Americans United has put up a story of religious discrimination from its files. Two women had a little problem with institutionalized religiosity in an Oklahoma public school district.
In 1981, Bell had just moved to Little Axe and enrolled her children in the local public school system. At that time, school officials were allowing a teacher-sponsored student group called the Son Shine Club to gather before school to pray.
Though the fundamentalist Baptist meetings were supposedly voluntary, the school buses dropped students off 30 minutes before classes started. Those who were not attending the religious meetings had to wait outside the building, sometimes in the rain or cold. The Son Shine sessions also extended into first-hour class time, Bell said.
This is typical: public schools aren’t supposed to endorse sectarian religion, but what they’ll often do is give certain religions a few extra privileges, and be a bit more accommodating…and the boundaries get pushed back a bit. It’s smooth and easy to do that, but trying to roll back those unwarranted privileges isn’t so pleasant.
After contacting the ACLU and filing a lawsuit, Bell and McCord became the subjects of hatred and even violence. Bell’s house was burned down by a firebomb. McCord’s 12-year-old son’s prize goats were slashed and mutilated with a knife. Bell was assaulted by a school cafeteria worker who smashed her head repeatedly against a car door. (School authorities praised the cafeteria worker, and she was forced to pay a $10 fine and Bell’s hospital bills, community residents raised donations on the assailant’s behalf.) McCord and Bell were both mailed their own obituaries.
Don’t make assumptions though: McCord and Bell were not atheists, although they were accused of being atheists. They just belonged to Christian churches that weren’t part of the dominant Baptist sect in the area. They still came to a rather reasonable conclusion.
“When I began the suit, I just wanted to stop the religious services at school, but I supported the idea of nonsectarian prayer in the classroom during school,” McCord told the National Catholic Reporter. “Since I’ve seen what religion can do to a community, I don’t support any religious observance in school.”