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Christianists Celebrate HS Graduation by Persecuting Senior Who Believes in Separation of Church and State

May 20, 2011

Damon Fowler, a senior at Bastrop High School, a public school in Louisiana, just discovered that where he lives believing in the Constitution is grounds for persecution.

fowler big Christianists Celebrate HS Graduation by Persecuting Senior Who Believes in Separation of Church and State

Earlier this week Fowler wrote to his high school principal to object to a Christian prayer that was listed on the program at his graduation ceremony, scheduled for this evening. Unless it was removed, Fowler said, he would contact the American Civil Liberties Union and take legal action against the school for violating the separation of Church and State.

“My graduation from high school is this Friday,” Damon wrote yesterday on Reddit.

“I live in the Bible Belt of the United States. The school was going to perform a prayer at graduation, but due to me sending the superintendent an email stating it was against Louisiana state law and that I would be forced to contact the ACLU if they ignored me, they ceased it. The school backed down, but that’s when the shitstorm rolled in. Everyone is trying to get it back in the ceremony now. I’m not worried about it, but everyone hates me… kind of worried about attending graduation now. It’s attracted more hostility than I thought.”

Bastrop is apparently like the town in “Footloose” – except they’re cool with dancing, just not democracy. They responded to Fowler’s actions by mocking him. Fowler told supporters on Reddit that he had to suspend his Facebook page temporarily because of the hate mail he was getting (it’s back up and you can friend him if you’re a supporter).

Last night was “Senior Class Night” for BHS and instead of focusing on celebrating the students’ academic achievements, the evening turned into a religious revival and an occasion to ridicule Fowler for his secular beliefs (h/t to Blag Hag).

Here’s footage of the “Senior Class Night” that was surreptitiously recorded:


And here’s a Facebook post from the student who led the prayer at the BHS valedictory practice (via Reddit):

oToVR 466x585 Christianists Celebrate HS Graduation by Persecuting Senior Who Believes in Separation of Church and State

Even Fowler’s mother turned on him. She banned him from the internet and prevented his older brother who lives in Texas from reaching out to him. So after some edits to his initial Reddit post, Fowler has been mostly out-of-reach to his supporters.

On top of the First Amendment which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” and centuries of US legal precedent reinforcing the divide between Church and State, the blog Wall of Separation pointed out, the Supreme Court explicitly outlawed prayer at high school graduations 18 years ago in the Lee v. Weisman decision:

“[E]veryone knows that in our society and in our culture high school graduation is one of life’s most significant occasions…. [T]he Constitution forbids the State to exact religious conformity from a student as a price of attending her own high school graduation.”

President Obama, one of the most openly religious presidents in American history has risked being perceived as a Socialist Muslim to directly state that America is not a Christian nation.

“We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation,” the President said in Turkey two years ago, echoing the words of the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli – one of the benchmarks of US secularism. Obama continued: “We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”

In Bastrop those values are being put to the test. Tonight, is the BHS graduation and the principal has stated that she will respect the First Amendment and keep the prayer out of the ceremony.

“They said if we included a traditional prayer in the ceremony that they would contact the (American Civil Liberties Union),” Principal Stacey Pullen told the Bastrop Daily Enterprise. “We asked our attorney about it, and we are making changes to the program.”

That Daily Enterprise piece was essentially a hit piece against Fowler and the reporter didn’t even have the temerity to interview him. Mitzi Quinn, a staff member at BHS had the gall to tell the paper that “in the past… there have been students who were atheist, agnostic and other non-Christian religions who ‘had no problems’ with the prayer.”

She went on to say that “what’s even more sad is this is a student who really hasn’t contributed anything to graduation or to their classmates.”

Supporters of Fowler have setup a Facebook page where they’re discussing ways they can help him.

For now we’ll have to wait and see what ingenious way Bastrop’s Christianists discover to get around the removal of the the prayer and impose their theocratic beliefs on a minority. But even if the school abides by its decision to remove the prayer, the town of Bastrop and BHS has already succeeded in making life a living hell for Fowler (pardon the allusion).

I’m not sure which teaching of Jesus mentions tormenting and ridiculing minorities and imposing your beliefs on them but once again it seems that fundamentalists, be they Christian, Hindu, Jew or Muslim are nothing if not inconsistent, insecure and bereft of compassion.

Far for be it from me as an unbeliever to quote the Bible but even I can’t resist the appropriateness of this particular verse in the Gospel According to Matthew (h/t to pfar in the Daily Enterprise comments):

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

UPDATE II (2:25PM Friday): this afternoon the Bastrop Daily Enterprise published an op-ed from a local Baptist preacher rebuking the town’s intolerant Christians for their treatment of Fowler.

“The absence of a public prayer at graduation does not remove the powerful influence of prayer on these students’ lives,” wrote Pastor Chris Wright. “Anger, threats, and retaliation are not the answer to this crisis – the answer is love, loving others like Jesus loves us.

UPDATE (12:42PM Friday): Damon just updated his Facebook page to say: “So everyone knows, last night was just Class Night. TODAY is the graduation, at 7:00 PM. I thank all of you for your support and I’m going to walk, no matter what they say or do. You guys are the best! Thanks for the much needed support :)”

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