How not to run an institution of learning by Lenoir City High School

I’ve never been a fan of high school newspapers. It’s fine that they’re usually filled with the sort of stuff that only interests students, but I don’t like how they so often tend to be failed models. Fundamental to the freedom of the press is that whole “freedom” part. Schools have the right to edit and censor as they please – they can even punish students if they want. It’s all perfectly legal, well-settled law, but it obviously runs counter to the ideal of the First Amendment. Any school that is really committed to teaching students about journalism would be more than willing to give up every single right it has to censor. No exceptions.

Of course, that isn’t going to happen. After all, giving up the right to censor would allow those evil atheist students to have a voice. And places like Lenoir City High School in Tennessee wouldn’t want that:

In a recent editorial that Myers, 18, intended for the Lenoir City High School newspaper entitled “No Rights: The Life of an Atheist,” she questioned her treatment by the majority.

“Why does atheism have such a bad reputation? Why do we not have the same rights as Christians?” she wrote.

Myers’ editorial also accused school administrators, teachers and coaches of violating the constitution by promoting “pro-Christian” beliefs during school-sponsored events.

Lenoir City school authorities have denied Myers permission to publish her editorial in the Panther Press, the staff supervised student newspaper.

They also say their policies do not violate the constitutional rights of any students.

Schools Director Wayne Miller said it was the decision of the school authorities not to allow publication of Myers’ editorial because of the potential for disruption in the school.

“We do have the right to control the content of the school paper if we feel it is in the best interest of the students,” he said.

One has to wonder just how this benefits students. What interest does anyone have in not allowing Krystal Myers’ points? Aside from Christians and other religious zealots who are afraid that contrary views of the world are threats, I can’t think of one.

I’m having trouble in deciding what the worst part in all of this is. On the one hand, the school is suppressing unprotected but non-harmful speech. They have that right, unfortunately, but that right is purely a legal one. I do not believe they even come close to having a moral right. (I hope the government proceeds to one day extend full First Amendment protections to students, destroying the rights it created for administrators and the like.) On the other hand, however, they aren’t merely suppressing non-harmful speech that should be protected, but they are also suppressing a pretty good article. Myers’ didn’t write some anti-religious screed. She didn’t take any cheap shots. (Not that she couldn’t have done that and still had a great article.) She did criticize the school, something I know people who choose to spend their lives lording over teenagers just can’t stand, but she did it fairly. Any rational school would have been proud of one of their students putting out such quality of work. Any rational school would have welcomed the criticism – especially when that criticism exposed its illegal practice of promoting Christianity over and over. (I’m making the big assumption that schools prefer to be in line with the law.) Unfortunately, Lenoir City High School is not a rational school.

I wouldn’t normally post an entire article by someone else since it makes for a lengthy post, but I’m going to make an exception here. I hope everyone will give it a read:

No Rights: The Life of an Atheist

By Krystal Myers

The point of view expressed in this article does not necessarily reflect the point of view of the Panther Press, its staff, adviser, or school.

As a current student in Government, I have realized that I feel that my rights as an Atheist are severely limited and unjust when compared to other students who are Christians. Not only are there multiple clubs featuring the Christian faith, but youth ministers are also allowed to come onto school campus and hand candy and other food out to Christians and their friends. However, I feel like if an Atheist did that, people would not be happy about it. This may not be true, but due to pervasive negative feelings towards Atheists in the school, I feel that it would be the case. My question is, “Why? Why does Atheism have such a bad reputation?” And an even better question, “Why do Christians have special rights not allowed to non-believers?”

Before I even begin, 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, personally, 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. And perhaps the most important misconception is that we want to convert everyone into Atheists and that we hate Christians. For the most part, we just want to be respected for who we are and not be judged.

Now you should know exactly what an Atheist is. says that an Atheist is, “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” However, this does not mean that Atheists do not believe in higher causes; we just do not believe in a higher being.

With that being said, I can move on to the real issue. Before I begin, I want you to think about your rights and how your perceived “rights” might be affecting the rights of others.

