Freethought Today ·

Vol. 29 No. 3

April 2012

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Tennessee student honored by FFRF

Student blows whistle on school religion

An atheist student whistleblower whose column was censored in the high school paper she edits in Lenoir City, Tenn., has received an FFRF activism award for bringing to light several unconstitutional endorsements of religion at the school.

Krystal Myers’ article, “No Rights: The Life of an Atheist,” [see Page 3] also detailed negative treatment which Myers says atheists are subjected to. The column never ran in the Panther Press but was printed in full in the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Myers, 18, received an FFRF Catherine Fahringer Memorial Youth Activist Award of $1,000 for her outspokenness. She’s an honors student and captain of the swim team as well as editor of the paper.

FFRF, which last year protested prayers in an algebra class and a nativity scene at Lenoir City Schools, laid out new concerns in Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert’s March 5 letter of complaint.

“Given that the school has allowed religious opinions and numerous other articles to be published in the school newspaper in the past, restriction of Ms. Myers’ article is impermissible viewpoint discrimination,” said Markert.

The letter also noted disturbing allegations about school-sanctioned prayer during the current school year, including at swim meets and football games, where the public address system is used. [See “FFRF victories” on Page 8 for the successful resolution of the complaint.]

Religious proselytizing by teachers is also alleged by Myers and another student. (See Page 3)

Local complainants have also told FFRF that the Lenoir City School Board opens meetings with prayer that includes invoking “Our Heavenly Father” and ending with “In Jesus’ name we pray.”

FFRF expressed concern to school officials about harassment and threats against Myers.

Markert concluded that “It appears that Lenoir City Schools has countenanced and turned a blind eye to well-known violations and has chosen to only address the issues brought to its attention rather than remedying the entirety of the problem. It is very clear that a religious atmosphere has been directed and cultivated in the school district. The allegations set forth herein are egregious violations of the Establishment Clause.”

 

Krystal writes:

Ironically enough, I used to be a Christian. And by Christian, I mean a “die-hard, go to every church event and mission trip and witness to everyone” Christian. But due to several bad experiences with churches and Christians, I just decided that I’d had enough.

I was agnostic for a couple of years, but for the past year or so, I’ve been an atheist. I have not made any efforts to hide my nonreligious beliefs from anybody in that time, but I did not willingly offer the information either — until now.

I know that everyone wants to know why I decided to write my editorial. The reason is quite simple. I do not think that nonbelievers have the same rights as Christians, at least in my school and the area in which I live. I wanted to change that, but I never thought that this would garner so much attention. I just wanted the School Board to notice my editorial and make changes accordingly (which I did not think would be hard).

No matter what the outcome, though, I am glad that I decided to go through with my editorial. I hope that it will make Lenoir City High School more accepting of those of all faiths and nonbeliefs, not just to Christianity.

I plan to go to college to study journalism, but I have not decided where yet. I have been accepted to Kansas State University, Indiana University-Bloomington and the University of Tennessee.

Even though I will be leaving soon, I hope that my efforts will inspire other high school students to stand up for their beliefs and rights, even in the face of opposition. People will always be there for support, just like they have been for me.

Krystal was interviewed on Freethought Radio on March 10. See ffrf.org/radio/shows/

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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