This is a guest post by Harrison Hopkins, president and founder of the Secular Student Alliance at Presbyterian College in South Carolina, also known for stopping the graduation prayer at his high school.
A week and a half ago during our Spring Break, my school, Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC, was one of several schools in the immediate area to receive “threatening letters” from an anonymous source. While the specifics of these letters have yet to be released to the public, the responses from faculty, staff, and the local police seem consistent with those of generic bomb threats. More on that can be read on WYFF4 and WSPA.
The Sunday before classes resumed, I made a post on Facebook in response to seeing several people express their worry over returning to school. In it, I outlined three points that made it seem, to me at least, that the threats were not as serious as people thought.
The next morning as I head to class my dad sends me a text, “Call me ASAP.” I do, only to find out that the police had been at our house looking for me. Two hours later they succeed and are waiting outside of my New Testament class. We talk, and agree that after I get my sandwich (there were only thirty minutes left in the meal period), I would come to the police station and allow them to question me.
The questioning was… interesting, to say the least. They started by asking why I felt it was not as big of a deal and from there went on to ask if I could give them names of five people that would be potentially capable of doing something like this. When I refused several times, the method changed to one person that I felt would be completely incapable of doing this. That would be everyone, so I again refused.
After this, they started asking about my involvement on campus. My two biggest involvements are with Secular Student Alliance at Presbyterian College and the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, so naturally they had to ask about those. Specifically how many members each group had, if I could give the names of any members, and fun questions as well, such as “Don’t you think it’s weird that as an atheist you go to Presbyterian College?” and “Are you a… homosexual?”
As I was being questioned, I noticed a paper that was sticking out of the stack that was on the table. It was upside down and a bit away, but it was obviously an email… the email that was sent to the sheriff as a tip. I was finally able to make out what it said.
“Just a thought, but have you looked into the members of the freedom of religion group at Presbyterian college?”
After working this out, I asked about it, which launched one of the questioners into an explanation that it wasn’t because of my beliefs (or lack thereof) that I was being questioned, but simply because they were following up every single tip they could. That would be completely understandable, were it not for the fact that the tip only came in because I am an atheist, or that the questioner seemed to insinuate that I was a part of some anarchist front, asking if I had any harsh feeling against the government, the police, or any of the local schools, and just what my political standings are.
They would not let me read the email itself, but did let me know that it seemed to be written by someone older and conservative who knew me before I arrived at PC, specifically through my complaints against school prayer in high school. In two weeks, I plan on filing a Freedom of Information Act request to see the email itself.
As of now, I’m a bit angry. To think that someone would feel that we would be capable or even have some sort of connection to the letters simply because of our atheism? This is the first time that I have experienced this sort of discrimination on this scale. I’m angry about this, but I also see it as just further reason to keep pushing forward, to help dispel these misconceptions that so many people tend to hold.