Why are bears appearing on a school’s Facebook page?
Because Stanton Elementary School in Powell County, Kentucky, is apparently teaching kids that atheists will be eaten by bears.
Pranksters targeted the school’s Facebook page this week after it was reported that one of its pupils, ten-year-old Devin Estes, was being bullied because he decided to pull out of a daily Christian programme called the Upper Room. He does not believe in God and has no stomach for the evangelical crap that’s being peddled at these prayer and Christian song sessions.
His mother, Heather, above, has complained to the school about bullying — most of it is school-yard taunts. But one student recently slammed a desk into Devin when the subject of religion came up. And some of the teachers seem to be trying to persuade the boy that his atheism is wrong.
Recently, the bullying escalated, and when Devin complained to a teacher about it and asked to go speak to the principal, Devin said she wouldn’t allow him to do so.
She told him that if he wants to be different than the other kids, he’d better get used to defending himself and invited him to stand before the class and talk about his religious beliefs.
One teacher once quizzed him on his religious beliefs and joked that non-believers would be eaten by bears, like children who mocked the prophet Elisha in one Old Testament story.
Reporting the story for the Courier Journal, Joseph Gerth pointed out that:
Powell County is nothing if it’s not evangelical Protestant. The county ranks in the top quarter of all US counties for percentage of residents who belong to evangelical churches, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives.
The school’s programme appears to violate the Constitution, according to Heather Weaver, a lawyer who specialises in religious freedom issues and works for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Weaver doesn’t believe that elementary school students could organise such a programme without the involvement of teachers. Use of school equipment like projectors, the gym’s public address system and the school website are also giveaways, she said.
And she worries that at the very least, teachers are allowing students to coerce Devin into taking part in the programme.
The principal at the school, James Crase, didn’t respond to a phone call or email. Mary Beth Mink, an English teacher at nearby Powell County High School and a sponsor of the Upper Room programme, didn’t respond to an email, either.
Powell County School Superintendent Michael Tate would say only that the school board system is looking into the situation and that the safety of students is its top priority.
Heather Estes, who is a public advocacy lawyer in Stanton, said she and her friends are reluctant activists in this matter.
They would have been happy to not raise questions about the programme — “While my family is not religious, my family is not anti-religious” — but she felt she had to say something because of the bullying.
Now she’s trying to figure out her next step. Maybe she and her kids will have to move. All because of a programme that was supposed to make kids feel closer to God, but is actually making them feel isolated and alone.