Teacher Reportedly Forced Out of Tennessee School For Supporting Atheist and Gay Students

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”

  1. The poor fundamentalists are like the segragationists- many still are- felt rightly threatened when blacks demanded their rights, emoting that we atheists threaten them! We threaten their superstition but in the right manner, and they cannot stand that we are so outspoken.
    It is our right and- duty to argue that religion is nutty! Why, some atheists and liberal religionists cannot suffer the truth!

  2. Frankly,

    Just when I was going to give you my “good guy and smart too” diploma. Good thing I had not put a stamp on it.
    Saved the postage.

    If you are calling Dredd and Jill for “words violate my rights to hear only approval”-people, then you are sadly mistaken. IMHO, note well.

    I never have heard either of them getting shrill. Maybe about a fact, but being not allowed to say what they like. Uh-uh. And both seem to thrive on conflict.

    Who you gonna jump on next? Me? Go right ahead.

    Here I am getting into the fights of other persons again. Never learn. Only looking for justice! In America???? Ha!

  3. raf – you just don’t understand. Their rights are being trampled when the rest of us disagree with them. When we argue points of fact they really believe they are being repressed.

    This is the persecution complex that infects both the current rightwing conversation and the American Christianist movement. Anything other than abject submission and praise for their POV is an attack

  4. Jill and Dredd,
    If you think there is intolerance on this blog, then how come your statements were not blocked or suppressed? I am in a minority it seems whenever I write about reasonable gun control, for example, but my views aren’t blocked or stifled. I get some nasty comments, but isn’t that what free speech is all about?

  5. Aaah, Tennessee……… where they put teachers in jail for mentioning the EVOLUTION word…. Let’s have another ”Monkey” Trial…. and this time, let’s put the Monkeys in Jail

  6. OS,
    They don’t do the constitution there, as one judge said and was cited here.

    All you various independent thinkers. Show us your scars and tell us how far it got you in life taking standpoints contra those held by power persons. Did you experience filtering as Chomsky has written about in his “Why MSM is MSM.”

    I don’t fully agree with Malisha, as teaching the one while
    warning for the other would be my preferance.

  7. One of the few positive experiences I had teaching was w/ a high school newspaper where I taught. The moderator was a great English teacher and like myself, a libertarian. He got a lot of crap from fellow teachers, administration and the city folk for some of the content. However, he just plowed forward. Like ALL good teachers, this guy was demanding and a great motivator. Students looked forward to the new monthly edition and I would always uses it for discussion.

  8. bettykath,

    That is a really good observation. The original action sent a message and the removal of the teacher sends a message both to the students and anyone who would dare to speak up. A three in one statement about what it means to simply speak up with a minority viewpoint.

    I’m so glad the paper printed what she wrote. Krystal shows great courage and eloquence. Myers shows real courage as well.

    Dredd, There is great intolerance for minority viewpoints on comments in blogs, including this one. I find it shameful but certainly in keeping with today’s zeitgeist.

  9. Lenoir City High School is not a “Christian school”–it is a public school. That’s the whole point; the principal would have been well within his rights if it had been a “Christian school.”

  10. On the other hand, it is teaching reality to the students. I’m not sure that’s all bad. If they learn, now, that expressing allegedly permissible free speech in allegedly protected constitutional forums can lead to their being economically and otherwise punished without cause, they may be getting a more realistic education on how to live in America than they would get in a school that pretended you could stand up and breathe free, speak your mind, and still have the American dream, huh?

  11. A important bit of collateral damage is the message it sends to those students who are atheist or gay or of some other minority category. They have also lost an advocate. It reinforces any doubts they may have about their own value as human beings.

  12. I am families with Lenoir City and that general part of the country. I am not at all surprised. In fact, all over the southeast part of the country, prayers and benedictions before all kinds of school and sporting events are common. The schools seem to be deliberately thumbing their collective noses at the First Amendment.

  13. I went to school in Tennessee, pretty close to Lenoir City actually, and I can testify to religion permeating every aspect of education. I wasn’t an atheist at the time, but I can imagine how isolating that would have been. The principal actually prayed over the intercom every morning!

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