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
37 thoughts on “Teacher Reportedly Forced Out of Tennessee School For Supporting Atheist and Gay Students”
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Far afield of this topic, but I’ll give you a peeve of mine regarding the hubris of atheists, especially PZ Myers (a truly execrable human being with a large following) . Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, in his area is more educated than PZ by far he in his . Ratzinger speaks or reads 7 languages (that alone puts an academic at a mediocre college in place) but he is also a scholar on ancient history, ancient languages, ancient and modern religion, as well philosophy. I may fervently and vociferously disagree with him but I would never think he was lesser to me, in fact, I would give me the low ground and he the high on education in his area. Still I think the premise he adheres to is wrong, and that is the crux, because I have found faith-belief, no matter the education, to be lesser to faith-reason in my paradigm or dialectic, whichever you prefer.
I would never consider this Pope, or the previous Pope, less educated than a hubris-filled academic whose breadth is is like a small tributary to the Mississippi. He and I agree on the falsity of the premise, but he thinks therefore he is better.
PZ falls for Scientism. As do many atheists.
1. Most of the Christian churches that are Protestant or Episcopal/Anglican are in decline in this country, respective to the more conservative American born Christian sects. The Catholic Church may not be because of the increase in the Hispanic minority ( they have surpassed the major ethnic group in this country, German), I don’t know but perhaps you’ll look it up for me. The last survey I saw surprised me because it showed god-belief actually declining in this very conservative country. The number of believers was below 90%. It means that Christianity, and others, as a percentage of the population is in decline, no matter the absolute numbers which I mention to head off the argument that there are more Christians in this country than ever before, a facile argument at best.
2. It may not constitute a War, but I can understand the American Christian perception that their religion is under attack, partly because of the changes I’ve seen over my years as argued above. In the 60’s this country was like Australia today, overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly Christian, whether attached to a church or not, and actually more so. Go look at the demographics from the 40s through the 60’s. I sang Christian songs in elementary school (Stille Nacht, Christian Soldiers, etc.), not to mention “When Johnny Comes Home Again”. Do with that what you will.
When you combine that change with ACLU attacks on historic references to Christianity, I can understand further. Using California as a reference point, the ACLU has driven out the cross of at least one county shield, if not more. They have also gone after the Soledad Cross and the Mohave Cross. Crosses in this culture are symbols of the fallen, in context, and do encompass others (individual, more exacting symbols being used at graveside) culturally. They have a secular tone no different than Christmas, they are a symbol of something greater and more embracing, inclusive, than the religion itself. In other circumstances, they are symbols of historic fact and should not be driven out whatsoever, which leads to…
If the ACLU would be consistent, it needs to go after San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, as well El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula. All of these names are recognition of Christianity, even embracing it given the first four are Christian Saints. Those names should be changed as all living there are suffering an establishment of religion.
BTW, I support the ACLU overall. It’s a good organization, and has done more good than bad by far. It’s just silly in taking Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists to an extreme not intended by anyone else, or Jefferson.
3. I have no idea what this means: “I won’t ‘get over it’, Hubert. I will continue to ‘stand my ground’ as an atheist, a human rights activist, mother,wife and veteran teacher. Mainly because the terms you use have antipodal meanings. I stand my ground as an atheist, pretty much an Enlightenment baby, but what is that ground? Ignoring historical fact? More troublesome is what is a “human rights activist”? Do you mean negative rights, positive rights, or a combination? Do you mean that those unequivocably opposed to your beliefs have the same right to speak, no matter how much it insults you or your particular cause, no matter how much it gets in the way? I embrace religion and no religion, especially and by far the latter, yet I see how American Christians feel, rightly or wrongly, beleaguered, yet you don’t? Is there being a “mother, wife and veteran teacher” somehow better, or worse if you lack empathy, than being a “father, husband, engineer, and salesman”?
There wouldn’t be any publicity if somebody wrote a provocative article at a school about Christianity? No, you are wrong! There would be many on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh as well as on Glenn Beck’s Show whom would use it for weeks one end to condemn it, to rail against it and to portray it as yet another example of how Christianity in this country is under threat. What a hoot! I have never in my life seen so many different Christian churches, alive and well with millions of believers feeling free to pray and sing and dance and ‘trance’ (is that a word?) as much as they feel is necessary. There is no ‘war’ on Christianity, it is yet another myth to rally supporters on behalf of the conservative religious right and politicians who stand to benefit from it.
