Awesome atheist teens in Florida

Well, I’m sure there are awesome atheist teens all over the place. But there’s a New York Times article about a student group at Rutherford High School in Panama City, Florida, and that’s what I’m talking about now.  This is such a cool story.

The federal law permitting extracurricular clubs to use public schools before and after hours was passed in 1984 after lobbying by conservative church groups. Bible study clubs grew fruitful and multiplied, replenishing the Christian faith throughout the land. Then things took a turn to the left. The law required equal access, and gay-straight clubs started popping up.

And now this.

The whole article is about that quotable. Do head over and give it a read yourself; I hope it gives you some hope for the future, the way it did for me. And it fits in really well with the publicity that atheists in the military have been getting lately, in the wake of the trouble at Fort Bragg in getting Rock Beyond Belief off the ground.

The military is so popular here that 150 of Rutherford’s 1,250 students belong to the Junior R.O.T.C. The student cadet leader this year, Justin Marshall, is a member of the atheist club, as is last year’s cadet leader, Julia Corley. “Mr. Creamer’s probably my favorite teacher,” Justin said [referring to the atheist club’s faculty sponsor]. “The way he talks is not boring at all. If I could have him for every subject, I would.”

Mr. Creamer teaches his students that if they are going to stick out their necks for unconventional ideas, they better not stick out for any of the wrong reasons. “Mr. Creamer told us, as an atheist, you have to be on your best behavior,” said Nick Machuca, a junior.

Of course, it’s not all milk and honey. There are stories of students who lie to their parents about the club, out of fear that they’ll be punished. There’s also this unpleasantly telling quote from Karen Harrell, math department head and sponsor of a Christian student club:

At one point, Mr. Creamer suggested that the clubs get together and discuss their beliefs, but Mrs. Harrell, who attends Hiland Park Baptist Church, declined, fearing it would turn into a debate. “My reaction is faith in Jesus Christ is not at all logical,” she said. “When your beliefs are based on faith, you’re believing something you can’t see. Being able to prove that scientifically in a debate — it could be hard to win.”

“Our goal,” she said, “is not to confuse anyone.”

Ah, well. Realizing that their beliefs aren’t logical — that’s step 1, and that’s progress. Step 2, when they understand that illogical beliefs should be discarded … that will come in time.

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  1. Honestly, on separation grounds I’m uncomfortable with the comments of both faculty advisors, atheist and Christian. It sure sounds like both of them are participating in these sectarian student groups to an extent far beyond what the Establishment Clause allows government employees to do.

  2. Aristarchus

     /  April 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Rieux, I’m totally with you on that. I’d love for there to be no religious clubs at public schools. (I don’t see how you can have one and not have the teacher leading the club participate at all. I’d be fine with a religious group renting out classroom space to use after-hours, but without any school affiliation.)

    That said, I fully support the atheist teacher. Separation of church and state was conceived by people interested in helping religion, not hurting it, but this is completely lost on the modern religious right. I think the only way to win the political battle is to use the requirement that the violations of it be applied fairly to get as much government favor as possible for atheist (or better yet, Muslim) groups. Only when people see the government funding religious activities that they don’t agree with will they realize the value of the doctrine.

    Also, yay for these kids! These concerns don’t apply to their actions at all.

  3. Aristarchus

     /  April 5, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    PS This quote from the article is amazing:

    “Some of our students didn’t understand that there are people who don’t believe in God,” Mrs. Harrell said.

  4. Rieux, that’s an excellent point. I was thinking of this as on par with the involvement that, say, our Math League coach had (encouraging us to be on our best behavior, etc.) but it’s different when it’s about religion (or lack thereof).

    Aristarchus, you wrote:

    I don’t see how you can have one and not have the teacher leading the club participate at all.

    A couple of my friends in high school ran a Bible study group, and I went to it a few times to see what the discussion would be like. (Actually my only memories of it are meetings attended only by the two of them and me.) They had to get a teacher to “sponsor” it and supervise us while we used her classroom, but she just sat at her desk and graded or prepared lessons while we talked. Based on what little I know of her personal life, I’m pretty sure she was supportive of the idea of the group, but she never said anything about it.

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