High School Student Stands Up Against Prayer at Public School and Is Ostracized, Demeaned and Threatened
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Whatever you think about atheists -- good, bad, mixed, indifferent -- this story should seriously trouble you.
Damon Fowler, an atheist student at Bastrop High School in Louisiana, was about to graduate. His public school was planning to have a prayer as part of the graduation ceremony: as they traditionally did, as so many public schools around the country do every year. But Fowler -- knowing that government-sponsored prayer in the public schools is unconstitutional and legally forbidden -- contacted the school superintendent to let him know that he opposed the prayer, and would be contacting the ACLU if it happened. The school -- at first, anyway -- agreed, and canceled the prayer.
Then Fowler's name, and his role in this incident, was leaked. As a direct result:
1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community.
2) One of Fowler's teachers has publicly demeaned him.
3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to "jump him" at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.
4) Fowler's parents have cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and thrown his belongings onto the front porch.
Oh, and by the way? They went ahead and had the graduation prayer anyway.
Before we get into the details, let's be clear about the facts and the law: Nobody -- not Fowler, not the ACLU, nobody -- is telling anybody at Bastrop High School that they can't pray. People can pray at graduations and other school events all they want. The sole issue here is whether a public school can have a prayer at a graduation or other school event as an official, school-sponsored part of the program. Individual prayer? Hunky dory. Off-campus prayers at churches or private events? Knock yourself out. Government promotion of a religious agenda? Not so much. What with the First Amendment and the "establishment of religion" bit and all.
It's a law and a Constitution that protects everybody, not just atheists. If you wouldn't want to be subjected to a government-sponsored Buddhist prayer, you ought not to be subjecting others to a government-sponsored Christian prayer.
Okay. I hope that's clear.
So here's a little more detail about what exactly happened with Damon Fowler.
1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community. He's become the center of what he terms a "shitstorm": he has been harassed, vilified, targeted with insults and name-calling and hateful remarks. He's been told t he's the Devil. He's been told, "Go cry to your mommy... oh, wait. You can't." (A reference to him being disowned by his parents.) He's been told that he's only doing this to get attention. A student's public prayer at a pre-graduation "Class Night" event was turned into an opportunity for the school and community to gang up on Fowler and publicly close ranks against him -- teachers as well as students. (Here's video). And people seen defending him have been targeted as well.
As just a taste, here are a few comments on the Bastrop Enterprise news story about the controversy: "I personally see him as a coward." "I hope they [Christians] put enough pressure on this kid to convert him and save his soul from the fire of hell." "The kid was likely a recluse and apathetic about most everything until now." "If he don't want prayer at graduation he can stay at home and not come to graduation." "Afterall, that's what she or he wants isn't it to be singled out! This just makes me ill." "I hope that the little athiest is offended." "What he is really doing is trying to shove his views down people's throats." "Why does this student only now decide to get engaged in what is happening at the school? Is it nothing more than our own self-destructive human nature to break down anything of which we may not approve?" "That student should just have to have his/her one man graduation ceremony all alone." "Satan continues to prowl and is deceiving many in this world."