Isaiah Smith, a Texas high school student, was getting bullied by other Christian students on account of his homosexuality (shocking, right? There’s that Christianity making people better human beings again). He was taunted by these students by being told he was going to hell for his sin. Isaiah had a perfectly reasonable reaction – he acquired his own copy of the bible and tore pages from it. It took the power out of the taunts – if the claims of the bible aren’t sacred, then threats of hell have no power over him.
Smith was then sent to the principal, who responded to Isaiah damaging his own property by volunteering to lose a lawsuit:
The student said he reported the bullying and was permitted to carry the Bible with him during school as long as he didn’t tear out any more pages, but Smith said he was suspended three days later for simply carrying the damaged Bible.
Wrong answer. The American Humanist Association’s Monica Miller (who did some major work on behalf of high school atheists with me when I was with the SSA) is all over it.
“This is a clear violation of Isaiah’s First Amendment rights,” said Monica Miller, an attorney and legal consultant with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the legal arm of the American Humanist Association. “The only explanation for this kind of punishment is that it was religiously motivated, because he expressed different beliefs on the Bible than those held by school officials. There’s no legal basis for that kind of reaction.”
Smith, a senior, had never been suspended before and didn’t have a record of behavior that should warrant harsh punishment by the school, the legal association said.
The civil rights group said Smith had damaged his own property as an expression of protest, and attorneys argued that the school should have permitted him to carry the torn Bible or barred all students from carrying religious texts in school.
The American Humanist Association complaint asks the school to expunge the suspension from Smith’s record and clarify its policy to either allow Smith to carry his damaged Bible or prohibit other students from carrying theirs.
How very generous of the AHA to give the principal a chance to get out of this easy. If he declines, I suspect that generosity will vanish very quickly – as well it should.
On another note, it’s a bit sad that the principal, who is responsible for stamping out bullying at his school, has become a bully – a bully with a great deal of authority. But if doesn’t change his tune and change it fast he’s about to bump into an even bigger bully with a lot more authority.