Benjamin Oyakawa – Thomas Jefferson Student Activist Award

BenOyakawaFFRF has named Benjamin as a recipient of the $1,000 Thomas Jefferson Student Activist Award endowed by Len and Karen Eisenberg, generous Oregon FFRF members. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel’s September complaint letter on Benjamin’s behalf resulted in the school district reining in a proselytizing principal, committing to enforce its anti-bullying policy and barring display of religious items.

By Benjamin Oyakawa

It all started when I heard Mr. Wright, the principal, announce on the intercom that next week our school would have a See You at the Pole event and that the school was starting a new First Priority club. As much as this annoyed me, I never realized there was anything illegal about these two things. Why would I when I was in a public school that kept focusing on Christianity?

The day of the See You at the Pole [Sept. 25], Mr. Wright prayed, preached and promoted the new Christian club. My mom had called him to talk about the topic and he stated that he would not stop what he was doing. This angered me, but I still did not think this would blow up the way it did. At this point my mom brought the problem up, commenting on a Facebook post that practically worshiped Mr. Wright and how he spoke the “word of God.”
The post my mom made was perfectly reasonable and civilized, so how does the community of Prosper react? They get enraged and threaten my family. The community started to claim at this point my family was trying to get Mr. Wright fired and then organized a prayer vigil against my family!

I went inside the school and noticed that over half the student body was gone. I went to the library and looked out the front window and saw a swarm of people. At this point, I texted my mom to come pick me up, but she was out of town, so a family friend took me home. I actually felt scared, but I still kept my cool and kept my house locked down.
The following weekend I was home alone with my sister. Everything was fine until Saturday night, when my sister started to read some of the hate posts on Facebook and saw one person talking about how someone knew where we lived. This made my sister burst into tears because she was scared. I stayed up almost the whole night making sure it was safe.

Nothing eventful happened until the next weekend. I had stayed home to take the SAT while my family went on a camping trip. I was up the night before the test looking for a calculator when I felt like I heard noises in the house. This terrified me so I went straight to my grandmother’s house.

The next morning I found that my house had been TP’d, with a Portals of Prayer flier stuck to my door and a typed note saying “ ’YOU NEED THIS MORE THAN WE DO.’ GOD” was chalked on the driveway. My mother did multiple interviews for the news, but I was surprised when one reporter asked me. I agreed and answered his questions.

Finally, the whole thing came to a somewhat of a close when the school agreed to the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s terms. I am also trying to start a secular student club with a close friend of mine. I want people at school to know there are freethinkers here and we deserve to be treated fairly.

Benjamin writes: “I am a 15-year-old sophomore at Prosper High School in Prosper, Texas. I am heavily interested in mathematics, science and engineering. I am an atheist and have no interest in joining a religion. I go to a summer camp yearly called Camp Quest where fellow atheists, agnostics and freethinkers meet other atheists in a friendly environment. I am in the process of starting a Secular Student Alliance club in my school with a close friend.

Freedom From Religion Foundation