This is a couple of years old now, but I think still quite relevant.
In general I think it’s a solid piece, though it gets a little histrionic, which, while good television, sort of deflates its impact.
“When it came to basketball, they would pray before and after practices.”
This is a perfect example of what the religious have often asked me. “What’s the problem?” Practically speaking, it isn’t much of one. Obviously from the footage, no one’s being hurt. Not physically anyway. But this is usually where I retort something like, “How would you feel if the students recited some sort of Satanic prayer?” But even that isn’t the point. The point is that it’s a public school and so having any kind of prayer or other religious ritual on school property during a school activity, which the coach either leads or is complacent to, is clearly a civil rights violation, an ethics violation, and unconstitutional.
“If I was a Jew, a Muslim, or a Hindu, I would have a problem saying that prayer.”
Exactly. No one would dare ask a Jew to recite a Christian prayer or criticize said Jew for not joining in a Christian prayer. So, then, what makes criticism of Nicole okay? That’s right. Nothing.
Next, Nicole says she’s an atheist and doesn’t want to say the prayer:
“The coach says, ‘Go to the locker room then.’”
And there we are. Fuck off. Go away. Imagine the shitstorm of publicity if the coach had said the same thing to a Jewish girl. Apologies galore if not losing his job. Anti-Defamation League would’ve had his nuts for fucking breakfast.
“[The students] would call me ‘devil-worshiper.’”
This has always amused me. The assumption of the religious is almost always that if one doesn’t worship God, one must worship the Devil. It never crosses anyone’s mind that we don’t worship anything.
But anyway, the thing that most bothers me about the devil worship comment is that the religious, and Christians in particular, often claim to cherish things like acceptance and love and forgiveness and all that, and in many cases, they’re the first to villify someone for a difference in belief or lack thereof. More to the point, children and teenagers (and I include my teenage self in this), parrot what their parents tell them. It’s one of the ways we learn. So if a kid’s calling someone a devil-worshiper, your assumption of what their parents are telling them is probably correct.
“What were [the teachers] saying?”
“This is a Christian country and if you don’t like it, get out.”
Reprehensible. I can almost understand teenagers dumping the bullshit their parents have indoctrinated, but teachers are supposed to be responsible adults. Not only is such a statement factually incorrect, but even if it were true, that doesn’t matter. Any teacher worth his weight in shit also knows the First Amendment and that just because something’s popular or even the overwhelming majority, doesn’t make it true. And beyond that, no teacher has any right to tell a student that he or she should get out of the country just because he or she believes something different from the majority. And again, I maintain that had Nicole been Jewish, no one would have dared say anything even close to “get out.”
“School officials who were involved turned down our request for an interview.”
Cowards. Then again, there is such a thing as covering one’s legal ass. But cowards nonetheless.
“I’ve never seen anything at the school… that the kids have treated Nicole badly.”
That may well be true. It could be that Nicole is exaggerating/lying and it could be that Diane simply never witnessed it. I think the possible problem, though, is that Diane doesn’t seem at all concerned about Nicole’s claims. If it turns out that Nicole is exaggerating or lying, then ultimately such concern is unnecessary, but it seems the best thing to do is to be cautious.
“They’re good, Christian kids.”
The assumption that Christian equals good has always bothered me as it’s demonstrably not a given. But the other thing that bothers me about Diane’s statement is that it’s a generalization. Does she know that all the students in the school are Christians? If so, fair enough, but then Nicole’s presence there would seem to counter that. And I find it hard to believe that Nicole is the sole non-Christian student.
“It’s still a free country… and our young people are standing up for their faith.”
I actually have no problem with this at all. I support the right to free speech and expression, even if that expression is bullshit or hateful. The problem I have with the pastor’s statement is that he’s ignoring the practical and ethical sides of the issue. Yes, students have the right to pray, even on school grounds, even during school events. But if there’s any inkling of the school’s endorsement of such activity, that’s a problem. Now if the students themselves organize and participate in the prayer before and after the basketball game, then I honestly have no ethical issue with that. But that’s not the case and, even if it were, it’s still exclusive to people like Nicole. I personally think the best policy would be to not have any kind of religious ritual at all so as not to murk the ethical waters. And, as with above, I wonder if the pastor would feel so kindly toward the prayer circle if it were Muslims or Satanists praying. (I would support either on the same free-speech grounds.) The fact is that the pastor is only supportive of the prayer circle because he likes it. He’s not supporting it on ethical grounds.
“The school was conspiring…”
This is where they lose me. I find it highly unlikely that, even if all the school officials and teachers had a problem with Nicole, her family, and its atheism, would bother to take the time to run them out of town or her out of the school. I’m sure they were all annoyed. I’m sure they might have even expressed that annoyance to each other in private and in public, but to accuse them of conspiracy seems paranoid to me.
“School administrators kicked Nicole off the basketball time. They said she was ‘bad for team morale.’”
Now THAT’S awful. Even if they truly believed the claim to be true, they clearly had no right to do so.
“You stole another girl’s shoes… You were late to practice…”
Nicole denies these charges and explains them. If this shit is true, which it sounds like it is, then maybe dad’s not quite as paranoid as he seems, but the amount of grey area here still makes me not want to side completely against the school.
“…Nicole stayed outside the circle.”
This is what we mean by the price of atheism. This is the effect. Right there in plain video footage. The team is telling Nicole to fuck off. The coach is okay with it, the school is okay with it, and anyone in the community who’s there and says nothing is also okay with it. Why anyone would want to actively exclude someone is beyond me. And this is why I say let’s just not have a prayer circle. Forget the questions of legality, ethics, and constitutionality. Don’t do it because it’s not fucking nice!
“…She was suspended… She’d threatened to kill a team member.”
Nicole obviously denies this as well. I dunno. I really don’t think the school had it in for her, but it is hard to argue against such trumped-up allegations.
The parents taking their kids out of school… Again, I dunno. It seems kinda silly to me. Were their kids really in danger? I doubt it. Was it uncomfortable? Sure. One the one hand, I feel like Nicole should’ve faced the adversity head-on. The fact is, similar situations are going to continue to arise. At the same time, why would anyone want to invite non-stop harassment into his or her life if said harassment were unnecessary? (I can’t think of a “necessary” kind of harassment.)
“Oh, I heard about you. You’re that dirty, little, trouble-making atheist.”
Yeah, I wouldn’t want to do a single day of that shit either. Fucking assholes.
I just found the following on the American Atheists site.
“When Smalkowski rejected an offer to have the charges dropped if he and his Atheist family left the state, the charges were upgraded to a felony.”
Click here for the full story. Maybe I was wrong about that whole conspiracy thing.
I’ve been looking for some kind of update on how Nicole is doing, but in my lazy few minutes of looking, nothing obvious has reared its head. I hope she’s happy and pursuing her dreams.