Why the Illinois Family Institute Is Angry With Me August 19, 2009

Why the Illinois Family Institute Is Angry With Me

It seems I have a conservative “family” group angry with me because of this website. And they’re trying to attack my character (and my teaching position) as a result.

Some background: The Illinois Family Institute has a habit of saying ridiculous things. And I’ve been calling them out on it.

Most recently, they said that parents should keep their children away from Chicago’s Millennium Park. Why? Because gays (and straights) were going to be kissing each other as part of the Great Nationwide Kiss-In.

IFI said kissing itself wasn’t obscene, but certain kinds of kissing were obscene:

An adult kissing a pre-pubescent child or a high school-age adolescent in a sexual or romantic manner is both obscene and inappropriate despite the protestations of the North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) to the contrary.

Romantic or sexual kissing between two consenting adults who are in love and who are closely related by blood is both obscene and inappropriate despite the protestations of defenders of incest to the contrary.

Romantic or sexual kissing among “multi-partner” unions, like those profiled in a recent Newsweek article, are both obscene and inappropriate despite the protests of polyamorists to the contrary.

Romantic or sexual kissing between two people of the same biological sex is both obscene and inappropriate despite the voluble, vigorous, and often vitriolic protests of homosexuals to the contrary.

In other words, IFI director Laurie Higgins is saying witnessing two gay guys kissing is the same as witnessing pedophilia and incest.

Like I said, ridiculous.

In my posting, I sarcastically wrote that “The only thing that could make this kiss-in even better is if it took place just outside Higgins’ house.” Obviously, I didn’t mean on her property (that’d be illegal). And not purposely in front of her children.

In fact, I also wrote in my posting:

Meanwhile, Higgins can do whatever she’d like to with her children. She might feel more comfortable if each kid came equipped with a blindfold. She could then tie it around them in case they dare go out in public where (*gasp*) gay people might be engaging in some harmless PDA.

Unless you want to ban kissing altogether (which IFI says they do not want to do), then you have to deal with the fact that it happens — in public places and even in public schools. To avoid reality and warn families that gays might be kissing (so keep your kids away!) is paranoid and extreme.

Back to the story.

I posted my piece.

A couple days later, I discovered that Higgins emailed my boss, my high school’s entire administrative staff, and every school board member to inform them that what I do in my private life was very unprofessional.

… He, of course, has a First Amendment right to write whatever he pleases on his blog “The Friendly Atheist” during his free time, but it’s unfortunate that a role model for students would write some of the things he writes.

What more could parents hope for in their children’s teachers than a little old fashioned vindictiveness.

The underlying message, of course, is: “Look! You hired an ATHEIST! And he BLOGS!”

What my private life (i.e. this site, the volunteer work I do with non-theistic groups, etc) has to do with my ability to teach high school math, I don’t know. I keep them separate. What goes on in my “atheist” life doesn’t come into play when I teach. I respect church/state separation. I would never talk about my religious beliefs in class. Hell, I teach math. Religion rarely comes up in discussion.

I should also mention that this email never got sent to me… in fact, Higgins sent it to everyone except me. (I later received it from another source.)

Not surprisingly, everything is fine at work. My superiors respect my right to free speech and their concern is with my professional work, not my private life. For what it’s worth, my teaching evaluations over the past couple years have been excellent, thank you very much.

Anyway, school officially begins tomorrow. And I still have my job.

Maybe that fact upset Higgins. Because yesterday, she tried another tactic: Sending out an official press release condemning me to her followers:

Judging from his blog, Mehta’s mission in life is to spread the gospel of atheism to students across the country, making disciples of all men and women. Judging from his blog, he also seeks to spread the message that homosexuality is morally equivalent to heterosexuality.

I love how she uses Christian imagery to attack me. (Spreading a gospel and making disciples of men and women is a bad thing? Higgins must really dislike Jesus then…)

I am an atheist (shocking, I know) and spreading science and reason is a passion of mine. But, like I said, the “godless” thing is what I do in my private life. When I’m at work, I teach math. In the classroom, I don’t discuss my religious and social views. And I’d be outraged if any teacher (atheist, Christian, whatever) did that.

Higgins links to my page of speaking engagements. Does she realize that many of the engagements involve me talking about my visits to churches? Does she realize I am sometimes invited to speak by pastors, at their churches? Does she realize that if I speak to a primarily-atheist audience, there’s no need to “spread atheism”?

She makes it sound like I teach children that 1 + 1 = 2, homosexuality should be mandatory, a2 + b2 = c2, and that God is imaginary.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by Higgins’ accusations. People like her constantly dismiss ideas that contradict their pre-existing beliefs. It’s the type of thinking that makes the Creation Museum possible.

Higgins goes on to argue (emphases mine):

Of course, teachers have a First Amendment right to blog or speak publicly about anything they want. And parents have every right not to have their children in the classroom under the tutelage of someone whose publicly articulated views they find fallacious and deeply troubling. Having a First Amendment right to speak freely does not guarantee public approval or public silence. And the public response may be that parents choose not to have their children in the class of those who espouse views that parents find foolish and destructive.

Parents have a justifiable concern that the personal views of teachers may find their way into the classroom, either through curricular choices or classroom commentary. Those parents who want nothing more than that their children will believe in God may find someone whose mission in life is to persuade young people to reject a belief in God to be a poor role model.

So let me get this straight… if you’re a parent, Higgins would like you to find out the religious and social views of all your kids’ teachers ahead of time. Then you can decide whether or not your child should be in their classroom?

I don’t think she believes that. Her main concern, as she writes, is that those views will find their way into the classroom.

That’s a concern I share, too.

Guess what? My personal beliefs haven’t made their way into my classroom. They wouldn’t. (They couldn’t — school hasn’t even started yet.) In the years that I have been teaching, no parent or student has ever accused me of spreading atheism in the classroom.

Still, Higgins goes on about how “emboldened, hubristic liberal activists” are making their views known in public classrooms.

After writing about how those teachers want to make their students ideological clones, she then points out that I have never done these things. (Subtext: He’s still an atheist, and he teaches your children!)

But even if Mr. Mehta does not view his math classes as opportunities to proselytize, there still remains the fact that he is a role model and he regularly engages in very public discourse on very controversial topics. For many parents, views on homosexuality and belief in God are two of life’s most important issues — issues that are critical to both civilized and eternal life.

Really? Homosexuality is one of the most important things parents worry about? I know I’m not a Christian, but I would think homosexuality doesn’t play much of a role in any parent’s day-to-day thoughts. Not unless their kid is gay. Higgins might be one of the few exceptions to that rule, because she seems to be obsessed with other peoples’ sexuality.

But again, she admits I never mixed my personal beliefs with my professional life. That fact alone makes the rest of her press release completely irrelevant. Instead of stopping there, though, she digs the hole a little deeper by comparing atheism to racism:

Many parents would recoil at having their children spend a school year under the tutelage of a teacher — particularly a charismatic teacher — who in his or her free time blogs favorably about racism and travels the length and breadth of the country preaching racism. Similarly, some parents may recoil at having their children spend a year under the tutelage of a teacher who spends his free time blogging favorably about atheism and homosexuality and traveling the length and breadth of the country preaching favorably about atheism.

You would think someone with this much of a concern for education would know a bad analogy when she sees one…

So to summarize:

I have opinions in my private life that I am very passionate about, opinions which I do not share with my students when I am teaching.

Therefore, parents should be frightened of me.

Thanks for clearing that up, Ms. Higgins. Next time you’d like to wage a personal attack on me, at least do me the favor of mentioning my book — the publicity is always nice.

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  • Roku

    Oh man, the page is completely messed up. May wanna change that…

    Also, foolish idiots thinking that they could strongarm you into losing your job. How very Christian of them, try to silence the opposition anyway possible. When discussion and reasoning fails, just say resort to threats.

  • I think it’s cool. I’ve never had somebody start a campaign against me because I’m atheist.

    Who knows? Maybe some of the publicity she is giving you will lead to more people opening up about their lack of faith.

  • It’s amazing the things people can get away with saying when it’s about atheism. Imagine if she had said those things about any other belief/minority/lifestyle.

  • stephen

    I think the best strategy is to just ignore her, not draw it out into a public forum such as this. Yeah, I know, I’m proud to be an atheist, too, and see no reason to hide it. Judging from her press release, however, what’s she’s probably trying to do is grab the ear of the parent of any religious student that you gave a bad grade to. That overly-sensitive parent with an axe to grind will flip their shit and demand all sorts of crazy things stating that you’re obviously biased against their kid. I know, it’s ridiculous, and maybe attitudes are different in Illinois, but here in the Alabama of Pennsylvania where Jesus himself couldn’t get elected dogcatcher if he ran as a Democrat, I can see a similar situation spiraling out of control quickly. So unless you really, really enjoy bureaucracy and hearings, ignore her. There’s no justice, karma is unreliable at best, and this woman will probably die in 40 years not knowing she’s wasting her time.

  • TJ

    I can only imagine the outrage if someone else’s religion was being taught to her Christian children paid for with public money. They don’t care about Muslim, Hindu, atheist children. Who cares about their beliefs, right? We’re talking about the right religion here.

    I doubt she would have the guts to say this then. Atheists are one group that is still OK to openly hate.

    Hypocritical people like this make me so sick to my stomach.

    She calls you a bad role model? Maybe she should look in the mirror. Filling young minds with images of hellfire, Satan, eternal damnation, blinding them to reality, and hating certain groups of people. Need I say more?

    Glad your employers saw through her BS.

  • I’m surprised that they didn’t condemn you for teaching that 1+1+1=3 rather than the biblically approved answer of 1.

    Seriously though, it’s a shallow and bigoted attack on you, and it’s plain just not nice, and grossly hypocritical.

    Quite frankly, if you were the math teacher of my two girls, I’d be overjoyed.

    What shocks me though, is imagine if they’d said “Jew” rather than Atheist, or “Black” rather than Atheist.

  • Kate

    This is absolute crap. Let me know if you need any letters of support written to your school/administration, etc.

    Once again, if you’d just replace “atheist” with “Jew” this would be seen as a HORRIBLE attack…but nooo, it’s okay to freak out about a *gasp*…ATHEIST teaching your children math.

    What a freak. She needs to get off the computer and get a life.

  • All they want is for you to be a nice atheist, you know, somebody who never, never, never, NEVER talks about atheism.

  • you (and your employer) handled the situation very well. kudos!

  • ungullible

    Hemant – it’s great that your employer and coworkers are supporting you. But what happens if/when this gets to parents of your students? It’s relatively easy to ignore the IFI, but if any of your student’s parents are like Mrs. Higgins and they start complaining to the school, will they continue to back you up under that pressure?

    Just curious. My wife is also a math teacher in our public school and we keep a low profile on our theistic views precisely because of situations such as this.

  • mattincinci

    good work! dont ignore her…she obviously will do anything and say anything

    these are the types of crazies you need to watch out for

  • Luther

    Let her send her children to Catholic school where the nice priests and nuns will present their irrational views and lay on their hands.

  • Matto the Hun

    I should also mention that this email never got sent to me… in fact, Higgins sent it to everyone except me. (I later received it from another source.)

    You stay classy Laurie Higgins.
    :rolls eyes:

  • Another Atheist

    I am curious, what happens if one of your students finds your blog and then wants to talk to you about it? What would you say if it is a child from a religious family that is questioning their own views? What if it is a religious child that feels offended by what you have written? Let me just say, I completely support the right of teachers to say whatever they want in their private lives, and kudos for you for teaching only MATH in a MATH class.

  • Rachel

    Although this incident is probably deeply disturbing to you, I’d view this as a good thing.
    Hell, you’ve got someone – a group waging a campaign against you. You’ve finally made it!!!!
    Hell look at all the kooks constantly writing to the university and trying to get PZ Myers fired.
    I’d ignore her, but I’d also keep calling her and her group out when they make idiotic statements/attack you. Don’t back off out of fear for your job, because if you do you’ll never forgive yourself.
    I’ve always said, I’d rather live in a cardboard box under an overpass and be free than live in a mansion scared of loosing things – basically imprisoned (and i’m allowed to say that as being officially homeless at a point in my life).

    Think of it as part of the growing of a thick skin needed by all leaders and influencial people.

  • Heidi

    Uh-oh! She tattled on you! I wonder if her kids are ashamed of her. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to have this woman as a parent? Yeah, my mom doesn’t think free speech should apply to people who have different opinions, so she ran whining to someone’s boss and tried to get him fired. Hoo-boy. I would have been embarrassed to walk out of the house if my parents had ever acted like that.

    OTOH, Hemant, if my kids looked up to you as a role model, I’d be pretty happy about it.

    Also, I wouldn’t have a problem with a teacher answering someone’s question about their religious affiliation, as long as it didn’t turn into a preaching session, even if the teacher was a whacked out fundie. “I believe this, but I also believe in the separation of church and state, so I would prefer not to discuss it in a classroom situation.” Perfectly acceptable.

    Nor would I have a problem with a kid of any faith or lack thereof privately saying “I read online that you believe the same thing as I do,” and asking a few questions after class. But I would have a problem with a kid (or teacher) starting an argument because they didn’t believe the same things.

  • TXatheist

    Hemant, EXACTLY! This is the typical reaction of fundies in Texas that I have been talking about. You are not supposed to be atheist because it’s bad to them and any discussion of non-xian based talk is negative. This is exactly why I’m so confrontational and don’t avoid it because 1% of the xians will come after you and that must not be acceptable.

  • TXatheist

    I like this part in her letter

    preaching favorably about atheism

    as if atheism is negative? Sorry, it’s not.

  • Ron in Houston

    Unfortunately she doesn’t have a boss or anyone she answers to other than the like minded sycophants who donate to her group.

    Hopefully you won’t become a martyr.

    Hmmm, maybe we can photoshop you being crucified on a giant question mark.

  • bd

    As a resident of Illinois; sorry.

  • TXatheist

    I went to their website and fired off an email. Again I’m not the friendly atheist but confrontational atheist may suit me.

  • It was only a matter of time, Hemant. This is what they do when they’re scared. It may be a challenge for you to stay “friendly” as these kinds of attacks pile up over time.

    Keep the “faith.” :^)

  • Liza

    Lol. What a dumb woman.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    Nice! Getting attacked by the IFI certainly has a certain cachet. What a scummy tactic, though, to attempt to “out” you to your colleagues.

  • By Higgins’ logic, nontheistic parents should be able to pull their children out of the classrooms of teachers who happen to be Christian. That is ludicrous. Pushing Christian doctrine? That’s a different story altogether. But as you say, the same would — and should — go for pushing anti-theist ideas.

    You know, thinking back on my high school classes, I can only think of two teachers that I knew their religious affiliation AT ALL. And one of those was because she attended the same church as me (the other was a one-time slip up, and you could see her realize she’d gone too far and she never did it again).

    As for the rest, I could make guesses, but their religion was kept out of the classroom, as it should be.

  • Brian E

    All of these ‘family institute’ groups can kiss me and my entire family’s collective ass! They use ‘family’ as a cover to give themselves credence and spread their bile. The worst thing I could ever do for my family would be to take advice from the Illinois Family Institute.

  • You should pat yourself on the back for how you handled that. I’d be very stressed out if it were me – but I’m just a worrywart.

    I’ve never heard tell of any of this treatment in Canada, in fact it’d likely be the other way around (that teacher is a fundamental Christian, should they be allowed to teach?)

    That’s good that you coworkers support you. But all it takes is 2 parents to be nutballs and then your whole school year could become a drama class.

  • Shawn

    I sort of feel bad for religious parents with kids in your class. I know it would irk me to know my kid’s teacher was a vocal advocate (even outside the classroom) of anything that I believed was factually or morally wrong (as, I suspect, many religious people genuinely feel about atheism).

    The difference is that I would be subtle about it when talking to my kid. If I heard they were injecting their beliefs into the classroom, I think I’d likely talk directly to the teacher about it, then take Ms. Higgin’s path if it was still unresolved. If the teacher wasn’t promoting their beliefs in class, I’d realize it was my problem and shut my pie hole.

  • I love how paranoid some theists are about teachers. Just how restricted would these people like schools to be? Should students ever be exposed to dissenting viewpoints, or should they just remain ignorant of everything except what their parents tell them until it’s ‘safe’ for them to hear otherwise?

    And that’s not even the issue here because, as you’ve pointed out, you don’t talk about religion in the classroom! This seems to be nothing more than petty spite.

  • zoo

    I think it’s interesting that people like her think everyone is telling people things they wouldn’t approve of in every inappropriate situation possible. I wonder why? *roll eyes*

  • Cypress Green

    Many parents would recoil at having their children spend a school year under the tutelage of a teacher — particularly a charismatic teacher — who in his or her free time blogs favorably about racism… some parents may recoil at having their children spend a year under the tutelage of a teacher who spends his free time blogging favorably about atheism and homosexuality …

    What do I get out out of this? She’s giving you a backhanded complement by implying you are ‘charismatic.’ You the man!

  • JulietEcho

    Well, they’re clearly admitting (whether they realize it or not) that there’s absolutely no real problem here, beyond what personally offends them. And seriously, these days, what *doesn’t* offend groups like that?

  • This is troubling. You’re very fortunate that your administration and school district have reacted as they have. Other teachers have not been so lucky (though some have also not been so scrupulous about keeping their opinions out of the classroom).

    Be very, very careful. She or like-minded people could instigate a student to try to draw you into an “incriminating” discussion in the classroom.

    And she’s perfectly right to be afraid of your influence on young people. You are a public figure – I’m sure plenty of your students have realized that their teacher is THE Friendly Atheist and have read your stuff. If they also like and respect you in the classroom, the brighter ones may stop and think: “Hey, he doesn’t need a god – why should I?” You could change a person’s life that way.

    Which, after all, is what Christian witness and living a Christian life is supposed to do, too. ; )

  • Tim

    Hmmm…after reading both the IFI e-mail that was sent to me and to your blog (God forgive I like a rational debate based on all the information), the fact of the matter is you are both right and you are both wrong.

    If IFI wants to tell its people homosexual kissing is going to take place “here,” and if you don’t like it to keep your kids and family away, that is IFI’s right to say that. If IFI does not believe in a gay lifestyle, it can say that too. Fine, you shouldn’t be offended for their talk. YOU have a responsibility and a right to your own lifestyle. It’s not IFI’s lifestyle. They shouldn’t be offended for your talk. It was out of line for you to threaten to have the kiss-in in front of the woman’s house. Being disrespectful of someone else’s point of view is what will get you so much grief, and that goes for IFI too. Your action suggesting the kiss-in in front of her house (on her property or not) is what got the letter sent to the School Board (even though they should have approached you only first). That is IFI’s wrong: approaching the wrong person regarding the “sin.” They can say what they want; you can say what you want. Just keep it on the level…both of you.

    Now, go teach Math. If you screw THAT up, we’ll have messed up kids->adults. The whole Atheism/God thing will take care of itself.

  • Neon Genesis

    Hemant, have you ever read about the case where some Christians were trying to get Bertrand Russell fired from teaching math in college because of his beliefs on morality and marriage? The case is recorded in the book Why I Am Not A Christian, which includes a collection of various essays by Bertrand Russell on religion and morality. I thought you might find it interesting if you haven’t read it already because he was in a situation where he was a math professor who was taken to court simply because of his beliefs and he was accused of by fundies of wanting to start a nudist colony and supporting pedophilia. It just amazes me how in some ways we’ve changed a lot since then but in other ways, our society is not different at all and we still have the same idiot bigots who are still trying the same tactics.

  • bronwynm23

    The IFI’s entire website is disturbing. The blog by the executive director takes events out of context to try to get his readers angry. Not a new tactic, but still distasteful.

    Btw, that’s awesome that Board Member [deleted] wrote this woman and chastised her! Even though Naperville is a pretty conservative city, I’m glad the school administrators are backing you.

  • “And parents have every right not to have their children in the classroom under the tutelage of someone whose publicly articulated views they find fallacious and deeply troubling.”

    I find the views of many Christians and Christian beliefs fallacious and deeply troubling. So is she saying I have the right to not have my child be taught by a Christian? Seriously, this is just over the top.

  • mdcurler

    This is disturbing, I’m also a HS math teacher. I get comments from my students about the Darwin Fish and assorted athiest bumper stickers on my car. They ask me about the Athiest A on my lapel. I have to tell them that it is part of my personal beliefs and I am not at liberty to discuss them in school.
    The problem and most difficult part of keeping quiet is the student who prays for a good score on a math assessment instead of doing what is necessary to do. You know, study, come in for help, do homework, and ask questions.
    Last year I was so concerned about this student and her attitude that I called her parents and suggested that she do what was necessary, they told me that she was right and the lord would help her. To me, this is child abuse. Well the lord will be helping her in my repeater geometry class this year.

    mdcurler — High school math teacher

  • Erik

    Hemant, I think the obvious subtext here is that she hates your mathematical skills! If you help your students excel in math, then they will be more likely to excel in science, and then they will be more likely to take a rational, evidence-based view of the world instead of relying on biblical superstition. Your atheism is just icing on the cake, allowing you to be the leadoff in a new IFI War On Math! You know, I think I even read somewhere that Hitler was pro-math.

  • TXatheist

    Shawn, factually wrong? What is factually wrong about atheism? md457@hotmail.com

  • Jim Baerg

    Good Heavens the math teacher might teach the children that

    (God)^2 <0


  • Unfortunately, Hemant, I think this will have some sort of effect on you eventually. Probably in no way other than occasionally speaking with parents who come to bother you after reading the IFI’s release, because I am sure there are one or two who have kids going to your school. I know you’ll handle it with a measured and appropriate response when people do approach you like this. That’s one of the things I’ve always liked about this blog.

    Having said that, the IFI should probably be responded to publicly. I doubt this press release hit the papers, but if it did, perhaps a letter to the editor would be in order? In fact, Hemant, you might want to consider sending a letter to the editor anyway. The more anyone makes Higgins look like a bronze-age feudal lord, the better.

  • Brittany

    What a disgusting woman. She ought to be ashamed of herself for acting so much like a child. To talk badly about you is one thing, but to go off and talk to your superiors is just low.

    I hope that if any of your students’ parents decide to listen to this horrible woman, your school’s administration will still back you up.

  • Mike Ashe

    I think it is interesting that she equated atheism and tolerance of homosexuality with racism. Wow! Racism is, essentially, intolerance of those that are different from us. How can tolerance = racism!?

    Very interesting to see a pro-Christian group take this approach. Christian groups helped prolong racism for a very long time (KKK was a Christian organization NOT condemned by mainstream Christians).

    There’s also a twinge of McCarthyism in her statements. (We can’t let people with links to communist sympathizers in our government/schools/churches, etc.)

    Keep taking the high road, and be glad for the extra publicity. I think you should offer to debate her, interview her, or exchange mutual invitations to post on each other’s blogs.

    Remember that your strength is that you’re the FRIENDLY atheist. Let everyone have their say.


  • (God)^2 > 0

    Actually, (God)^2 = -1
    since God is imaginary. 😉

    Hemant, just keep teaching math and keep the firewall between religion and the classroom and you should be fine.

    By the IFI bringing your atheism to everyone’s attention, you can now be a positive role model for atheism without ever needing to mention that you are an atheist. Turn this into something positive. Just continue to have a good attitude, do your job well, help the kids, and be a nice guy.

  • Ian Howell

    There are many self-righteous pinheads on this blog… Not really surprising when you make the center of the universe is yourself.

  • Hemant – You are an EXCELLENT role model! You respectfully speak your mind in an appropriate setting. Children of all stripes would do well to emulate your deportment.

  • medussa

    What is Higgins’ e-mail address?
    I’d like to make sure my comments make it to her directly, and she doesn’t have to get them from another source…..

  • It’s funny how all her concerns are actual concerns of secularists based on REAL events that HAVE taken place in public schools in regards to religious teachers preaching to students.

  • Richard Wade

    Ian Howell,

    There are many self-righteous pinheads on this blog… Not really surprising when you make the center of the universe is yourself.

    Is self-righteous pinheadery determined by whether someone’s views agree with yours? Are you making this mass condemnation speaking as a humble and knowlegable person, from somewhere outside the center of the universe? Do you think that Laurie Higgins is a sef-righteous pinhead because of her cowardly, bigoted and ignorant behavior, or do her religious beliefs excuse her from all that, making it possible for her to behave just like a self-righteous pinhead, but not actually be one?

    Address your response in any direction. There is no center of the universe.

  • medussa

    Address your response in any direction. There is no center of the universe.

    LOVE IT!!!!

  • Shawn

    TXatheist Says:
    August 19th, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Shawn, factually wrong? What is factually wrong about atheism?

    Not a thing. I was putting myself in a religious person’s shoes. They believe God’s existence is fact. Atheists disagree with that.

    To clarify my original point, I’m not blaming Hemant, and I don’t think he should in any way stop or alter his behaviour. I just feel bad for these people who are so afraid of other peoples’ views and lifestyles that they feel they need to not only control them, but be blinded to their existence. I know they’re responsible for a lot of unnecessary misery for themselves and the rest of us, but I’m still sympathetic.

  • Stephen’s first line of advice is good… no more press for this crazy religious freak.

    THEY ARE ONLY INTERESTED IN PRESS. I would go out on a limb and say they don’t actually believe any of what they are spouting. These family organizations exist for one reason and one reason only – to create a stir by slamming other people and attacking them at random.

    If Laurie Higgins wants people to take her and the IFI organization seriously, they need to stop going after other people. Their tactics are almost exactly like the ones American Family Association used for years. It wasn’t about building up positive values. It was all about tearing down others. Not a single positive function ever comes from these family groups.

    With that said, I highly respect Hemant and his ability to be a professional and upstanding person, taking both his job and his personal opinions and keeping them separate. In the time since I started reading this blog, he has never come across as anything but informative and providing a great outlet to others.

    I hope Laurie Higgins can take her focus to other outlets instead of attacking someone who is no where near deserved of being attacked.

  • Hemant,

    It’s awesome to see that your employer knows the difference between a raving lunatic and someone actually concerned. Unfortunately, alot of schools don’t value their teachers and education like yours does.

    Has anyone ever nominated you for a teaching award? Not only would it look good on your wall, but Higgins would probably have an aneurysm of epic proportions. 🙂

    Last time I got character attacked by some raving lunatics (including one who still to this day claims I have an ear implant from the Nazis that tell me what to do), it ended up having the real interesting outcome of more people coming to me for tech stuff, and my reputation being improved. They couldn’t for their lives figure out just why it backfired.

    I think IFI discovered just how bad things can backfire too.

  • Siamang

    There are many self-righteous pinheads on this blog…

    Thanks for stopping by and upping the number by one.

  • Ron in Houston


    What’s the side story with the guy from the school board? Seems that he stirred things up quite a bit.

  • I find the views of many Christians and Christian beliefs fallacious and deeply troubling. So is she saying I have the right to not have my child be taught by a Christian? Seriously, this is just over the top.

    It’s worse than that, Ziztur. What Higgins is really saying is that anyone with a lifestyle or viewpoint that any parent considers factually or morally wrong shouldn’t have the right to teach. Her e-mail to Hemant’s administrators proved that much. Were she simply worried about parents’ choices, she would have e-mailed the parents and left it at that. Instead, she attempted to have Hemant removed. She doesn’t think he should be allowed to teach.

  • On a side note, it’s funny to see ads for ChristianMingle.com on top of your page, Hemant 😛

  • Siamang

    This is horrendous behavior on her part. This is a play right out of Bill Donohue’s playbook… someone has an opinion you disagree with, you go to their employer and try to embarrass them with media attention until they’re fired.

    At least PZ’s action warranted some real media ink. This isn’t even a blip. All you did was comment on a gay rights protest on your blog. AMAZING.

    And you’re the FRIENDLY atheist, I might point out. You are not a horseman. You are not PZ with his determination to stir the pot.

    If the IFI can attack YOU, hell, we’ve all said stuff that rises to the level of “gee, I wish gay people would kiss in front of (Pat Robertson, Rick Warren..etc).” I know a lot of Christians who would say the EXACT SAME THING.

    Hemant, you’ve met a lot of great pastors in your work visiting and speaking with churches. Any chance you can get some of them to write a little bit of “IFI doesn’t speak for all Christians”?

    Because if I were a Christian, I would be ashamed to share the name with these people, and I know a number of Christians who I’ve conversed with online here would agree.

    I’d love to hear the Christian voices of support here. I know they exist.

  • The Other Tom

    Tim wrote:

    If IFI wants to tell its people homosexual kissing is going to take place “here,” and if you don’t like it to keep your kids and family away, that is IFI’s right to say that. If IFI does not believe in a gay lifestyle, it can say that too. Fine, you shouldn’t be offended for their talk.

    Who are you to say what opinions Hemant is allowed to have?

    And what precisely is a “gay lifestyle”?

    YOU have a responsibility and a right to your own lifestyle. It’s not IFI’s lifestyle. They shouldn’t be offended for your talk.

    And who are you to say what opinions IFI is allowed to have?

    It was out of line for you to threaten to have the kiss-in in front of the woman’s house.

    Go back and read what Hemant wrote. At no time did he “threaten” to do anything. You really should learn to read and comprehend and not use such inflammatory language when you clearly have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Being disrespectful of someone else’s point of view is what will get you so much grief, and that goes for IFI too.

    So, if someone’s point of view is that black people should be slaves, and jews should be exterminated, you propose that we should be respectful of that?

    Your action suggesting the kiss-in in front of her house (on her property or not)

    …never happened. He didn’t “suggest” it either. Learn to read. Perhaps Hemant has a colleague who can help you with that.

  • Alyssa

    I don’t see why she feels the need to get so defensive. If children are baptized and “saved” (usually immediately after birth) I don’t understand why you, or homo affection, or anyone else would be a threat to her or to any children. If she was actually secure with herself and with her faith, she wouldn’t need to attack you like this. She’s not exactly trying to save your soul, is she? She’s just irrationally defending her own imagined immortality.

    Heaven forbid that children are exposed to different viewpoints and pick their OWN truths. Just give them YOUR truth and hide all other options!

  • Good job, Hemant. When you attract the attention of the crazies then you know you are doing something right. 🙂

    Also, Shorter Tim: Everyone is allowed to have an opinion (even if it is very offensive). Unless that opinion is that someone else’s opinion is wrong. Then you are an intolerant bastard.

  • Randy

    This is my favorite, she writes trying to get you fired then…

    “His email contained the following not-so-veiled threat of a lawsuit:
    “Have you considered the possibility that if your actions caused Mr. Mehta to suffer consequences in his employment, you’d be subjecting yourself and/or your organization to liability? That’s potentially unwise to your organization’s self-sufficiency, surviival (sic) and mission.”

    Trys to play the persecuted christian.

  • Keith (the pastor)


    If this goes any further, let me know what I can do to help. I’ve contacted IFI with the following message:

    To whom it may concern,

    One of the stated goals of the IFI is to “safeguard and advance public morality consistent with Biblical Christianity.” Laurie Higgins decision to contact via e-mail Mehta’s boss, administrators, and school board without first going to him one on one does not seem to reflect the Biblical values expressed by Jesus recorded in Matthew 18 where he recommends first going one-on-one to someone who offends you before involving more people. Higgins’ failure to go to Mehta one-on-one would seem to be different from the principle Jesus described in that passage, and thus seems to be a failure to “advance public morality consistent with Biblical Christianity.”

    I am an Illinois pastor, and am very interested in following Jesus and helping others to do the same. Hemant Mehta is a personal friend, and as his friend, it is disappointing to see someone treat him in this fashion while claiming to be motivated by a love for “Biblical Christianity.” Jesus himself did not take similiar action and specifically taught a different way to deal with conflict. Please make the appropriate changes and apologies. I have many friends who are your friends (i.e. Christians and pastors in Illinois) … I would like to not mess with IFI’s relationship with those friends … please don’t mess with my friends like Hemant. Apologize to the man, request an apology for his comment about Higgins’ house, stop messing with his job, and let’s all move on. Thank you.

    Keep me posted on what – if anything – further I can do. The e-mail tries to use language IFI would understand … it’s important to me that you know that the discrimination against atheists shown through this and other events bothers me personally. Unfortunately, the folks at IFI are probably not interested in being generous to atheists. They are interested in being good Biblical Christians. And I’m just trying to show them that whatever being a good Biblical Christian means, a big part of it is following Jesus. And you can’t follow Jesus without being generous toward those not like you. Thus, I want IFI to leave your job alone, because they understand that how they treat you is actually a really big part of them accomplishing their goal of Biblical Christian morality. And if they really start trying to follow Jesus, hopefully they’ll find that not only does Jesus call His disciples to not actively try to destroy others, but to actually stand alongside the mistreated … motivated by a courageous unconditional love. That’s what I believe He did for me. Hope that makes sense … and I hope the e-mail helps. Good luck.

  • KeithLM

    Hemmat I think you just need to approach this in the most positive way. If you work with what she’s written you can get the following:

    “Mr. Mehta…is a role model and … particularly a charismatic teacher” – Laurie Higgins, Director of the Illinois Family Institute

    That’ll be a nice blurb on your next book. 🙂

  • Carlie

    Interesting how she’s trying to stir up resistance in a school district she has nothing to do with, where no students, parents, other teachers, or administrators have expressed any bit of concern. I hope the administrators told her to kindly keep her nose in her own business.

  • Siamang

    Great message, (Pastor) Keith.

    I think you hit the point of the matter.

    It wasn’t the fact that Hemant is for gay rights that was at issue here. There are a good number of Christians who are for gay rights. There are gay Christians, for that matter.

    It wasn’t the fact that he blogged about it.

    It wasn’t the fact that he said he’d like people to protest Higgins.

    Nor is it that he brought any of this into the classroom… he didn’t and Higgins doesn’t even claim he did.

    If a Christian had blogged the exact same thing, the IFI wouldn’t have done anything. They know they couldn’t possibly have had any traction. But they know they can raise the “atheist” bogeyman.

    It was that Hemant has committed the high crime of being an atheist at the same time as he is employed as a teacher.


  • J B Tait

    You have inflicted your belief on your students if you expect them to believe that
    pi does not equal 3 (exactly) as the Bible tells us. Though I suppose the passage could have meant it as 3 to one significant digit, in which case the messy number isn’t a contradiction, just evidence that God wasn’t very tidy with the laws governing space when it came to making circles.
    I wonder why your praying student doesn’t recognize that her God has already answered her prayers. He provided an enthusiastic, educated, and supportive teacher, a community of people who provided a school building, text books, free schooling, appropriate school supplies, enough time free of scrabbling for necessities to do her homework, and the opportunity to repeat the class. What more could she want from Him?
    Sounds pretty generous to me.

  • Neil Polzin

    Hemant, it is obvious atheism comes into play here. After all you could be fired from being a lifeguard and teaching boys to swim for being an atheist, and math is the rea

  • Neil Polzin

    Hemant, it is obvious atheism comes into play here. After all you could be fired from being a lifeguard and teaching boys to swim for being an atheist, and math is the reason incarnate. If anyone is driving secularization and enabling science in this country it is surely math, and math teachers.

    Wouldn’t a teacher wearing a cross in the classroom ‘bring’ her personal beliefs into the classroom? Perhaps not wearing a cross is enough for them to consider you spreading atheism.

  • Catherine

    It always worries me when I run into straight people who spend more time thinking about homosexuality than gay people do.

    Look at it this way, if the ‘family values’ crowd is pissed at you, you are probably doing something right 🙂

  • I have had similar run-ins with people. I had commented on someone’s blog, and then they went and looked my blog up, deemed me as being “anti-mormon,” and went on about how they would tell my school, employer, etc., about my “bigotry” against Mormons.

  • Tom

    Thanks for the support pastor Keith. It says a lot if a Christian backs up an atheist. Hemant will feel better for it I’m sure.

    There is some advantage to using this conflict to advance our quest for more respect in this country. There is benefit, too, from ignoring some of it. So far it looks like you are being wise about it.

    Hope you somehow get many more books sold!

  • As if Laurie Higgins and IFI has room to talk:

    remember they used to harbour one of the nation’s biggest perverts – Peter LaBarbera.

    Babs stored his treasure trove of self-made gay pornography, gay magazines and leatherman equipment in his IFI office, where he also tried to seduce an “ex-gay” (who quickly turned around and became “ex-ex-gay”).

    I’d say most people would trust their children around a pro-gay Atheist before they would allow their kids to be around lunatics with uber-questionable morals as those people associated with IFI.

  • Jason

    Must be taking a page from Bill Donohue’s “The Art of War”.

  • CatBallou

    Heh heh.
    She said “tutelage.”

  • Absolutely thrilled to hear that the admins at your school ignored her silliness – I’ll be heading off to college next fall to study Biology and Secondary Education and I’ve been more than a tad worried that my personal views might not bode well for my professional employment as a Biology teacher.

    Keep up the good work. *smiles*

  • There’s a reason the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated them a Hate Group.

  • Thanks for fighting! Keep it up. You’re abviously being heard that’s why you’re seeing backlash! Take their negative feedback as a compliment. Conservative fear of difference is being threatened and change is happening!

  • flawedprefect

    I found it encouraging and inspiring that your work colleagues, superiors, and everyone she sent her email to, support your skill as a teacher. This is a win over her lunacy. Kudos to you, Mr Mehta!

  • Pastor Keith: Thank you for weighing in and giving us a reminder that there are plenty of Christians who aren’t hateful like the IFI. When I see some of the stuff that happens due to fundamentalist religion I sometimes forget that there are plenty of decent people who believe in God. I may disagree with you on that but I care more about whether someone is a good person than whether they agree with me on the existence of a deity.

  • Greetings,

    I read your post this afternoon and did a little research on Laurie Higgens and the Illinois Family Institute.

    This afternoon I wrote my own column about the episode and the disreputable organization.

    Follow the link to have a look.

    Peace, and keep up the good work.


    I did remember to plug your book!

  • I am curious, what happens if one of your students finds your blog and then wants to talk to you about it? What would you say if it is a child from a religious family that is questioning their own views? What if it is a religious child that feels offended by what you have written?

    I tell the students that I don’t discuss the website at school, effectively shutting down conversation. That includes people for or against what I write.

    If someone gets offended… well, again, it has no bearing in the classroom, so I’m not sure why that matters. I’ve had plenty of teachers whose Christian beliefs were offensive to me in certain ways. But they never made an issue about them in class, so it never mattered.

    What’s the side story with the guy from the school board?

    It’s not the issue at hand, so I’m not commenting on it. Hope you understand.

  • Jim

    I wonder how many students she just turned onto your blog. I’m pretty sure the adage holds true that, ‘any publicity is good publicity.’

    I’m curious though – has any of your students brought up questions about your personal views in the classroom, particularly the ones you write about here on Friendly Atheist? edit: nevermind, looks like you just answered that question.

  • I’m curious though – has any of your students brought up questions about your personal views in the classroom, particularly the ones you write about here on Friendly Atheist?

    Some have, but like I said, I don’t discuss this site in school so the conversation is shut down. They understand why I do that and it hasn’t been an issue.

  • I would suspect that as long as yo do not teach that imaginary numbers are real you shouldn’t have a problem.

  • REX


    You know as well as anyone that these actions are motivated by fear and a closed mind. They know that in the days ahead, they will have less and less influence, and it scares them senseless to imagine a world where there view does not hold sway. I think deep down, they know that if they were in the minority, trying to make their case for their worldview to have a greater influence, they would be laughed at and dismissed as having nothing to add to an intellectual discussion.

    They see those days coming when logic and reason will carry the day always, and their fiefdoms will come to an end with no possibility for a return.

    So sorry that you have to experience this kind of ugliness in a personal and professional way, but as others have said, articulate advocates such as yourself become lightning rods.

    Keep up the good work. logic and reason WILL eventually carry the day.

  • medussa

    Pastor Keith, really good to hear your voice on this. I am so fed up with the liberties taken by zealous christians in the name of their beliefs, I tend to forget that when I am in the company of reasonable, adult, respectful people who call themselves christians, I have no beef with them at all, even when I disagree with them on issues (which is frequently the case)…
    The reminder is timely: I’ll be spending the weekend with my relatives, celebrating a cousin’s wedding, and they are one and all evangelical christians (with a few mormons thrown in), and all are basically good people.

    So, again, thanks.

  • Justin

    Hi Hemant,

    I’ve read your blog post and the institute’s press release, and as a Christian, I’m disgusted by the suggestion that you’re unfit to teach students because you’re an atheist. If Laurie Higgins had a problem with your comment, she should have contacted you, not your colleagues. Even Jesus directly confronted his critics.

    Many Christians might not care about what happens with this, but you and I don’t need to agree on most things (or anything at all) for me to regret that this happened. As long as a teacher isn’t using their classroom as a pulpit, their faith or lack thereof shouldn’t be an issue, even if that teacher happens to share my most treasured beliefs.

    Again, I’m sorry this happened to you, and I hope this doesn’t go further (and am glad that your colleagues are with you in case it does). I’m formulating an e-mail to the IFI to share some of these same thoughts.

  • Justin and Pastor Keith — Thanks very much for your support, especially, as it might mean more to IFI coming from other Christians. I appreciate it.

  • Wow, unbelievable. As always you’ve handled things with tremendous reason and class. Kudos to you, Hemant.

  • thilina

    How Christ like of Laurie Higgins (worst part – she wouldn’t even take this as sarcasm).

    Attempting to get a teacher (who has nothing to do with your kids or your entire family) fired for disagreeing with your bigoted rantings on a personal (in no way connected with business) matter. You really are the perfect roll model.

    Hemant, congratulations on making the big stage of atheism and being compared to the anti-Christ. btw if this keeps up you have more than enough for a harassment lawsuit.

  • Chal

    When the fundies are out for blood, you know you’ve done something right. 😛

  • Ken Loukinen

    I couldn’t stop myself from sending this e-mail to IFI;

    “I notice that your site is particularly interested in homosexuality and banning the practice. Recent news (last 6-7 years) have repeatedly shown that those who are the loudest opponents on the subject seem to be the ones caught in airport men’s rooms on their knees or snorting crystal meth of the cocks of gay prostitutes. It makes me wonder when I will be reading about you in the papers.”

  • Dan W

    So, you’ve never tried to spread atheism in the classroom, Hemant, but Ms. Higgins still wants people to stop letting you teach their kids, because… um, well probably because she’s a bigoted religious zealot, but she’s trying futilely to come up with a reason why parents shouldn’t let you teach their kids so she doesn’t sound like the bigoted loon that she is. How pathetic on Ms. Higgin’s part.

  • Siamang

    I couldn’t stop myself from sending this e-mail to IFI;

    “…snorting crystal meth of the cocks of gay prostitutes…”

    Next time try harder.

    You know, we’re trying to come of as the reasonable and level-headed ones here. Leave the shrill shrieking to the IFI and their crew.

    You’re giving them exactly what they want.

  • Hat

    It’s unfortunate that people get to letting their fears and pre-existing stipulations (and personal convictions) control what they do and how they view other people.

    What surprises me and saddens me the most is when people who call themselves Christians behave like that- as if Jesus wouldn’t sit down and hang out with gays, drunks, prostitutes, your average Joe, etc. etc., which he did actually do. And I think he still would if he were walking around.

  • Anticontrame

    I couldn’t stop myself from sending this e-mail to IFI…

    If that doesn’t show them the error of their ways, I don’t know what will. 😐

  • Keith (the pastor)


    Siamang’s advice was good. I know Mike Jones (who’s cock you referred to), and he reads this blog from time to time. The whole Ted Haggard thing was damaging for him, and it’ll be cool if we don’t use him as a punchline. Thanks.

    And btw, I know you were being funny and snarky … and that Haggard was the target, not Mike … it’s cool and no hard feelings. Just wanted you to know for next time around so it doesn’t happen again. You would have done the same for me if the situation was reversed. Thanks!

  • Seriously? It’s come to this?!? You have GOT to be kidding me.

    Seriously. Can we pull an Israel and go claim a chunk of land somewhere to form our own little nation? Because I seriously don’t want to live in one where this kind of childish attention-whoring and whining is going to go on in such a public arena.

    I have a nearly-two year old son. If this is what Public Schools look like these days (during my time Religion just wasn’t talked about outside of History), my boy will never set foot in one. It’s just not worth it.

    Hemant, what you do in the classroom is outstanding work. In reality – where this woman is not from – good teachers are very hard to find. And math isn’t really the most pleasant subject to learn, honestly. Geek though I am, math wasn’t a favorite. Kudos unto thee (aha!) for doing one of the really hard jobs, and doing it well!

  • Hey Hemant. Mega-dittoes, j/k, I hate it when they do that. I don’t why anyone would think that being a teacher should prevent a person from speaking out about issues that matter to him or her. I think too many teachers err in the opposite manner – they are so afraid of losing their jobs that they hesitate to express any opinion, no matter how firmly they believe in it. Kudos to your school for being supportive and tolerant.

  • shepherd

    This is a blog, by definition a opinion and guess what atheists and Christians have them. The fact that you have kept your opinion out of the class room is all that matters here, and I’m proud of you for that. I refuse to call myself a Christian because of what Christianity has become. Weird how Jesus died fighting against a hateful and dogmatic religion only to have his own followers quickly become the same. I believe in God and Christ (sorry atheists, you may now begin shunning me) but unfortunately the inmates have taken over the asylum where American Christianity is concerned.

  • TXatheist

    Shawn, thanks for clarifying 🙂

  • mike

    Hemant, looks like they posted another article. This time, a SHOCKING EXPOSE about the math teacher District 204 doesn’t want you to know about!!!

    Let me summarize:

    * Hemant said that hate speech is hate speech whether it’s from the Bible or not. Gasp!

    * Some other guy on the site posted once about polyamory.

    Although Mr. Mehta did not write this blog entry, he posted it on his blog, so one can reasonably assume–as his students might–that he endorses the ideas expressed by his regular contributor.

    Um, what?

    * Hemant posted a link to Dan Savage, who as we all know, is ABHORRENT!!!

    The real kicker is the ending:

    But those parents who are troublied [sic] by the ideas Mr. Mehta expresses, posts on his blog, and endorses, and who recognize that their teens may be predisposed to look favorably on his ideas merely because they like him, may want to ensure their teens have another math teacher.
    It’s all about diversity and choice.

    Yes, every one of my child’s teachers must be ideologically lockstep with me. That’s diversity right there.

    “Diversity and choice”? IFI, u r doin it rong!

    PS: You’ve also been upgraded from “charismatic” to “iconoclastic”! Nice!

  • Geekoid

    What did you expect? I mean after all us nasty atheists went and tried to change pi from 3.14… to the biblicaly approved 3.

    Wait, that wasn’t us. Who was that again?

  • It seems that the rants on the IFI website about Hemant are all focused on him putting (or allowing) posts on his blog concerning alternative lifestyles (gay, lesbian, polyamorous) along with some posts that criticize religious hate speech.

    The thing I find curious is why some people find it so threatening if other people have different lifestyles or definitions of the family unit. Personally, I’m fairly traditional in my own family, (married with two kids, two dogs) but I in no way think that my own family is in any way affected or threatened if other people have alternative family definitions. Perhaps I have a well developed sense of right and wrong where some in the religious community are going through a foundational crisis with a perception that their “bible-derived morality” is under threats from all quarters. They should learn to think for themselves.

  • Brian

    Hi Friendly Atheist!

    I read your story on Richard Dawkins forums and just wanted to pop in and say keep your chin up.

    There are plenty of atheists in foxholes. 🙂

  • If push comes to shove, please relay to my above post about IFI’s association with Peter LaBarbera, who they still have close ties with.

    IFI was paying this guy to play leatherman “dress-up”, so he could photograph men having sex (without their permission) in private adult sex clubs, and would then distribute his pornography. Peter has since went solo, but he’s still so appalled by homosex that he has to go back and film it every year.

    IFI can’t claim any moral high ground when they have no morals in the first place. They’re really nothing more than undercover pornographers.

  • I personally hope that his local atheists’ community gets together and performs an aggressive defense campaign. I’d recommend they draft up a letter, get it signed by the other teachers, principal, and parents of students in his class.

    Then write both the school administration, the local paper, and the fundamentalist group about the bigotry being employed against a member of the community who has done nothing wrong, except defend and expound upon their religious beliefs (or non-beliefs, in this case) outside of the school environment.

    The group has to be publicly shamed, and only by sticking together and standing up for other atheists are we going to have any progress against fundamentalists who want to take this country away from their secular roots.

  • Dear IFI, what difference does it make to your life or afterlife if I don’t believe what you do?

    I haven’t been able to get an answer to that one from any fundamentalist in the last 30 years that I’ve been asking it.

  • Richard Wade

    The day you got the teaching job I thought that this would eventually happen. I’m only surprised that it took this long.

    When you announced that you had become a high school math teacher, I didn’t say anything about it, but I started setting aside a little money at a time for your legal defense, to fight some fundie’s attempt to take your job.

    It’s up to $1,000 now.

    I’m not rich, but I know what is important. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but just in case that is an annoying concern in the back of your mind, I want you to know that I have your back, and I’m sure there are many people who will join in supporting you with more than words if it comes to a real fight.

    Stay strong, stay calm, and keep telling the truth as you see it. Your integrity has made a huge positive difference in my life. Thank you. I am in your debt.

  • Hemant,

    If it ever comes to litigation, you can count on me for about $300. I’m sure you have quite a few readers who could chip in. Not everybody is a starving student.


  • Keith (the pastor)


    Laurie Higgins and I have engaged in a lengthy set of e-mail conversations over the last 24 hours. She doesn’t feel that she has done anything wrong, but has committed to reconsider and pray about it. Wish I could report an apology for speaking with Hemant’s bosses … but that one may be a long time coming. If I was as persuasive as I think I was, she should limit her opinions on Hemant to her blog, and stay out of his workplace. If this goes any further … I’m willing to help in whatever way you would like, Hemant.

    Through many conversations, Laurie was unable to point to a time when Jesus did anything to someone with different beliefs that remotely resembles what she did to Hemant … despite my repeated requests for such an example. It is important to me that you guys know that Jesus didn’t do this kind of thing. If I could apologize for the actions of another person, I would. Thanks.

  • Richard Wade

    Thank you Keith, I count you as my friend as much as I count Hemant as my friend, and for the same reasons: your integrity, courage and compassion.

  • I’m sorry to hear about you being targeted for religious persecution. A silver lining in this, is that the attention brought me back to your site, and after reading your reasoned view, I think I’ll go buy your book.
    No publicity is bad publicity.
    You still hold the moral upper hand, and instances like this will continue to prove it.
    Just maintain a calm reasoned perspective, and you’ll make your point best.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Denny


    Thanks for the heads up. If my children are scheduled to be lead by Hemant, I will choose to have them removed from his influence – indirect and direct.

    It takes courage, strength and wisdom to call Hemant on the carpet. The atheists want to have you for lunch. Blessed are the persecuted. Be steadfast.

    In Christ.

  • By all written accounts (generations after he lived) Jesus was an all-around nice guy that preached tolerance and pointed out the hypocrisies of the prevailing religious orders. Kind of like Hemant… If Jesus were alive today and was a math teacher and had his own blog outside of the classroom, I wouldn’t be surprised if a certain someone would try to get him fired for preaching tolerance and speaking out against the current prevailing religious orders.

  • The difference between a Christian and a religious fundamentalist.

    A religious fundamentalist will stand outside of a bar, wearing a sandwich sign and using a megaphone to harangue the bar patrons about the evils of sin.

    A Christian will go into the bar, order a beer, make friends, and get into an interesting discussion about how to live a better life.

    Huh… the second scenario would seem to apply to all good and moral people.

  • Tracey

    And yet, if I wanted a math teacher fired because he goes to church on Sunday, on his own time, because I don’t want my children exposed to someone who obviously espouses Christian beliefs, this Laurie Higgins person would be screaming to the sky about people repressing Christians and daring the ACLU to do anything about it.

  • Siamang

    Of everyone here, I commend Keith for taking actions himself, and of making some progress.

    Thanks, Keith.

  • Am I Evil?

    Romantic or sexual kissing between two consenting adults who are in love and who are closely related by blood is both obscene and inappropriate despite the protestations of defenders of incest to the contrary.

    Funny, there’s this part of the bible that tells of blatant incestuous behaviour; Genesis 19:32-36. Only after that do the prohibitions occur. Inerrant?

  • Lee Clark


    I read about this religious, bigoted nonsense on Facebook in the UK today, and I just wanted to pop in and show my support to a fellow atheist.



  • Richard Wade

    The only influence, direct or indirect that your children would receive from Hemant is the same influence that he has so far given all of his students: A better understanding of math, and an attitude of professional integrity toward his job. If you take your kids out of his class, they will be deprived of that and nothing more.

    If you were a good math teacher, and you always kept your Christianity separate from your work with your students, always keeping your agreements and remaining completely professional, would it be the right thing to do for someone to take their kid out of your class just because on your own time you practice your religion? That is the kind of unfair and shameful thing that you are proposing.

    Denny, you are surrounded by atheists but you don’t know it because they keep that out of their work just as Hemant does. If you want to “protect” yourself and your children from all the things that atheists are doing for you, then you’ll have to avoid most doctors, stop taking almost all medicines and stop using almost all technology.

    The “influence” that atheists all around you have had on you is a longer and healthier life, better food, better shelter, better prediction of the weather, and technology that you now cannot live without. Give all that up before you take your kids out of Hemant’s class.

    If you’re actually “In Christ,” then your behavior should resemble Jesus’ behavior. He did not treat people the way Laurie Higgins is and the way you are planning. Aspire to be like Christ, don’t just use His name to pretend to piety.

  • Aj

    Be afraid, be very afraid. If you don’t believe in the existence of evil, then you have a lot to learn.

  • Richard Wade

    I’m honored to see that Laurie Higgins has used one of my posts as an example of the vile and dangerous ideas that Hemant supports, like working constructively with religious people, treating others with respect and tolerance, and other such radical, EVIL ideas.

    Just like several commenters on my post, she misses the point, thinking that the issue is polyamory. No, no, it’s about patience and respect. Blinded by her bigotry, she misses an opportunity for better understanding and positive interaction with people she hates who have done her no harm.

    She truncated my response, interestingly omitting a couple of parts where I appealed for the best of behaviors from everyone, to set aside prejudice in favor of love. I guess that is a foreign concept to Laurie Higgins.

  • Aj


    Unfortunately, from middle school through college, many students are more influenced by emotion and personality than by rigorous analysis of arguments. Students–and often even adults–are unduly influenced by characteristics wholly disconnected from reason. Students are often unduly influenced by teachers who they find hip or funny or kind or charismatic or good-looking or iconoclastic or anti-authority or anti-tradition or anti-establishment, which is why role models are so critical during children’s formative years.

    WTF highlighted in bold. Coming from a member of a religion that sprung out of a personality cult, where the word “love” is repeated over and over again, that’s fucking rich. Characteristics that are wholly disconnected from reason: authority, tradition, and establishment. By the very nature of religion *ALL* religious people are more influenced by something wholly disconnected from reason and not influenced by rigorous analysis of arguments. I haven’t seen so much irrationalism and hypocrisy since the last time The Daily Show compiled clips of Fox News.

  • Rest

    My goodness, what a mean-spirited, vindictive person! I’m baffled that someone would do something like that.

  • Tim Pratt

    Hemant I want to thank you for speaking out about being an athiest and your blog. It has helped me come to terms with my own beliefs, or lack thereof. People like Higgins are so fearful that the invisible sky fairy will smite her with all of the rapid changes taking place that they need to feel in control by doing amazingly stupid things! We cant hate brown people, jews or catholics any more, but shure as shoot we can hate the atheists! I would say the Hell with her, but I don’t believe in it, lol!

  • Just Amazed

    You have already won the argument. It is well known that when someone doesn’t have facts to back up their argument, they start in with the personal insults.

    Friendly Atheist :1, IFI :0

    Game over

  • Keep up the good work – congratulations to your employers for supporting your rights.

    I like Dawkin’s point that we should not try to produce “Christian Children” and neither should we be be producing Atheist children – children should just get on with being children.

    My boys go to a Church of England primary school where they are being gently indoctrinated (it is an excellent school). However when they come home their education continues and we talk about god, Batman and Santa.

    He’s only 5 but he gets it already:

    Alf: “Daddy, do you know who created the world and all the animals?”
    Me: “No Alfie, I don’t. Do you?”
    Alf: “God created the world and everything”
    Me: “Really!? Who created God?”
    Alf: “Hmmm . . . The church?”

    Don’t be scared by religion or religious types. They are wrong and, if I remember rightly, their IQ is lower than average. One day the human race will outgrow the need for religion.

  • Jonathan

    Thanks for taking a stand against these discriminatory groups which are attempting to stomp on your right to believe or not believe as you choose. People like yourself are helping us keep the freedoms that we are afforded in the constitution. Keep up the great work! 🙂 I just wanted to give you my support.

  • atheist

    She makes it sound like I teach children that 1 + 1 = 2, homosexuality should be mandatory, a2 + b2 = c2, and that God is imaginary.

    Actually, this is something useful to note about people like Laurie Higgins. A bit of a window into how they think. They seem to assume that others have as much of a one-track mind as they do.

    The fact that she says “Mehta’s mission in life is to spread the gospel of atheism to students across the country” suggests that she is projecting. It is not your personal mission to envangelize for atheism– you’re just the freindly atheist. It is, however, her mission to evangelize for Christianity, and moreover for a very specific version of Chrisitianity. She assumes that you think like she does.

    Socialcons often seem to have this kind of blind spot in viewing others, and especially politically active people like you. They want to feel very tightly tied into society, and don’t quite understand those who do not want that.

  • Denny

    Stop demonizing Higgins. Remember, Higgins was advising parents in her writings – thanks again; Mehta became affronting when he suggested action of the event in front of her house.

    Higgins doesn’t hate people, possible things but not people. She also didn’t ask for Mehta’s resignation or termination. The atheists would like us all to rationally think this because it would serve to justify their obvious hatred towards Higgins and her efforts.

    Higgins’ point was to shed light to parents – thank you very much – and to enlighten administration of facts they may not be aware of since they are ultimately in charge of hiring educators. Ironically, Metzger is the wrong adult to appeal to since he also is a poor role model who finds it acceptable to refer to a concerned father in email correspondence as a m***** f***er! You are like the company you keep.

    Even though both remain unrepentant, I forgive metzger and mehta for their poor conduct BUT that doesn’t mean I trust them to influence my children.

    The book of proverbs teaches parents to “guard our minds and hearts”, to watch our hearts with all diligence because everything in life comes out of it. Out of it comes your conduct. We must keep the right stuff going in and the wrong stuff out. This basically means that parents have an obligation and discipline to protect our formidable children from what they are exposed to. Guard the mind for out of it comes your conduct. If one does not guard their mind, evil will gladly teach it to have an “open” mind.

    As a parent, I thank Higgins for her courage and wisdom to call Mehta on the carpet.

  • Denny, I must say you are doing a superb job of ignoring the facts in this case.

  • Denny

    admittedly, you are the self described defiant and skeptic one … . .

  • I think it’s funny how she keeps talking about you as a role model. I think standing up for what one believes in passionately is precisely the kind of role model everyone should be able to agree about. But I guess courage isn’t approved of these days.

  • Horse shit, Denny.

    Like all other “non-profit christians”, Laurie is just using this drama to beg for donations like the panhandling pornographer she is. Peter LaBarbera does the same thing.

    If she wants some drama, she’ll get it – lots of us here have YouTube channels and blogs, and we’ll bring some unwanted attention to IFI, if that’s what she wants. Two can play the attack bulldog game, if IFI REALLY wants to go there.

  • Has anyone ever nominated you for a teaching award?

    Is it within our power to make this happen? We should make this happen.

    admittedly, you are the self described defiant and skeptic one

    Yep, I am. Is that a problem? If you have an issue with my defense of Hemant, take it up with me on my blog. All discussion is welcome no matter how stupid it is.

  • Denny

    I wouldn’t think of giving your blog site the airtime you wish to have.

    For the record, from Ms. Higgins:

    “Open Letter to Hemant Mehta

    8/21/2009 11:00:00 AM
    By Laurie Higgins, Director of IFI’s DSA -Illinois Family Institute

    Dear Mr. Mehta,

    You wrote, “The Illinois Family Institute’s Laurie Higgins is going after me (and my job) again.”

    I have never in any context suggested that you should be fired or that you should resign. In fact, I don’t believe the school has any legal right to fire you. You should have fact-checked before you posted that inaccurate statement.

    In addition, I have repeatedly stated that you have a First Amendment right to make whatever public statements you want on any topic. I have also made it abundantly clear that my goal is to provide information to District 204 parents–particularly IFI readers-about the nature of the ideas you express and endorse on your public blog so that they can make informed decisions as to whether they want their children to spend a school year under your tutelage.

    In my first brief email to your administrators and school board, I did not, as one of your blog commenters suggested, call for you to be fired. I notified them that you made the public, vindictive, irresponsible, and unprofessional suggestion that the Kiss-In would be even better if it took place in front of my home.

    You fail to acknowledge a central point that I addressed in my two articles, which is that many teens are unduly influenced by emotion or the cult of personality and are therefore predisposed to look favorably on the ideas of teachers whom they find cool or charismatic or funny or kind or iconoclastic.

    If students search your name and come upon your blog, they will be exposed to your endorsement and promotion of ideas that some parents may find deeply troubling. If students have you as their teacher, like you, and develop a relationship with you–as happens often in high school–they will be more likely to look favorably on and be influenced by your ideas than those students who have little or no personal connection to you. This is the reason that many parents care deeply about role models.

    It’s the reason there were some recent stories about parents being upset that a high school cheerleading coach posed in her private life for Playboy magazine, and why some parents would not want their children in the class of a teacher who in their free time on a public forum promotes racist views or denies the historicity of the Holocaust.

    It’s probably the same reason that three years ago a well-known homosexual blogger informed my former superintendent that I had been interviewed on Moody Radio on the topic of homosexuality. During my last three years at Deerfield High School, there were more than a few supporters of the normalization of homosexuality who wrote publicly and contacted my administration about what they believed was my unfitness as a role model for students–and I worked in the writing center where I had no classes.

    In my second article about you, I concluded by saying that some parents may not view teachers as potentially influential role models for their children, and therefore those parents will be fine with you as their children’s teacher.

    I said that other parents may believe that teachers are potential influences but agree with your public promotion of polyamory, homosexuality, and the non-existence of God, in which case they may love for you to become a role model in their children’s lives.

    But other parents, perhaps some Jewish, Muslim, or Christian parents, may have concerns about the adults with whom their children spend time, develop relationships, and who may potentially influence their children and may also have significant disagreement with the ideas you promote on your public blog. Those parents are entitled to sufficient information to make informed choices about the very public activities of their children’s teachers–something that for some odd reason seems to offend you.

    Mr. Mehta, this is at least the second time that you have made inaccurate statements about me without evidence (the first was in your blog entry following your attendance at my presentation at Wheaton Bible Church). If you cannot produce one piece of evidence from my writing to support your claim that I am “going after” your job, then please retract that statement.”

    Pretty rational and fair stuff, don’t you think?

  • If an Atheist started going after a teacher who happened to be a fundamentalist “christian”, that person would have already been on Fox News, garnering up sympathy, begging for donations and trying to be the next talking head for the channel (think Carrie Prejean and her fake hooters, or any other lunatic screaming “persecution against christians!!!”).

    We can whip our people into a frenzy also, and it’s safe to say IFI, Laurie Higgins and Peter LaBarbera wouldn’t stand a chance – if they honestly want to go there.

  • Siamang


    You should get your stories straight, between you and her:

    You quoting Higgins:

    I have never in any context suggested that you should be fired or that you should resign. In fact, I don’t believe the school has any legal right to fire you. You should have fact-checked before you posted that inaccurate statement.


    Higgins’ point was to shed light to parents – thank you very much – and to enlighten administration of facts they may not be aware of since they are ultimately in charge of hiring educators.

    Which is it, Denny?

    Come on, do you think we’re stupid?

  • Denny

    Carrie Prejean is a heroine. She’s the hollywood nighmare that atheists and homosexuals deserve to fight and lose to. She’s educated, articulate and beautiful – internally and externally.

    I’m glad she’s found her calling in life and is making a financial success from it.
    I thank God for Carrie Prejean and Laurie Higgins stepping forward.

    “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

  • Heidi

    She’s educated, articulate and beautiful

    Holy crap you have low standards.

    Also, she should have declined to answer the question on the grounds that Perez Hilton had no business asking it in the first place.

  • If Carrie Prejean’s so beautiful on the outside, why did she commit the deadly sin of vanity?

    You can’t be too beautiful on the outside if you can’t be happy with what the good lord gave you.

    In other words, Carrie Prejean spits in God’s face and defiantly says “I’ll make myself into my OWN creation – fuck you God, you didn’t do it right in the first place! WHERE’S THE TITTIES???”

  • Margy

    If Ms. Higgins is not going after Hemant’s job, as she claims, then why did she contact his employer? Does she honestly think she knows more about Hemant than the people for whom he works, the people who interact with him every day, and the people who sign his paychecks?

    Before going over, under, and around Hemant, Ms. Higgins could have endeavored to meet and talk with him. It is easy enough to correspond with Hemant; I have sent several e-mails to his personal address and he has always sent a timely response.

    Ms. Higgins is lying to herself–and to us–if she thinks that clandestinely contacting a person’s employer is not the same as going after his job. I live in the real world, and if she or anyone else contacted my employer about me without discussing the perceived problem with me first, I would consider it a hit job.

    Count me in if Hemant needs contributions to a legal defense fund.

  • Denny

    scott, you sound like a heavily tattooed & pierced, unloved, constipated potty mouth. I suggest you get help.


  • Siamang


    You’ve chimed in twice since I asked my question.

    Once just to call someone names. I realized he called other people names first, but I can see, Christian that you are, turning the other cheek doesn’t work for you.

    So my question again:

    You said specifically that Hemant’s superiors were contacted “since they are ultimately in charge of hiring educators“.

    But you also quoted Higgins saying that she wasn’t trying to get them to fire Hemant.

    So my question to you is, how stupid do you think we are?

  • LOL!

    Nope, Denny!

    Not a single tattoo and not a single piercing. Unlike Carrie Prejean, I don’t need anything added that I haven’t got.

  • el frog

    Guys, Denny is a troll – ignore Denny and Denny will go away.

  • Denny

    Siamang: yes VERY! Turning a cheek is the goal but you justify an exception.

    scott: you lie like a rug. . . .and you also need to wash your potty mouth out with clorox. Our Creator didn’t give you a foul mouth. This you added.

    el frog: eat a cricket.

  • Siamang

    Guys, Denny is a troll

    A troll yes. But one very useful in showing what a poor example he makes for religionists.

    Let him have freedom here to show himself as a poor example. We owe him and Higgins and their ilk a debt of gratitude. They make more people better consider atheism every time they open their mouths.

  • “Scott: you lie like a rug. . . .and you also need to wash your potty mouth out with clorox. Our Creator didn’t give you a foul mouth. This you added.”

    Unlike Carrie Prejean’s fake titties, I didn’t need a quack to slice open my mouth and add silicone knockers.

    I picked up the foul language from being around “christians”.

  • Angie

    Hey Denny,

    Stop bringing up “concerned parents.” Most parents do not care about the religious views of their child’s teacher. Then again, as an agnostic myself, I’d love my kids to be in Mehta’s class, rather than have to deal with God being shoved down her throat all the time, which has already happened.(I haven’t complained, but then again, I don’t shelter her from different points of view. I just wish her teacher wouldn’t discuss her views in a public school classroom.)Give it a rest. You do not speak for all parents.

  • Ken Loukinen

    Keith (the pastor)

    I’m quite glad that your buddy Mike has a rather common last name, seeing that you were compassionate enough to share with or remind people of it also. I wouldn’t have remembered his name or face, nor do I think I will tomorrow, I admire that he exposed a great and influential hypocrisy. I would also hope he wouldn’t be offended by people remembering the act while staying personally anonymous, unless one of his friends try to “protect” him.

    Other than wishing I would have fixed typos, I stand by the letter. It was crude but true. I may have embellished on Haggard’s meth delivery system, but that is irrelevant to the truth in the hypocrisy . And that is the “pointy” point of the letter, recalling two of MANY examples of this kind of bigotry and intolerance.

  • Jerry Vinokurov

    Hey Hemant,

    I met you briefly at the Chicago Open tournament; I had not realized you were a minor celebrity in Illinois. I just wanted to let you know that you’re doing great stuff and I hope this whole thing blows over without any problems for you.


  • Jeff

    It’s more proof that Christians don’t actually believe the stuff they espouse.

    Love your enemies? Does “love” entail a mass email campaign to defame and discredit? there’s always a ‘good reason’ too, in this case, it’s to “save the children!”.

    Just simply “love your enemies”, Laurie. Are you a Christian? No, you’re a fundamentalist Christian more focused on your anger, as all fundamentalists are, than on love and kindness. Sad when atheists must remind you what your own lord said.

  • Kyle

    Wow, I’m amazed someone would go to such lengths in attempt to make your life miserable. As far as even contacting your workspace!

    I don’t see how your teaching math spreads atheism, especially being a role model. No body is going to make a portfolio of everything you do in life and follow them. All they’re going to see is that you’re a math teacher that hands out work that they (probably) don’t want to do.

    As much as I would like to remain respectful of Higgin’s belief, it purely disgusts me the way he is acting toward you.

    You, sir, are a hero in my books.

  • Michel Draga

    I have a saying “Most Christians Aren’t”
    Need I say more?

  • Joe Grenon

    I think if I had kids, i would agree with Higgins. I would absolutely not want any of my children’s role models propagating any sort of gospel or sexual agenda that might have any influence over them. Those teacher’s would have a right to free speech of course, and could blog all they want, but if they actually believed anything I found objectionable and exposed my children to it, then those teachers would have to go.

    So that means any teacher who believes in any god of any kind and has ever admitted it to any one has to go.

    I think it would mean that any teacher who had kids who h ave to go too, because that would mean that teacher is guilty of having sex. We just can’t expose our children to that sort of thing.

    If children know any thing about sex, they are going to want it too, therefor all parents who have children and allow them to live with them, are unfit. Only people who never have sex and never kiss should be allowed to have children or teach school. So only nuns and priests should should run all of the orphanages where all the children would have to stay. Teaching could be done by robots.

  • ELBSeattle

    This Higgins character is a piece of work. Obviously Jesus intended us to be vindictive, shrill, uptight and extremely frightened. Somewhere in Matthew Jesus says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” Ms. Higgins is one big thistle.

  • William Rodriguez

    I think she should just be glad your blog is called “Friendly Atheist” because just about anyone else would be filing charges for defamation of character.

  • This woman is terrified of you. She feels powerless in the face of facts and reason. Otherwise, why would she go to these hysterical extremes?

    Like most theists, she does not believe in free speech. tolerance, or equality. Maybe those “christian” values need to be explained to her. But, if theists were amenable to facts and logic, they would be atheists.

  • LeAnne

    it’s infuriating that they would attack your teaching career.

    it’s true what they say, though.. what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! and how bad does that make HER look to anyone that can see past her religious dogma?

  • Skivvy9

    “..gospel of atheism..” I love this, because it truly is “good news” that we do not believe in or base our entire existence in fairy tales! Higgins should keep HER religious beliefs out of the classroom.

  • Darin

    Keep up the good work. I read your blog on occasion and generally enjoy the variety of topics/angles on atheism. I am not much of an activist, nor do I generally post replies to stories I read…but this crazy lady sending emails to your boss and co-workers is disgraceful. Know there are people out here that see her for the small minded bigot she is.

  • Karcinagin

    I love this, this is all the more reason to be a atheist, I would not want to be in a group of people that is involving themselves trying to turn someones life upside down all because (s)he does not believe and making thing up because its not working.

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