The Antelope Valley Union High School District in California offers students a list of college scholarships they may want to apply for. If you’re an organization that wants your scholarship included on the list, you just have to get in touch with the proper administrators. And what if you’re a religious group? Not a problem. The more scholarships they can list, the better.
But by the same token, the Antelope Valley Freethinkers and Freedom From Religion Foundation wanted their scholarships on the list as well… yet for the past two years, that wasn’t happening. When FFRF recently inquired about the exclusion, they were surprised by the response:
The district said it was rejecting the scholarships because the essay announcements would upset parents, claiming that they that they appeared to “promote anti-religious expression” and had “aggressive” and “argumentative undertones towards religion.” Offers to modify the wording were rejected.
Yikes. What were these prompts? Explain in 500 words the worst aspects of religion? Tell us what you will do in the future to repudiate faith?
Not even close. Here’s what the Antelope Valley Freethinkers asked for in their prompt:
A freethinker is someone who develops opinions based on science and reason in contrast to faith and dogma. Write from a personal perspective encounters you’ve had when you object to or raise logical- or evidence-based challenges to statements of faith or dogma within your family, your school, or the Antelope Valley at large. Perhaps you’ve been ridiculed, harassed, or punished for speaking up against religion in the classroom, at school events, in government, or within your family. Perhaps you’ve been successful in convincing others of your position. Discuss the effects on you and those around you as you’ve dealt with these encounters.
We all know what they’re looking for: An essay in which students talk about countering administrators who believe abstinence-only sex education is effective, or people who think vaccines lead to autism, or religious leaders who perpetuated anti-atheist stereotypes. It’s very straightforward.
FFRF gave students a choice of essays:
“Young, bold and nonbelieving: Challenges of being a nonbeliever of color.”
Write from personal perspective about experiences or challenges you face, as a nonbeliever in a religious family or community, and minority within the freethought community. Are there obstacles discouraging diversity within the movement? What do you think could be done to make freethought and nonbelief more attractive to America’s nonwhite communities? Include at least one paragraph about why you are a nonbeliever.
“Why I’m Good Without God: Challenges of being a young nonbeliever”
Write from personal perspective about your experiences or challenges in the face of persistent stereotypes that atheists and other nonbelievers are not moral. Explain how you’re “good without God,” why religion is not necessary for morality and may even be counterproductive. What can you or others do to counter negative stereotypes about nonbelievers? Include at least one paragraph about why you are a nonbeliever.
There’s absolutely nothing in there you wouldn’t see from other groups. I’m sure even a Left-Handed Club would ask students to write about how they’ve struggled as a minority and how they’ve overcome stereotypes.
But Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver — a.k.a. the guy who defended Kim Davis — was quick to denounce the atheist groups in this matter. He said they have no right to ask for their scholarships to be included on the list because, you know, they’re just spewing hate.
“It looks like scholarships from the Freedom from Religion Foundation could be acceptable if they would not denigrate a particular religion,” he says. “And that’s what they’re doing in their discussion, in their description.”
Go ahead and reread those prompts. There’s nothing in there asking students to denigrate religion. The conversation looks something like this:
FFRF: Hey, kids, tell us about your struggles as atheists. Tell us how you’re “good without God.”
Staver: Stop persecuting Christians!
Staver, of course, lives in a bubble where the mere existence of atheists is a threat to everything he stands for. If atheists went golfing, Staver would see the divots and accuse us of hurting the environment.
“[FFRF is] a very atheistic, anti-Christian organization that can’t live or breathe without spewing out some kind of hatred towards Christianity,” he tells OneNewsNow.
The scholarship, he says, are an example of that hatred.
Again, read those prompts. Show me the hatred. You won’t find it. But that’s the Christian Right for you. Facts don’t matter. Apparently, neither does reading.
(Image via Shutterstock)