Atheist student has to flee hometown days before his graduation due to threats

Damon Fowler is from Bastrop, La. is an atheist and a graduating student. The small town school has always had a Christian prayer during the ceremony, a common practice that seems to be persistent. Damon, being a proud atheist, refused to bow his head in the prayer and threatened to contact the ACLU if the prayer wasn't stopped. The school board backed down, but the school itself certainly did not.

Damon wrote:
"My graduation from high school is this Friday. I live in the Bible Belt of the United States. The school was going to perform a prayer at graduation, but due to me sending the superintendent an email stating it was against Louisiana state law and that I would be forced to contact the ACLU if they ignored me, they ceased it. The school backed down, but that's when the shitstorm rolled in. Everyone is trying to get it back in the ceremony now. I'm not worried about it, but everyone hates me... kind of worried about attending graduation now. It's attracted more hostility than I thought.
My reasoning behind it is that it's emotionally stressing on anyone who isn't Christian. No one else wanted to stand up for their constitutional right of having freedom of and FROM religion. I was also hoping to encourage other atheists to come out and be heard. I'm one of maybe three atheists in this town that I currently know of. One of the others is afraid to come out of the (atheist) closet.
Though I've caused my classmates to hate me, I feel like I've done the right thing. Regardless of their thoughts on it, basically saying I am ruining their fun and their lives, I feel like I've helped someone out there. I didn't do this for me or just atheists, but anyone who doesn't believe in their god that prayer to Yahweh may affect.
Moral of the story: though the opposition may be great, majority doesn't necessarily mean right. Thank you for reading. Wish me luck at graduation.
EDIT: Well, it hit the fan a couple hours ago. They've already assembled a group of supporters at a local church and called in the newspaper. I've had to deactivate my Facebook account and I can't reason with any of them. They refuse to listen. The whole town hates me, aside from a few closet atheists that are silently supporting, which I don't blame them looking at what I've incited here. Thanks for the support though.
If anyone would like to offer support, the superintendent is who I emailed and the school's website is mpsb.us
Thanks for the support. It's really helping. This has just gotten sickening.
Edit: I've had requests for my Facebook info... I don't mind giving that out at all. Damon Fowler - Bastrop, LA. I could use all of the support I can get. Not sure if this link will work: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001146281052
EDIT: My laptop battery is running low as I type thanks to the hundreds of Facebook friend requests and messages I've been trying to reply to. Thank all of you for the continued support. Right now, I'm about to go to the principle's office to speak to her in person about attending graduation.
I just got off the phone with FFRF as well and apparently I've been given a $1000 student activist's award toward college. I really wasn't expecting it to get this big, nor was I expecting any of that. Still, I thank all of you for the support that I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else. You played a big part in this and because of you, I've decided to walk despite rumors of threats against me. So far, they're talking about organizing a large vocal prayer during the moment of silence despite what I've done. We'll see how this goes. Class night is tonight... not looking forward to attending that."