I won’t ‘get over it’, Hubert. I will continue to ‘stand my ground’ as an atheist, a human rights activist, mother,wife and veteran teacher. I have embraced ideas about religion and no religion for over 25 years and made sure that the minorities represented in my classrooms felt safe to share their ideas. I will continue to stand against people who want to silence others. This principal, his staff and the parents who went along with this wrong decision to fire the journalism teacher are afraid of their own shadows. It’s a mob mentality and it sucks!
Imagine if someone from another school wrote a provocative letter regarding Christianity. It wouldn’t be published and would of course, be censored. But there wouldn’t be any publicity about it and no one would ever hear about it.
So what. Get over it.
Furthermore, the “primitive brain” comment is a 19th Century concept (hey, I enjoyed Huxley, but understood his times), that wraps well with Negroes as children, or Asians as whatever. No, I’m not calling you a racist, not by far, but the concept is a 19th Century concept and has the same underpinnings. It runs well with Rudyard Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden”, though I think reading him is a good thing just like reading Twain, though Twain the abolitionist is better.
There are good concepts from the 18th Century, inherent rights for example, and from the 19th, abolition for an example (which had a large Christian component starting in the 17th Century). But “primitive brain” isn’t one of them, unless you are going well past Sumeria. But that’s not the 19th Century…
Jim, I can only recount a moment with my Mormon mother after she had said I believed in nothing (so little insight): I only said back that if I am right she is the one that believes in nothing and is left with no foundation for her beliefs. Oddly, she was also the one to say I was neurotic about the truth and doing what I think is right whatever the cost to me or others. I’m older and more tempered now.
David Blauw, thank you for the compliment. I may be mistaken, I’m rusty now on the particulars of various religions, but didn’t you just give the argument against the Pharisees? Religion is a search too, if only in the meaning of the words and their application to life. One thing I’ll give the first two Abrahamic religions, versus the last, is they understand that books are only books. And words are defined by other words.
Zarathustra: I like Nietzsche, but really “primitive brain”? Best I know, the human brain has evolved little over many Ice Ages. You’re actually writing ideas I rejected as half-thoughts many years ago. I do agree that Man is not an expression of the Gods (why the “h”?) but that the Gods are an expression of Man. Too much Edith Hamilton I suppose.
Science only touches on the natural world, and makes it’s foundation uncertainty, otherwise the Science would have been settled long ago. It is not philosophy, don’t confuse the two. You only turn Science into a new religion if you do. Religion isn’t a scam anymore than Descarte, Hume, Berkeley, Kant, or Sarte. It is based on a false premise, as far I care, but go back to my “the Gods are an expression of Man”. If so, if I am correct in that, then you’re “act like psychotic, spoiled children” is simply an inability to understand us without using your present to moralize on ours then.
Now, we are just as likely to be primitive in our philosophy today as they in theirs, my point above, we believe things untrue either by emphasis or truly untrue (try the anti-vaccine movement). I’ll give you an example by quoting you “for men controling (sic) women”, yet most sociological work today points to women being more concerned with social standing and social adherence than men. Men have a greater tendency to be loners, ignoring social structure. It wasn’t just the men in my family that attacked me over atheism, which by your thinking was an attack on the patriarchal order thus an attack on subjugating women , in fact, it was overwhelmingly the women. They, as a group, put more stake in religion and social order than men as a group. They actually have more stake in it, reasons you need to explore rather than spouting bromides or cliches. There are of course outliers, some given more importance than they deserve given their poor reasoning. Patriarchy had as much to do with controlling men as women, however poorly done. I assume you believe that women couldn’t own property, and control it, post 1789.
“for men to control all matters sexual”, so a prohibition against adultery, which applied to both, was a good thing for men? Really, when our sex drive is well past women’s sex drive? Men want sex, a primate drive expressed by both chimpanzees and bonobos who are both our nearest relatives, so much more than women as to make comparison silly. So the prohibitions to premarital sex and adultery were for men to control women? In practice, yes, as expressed, maybe, but as an injunction, no. Want to make a woman live in poverty?, impregnate her and leave. Want to make dysfunctional sons, as well daughters?, remove the father. And, no, child support, money, doesn’t make up for it. If Man expresses Gods, maybe religion is actually experiential wrapped in a “primitive brain”.
Zarthustra, I’ll leave you with this quote from Einstein “I stood on the shoulders of giants”, those giants go back thousands upon thousands of years. He wasn’t just speaking about Plank and de Broglie. Newton wasn’t wrong (his equations are a subset) nor Archimedes, nor the Hindus that gave us the quadratic equation as well negative numbers. Primitive brain, indeed.
Ariel, you wrote,
“Religion is an expression of the human search for meaning, one among others”.
