Lenoir City High School is teaching its students a chilling message about free speech and journalistic freedom. Earlier in the year, the school barred Krystal Myers, an honor student and editor of the school newspaper, from writing a provocative article on being an atheist at a Christian school entitled “No Rights: The Life of an Atheist”. It is the type of article that can generate some insightful discussion among high schools, but School Director Wayne Miller censored the entire article to protect the school from “disruption.” Now, the school has reportedly transferred journalism teacher Richard Yoakley for the offense of merely supporting atheist and gay students at the school. He quit in response to the pressure.
In an act supporting free speech (and implicitly protesting the high school’s censorship), the News Sentinel ran Myers’ editorial in the newspaper. The editorial is balanced and well written. It is probably the first time some people even read anything from an atheist. Myers wrote “I just want to clear up some misconceptions about atheism. No, we do not worship the “devil.” We do not believe in God, so we also do not believe in Satan. And we may be “godless,” but that does not mean that we are without morals. I know I strive to be the best person I can be, even without religion. In fact, I have been a better person since I have rejected religion.” At a time when atheists are being denounced as worse than terrorists by international leaders and condemned by others, it was a courageous act by Meyers and a commendable act by the News Sentinel.
However, all of this was lost apparently on the school officials at Lenoir City High School, who proceeded to allegedly retaliate against the teacher who expressed support for Meyers and other students like her.
Yoakley served as an English teacher and yearbook adviser. Yoakley supported the student and then ran into trouble when school yearbook ran an article about a gay student. Other teachers complained about publishing such an article and Yoakley was asked to resign. He was then notified that he would be transferred as parents called for his firing.
Once again, the lesson being taught these students is one of intolerance and unquestioning obedience to both authority and majoritarian values. These are high school students who will soon be voting and working adults. Yet, they are being shown that minority views and lifestyles are to be marginalized and controlled as threats to good order. While many argue for greater roles for prayer and religious discussion in schools, it appears that the simple discussion of nonreligious values is treated as verboten and dangerous. As an educator, I would have thought that such a civil discussion would have been highly beneficial. Consider Myers’ point that school board meeting open with prayer and religion permeates the school despite the prohibition on the incorporation of religion in public schools:
Not only are religious preferences shown through shirts, but also through a “Quote of the Day” that some teachers write on the boards in their classrooms. One teacher has Bible verses occasionally as the teacher’s “Quote of the Day” for students. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment has been violated, yet again with no regard for nonbelievers.
This is an important issue and raises free exercise, free speech, and other important issues. It would have been an ideal vehicle to get kids to talk about the Constitution and rights in society. That type of viewpoint could have generated an interesting defense of the use of such verses and the role of religious by another student. Instead, Myers was censored and her supportive teacher effectively fired for uttering controversial thoughts.
Notably, on its website, the school heralds the value of the students’ “cultural diversity” to “enrich their learning environment” but does not appear to value a dialogue on faith as useful for these soon-to-be adult citizens. A student newspaper should be a protected place for the exchange of different views and values of students within the confines of civility rules. Ironically, by censoring these views, the school has only served to give them a wider audience and raise questions of its own understanding of both educational and constitutional principles.
Source: Knox News
Kudos: Kerry Samuel