The Unaffiliated Unite
By - - TEACHING TOLERANCE - THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER
Added: Wed, 14 Sep 2011 23:22:21 UTC
Neil Carter of Ridgeland, Miss., is about to take a leap of faith—based on his lack of faith.
In a state where 91 percent of residents say they believe in God “with absolute certainty,” according to the Pew Research Center, Carter began “coming out” recently to friends as an atheist. The 41-year-old special education teacher is also exploring interest in sponsoring a Secular Student Alliance at Ridgeland High School.
“This is way beyond the bounds of what’s acceptable around here, ” said Carter, who’s a former Christian with a seminary degree.
Based on the isolation he’s felt, Carter believes some of the 900 kids at Ridgeland High may be likeminded—perhaps not atheists, but not Christians either.
“I can’t even have a conversation with my family and friends without feeling alienated,” Carter said. “They’re not being mean to me, they just don’t get my perspective. I know these kids have the same problem.”
One state away, in Bastrop, La., Damon Fowler found out what it’s like to be one of those kids. His troubles started two years ago when he realized he was an atheist. Damon hid it well, continuing to attend church with his family.
But last spring, he began to tell a few people. Then a couple of weeks before graduating in May, he sent an email to the superintendent reminding him that a planned public prayer at the ceremony was against state and federal law.
“No one else wanted to stand up for their constitutional right of having freedom of and from religion,” Damon wrote at the time. “I was also hoping to encourage other atheists to come out and be heard. I’m one of maybe three atheists in [Bastrop] that I currently know of. One of the others is afraid to come out of the atheist closet.”
Classmates shunned and threatened Damon. A teacher badmouthed him in the local newspaper, saying “What’s even more sad is this is a student who really hasn’t contributed anything to graduation or to their [sic] classmates.” At the graduation ceremony, there were boos when Damon’s name was called— and a prayer.
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