Sawyer Frey, who lives in Whitehouse, Ohio, has been awarded the 2010 Catherine Fahringer scholarship award of $1,000 by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in recognition of his unique activism, described below:
Last Oct. 6, I came dressed as Jesus Christ to Anthony Wayne High School, where I’m a junior. I wore a robe, sandals and a crown of thorns (a beard didn’t suit me well).
I was applauded by many, all of whom were amused by my characterization. Receiving a variety of looks and a few comments, my day started off quite peacefully. I was anxious about negative reactions, but mostly I felt proud. It felt good to be that outspoken freethinker for once, and I wanted it to be known.
On most days, dressing up as Jesus would be unusual, but not as dramatic as this situation probably sounds. That’s because this was Fictional Character Day during Spirit Week.
Into my first-period class I walked, thinking mostly about how awkward it felt to walk in sandals, but I was still feeling pretty awesome. My teacher laughed to herself after seeing me. After talking quietly to my friend about the outfit (I should have brought a bible and Sharpie’d holes into my hands!), the bell rang and the morning announcements came on. Honors Precalculus was one of my favorite classes. I’ve always liked and excelled at math. Before much had been discussed, a student came into the room and handed a green slip to my teacher. She looked at it and handed it to me — a pass to the office with an X next to the time to come down: “NOW.”
I left with a sigh, unsure of why I was being called. There was no way that I would have been called down for the outfit so soon. I was directed to the office of Assistant Principal Nathan Gaubatz. He told me that we needed to talk about my outfit, and that he and our principal deemed it “inappropriate” for the occasion.
He said that people can be offended by this type of statement, and that “due to separation of church and state,” they need to be careful and take care of these things. He did not, however, note that I had actually broken any school rules or offended anyone in particular.
I was dismayed that I had actually been shut down so early in the day. I just wanted to show my fortitude and freethought around my classes. I am naturally obedient, and I gave in without any trouble.
Throughout the day, starting from when I left the office and ending long after school was over, talk of my outfit and its suppression was rampant. There were debates in classes over whether it was lawful for the school to censor it. People were mostly on my side, regardless of their religious affiliation, because I had not broken a single school rule.
The only possible justification for censorship was if my costume had caused students to be distracted from learning, which is silly because (1) I was taken out of first period about 10 minutes into teaching, too soon to cause any significant hindrances to learning; (2) No faculty except my precalculus teacher had even been physically present to witness any potential distraction; and (3) No student had even spoken a word since the lesson began that morning.
I would also like to point out that Mr. Gaubatz said nothing of my potential to distract classes during our meeting. I find it ironic that the classes were very distracted, but only after I was told to take my costume off.
I’m sad that such a simple, innocent act was suppressed on this overly Christian continent, but I’m also glad that there’s support for people like me. It is good that an act like mine doesn’t bring a death sentence, as it would have in many places centuries ago and some still today.
Perhaps eventually, church and state really will be separated, and all citizens will be entitled to their own opinion and statement of such, without consequence or segregation.
FFRF’s legal staff wrote a strong letter to the school district in support of Sawyer.
Sawyer was interviewed on Freethought Radio on Nov. 20, 2010: