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Student Blows the Whistle on Proselytizing Teacher

Hemant shines the spotlight on Sara Sheppard, a brave young lady from Katy, Texas whose economics teacher used his classroom to proselytize his students and criticize atheists. She told her story in an essay that she submitted to the Freedom From Religion Foundation in a scholarship contest.

As the semester went by I realized that his passion for passing on his knowledge was not focused on economics but focused on religion, prayer, and spirituality. Instead of teaching economics he would teach us that certain historical people were among the greatest because of their spiritual enlightenment. He also expressed to the students that it was human nature to have a spiritual and religious component, therefore making atheists unnatural and against human nature. This teacher went so far with this idea to even compare atheism to smoking and how the body originally rejects smoking just like “the mind rejects the concept of atheism.” This was the first time he said the word atheism in the classroom and it was the breaking point for me. At that moment my voice felt so powerful and unstoppable even though my brain was demanding to silence the neuron’s signals going towards my voice. After questioning his capability of saying those statements in a public school classroom he shrugged it off with no reasonable reply. Still he would not stop.

On the board the next week he drew arrows pointing up like a mountain while describing the positive effect prayer does to the state of mind. I knew something had to be done but I had no idea where to start, still I was new to the atheism movement and only came out recently in the preceding November. Because of his loud personality I was scared to speak up again, plus I felt like I was alone – that everyone else agreed with him.

She posted about it in the Houston Atheists Facebook group and was referred to the FFRF, which wrote a letter to the school about it and got it stopped. She had recorded him saying many of these things and in this video, she quotes some of the things he said:

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Sara reports that the teacher told one of her friends that she “took away his right to talk about Jesus.” But there is no such right in that context. When you’re a teacher in a public school classroom, you are representing the government. You do not have the right to proselytize as the government. I don’t know why this is so difficult to grasp.

Comments

  1. raven says

    He also expressed to the students that it was human nature to have a spiritual and religious component, therefore making atheists unnatural and against human nature. This teacher went so far with this idea to even compare atheism to smoking and how the body originally rejects smoking just like “the mind rejects the concept of atheism.”

    How quaint.

    Bigotry and hatred. Oh, wait a minute. This is just typical.

    22% of the US population are No Religions, a group that is rising rapidly. He probably wouldn’t say things like this about Catholics, nonwhites, Jews, Moslems, or Episcopalians (although he likely thinks it). But it is OK to openly hate almost a quarter of the population and say it out loud in a classroom.

  2. raven says

    I had to endure something sort of similar at a social gathering recently.

    Some friend of a friend started going on about the bible and jesus. The usual fundie nonsense that they just make up as they go along, WL Craig, McDowell, Strobel class lies. Without knowing that I’m an ex-xian atheistic Pagan.

    I’m just looked for an opening and escaped without saying what I really thought. This guy is known to be pleasant, even tempered, and not too bright. No surprise about that.

  3. says

    When you’re a teacher in a public school classroom, you are representing the government. You do not have the right to proselytize as the government.

    And when you’re a teacher in any kind of school, public or private, you have no right to talk about any subject other than the one you’re being paid to teach. If you’re dong anything other than your job on company time, that’s something that can get you fired, whatever your job is.

  4. says

    @raven #3 – I’m similar, an ex-Christian paganistic atheist :)

    I normally avoid religion in conversation, but if someone else brings it up, I’m perfectly happy to join in. I like to open with, “There are more than 7 billion on the planet. Only about 2 billion are Christians. Are you honestly saying that 70% of the people alive today are going to burn in Hell for ever and ever because they hold the wrong religion?”

  5. hunter says

    “Sara reports that the teacher told one of her friends that she “took away his right to talk about Jesus.” But there is no such right in that context. When you’re a teacher in a public school classroom, you are representing the government. You do not have the right to proselytize as the government. I don’t know why this is so difficult to grasp.”

    You don’t understand — Jesus trumps everyone else’s rights. All of them.

  6. Artor says

    @ Raven & Gregory in Seattle
    Huh- here I was thinking I was weird for being a pagan atheist. I didn’t realize there were enough I could run across two in a single thread. Welcome to the club!

  7. says

    People, please! It’s not Economics without prayer!

    “Sara reports that the teacher told one of her friends that she ‘took away his right to talk about Jesus.'”

    It’s Freedom of Religion in Economics Class in a Public School, not Freedom from Religion in Economics Class in a Public School!

    Gregory in Seattle “…’Are you honestly saying that 70% of the people alive today are going to burn in Hell for ever and ever because they hold the wrong religion?’”
    Now you’re just being ridiculous. It’s way higher than that.

  8. erichoug says

    OK, I Graduated from Katy High School and this is really sad. I don’t ever remember there being a religious bias at the school and even back then we had Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu kids in the school. Yes there was a click of what we called “Jesus Freaks” mostly ex stoner kids. But I never remember there being a hostile atmosphere over religion even though I loudly proclaimed myself to be either an atheist or satanist depending on whom I was trying to aggravate that week. Never once did I feel like my beliefs or lack thereof was an issue that the school or the district gave a rats ass about.

    What really pisses me off about this guy is that he is PAID with my tax dollars to teach these kids Economics. Not his fricking ideology, whatever that may be. If he wants to invite them to come listen to him in his off hours, I have no issue with that so long as the invitation is after the bell rings along with the meeting. But other than that, this guy needs to be fired for not doing his job.

  9. zero6ix says

    Can’t wait for the update when we learn that she has been ostracized, threatened with rape, and driven out of town by one of those classy pitchfork mobs. Damn high schoolers, thinking for themselves.

  10. Michael Heath says

    kantalope writes:

    The thing I don’t get – if he wants to be a preacher why not do that? It pays better.

    I tend to view proselytizers leveraging captive audiences as impotent morons. The key premise here being “captive”. This guy probably can’t get anyone to voluntarily submit to his beliefs as he promotes them, so he foists it on children in his classroom who have no choice but to suffer through his idiotic delusional rhetoric.

  11. freemage says

    Okay, I need to ask. What’s the position of a “paganistic atheist”? I’m not saying it’s impossible–I’ve actually met “Christian atheists”, who reject divinity and supernaturalism, and just figure that Jesus was a particularly insightful teacher who said a lot of good things worth listening to. So I’m just curious how that might parallel to paganism.

    And note: My need to ask does not translate into a need for you to answer; none of you, obviously, is required or obligated to explain your beliefs to some stranger who is possibly a bot.

  12. says

    @MO #9 – I start with the assumption that ALL Christians will get into Heaven, just in case the person spouting off is one of those types. Usually I can get them to admit that the “wrong” kind of Christian will burn, too, until everyone except the “right” kind will be saved. And not even all of them.

    @artor & @Raven – I was raised lukewarm Congregationalist, migrated to Wicca, got baptized in the Metropolitan Community Church and served a year and a half as a lay minister, became a “seeker” and looked at Judaism, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, got confirmed in the Episcopal Church, returned to Wicca, returned to the Episcopal Church and started classes that would have eventually led to becoming ordained, then took three or four years to very slowly throw up my hands and say “This is ALL nonsense.” A lot of the atheists I know have followed a similar path.

  13. says

    Gregory in Seattle “@MO #9 – I start with the assumption that ALL Christians will get into Heaven…”
    I start with the assumption that if I can distract people, I can steal their muffins.*

    “@artor & @Raven – I was raised lukewarm Congregationalist, migrated to Wicca, got baptized in the Metropolitan Community Church and served a year and a half as a lay minister, became a ‘seeker’ and looked at Judaism, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, got confirmed in the Episcopal Church, returned to Wicca, returned to the Episcopal Church and started classes that would have eventually led to becoming ordained, then took three or four years to very slowly throw up my hands and say ‘This is ALL nonsense.’ A lot of the atheists I know have followed a similar path.”
    That route sounds ridiculously circuitous.

    * Yoink!

  14. says

    @freemage #16 – What attracted me most to Wicca, and to earth-centered spirituality in general, was the idea that we are part of a larger whole, both individually and as a species. While I have rejected magick and supernaturalism, I still feel… I don’t know, “enriched,” maybe… to continue with that worldview. I still observe the new moon as a time of community service and the full moon as a time to go out and enjoy life. I reflect on the sacrifices and accomplishments of my ancestors on Samhain, celebrate family and friends at Yule, joyously participate in the… um… fecundity of the earth at Beltane, and invite friends over for a Harvest Home feast at Mabon. I live by the Rede: “An you harm none, do what you will.” All without gods or goddesses, all without calling the quarters or casting spells.

    Even in my more Christian days, this felt right for me. Luckily, though, western Christianity had been shaped by Celtic Christians in its formative years, so I was able to hide such pagan practices :-D

  15. cottonnero says

    #17 Gregory in Seattle, #18 modusoperandi:

    My dad’s route was: Raised programmed Quaker, Episcopalian in college (met my mother, who grew up in that church, considered becoming a minister), not much in particular in my childhood, Buddhist and then Congregationalist in my adolescence, and then Reform Jewish (practicing and now non-practicing) in my adulthood.

    My route was simpler: raised Methodist, stopped going as soon as I could convince my mother it was too much work to get me to go with her.

  16. mjmiller says

    I’m sure this brave young lady will get a helping of violence/rape/death threats – in jesus’ loving name we pray! I’m hoping,though, that the Katy/Houston area’s reputation for being a little less fundie (several megchuches in the area notwithstanding) than the surrounding cesspool which is Texas, will be borne out and she will be spared the worst.
    On the other topic, my route to sanity was a little less circuitous. A couple of years of Catholic grade school led me to early enlightenment. (thank you Sister Lucida!)

  17. dogmeat says

    Gregory @ 19,

    Interesting, I had the same question as freemage @16.

    My own background was Catholic, then looked at a whole slew of different belief systems, then shifted to something of an Agnostic Buddhist, and finally Atheist.

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