Neil Carter tells the story of how he lost a job as a teacher because one of his students discovered that he was an atheist and asked him about it (he refused to answer, which is the right thing to do). He contrasts that with the movie God’s Not Dead, for obvious reasons. Here’s how these things work in the real world:
A few weeks into my previous teaching job, a seventh grader confronted me in front of the class, asking me if it was true that I am an atheist. At this point in time I wasn’t open about that, but she was digging around my Facebook profile and found evidence which I had not yet realized could be seen by the general public. I knew better than to openly admit my atheism in Mississippi, especially since I had only transferred to this school to be where my own children were. I didn’t want to jeopardize that, so I dodged her question and said that I wasn’t at liberty to discuss my religious affiliation in class.
She shot back, “Why didn’t you say no?!” See, just like with almost any other public school in the Bible Belt, at this school Christian teachers are free to be quite open about their religious beliefs. In fact, when my eldest was taking the same history class just the year before, her teacher livened up the story of Israel by marching around the room, blowing an imaginary trumpet to make the walls of Jericho come a-tumblin’ down. In case you wondered, no, that isn’t in the curriculum. But this is the Bible Belt. You can get away with stuff like that here and most people just eat it up. The parents in my county love that their children’s teachers are so demonstrative about their faith.
Well, that girl told all her friends and their parents that her teacher is an atheist. I refused to discuss the matter with anyone who asked me about it from that moment on, but it didn’t matter. The word had begun to circulate anyway. Which would explain why my principal showed up to my classroom, coincidentally enough, on the day I was slated to cover the history of Israel myself. Instead of sitting in the back and observing my instructional methods as our evaluation protocols prescribed, she interrupted my lesson and took over teaching the unit for nearly half an hour. I was a bit stunned. It was very awkward.
She grilled them about the Old Testament judges and asked them if the Israelites walked through the parted Red Sea on wet ground or dry (they all replied “dry!”) despite the fact that our text doesn’t cover miraculous claims from the Bible. She basically took over my class and turned it into a Sunday School lesson. After she left the room, one of my students turned to me and said, “What the heck was that?” They had never seen her just take over teaching a class like that before. It was out of the ordinary, and they weren’t exactly sure why it happened. It wouldn’t be the last intrusion.
After that, they suddenly moved him from teaching history to math, in the middle of a semester. At the end of the year, they did not renew his contract. This is how these things work in reality. Contrast this with the many real-world cases where a teacher was blatantly using their position to proselytize, like John Freshwater and many, many others. In each and every case, the administration, students and parents defend those teachers to the death. But an atheist teacher who did everything right, intentionally never discussion his views on religion with his students and refusing to even answer direct questions about it, is viewed as a huge threat that must be eliminated.
This is the reality of Christian cultural hegemony that we must fight against every day. Atheists are viewed as intrinsically evil and threatening, no matter how exemplary their behavior and no matter how good they are as teachers. This is especially true in rural communities, where it’s dangerous to be an atheist. That’s why Neil kept it covered up for so long. And now that he’s truly public about it after the CNN story, he is virtually unemployable as a teacher.