There are several instances where my rights as a non-believer, and the rights of anyone other than a Christian, have been violated. These instances inspired me to investigate the laws concerning the separation of church and state, and I learned some interesting things. However, first, I would like you to know specifically what my grievances are against the school. First and foremost is the sectarian prayer that occurs at graduation every year. Fortunately, I am not the first one to have thought that this was a problem. In the Supreme Court case, Lee v. Weisman, it was decided that allowing prayer at graduation is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Special speakers can pray, but the school cannot endorse the prayer or plan for it to happen.

Public prayer also occurs at all of the home football games using the public address system. This has, again, been covered by the Supreme Court case Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. The Court ruled that school-sponsored prayer is an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. If a speaker prays, it is fine. However, as soon as the school provides sponsorship, it becomes illegal. Sponsorship can be almost anything, even something as simple as saying that the speaker can pray or choosing a speaker with a known propensity to pray or share his or her religious views.

However, it is not just the speakers who we have to fear at Lenoir City High School. We also have to fear some of the teachers and what they might say about their own religious beliefs. On at least two separate occasions, teachers have made their religious preferences known to basically the whole school.

One teacher has made her religious preferences known by wearing t-shirt depicting the crucifix while performing her duties as a public employee. Also, Kristi Brackett, a senior at Lenoir City High School, has said that the teacher, “strongly encouraged us to join [a religious club] and be on the group’s leadership team.” Yet again, this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. When asked if this was true, the teacher replied, “As a teacher I would never use my power of influence to force my beliefs or the beliefs of [a religious club] on any student in the school.” Regardless, the religious t-shirts are still inappropriate in the school setting. Teachers are prohibited from making their religious preferences known; the Constitution requires them to be neutral when acting in their capacity as a public school teacher.

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 non-believers.

But perhaps I would have more hope in our school and the possibility of change on the horizon if our own school board did not open their meetings with prayer. A person who wished to remain anonymous that has been present at school board meetings says, “They do have prayers. They pray to ‘Our Heavenly Father’ and end with ‘In Jesus’ Name We Pray.’” Not only is this a violation of Supreme Court law, but also a violation of the board’s own policy that prohibits prayer at school-sponsored events. The whole foundation of how our school is conducted is established by obvious Christians. Somehow, this is unsurprising. If our School Board chooses to ignore the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court, then it is no surprise that teachers choose to do the same.

I know that I will keep trying to gain my rights as an Atheist and as an American citizen, but I also need your help in educating other people to realize the injustice done to all minority groups. The Christian faith cannot rule the United States. It is unconstitutional. Religion and government are supposed to be separate. If we let this slide, what other amendments to the Constitution will be ignored? I leave you to decide what you will or will not do, but just remember that non-believers are not what you originally thought we were; we are human beings just like you.

via Friendly Atheist.

4 Responses

  1. Personally I like it when schools do things like this. Her letter will now get a national audience, whereas before it would’ve gotten maybe the high school at best, and it helps identify schools who are run by religious nutbags so we can address those issues in the appropriate way.

    *of course I dont actually support suppression of opinions, I just enjoy the fact that the Streisand Effect is in full swing already.

  2. Check this out, from the school district web page for her school,

    “The Loudon County Education Foundation hosted the reception to announce the winners of the sixteenth annual Essay Contest on Tuesday, January 24 at 1 p.m. at the Church of the Resurrection Episcopal. LCEF Executive Director Michele Lewis greeted and congratulated students, parents, teachers and principals as they arrived. Everyone was invited to enjoy the wonderful home-baked refreshments.”

    Anyone see a problem here?

  3. My guess is that the Loudon County Education Foundation is a private fundraising entity not controlled by the school district, as is most often the case with EFs, and there may have been some other reason for choosing that venue over the school or another, but it still doesn’t really help their argument.

  4. Every generations needs to be taught a healthy disrespect for authority. Fortunately, there are plenty of authorities available that one can healthily disrespect.

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