Freedom From Religion Foundation Scholarship Essay (4th place)
Price, policy, producers, profit, productive resources and property rights are topics of economics, not prayer. Sitting quietly at my desk, listening to anything but economics I questioned my future role in the atheist movement. My heart was pounding and I felt my hands starting to sweat. To speak up or not to speak up, that was the question. Did I want to speak up for atheism while suffering judgment or keep my thoughts quiet and move on with my life? My brain was conflicted while my voice ruptured through resistance. All of a sudden I heard, “How can you compare atheism to smoking? Do you not think that crosses the line of what to say in a public school classroom?” Finally someone stood up and then realization hit me, that someone was me.
Growing up I always would hide behind my parents when meeting someone new. I was the shy and timid little girl who had the face of fright during elementary school plays and never wanted the leading role. I was the young student who never spoke up if I felt like something was incorrect because I feared the idea of being out casted. I never saw myself as an activist because I felt as though I contained a quiet voice, a voice that would drown in the sea of loud and outgoing people. But one day that was tested in my summer economics class. Upon entering the high school classroom during the summer of 2012 everyone (including me) was excited about the teacher and he was excited to see us. His personality was sociable and friendly and he obviously had spirit for passing on his knowledge like many teachers have. As the semester went by I realized that his passion for passing on his knowledge was not focused on economics but focused on religion, prayer, and spirituality. Instead of teaching economics he would teach us that certain historical people were among the greatest because of their spiritual enlightenment. He also expressed to the students that it was human nature to have a spiritual and religious component, therefore making atheists unnatural and against human nature. This teacher went so far with this idea to even compare atheism to smoking and how the body originally rejects smoking just like “the mind rejects the concept of atheism.” This was the first time he said the word atheism in the classroom and it was the breaking point for me. At that moment my voice felt so powerful and unstoppable even though my brain was demanding to silence the neuron’s signals going towards my voice. After questioning his capability of saying those statements in a public school classroom he shrugged it off with no reasonable reply. Still he would not stop.
On the board the next week he drew arrows pointing up like a mountain while describing the positive effect prayer does to the state of mind. I knew something had to be done but I had no idea where to start, still I was new to the atheism movement and only came out recently in the preceding November. Because of his loud personality I was scared to speak up again, plus I felt like I was alone – that everyone else agreed with him. Even though I felt alone in the classroom I knew I had the help of the online community group I call family. That night I posted in the Houston Atheists Facebook group my situation and my thoughts were reaffirmed – that action had to take place. I was directed to the Freedom From Religion foundation where I was able to get help from the Staff Attorney Stephanie Schmitt. After various email exchanges Stephanie wrote a wonderful letter to the superintendent of my school district. I had a few friends in the same class that were angry with me and said I destroyed his freedom to religion, but in reality his actions were unconstitutional and were not related to economics at all. This was economics class, not Sunday school. From this event I learned that even though I grew up with a shy personality I can still have a passionate and assertive voice that fights for what is constitutional.