On Monday a public school district in Muldrow, Okla., confirmed that it has permanently removed Ten Commandment signs which were posted in its classrooms. The final vote is a victory for the separation of church and state. The whistleblower was 16-year-old student Gage Pulliam, who will be the recipient of FFRF's new "Strong Backbone Student Activist Award," a cash scholarship of $1000. After Pulliam contacted FFRF and reported this major constitutional violation â€” Ten Commandments plaques posted on the walls of his high school classrooms and in other schools â€” FFRF sent a letter demanding the plaques be taken down.
FFRF did not identify the complainant in its letter, following its usual policy to protect identities. However, after students began fingering other students they suspected of contacting FFRF, Pulliam bravely came forward. He and his family subsequently faced a strong backlash from the overwhelmingly Christian community, including the bullying of his younger sister and threats against him by other students. Pulliam and his family attended the Monday school board meeting packed with angry Ten Commandments supporters.
Pulliam did several interviews including KFSM 5 News with additional coverage of the controversy at Oklahomaâ€™s Own News on 6. "I want people to know this isn't me trying to attack religion," Pulliam said. "This is my trying to create an environment for kids where they can feel equal."
A New York FFRF member who prefers not to be named endowed the â€śStrong Backboneâ€ť award. The donor sent FFRF the $1000 contribution as his own "80th birthday present," specifying the award should go to a high school student who has "showed uncommon strength in standing up for his or her freethought sentiments."
Gage was born in the Arkansas/Oklahoma region. "I enjoy spending time with my friends and reading. My parents took me to church frequently when I was small, but I began questioning my faith when I was about nine," he said. "I was allowed to ask questions and seek out the answers, encouraged to think for myself and make my own decisions, and I am supported in what I choose. I now consider myself an open atheist and a firm supporter of equality for all people. I hope to continue fighting for the rights of all people and encourage others to do the same."
FFRF offers several annual youth awards to recognize student activism in support of state/church separation and freethought.
By Lauryn Seering