Freethought Club Forms Despite Stonewalling By Principal (May 1996)

Despite a principal’s vow that “There will be no Freethinker’s Club at Pelham High School,” an Alabama high school senior has succeeded in forming an alternative to a Christian club dominating the public school.

Several months ago, Adam Butler distributed an invitation to his student body to join “an atheist/agnostic/humanist group” in response to the Christian “First Priority” club.

“First Priority is allowed to meet and worship on campus, place signs in hallways, announce upcoming events over the intercom, pass out flyers, and sponsor events held during school hours,” Adam explains. “In their ‘Do the Dot’ campaign, students wear colored dots on their clothing, watches, glasses, et cetera, and they are supposed to pray for someone whenever they see these ‘prayer dots.’ Signs are currently in the hallways saying ‘Do the Dot,’ which I interpret as saying ‘Pray.’ “

When Adam tried to get an editorial about his wish to start a nonreligious club in his student newspaper, his piece was refused, so he and two friends handed invitations to join a club to students as they entered the school. Later that day the principal called him into his office from a class and told him he had violated the student code requiring prior approval for on-school distribution.

“I apologized, as I was truthfully unaware that this rule existed. I was then told ‘There will be no ‘Freethinker’s Club at PHS’ by the principal.”

The principal continually put off Adam’s polite request that he reconsider this decision, until Adam concluded his intention was to keep him waiting until graduation would make the issue moot. Adam then called on the Freedom From Religion Foundation and its chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association, for support.

The Foundation called the principal to advise him that he was in violation of the Equal Access Act.

Chapter president Pat Cleveland also contacted the school on Adam’s behalf, and alerted the Alabama ACLU to the problem.

On April 8, the principal reversed his decision.

“It has been a battle for months and Adam has handled most of it himself,” noted Pat. “Adam is very bright and has a group who will be there to carry on when he graduates in May.”

Added Foundation president Anne Gaylor: “If bible clubs in public high schools are going to continue, then we would like to see a freethought group in every high school harboring a religious club. We are grateful to Adam for his persistence in achieving this goal in Pelham, Alabama.”

(For Adam Butler’s account of this First Amendment fight, see Alabama’s First High-School Freethinkers Club Forms.)

Freedom From Religion Foundation