That is a wonderful statement.
My difficulty with Religion, is that so many have stopped searching, and profess only their Righteousness.
I am a searcher, yet I have been condemned personally on occasion, and every Sunday, if I surf the TV or radio channels. I see little searching in many public displays of religion. To the contrary, I see a believe this and we welcome you, believe different and we reject you.
I object to Religionists that throw rocks at others.
I have tempered my rock throwing as I age, and find I am much more content with myself. I find by not throwing rocks, I don’t get as many thrown back at me.
Religion, all of them are nothing more than Man’s quest to explain what his primitive brain could not explain, thousands of years ago before he had science. But the main problem with religion is that all of them have devolved into nothing more than humans trying to control each other through the use of fear for some hellish afterlife, for men controling women, and for men to control all matters sexual. In other words, Religion is just another scam…. There are NO Ghods, except those that man didn’t create for and by himself. Don’t you think it’s strange that ALL the Ghods seem to act like psychotic, spoiled children………….
Why should someone be allowed to promote that which is wrong-atheism. The Democratic party just showed they are anti-God, anti-Jerusalem, pro-gay, and pro-abortion. There is no doubt judgement will come for this public display of slapping the God of the universe in the face. Obama has shown his true colors and I feel for our nation if he is re-elected.
Barkin dog, I don’t think you can win an argument about bigotry by inserting your own, especially an ignorant one. If I misunderstood you, please correct me. It was hard to get a sense of meaning from your comment.
This part makes no sense especially if you understand anything about American Christianity: “yeah not believing in Your God Romney is a right of relgion (sic)”. My first take on this, correct me if I’m wrong, is some jab at Christians because of Romney’s devout faith (in terms of everyday integrity, it’s not the worst by far) and because Romney is a Mormon, an outlier Christian sect viewed as heretical for near 180 years, enough to drive persecution, by most fundamentalists, evangelicals, Protestants, and Catholics. It’s only in the last two decades that those groups have given, however begrudgingly, acknowledgement that Mormons do embrace the Christ as Saviour in much the same way they do. Wherever the textual count and disagreement leads.
My second take was that you were trying to say that it was religious bigotry to reject Romney because, implied, he was a Mormon. I hate religious bigotry with a passion, yet I can’t be charitable enough to believe your meaning was my second take given the “Your God Romney”. Charitably, I think that was more political bigotry than religious. But bigotry is bigotry. I use this definition: “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.” It paints with a wide brush, and it is wise to do so so we don’t miss bigotry disguised as socially acceptable (in your circles).
As for the topic at hand, the school was wrong. Public schools should be a marketplace of ideas on all subjects; so yes religion should be taught, agnosticism should be taught, and atheism should be taught, all as competing ideas expressing what it is to be human.
I am a declared first-class American citizen as Atheist for 47 years (10 was a difficult year for me) from a family of German Baptists, Southern Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, and Atheists (yeah, my family, the women by force of will, hid the fact that I have a number of Atheist forbears on both sides, all male).
Religion is an expression of the human search for meaning, one among others.
I can understand why the Soiuth does not believe in evoluition..THEY NEVER EVOLVED
Lets see. The students and the teacher are punished for exercising thieir rights under the First Amendment and Fourtheenth Amendment. The rights protected under the First Amendment are that of religion (yeah not believing in Your God Romney is a right of relgion), that is to express their religion or lack thereof and to petition others, including their government for redress of grievances (i.e. grievances being punished for expressing their free expression on the subject). These are three Prongs of the First Amendment and discussing the First Amendment in terms of Prongs is good for the defendant School Board, Superintendant of Schools, Principal who may be sued under 42 United States Code Section 1983 for violating the student’s rights and the teachers rights and such state action is subject to claims for civil damages under the statute and under the 14th Amendment. The plaintiffs are entitled to a declaratory judgment and an injunction to declare their rights and enjoin the school district from sacntioning them or firing the teacher. Then there is attorney fees under Section 1988 and the whole thing is a conspiracy under Section 1985(3). This is of course state action and the actors are acting under color of law. Now if the subject matter had been the right of frogs to have sex with other frogs perhaps the censurship and acts of reprisal by the school, the principal, the Superintendent and teh school board would not be actionable. But no. The content of the speech is protected. This dog would like to be their lawyer. I hope some budding lawyer in Tennessee will dust off the books in the library and get directions to the federal courthouse. There are a million lawyers out there who can do your divorce or file your bankrucpty, but very few who are hip to the civil rights jurisprudence. This case should already be in court before a judge for preliminary injunction.
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