March 9, 2008

Courage in Mississippi: High School Student Stands Up For Church-State Separation

Since my readers know I'm atheist living in Mississippi, it is not surprising that I have received more than a few e-mails alerting me to the story of a brave high school student in my state who is blowing the whistle on organized religious practices in his school. In fact, after the original article appeared in my local paper, we posted it on Mississippi Atheists. It is nice to see that the story has attracted the attention of many atheist bloggers (e.g., Dispatches From the Culture Wars) and gained traction well outside of Mississippi.

As Mississippi Atheists co-author, Butch, pointed out in his commentary on the article, Wesley Crawford is one brave high school freshman. Even though he took care to convey respect for the religious beliefs and practices of others, you better believe he will face repercussions for his courageous stand. After all, this is a religiously oppressive environment where "freedom of religion" generally means that one is free to attend an evangelical Protestant church of one's choice and to talk about how one has been "saved" at every opportunity.

I agree with Wesley that inviting religious speakers to public school assemblies is highly inappropriate and likely illegal. If you read his letter carefully, you'll notice that the incidents he describes were not simply a matter of having religious speakers at assemblies but about religious speakers explicitly admonishing public school students to accept Jesus as their savior or live in "a Christ-like manner." Also note that these assemblies ended in organized prayer with no opt-out option given.

As someone who spends considerable time in Greene County, Butch says that he expects little to come of this letter other than unpleasant consequences for Wesley. I strongly urge Wesley to contact the ACLU of Mississippi (they offer an online complaint form) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to file a report.

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