News

US high school student threatened with death for opposing school prayer

NORTH LOUISIANA has been described as “the buckle on the Bible Belt” – and not without good reason, as high school student Damon Fowler at Bastrop High School has discovered to his cost.

Damon Fowler: demonised, ostracized and threatened with death

On the eve of his graduation, the atheist student contacted the school superintendent to let him know that he opposed the inclusion of a prayer at the graduation ceremony. He pointed out that government-sponsored prayer in the public schools was unconstitutional and legally forbidden – and that he would be contacting the ACLU if it went ahead. The school agreed to substitute it with a moment of silent reflection, which was subsequently scuppered by a Christian student.

Then Fowler’s name, and his role in this incident, was leaked. As a direct result:

1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community.

2) One of Fowler’s teachers has publicly demeaned him.

3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to “jump him” at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.

4) Fowler’s parents cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and threw his belongings onto the front porch.

Oh, and the school went ahead and had the graduation prayer anyway.

According to this report, Fowler has become the center of what he terms a “shitstorm”: he has been harassed, vilified, targeted with insults and name-calling and hateful remarks. He’s been told t he’s the devil. He’s been told, “Go cry to your mommy… oh, wait. You can’t”. (A reference to him being disowned by his parents.) He’s been told that he’s only doing this to get attention. A student’s public prayer at a pre-graduation “Class Night” event was turned into an opportunity for the school and community to gang up on Fowler and publicly close ranks against him – teachers as well as students. (Here’s video). And people seen defending him have been targeted as well.

Here are a few comments on the Bastrop Enterprise news story about the controversy:

I personally see him as a coward.

I hope they [Christians] put enough pressure on this kid to convert him and save his soul from the fire of hell.

If he don’t want prayer at graduation he can stay at home and not come to graduation.

I hope that the little athiest (sic) is offended.

What he is really doing is trying to shove his views down people’s throats.

Satan continues to prowl and is deceiving many in this world.

A piece published yesterday by PoliticusUSA points out that Christian fundamentalists have persecuted atheists and agnostics for the past 30 years with accusations that non-believers are aggressive and are “throwing atheism in our faces,” when the opposite is true.

There is a dangerous trend of Christian fundamentalists taking over the government to change the nature of America. It may be in part because in America, like the rest of the world, Christianity is on the decline and the number of Americans claiming to be Atheists, Agnostic, or non-religious has increased by 15 percent leading to an alarming trend of fundamentalists making a last-ditch effort to force Christianity on the country.

The young man who protested prayers at school events is not an isolated case, and around the country young people are standing up to school officials and fundamentalists who “force their religion down the throats” of non-believers regardless of age or station in life. The Constitution does not forbid religious fundamentalists from praying whenever and wherever they please, but it does maintain the separation of the government and religion and it means no public school prayer.

The article concluded:

Evangelical Christian leaders recently conceded in an interview that there were Christians around the country who were prepared for armed conflict to enforce Christianity if necessary, and they claimed the military and Congress had been infiltrated by fundamentalists; it is a foreboding that should frighten every person in America. If any American thinks they are safe from fundamentalist Christians whose intent is replacing the Constitution with the Ten Commandments and its Stone Age punishment (stoning), they are deluded and do not comprehend the level of violence extremists are capable of inflicting in god’s name.

If in America in 2011, one student faces public threats without a theocratic government or the Ten Commandments as the law of the land, imagine the violent Crusade and Inquisition a group of well-armed, angry fundamentalists will unleash if given authority and power.

Last month, an interviewer asked four evangelical church leaders if their intent of using violence to force Christianity on Americans was tantamount to the Taliban in Afghanistan. They replied that, ‘yes, they were the same as the Taliban except they were better armed, better organized, and had the full support of conservatives in positions of power’.

Still think fundamentalist Christians are harmless? You should be mortified.

Update: The Friendly Atheist Hermant Mehta set up a ChipIn widget which enables people to  contribute toward a scholarship for Damon  —” just one way to show how much we appreciate him standing up for church/state separation”.

So far an amazing amount of almost $27,000 has been raised. You can make a donation here. I will certainly be doing so!

Further update: The Friendly Atheist has an interview with Damon and his brother Jerrett  here.

 

139 Responses to “US high school student threatened with death for opposing school prayer”

  1. EatTheRich says:

    There’s an empirical explanation for everything. A belief in a non-existent being is a virus of the mind. It takes over the host and destroys it whilst attempting to spread to other minds.

    All theists should, therefore, be culled. For the good of us all. We can call it rapture if it’ll make you feel any better.

