Since we often talk on this site about the need for young atheists to stand strong against religious indoctrination in their public schools, it’s only fair that we also discuss the backlash that sometimes results from that.
One particular story — that has a not-so-happy-ending — began in September of 2011 at New Heights Middle School in Chesterfield County, South Carolina, a place that’s home to over two hundred Christian churches.
I wrote about an assembly held at the school in The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide:
Not only did [Pastor Christian Chapman] use his time to rail against atheism, evolution, and homosexuality, he told the students that “a relationship with Jesus is what you need, more important than anything else.” Christian rapper Bryan Edmonds (a.k.a. B-SHOC) later joined him onstage and performed “overtly Christian songs” for the crowd. Even the principal joined the mix by telling students to attend a local church.
But that wasn’t all. Students were told to sign a pledge dedicating themselves to Jesus Christ and teachers were told to pray with students before returning to the classroom. Afterward, the public school’s own website declared that “[b]efore the day ended, 324 kids had either been saved, or had re-committed their lives to the Lord.”
We know about this incident for two main reasons.
First, B-SHOC idiotically posted a video of the event to YouTube (the relevant portion begins at the 3:04 mark):
Second, eighth-grader Jordan Anderson decided he didn’t want to attend the assembly because he was an atheist and he knew what it was going to be like. His teachers said he could skip it, but he would have to spend that time in the room normally reserved for in-school suspensions. Given that option, Jordan went to the gym.
Afterwards, with the help of his father and the ACLU, they filed a lawsuit against the school… and the case was eventually settled. Jordan and his family walked away with a whopping $2.00 (yep, two dollars) and the school was told in no uncertain terms that it could not hold religious assemblies again.
Last year, 18 months after all of this transpired, we learned the life hadn’t been easy for Jordan’s family since the lawsuit:
[Jordan’s] eagerness to go back to school might be surprising for any teen, but it’s especially stunning in Jordan’s case, given that over the past two years he’s endured endless bullying, name-calling and threats — even death threats — in the halls of Chesterfield County’s New Heights Middle School.
“I had tons of bullying, just awful stuff I don’t even want to repeat,” Jordan said. “When some people make those death threats, they almost make you think they’ll really kill you.”
“I’ll put it bluntly,” [father] Jonathan said. “There were a couple of kids telling him if he doesn’t get himself to God, they’re going to kick his ass. Yeah, it’s very Christian-ly.”
Said [mother] Amy, “Oh yeah, people would drive up in our yard, honk the horn and flip us off. We are still called ‘the dark forces’ sometimes. I’ve heard that a lot.”
“You can only take so much of people telling you your husband needs to have his head bashed in and your son needs to do this or that before you go, ‘OK, really?’” Amy said. “We just had plenty of death threats.”
Things have not gotten any better for the Anderson family.
In August, they moved to Connecticut to get away from all the “retribution” in South Carolina. While Jon, the father, finally found a decent job, it was sidelined by a serious heart attack a couple of weeks ago — “a triple bypass and a valve replacement” — leaving him unable to work for the next several months. He’s looking for any help people can offer in order to sustain the family over the next few months.
If you have the ability to chip in, please consider it. What they did in SC took incredible courage and we need more families with their strength.
(The majority of this post was taken from a previous article of mine. Thanks to Sue for the update.)