Damon's brother then wrote:
"I am Damon's Brother.
Here is an update: My brother has been cut off from all communication by my mother. He is not allowed to speak to me and I live 6 hours drive away from him. There's nothing I can do. My sister is supposed to go pick him up tomorrow and he will no longer be living in that town or with my parents. He's coming to Texas with me.
Regarding Quinn's comments. I was one of her students in high school. This is the letter I wrote to her this afternoon:
Hello Mrs. Quinn,
My brother is Damon Fowler. I recently heard by proxy that you stated some pretty hateful and incredibly biased remarks in regard to him confronting the school about its illegal prayer at graduation. It's insulting and upsetting to me because I honestly considered you one of my favorite teachers in high school. It was because of you and Mr. Horton that I went on to the University of North Texas and got my BFA in New Media Art and I'm currently a lead web designer at one of the largest Universities in Texas.
The quote I am referring to is this:
“[In the past, non-religious students] respected the majority of their classmates and didn’t say anything,” [Bastrop High School staff member Mitizi] Quinn said. “We’ve never had this come up before. Never…And what’s even more sad is this is a student who really hasn’t contributed anything to graduation or to their classmates.” (Bastrop Daily Enterprise, http://www.bastropenterprise.com/features/x2132687894/Student-chall...)
The last sentence is what I am referring to specifically. This is extremely unprofessional and unbecoming of a teacher. I am requesting that you both personally and publicly apologize to my brother for your remarks and if I do not hear that this has happened by the end of the week, I will be taking this to the superintendent and to the school board. If the school board does nothing, I will take this even higher.
I need not remind you that a specific and lengthy school prayer is illegal in the state of Louisiana. My brother is in the right here. The will of the majority does not rule all in this case. In other words, in this case, the majority is in violation of state and federal laws. This is why the school board backed down.
Of all people I saw you as a person who stood up for the weak and hurting. I remember a story where you told me you were instrumental in desegregating BHS. This is no different. By dismissing Damon's emotions/feelings/beliefs, you ignore him (and other religious and non-religious). You marginalize other religious and non-religious students. By not standing up for him and the law, you are hurting who my brother is and what he's trying to do, without any care for his emotions. You're advocating to have this little ritual performed illegally at graduation, with blatant disregard for anyone who isn't Christian. Instead, what you should be doing is supporting all students and the law by supporting a brief moment of silence, not prayer, but moment of silence. It's the law.
Sincerely,
Jerrett Fowler
This boy needs your help, Reddit. He needs this to go national. We all need this, to protect the young atheists and agnostics (and all religions other than Christianity) all over the country. We cannot allow tyranny to reign, we cannot allow these people to win this fight. We are the internet, we can win this. We have won this so many times.
[EDIT]
My sister called my brother and was able to conference me in without my mother knowing. My brother is overwhelmed by all the support that I told him about. He literally didn't know what to say and was not expecting this to happen. He is extremely grateful for all your support and he says "Thank you." He will be on the internet tonight to respond personally.
As far as his spirits are concerned, he sounded scared. Really scared, actually. He sounded as if he was about to cry on the phone with me, although I'm not sure if it was because of all the support here or because he's scared. He has gotten death threats already and threats of bodily harm if he shows up to graduation. We're still assessing if it is safe enough for him to be there. The only way we can ensure his safety is to grow this to the national level. I'd love to see CNN, BBC, TheDailyShow, Richard Dawkins, and Colbert get on this story. I can't provide safety alone.
Thank you to everyone who is following this.
Jerrett
[EDIT 2] Graduation date is May 20th, in the evening, not sure on top specifics.
[EDIT 3] https://www.facebook.com/pages/Support-Damon/103714833051042 Show your facebook support!
[ANNOUNCEMENT] I am in contact with a lawyer at FFRF. They are drafting up letters to the school, specifically regarding Quinn's public comments against my brother."


Prayer at public school graduations(it's actually a charter school I believe, but gets government funds all the same) has always been something I disagreed on, but rather low on my list. I really wish religion would just leave the public arena, but I've always been more concerned with actual life-and-death matters. The students, however, are making this a lot more than just a matter of a two minute prayer and the spirit of freedom of/from religion. It's looking like this poor kid will spend his graduation day, the symbol of progression, maturing, and becoming an adult, fleeing the state.

Here's an article from a local source:
http://www.bastropenterprise.com/features/x2132687894/Student-chall...

Here's the original posts:
http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/hed7y/threatened_to_contac...

Here's his Facebook page if you want to show you're support with a message or friend request:
http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001146281052

And here's the school's website:
http://www.mpsb.us/education/district/district.php?sectionid=1

Right now I think the best thing we can do is pass this story on, contact the school, and/or give Damon our support.

Views: 1689

Tags: Damon, Fowler, atheist, flee, graduation, prayer, student

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Comment by Monica S. on May 20, 2011 at 9:39pm
I emailed this to friends on fb and I am trying to figure out what else to do. But yeah, they are overreacting. But then again, this is Bastrop. Sigh.
Comment by Stefanie Müller on May 20, 2011 at 5:25pm
What a courageous young man! I've joined the "Support Damon" page on FB, and will pass the story on.
Comment by AgeOfAtheists14 on May 20, 2011 at 9:58am
wtf? viral time
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 19, 2011 at 8:12pm
I've sent it out on twitter but I don't have many followers.  I've put it on FB but I only have 5 or 6 atheists FB friends.  I've posted a link to hear in the chat on my other Atheist site.  That's about the most I can give it at this point, but I do hope others will take up the cause.
Comment by Gecko, Seth...brother of Richie! on May 19, 2011 at 8:01pm
 This story needs to go viral.
Comment by Joe Thornton on May 19, 2011 at 7:51pm
This is crazy. Why can't they use the moment of silence to bow their heads and pray in silence if they so choose to? Why are they threatening Damon with violence? If they believe a deity exist, why don't they leave it up to it to decide punishment? The truth is because they know dam well there is no deity and they are superstitious beyond all reason.
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 19, 2011 at 7:50pm
Thanks for bringing attention to this issue - I've sent my message of support to a fine, upstanding fellow heathen.

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