  2. CSParis says:

    Sometimes I get funny looks when I tell people that even though I am an atheist and support equal rights for all (including the GLBT etc Community), I also treasure and take advantage of my second amendment rights. Now maybe they will understand that it is because I fear the possibility of an eventual attempt at a martially-enforced theocracy, and I intend to do my part to defend America against one of its most threatening internal enemies: religion.5

  3. tim says:

    ide gladly fight in that war, fuck christianity

  4. tim says:

    http://www.facebook.com/bhscounselors?sk=wall

    also if anyone wants to post their opinions directly to the school

    they can be posted here :)

  5. remigius says:

    @MAYHEM

    I invoke Godwin’s Law.

    (That means you loose, dickhead)

  6. Lynne says:

    Look, I don’t agree with the way this town is reacting to the boy’s complaint, and how his parents reacted is especially appalling. But no one was forcing him to say a prayer, or do anything against his wishes or beliefs. Another student wanted to say a prayer at the graduation ceremony; something that probably would have taken all of five to ten minutes at most. He can’t just stand there silently, as he would be doing throughout the ceremony anyway? Was anyone forcing him to join in on the prayer? Is this such a huge violation of his rights? I think what the town is more annoyed with is his behavior, pettiness, and sense of entitlement. No one WAS trampling on his rights. Atheists have a valid argument when it comes to our education being effected because of certain criteria limiting the curriculum. But I have to disagree with them when it comes to complaining about a few second prayer at the beginning of the day, or a student saying a prayer at a ceremony, especially when it is obvious that the majority of the school is Christian. In this case, if anyone is infringing on the rights of another, it is the Atheist making a complaint against the prayer. I’m sorry, but with all technicalities aside, it is true. You are in the minority, and people are allowed to practice their religion. I would say the same thing if the authorities at the school banned a book he wanted to read, or told him he was not allowed to include his own speech at the ceremony (barring anything unreasonable of course). I do not agree with the hostility or the death threat, and I am shocked with what his parents have done, but come on– he did more than just make a passing comment. In all reality he brought this upon himself.

  7. Meg says:

    Hi everyone, I am a Christian and I believe that this boy had EVERY right to do what he did. This is America, where opinions should be able to be given without the fear of threats. The kind of reaction that the school, community and Damon’s parents had were horribly uncalled for and were not reflective of God’s love, or of the intrinsic characteristics of our country. I hope that Damon continues expressing his views, because without honesty and real discussion between peoples of different views, how can we expect to grow and learn? Furthermore, that awful reaction does nothing for the reputation of Christians or for Christ; it turns people off. Damon did not shove his views down anyone’s throat – he expressed himself! Yes, I disagree with Damon’s views, but he has every right to state those views and be heard, and to be accepted, loved and listened to.

  8. JohnMWhite says:

    @Lynne – I should have stopped reading when I got to this part: “But no one was forcing him to say a prayer”. Normally I try to be eloquent and patient in dealing with people I disagree with, in the hope of forming some common ground and resolving an issue. However, clearly you are a complete idiot, so the gloves are off. You are either deliberately ignoring the fact that the school was breaking the law, and not just any law but the very foundation of all law in the United States – they were breaching the US Constitution, which itself is not a mere technicality – or you are utterly incapable of comprehending that law trumps the rights of communities to form violently exclusive cliques.

    You have to be excessively stupid or barbarically immoral to truly believe that might simply makes right and that people should avoid making waves with those around them just because there’s more of them. Of course, your role model said things to the majority around him and ended up crucified for it, but somehow I doubt you think that was his own stupid fault. So when you say “In all reality he brought this upon himself” – well, that settles it. You may claim that you are a Christian, but you are not a very good one. You are not forgiving, you are not kind hearted, you do not have a sense of justice or charity, you do not believe in protecting the vulnerable, rather you would support complete hypocrites just like yourself, on the presumption that individuals have no right to be protected from community harassment and vilification, even if that community is supposed to be one of ‘love’. You are not only a terrible Christian, you are a terrible human being.

    Meg, on the other hand, seems to have got the right idea, even if it is a bit silly to disagree with someone’s point of view when their point of view was a raw and unarguable fact that the school was breaking the law. But at least Meg has the decency to acknowledge that minorities have the right to their own views and to their own agency, regardless of how vicious the majority might be.

  9. Lynne says:

    @ JohnMWhite

    I never claimed I was anything in terms of religion. If you are going to make assumptions, and let emotion guide you, then please don’t go around calling other people idiots. It says more about yourself and your own myopic reasoning than it does about them. I jaywalk, I still have two books that belong to the library where I used to live, I do a lot of little things that might technically be illegal. I think I should turn myself into the police, as well as everyone else who is “breaking the law” almost everyday.

    You know what? It’s called common sense, something that you cannot comprehend, apparently. It’s called picking and choosing your own battles. It’s called reality. This IS/WAS a Christian nation. Separation of Church and State means not making prayer a regular and mandatory practice in schools. This was a one-time/isolated event where a student wanted to say a prayer at a school that is at least 90 percent practicing Christians. I’ll say it again. No one was forcing him to participate. You can continue to reel off at the mouth in your oh-so authoritative tone, but the real idiot is you. And so is the real problem. You cherry pick from people’s comments, and focus on what you want to, just like all drama queens and kings. Get a life, seriously.

  10. Lynne says:

    Oh, and Meg claims that he merely stated an opinion. Well, Meg is wrong. He did more than passively state an opinion. Evidently people no longer possess any kind of reading comprehension skills either. He threatened to report the school; over a petty prayer. Give me a break.

  11. Max says:

    Those ridiculous Christians WOULD believe that his actions were fueled by Satan, rather than him being his own person. I find it strange that the majority believes such stupid things. Grown men and women, as well as young adults, should be thinking for themselves. Shit, man.

  12. Lu says:

    it’s ironic that his name is Damon, because that means “demon” in Greek.

  13. joe says:

    good ol people gettin mad about fictional characters

  14. Gary Dee says:

    TO all the Christian Fundamentalists in America- Stay there. You read right. Stay the hell in Alabama, Missouri or wherever the hell you are and, eventually, interbreed yourselves into retardation and extinction. In an age where reality means flying a machine to the surface of Mars, discovery of new planets able to support life and the possibility of actually inventing anti-gravity in our lifetime your ignorant attempts of forcing Bronze Age idiocy and hearsay onto a thinking populace only embarrasses you and your ilk.
    If I prayed , I would pray for the immediate illegality of all religion on Earth.
    Religion and hearsay is responsible for all wars, all strife and all conflict in America – this garbage has spread North into Canada where it has infiltrated our own government. Prime Minister Steven Harper counts himself as one of you dinosaur control freaks and we Westerners can not WAIT to pull this country apart and be done with this insane, inbred, hill-billy thinking.
    Good Luck marrying your cousins.
    Oh, and by the way, i read a few passages in this bible fictional account and this Jesus (no last name) professed to ” love, respect and have compassion for all people”. Perhaps it may be a good idea to actually read that book once in a while instead of telling people how to conduct themselves.

  15. ocooch says:

    My step-father used to say “it’s alright to say ‘I don’t know’”, and that’s why I get bothered when devout atheists criticize agnostics. Most agnostics are agnostics because they truly don’t know. I am a true agnostic, because I don’t believe it”s even “possible” to know whether God exists. Unfortunately, I am often attacked as if I were a fundamentalist Christian.

    Also unfortunately, my step-father didn’t take his own advice when it came to religion. It all hinged upon the all-important “faith”. When I told him that if that was the case, then I might also well believe that the cow jumped over the moon. (That really pissed him off.) It is for that reason I proudly separate myself from the atheists who “know” there is no god. It is open-minded to not believe, and that is a virtue. It is not open-minded to KNOW there is no god. On top of that, when criticizing the hypocrisy of those people who attacked and disowned Damon Fowler, in language and intention that mirrored that hypocrisy, most of the commentators here also failed to see the irony of their words and intentions that reflected their hatred and fear–of Christians as well as the self-proclaimed agnostic.

    Religions come and go–but hatred and fear are forever. So is love and empathy. Hatred and fear are born of ignorance. Love is born of wisdom and knowledge. Really. That’s wisdom. I’m not a Jew, but I like how the Talmud states that :”Kindness is the greatest wisdom.” Let’s all try to be wise.

    The bible is a complex book made of much misinformation, contradiction, and (yes-admit it) wisdom. Unfortunately, most Christians now and historically have evaded much of the wisdom in the bible. As atheists and agnostics, let’s try to be more “civil” and kind and wise. Indignant insults from non-atheists is just as unattractive and uncivil as indignant insults from atheists.
    By the way, if someone calls me a closet xtian you really are being an idiot. You don’t know that, and you would be wrong. It’s OK to be wrong–just don’t believe that being wrong is a virtue, by virtue of you being an atheist or religionist.

  16. Don says:

    “This IS/WAS a Christian nation.”

    Yes Lynne, and the Holocaust never happened, and the Moon landings were all faked.

