A few weeks back the town of Bastrop in northern Louisiana received a bit of a jolt out of their sheepish trance: somebody tried to promote their personal freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Apparently, prayer has been a part of the school’s graduation ceremony for quite some time and nobody has done or said anything about it…until now (that sounds like a cheesy movie catchphrase, but it’s true). A senior named Damon Fowler who recently “came out”–or identified himself–as an atheist contacted the school to request that the prayer be taken out of the ceremony because it violated the First Amendment by promoting religion in a public school setting. He also warned that if the school didn’t comply he would be in contact with the ACLU. Fearful over the possibility of a lawsuit, the school agreed. The community, not so much.
Damon was ostracized by his peers and his fellow townsmen, and even one of his previous teachers publicly badmouthed him in the town’s local newspaper. What’s worse? His parents wouldn’t even support him during this shitstorm, as his brother describes. What kind of parent abandons their child when they’re in need? I know my dad and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on many topics–including religion–but he wouldn’t cut off my contact with the outside world for holding a belief that he doesn’t, or vice versa.
Though the absolute worst part about this graduation situation was that, even after the warning of ACLU involvement were there to be a prayer at graduation, there was still a prayer at graduation–both at the ceremony rehearsal and the actual graduation the next day. This is not in any way constitutional.
What most people forget is that the First Amendment provides the freedom of AND from religion, and allowing this kind of prayer at a public school is in efforts showing support of a religious institution, or “respecting an establishment of religion”. No, prayer is not a student’s freedom of speech–it is a connection between a single person and the deity of which they believe in, and when a public school allows a prayer like this to go on they are sponsoring it. If the students wanted to say it by themselves and/or privately amongst themselves and others of like-minded faith, or even shout it from the sidelines of the ceremony, that’s perfectly fine because it’s not being sponsored by state taxes. Need proof? Don’t worry–the Supreme Court ruled on a case like this already, and they agreed on no prayer. (And it’s peculiar that this prayer happened, because I thought the Bible prohibits public prayer. Glad to see that these believers know their scripture.)
Would these people in Bastrop have been so supportive of this prayer if it was based in, say, the Islamic faith? Or what about something based in Judaism? Hinduism? Buddhism? If the answer is “no”, that should be more than enough proof that prayer or religious-based speech should be kept out of school related events. The people of Bastrop don’t seem to understand that not everyone subscribes to the same belief system, and people may feel very uncomfortable and offended if their beliefs are not respected. They are continuing a habit of closeminedness, a habit which delays us from ever achieving a universal understanding of one another and worldwide peace. These people of the Bastrop community were only concerned about their own beliefs and dismissed conflicting ones as unimportant and trite. Some were even claiming that this atheist should just deal with it, because he’s of the minority and the majority approves of it. This is where pure democracy can never work, because it allows for the tyranny of the majority to be given the last say in all social and political manners and results in individual rights to be squashed. As a friend of mine once stated, democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. This kind of mindset that remains prevalent not just in the South but throughout the country, and it continues to feed the deep divisions that already exist in our society by driving us further and further from unity. The phrase “United We Stand” will no longer apply if this trend continues.
People need to wake up and reveal that everyone doesn’t hold the same opinions on every topic–you do not need to agree with them, but you do need to respect them. I am in no way advocating an atheistic approach, but a secular approach. No religious influences whatsoever–from the believers nor the non-believers. That is the only way to ensure respect to everyone.
P.S. There is a Facebook group called Support Damon where you can show your appreciation for him standing up for his constitutional rights. As for Damon himself, he seems to be residing in Dallas with his brother for the moment deciding what legal action to take next.
Also, if I may be frank, I can’t wait to see the ACLU (as some of my peers would say) “go HAM” on Bastrop High School.