be a Poe…

    • Dan L.

      Umm, so why is it OK for Palin to LITERALLY target democrats in the ad in question?

  • Simon

    Seriously, SSA? Snooping on students’ tweets? Am I the only who sees this situation as being more like the recent Sam Brownback incident?

    I’d be curious to see what happens of this. One thing I have noticed is the person’s twitter account is now set to private.

    • bkhawkeye

      Brownback situation: Student expresses criticism or dislike for governor, governor’s administration reports to school, demanding disciplinary action against student. This shows that not only does the governor have thin skin, but it also discourages other students from expressing views in fear of disciplinary action. There is no excuse for that.

      This situation: Student calls fellow peers “my future targets” with ambiguity as to whether he/she means for conversion or retribution, SSA reports to school with concerns of potential bullying or worse threats. Safety of students is why this was done. There are legitimate reasons for wanting to protect the well-being of students.

      There is no comparison. You might not be the only one to see a significant similarity, but the only similarity is that both students used Twitter and vigilant Twitter users saw them.

    • Seriously?

      They have all the right to snoop. I’m going to a school right next to theirs and people are tearing down their posters because they are “tired of looking at them” and are “inappropriate”.

  • lordshipmayhem

    Perhaps it is fortunate for all concerned that prayer only has a placebo effect…

  • leftwingfox

    A better example probably would have been Glenn Beck’s incendiary rhetoric and the guy caught by CHP before he hit the Tides Foundation:


    But yeah; demonization + eliminationist rhetoric = “lone wolf” killers.