    Try taking a history class or five, and Google “The Treaty of Tripoli” – also, I will give you $1,000 for every mention of the Christian god in the Constitution (hint; there aren’t any).

    “No one was forcing him to participate.”

    Wow, do you actually believe the dishonest tripe you’re spewing? IT WAS HIS GRADUATION! Sure, he could’ve stayed home and received his diploma in the mail…but the FACT remains that his rights were violated, not to mention the law.

    Seriously, at least TRY to understand the situation before mouthing off again. Thanks so much.

  17. Brianna says:

    @Everyone…Please, please, PLEASE stop making assumptions about people based on one post he or she makes here, or anywhere else. Just because someone misreads something or doesn’t completely understand an argument, does not mean they are a hick, dumbass, cracker, stupid, a bad reader or anything else like what I’ve seen posted here…this stereotyping and cruelty is just what we want to be put to a stop, right? Then make it start with you. Also, remember not all Christians are angry bible thumpers.

  18. Meg says:

    @JohnMWhite
    Sorry if I didn’t make myself clear, I agree the school was breaking the law, that is a fact. Any type of prayer done in that setting could be done by something like a group of students, or another private group, etc, NOT the school itself, since it’s a public school.

    @Lynn
    I’ve thought more about it, and I agree that Damon could’ve handled the situation differently. He could’ve brought his opinion to light by just going to the school board or something, however we as the public can’t know all the circumstances, and maybe Damon tried other ways before threatening the school.

  19. remigius says:

    Barry. The Freethinker needs a forum.

  20. Reginald Selkirk says:

    NORTH LOUISIANA has been described as “the buckle on the Bible Belt”

    It should be noted that many spots in the U.S. have been so described.

    Arkansas is the buckle of the Bible Belt

    Oklahoma could be called the Buckle of the Bile Belt

    South Carolina has been described as the buckle of the Bible Belt

    Joplin (Missouri) is centrally situated in the buckle of the Bible Belt

  21. Maddie says:

    I live in Louisiana. Personally, I hate it. Not just Lousiana, but the South in general. Soon I will be moving up north to get away from all of this. Being an agnostic independent is not simply accepted here. I should be able to live my life the way I choose and so should everyone else (Though, that does not include murder…or child abuse or rape…no). My point is people should be able to be black or white and not be bothered if theyre not one or the other. People should be able to be gay or lesbian without someone telling them they are wrong because of who they are. People should be able to be a liberal or conservative and not get attacked by one another. And people should be able to be a Christian or not without undoubted persecusion. If you are even slightly a rational thinking do not come to Louisiana. It is racist, gay-bashing, overly conservative, and if you don’t go to church these damn Christians are going to want to know why. Do not get me wrong, I have nothing wrong with Chrsitians. Just do NOT push your beliefs on me and do not be a HYPOCRITE. I find it funny when Christians harrass and pick on kids like this. I could be wrong, but im dretty damn sure somewhere in that book it says ‘to be nice.’ This discusts me.

  22. Kosta says:

    It is dangerous to teach our children of imaginary creatures like god. Children start to blur reality and fantasy when confronted with people that live their life by faith and people that live their life by reason. No wonder the christians demonize others that don’t think the way they do, because they have no other fight. When you live your life with contradictions, you never see the truth. God was created in man’s image, man’s rules, man’s laws. Stop trying to make theology the Social norm and respect others for their belief, not spiritual.

  23. Sami says:

    I doubt most of these people would’ve done anything if everybody else wasn’t doing it, too. Sheep are my favourite. <3

  24. Harmless Fuzzy Bunny says:

    Sorry folks, but tolerance goes both ways. Would you go to Saudi Arabia and scold the vast majority of people who begin and end each sentence with “Allah akbar”? No, of course not, they’re not demanding *you* say it, and that backwater school didn’t demand *everyone* bow their heads. And no, Hermoine, they’re not the “buckle” of the bible-belt, they’re the armpit. I live in the buckle – The People’s Theocratic Republic of Oklahomastan – and any Okie who wants to know if I have a personal relationship with Jeebus finds out with a smile and a wink that I’m a born-in-the-wool, hell-bound heathen, thanks for asking. But only those who ask. If I’m at a college ball game (Boomer!) and all the christers want to drop to their knees and drool all over themselves before, during or after the game, how am I harmed? None of my children’s classes have been “The Proper Worship of and Subjugation to Jeebus” – so if some brainwashed cheerleader wants to thank the invisible Jewish carpenter – why should I care?

