The religious right would like you to believe that Christians in this country are being persecuted. But in a large segment of this country, the non-Christians are the ones being persecuted. Two kids in eastern Kentucky are finding that out the hard way. They’re being bullied and harassed by classmates and teachers because they don’t believe in God.
Every morning, many of the kids at Stanton Elementary School in Stanton, southeast of Lexington, attend “Upper Room,” a Christian prayer and praise session held in the school gym. But Heather Estes’ son and daughter don’t attend–and they’re catching a lot of grief for it.
Estes told WLEX-TV in Lexington that for the better part of two years, her kids have caught a lot of grief from their classmates, as well as teachers, because they opt to stay out of Upper Room. Watch here.
Estes said that her kids are bombarded with questions about why they don’t believe in God. She also said that her son, Devin, was told by one of his teachers that atheists would be eaten by bears.
Estes went into even more detail in a posting at a secret Facebook group for atheists, according to Hemant Mehta, better known as Friendly Atheist on Patheos. She said that kids have been slamming tables into Devin, among other things.
Joseph Gerth of The (Louisville) Courier-Journal did a deep dive into the Estes’ kids ordeal on Friday. Devin said that he attended Upper Room when he was in third grade, but started sitting out the following year. One of his classmates figured out he didn’t believe in God, and started bullying him. Others quickly joined in.
The teachers not only haven’t helped, but seem to be complicit. When Devin asked one of his teachers if he could go to the principal’s office to complain, the teacher told him that if he wanted to be different, he should be willing to defend himself. According to Devin, the teacher strongly suggested that he get up in front of the class and talk about his beliefs. Another teacher was the one who warned him that he risked being eaten by bears if he didn’t accept Jesus.
Heather Weaver, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union who specializes in religious freedom, thinks there may be more problems than just bullying. Weaver watched a video Estes posted to her Facebook page in which Devin talked about his daily ordeal. Praise songs blare over the gym’s PA system, lyrics and other graphics are projected on the wall, and teachers appear to be “clearly in charge.”
Weaver finds it hard to believe that elementary school kids could organize a program like this without teacher involvement, especially given the use of school equipment. Additionally, she believes that teachers are at the very least letting students coerce kids into attending. Indeed, Devin’s sister, Georgia, a third-grader, attends even though she doesn’t believe in God either; she doesn’t want to be seen as different.
Estes would have been content to keep quiet, but felt like she had to speak up due to the bullying. That’s a shame, to say the least. It is simply inconceivable that teachers in a public school would turn a blind eye to kids being picked on because of their religious beliefs. The fact that this has gone on for two years is simply outrageous.
This school’s administration, as well as district officials, owe Estes and her kids an apology. And every kid who bullied Devin and Georgia must be made to apologize as well. Bible Belt or not, this is unacceptable. Period.
(featured image: screenshot courtesy WLEX-TV via Raw Story)