  25. Derek says:

    I agree with the point of this article which is too expose the strong discrimination as a result of religion but this seems to be making a rather black and white impact. The same type of people that are willing to outcast people for their lack of religious views are the same type of people that would outcast people for their religious views. Extremists exist in every religious/political/ group; they blatantly believe anything that sounds the most convincing and jump head first into it.

    All I’m saying is, there are alot of decent christians, muslims, jews, and etc, but like anything else, there’s a lot of dick head fuckers that just ruin the whole thing regardless of it’s sentimental purpose of community and best intentions.

    On another note, I completely agree with lynn and respect meg for thinking about what she said and considering alternative solutions to Damon. This is how society gets better rather then every one else here shooting off their guns over what someone else said.

    An opinion is an opinion, some will disagree with me and that’s cool.

    SMOKE WEED ERRDAY

  26. Avelmira says:

    Must spread this article and the actions of their “Jesus-like” disciples to the rest of the world, so we can further understand what monsters they truly are.

  27. Makenna Herl says:

    Christians are assholes and this pisses me off-
    Have a nice day…………

  28. Rae says:

    Rather unfortunately, I know where Damon is coming from. I’ve grown up in the deep South (Mississippi) and while I was annoyed that we had a prayer at graduation, football games, every other sport-oriented activity, pep rallies, and some classes, I and the two or three other athiests were too afraid to speak up (I mean, we’re gay, too, so god forbid (no, really) we do anything but keep our heads down and not speak unless spoken to). We once rebelled against it, but then they started calling it ‘commencement’ or something instead of prayer, a cute little way of side-stepping that ‘law.’

    Even now, in college, if I say I’m an athiest, I get immediately and harshly judged.

    That being said, I commend you, Damon. I’m glad there’s someone stuck in hell with me that’s rebelling against the tyranny. It’s a losing battle (at least it is down here), but I’m proud of you for standing up for what you believe in even in the face of such harsh, terrible criticism.

  29. kevin says:

    Good, he’s a douchbag anyway. Plus all you people in the comments are just like the school and its students

  30. Rickie Featherstone says:

    People are people, we all believe in something, even if it’s nothing. The real problem is, majority of what is acceptable, it’s typically expected to be accepted by all. Even then, any lager group of self righteous indignant ignorance always spewes indignant self righteous ignorance. You want peace, speak peace; you want love, be love. If any religion could come close to a deception to a “God”, that is love and every thing good. If there is ever lasting eternity, it it’s in the good we do that lives on. So enough with the illogical war, and live logically in peace.

  31. streetlightmani says:

    While I do give noexplanation or justification to this, I feel I should point out one discrepancy:

    “Christian fundamentalists have persecuted atheists and agnostics for the past 30 years with accusations that non-believers are aggressive and are “throwing atheism in our faces,” when the opposite is true.”

    Unfortunately, this is true for both sides. You go on any secular online forum and you see both sides doing it; an atheist friend of mine took a post I made on Facebook (which had nothing to do with proving or disproving the existence of God) and turned it into an anti-religious hate storm with faulty logic and unnecessary insults. I know this is an atheist online magazine, but I still feel this is a little overly biased.

    That being said, I AM a Christian, think of it what you will, but I’m completely on Damon’s side in this case. This is a pathetic bastardization of what belief is supposed to entail; I can’t justify this and I won’t try to. Its disgusting.

  32. Anna says:

    This is madness, im eternally grateful i dont live in America.

  33. Lisa says:

    I say we raise some money to put a statue of Charles Darwin in a prominent place in the city.

  34. RedheadDane says:

    Seriously, what’s WRONG with those people? IF the school had actually kept its word, and simply held a minute of silent reflection, what was to keep anyone from using that minute for PRAYER? Problem solved.
    Group-choir-prayers tend to be mechanic and untrue anyway…

  35. donniebnyc says:

    There is actually nothing more christian than violence against non-believers.

  36. RevAtheist says:

    I would really like a link to the interview where they said they were armed and ready to force Christianity on America. Without that link I can’t take that claim seriously, even if I do believe it is highly likely. I just would like to know the source because just as with Christian claims, I do not just accept them without evidence. If somebody has that interview or a place where it is referenced more clearly, please post it

  37. Chris says:

    His parents disowned him? Cowards. Religion poisons everything, indeed. Even the love of parents for their children, I gather.

  38. Sinjin Smythe says:

    “Humanity without religion is like a serial killer without a chainsaw.”

  39. charles says:

    that is the biggest load of shit i have ever read, that kid deserves a medal for putting it up to the church , all the church is a hippocritical corporation that prays off the old who had it beat into them and likes little boys , and the worst part is that nothing has been done about it !!!!!!