Paying the Price for Defending Religious Freedom in South Carolina

"What's the harm?" That is the question we are often asked when the ACLU steps in to stop public school officials from including official prayer in school events and proselytizing students. It was a question posed by many community members in the Chesterfield County School District when we filed a lawsuit on behalf of middle school student Jordan Anderson after the district invited Christian rapper B-SHOC and a youth minister to evangelize students during a school-day assembly and continued to subject to students to a variety of other religious practices.

A recent Florence News article following up with Jordan and his family answers that question with heartrending clarity: When school officials insist on promoting a particular faith, it is students themselves and their families who suffer, especially those who don't share the religious beliefs favored by school officials. Jordan, for example, was subjected day in and day out to an overtly religious environment, fostered largely by school officials. Although he was a non-believer, he was forced to profess a belief in God as punishment for minor infractions of school rules, such as forgetting his uniform belt. He was harassed by classmates and school officials who tried to convert him and denigrated his beliefs.

When Jordan and his family could take it no longer and summoned the courage to stand up for their rights, like many plaintiffs in Establishment Clause cases, they faced even more hardship. They were harassed at their home and even received death threats. They suspect that their dogs may have been poisoned in retaliation for their participation in the lawsuit. Even now, Jordan's dad, Jon, has a hard time finding work. He's been told bluntly that it is because of his religious beliefs, or lack thereof. And Jordan worries that some teachers treat him more harshly since the lawsuit.

Many people seem to think it's a victimless "crime" when the government violates the separation of church and state guaranteed by the First Amendment. Some even argue that promoting government-sponsored prayer and religion in public schools benefits students and families. But if the existence of an official state religion and the government's imposition of religious beliefs were so harmless, our Founding Fathers would have seen no need to include the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment. Indeed, if government-imposed religion were no big deal, the earliest colonial settlers would not have risked life and limb to migrate to this land where religious freedom now thrives. And if official prayer and proselytizing in public schools doesn't hurt anyone, then why are the Andersons feeling so much pain?

Being branded as outcasts and unwelcome in your community to the point where you can't get work, your life is threatened, and you consider leaving town – simply because you don't follow the same faith as others and don't want to be treated as second-class citizens – is a steep price to pay in the name of religious freedom. Jordan and his family deserve better.

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Sarah McUmber-House

The thing about enjoying the right to Religious Freedom, is that you have to let others enjoy the same right. Because you do not want them imposing their religious beliefs upon you or your children, you do not get to impose your religious beliefs on them. Kind of hard to argue against that fairness, unless you are really just trying to take their right away from them, and keep it only for yourself and those who agree with you.

It is also ludicrous to claim that anyone is trying to take away our right to prayer, as we can, at any time, in any place, choose personal, private prayer.

Anonymous

To hell with learning "more about religious freedom and other civil liberty issues", how do we help this family? I should think a suit against this disgusting township for relocation costs would be entirely fair, though sadly probably legally unworkable.

Anonymous

This is a public school. Both religious and non-religious people are taxed to pay for this school. Religion should only be taught in schools to teach the history and what it is all about. It shouldn't be used to convert people or be used to push on to others. It should only be used as a way to broaden the scope of a person's thought process and allow them to make that choice.

Anonymous

What is the ACLU doing to assist this lawsuit?

http://ffrf.org/uploads/legal/IGWTComplaint.pdf

Anonymous

No one is trying to take away your prayer. It is still allowed you just cannot have rallies and or push your religion over another in a school. simple really. Read the brief. Watch the video. Know the whole story.

Anonymous

maybe jason and his family should just go to church and see what it's about. maybe having faith is a good thing. maybe there is value in having values. maybe turning the other cheek and loving others as much if not more than yourself is a good message.

Anonymous

Friends,
We the people provide and retain 'religion' whether the belief is christian, muslim, or atheist. Facts of social responsibility are relying on 'freedom' to exist, if it be freedom of religion or freedom to no religious belief or practices. Fact, in this text muslim is spell checked 'incorrectly' due to capitalization. However, atheist and christian are not. The simple word itself, communicated via 'meme' is censored and controlled by YEARS of ....well... "individual" life. To say one is better, wrong, or right, instantly renders the statement false. One first must be told and taught how to be 'alone', thus, one is never alone after taught how to communicate this as fact. If the statement is not false it reveals democracy, freedom, equality, and ultimately truth.
This family is doing the right thing only because they are thinking for the world community in a nonviolent, selfless, and approachable manner. I am currently undergoing a child custody case under North Carolina state legislature. NC constitution article 6, section 8 requires belief in the Almighty God to retain public office. http://www.ncleg.net/Legislation/constitution/article6.html
...yes, this means EVERY judge in NC elected by another board of public officials.... I am a veteran that protested the wars before joining the United States military. I did not choose Iraq or Afghanistan, I choose Infantry. I believe in good, nonviolent communication, and that other humans can do horrible acts of violent manipulation to other humans.... To be free is to allow every other person a right to your own death, which gives you the right to your own life. You and I can believe a many things such as; gravity, feelings, birth, god, nothing, and all these things are intangible to what we actually know. We the people are not omnipotent, we the people have rights only to distribute equality, belief in one christian god, or ten thousand hindu gods (spell check Hindu) means you simply believe in yourself as well as other humans. Wake up, even this ambiguous 'discussion' directed at freedom of religion, along side separation of church and state reveals the function of YOU as a self. Schools have many issues, one of which will always be censorship and indoctrination. A school or a courtroom, the real discussion is the children and what is best for our generations to come. What is best is equality, understanding, and peace. Philosophies, scientific methods, and religious ideologies act to promote peace and equality in the manner of good. There will always be violence so long as we degrade the power of not only our one self, but the power or respecting individuals.
Hopefully the buy bull belt will come around before attempting to remove itself as a colony away from the U.S. Maybe some community of religious peoples' exist somewhere out there that will FINALLY understand that ALL belief directed at another human being is only good, when it is also equal....hence the idea of FREEDOM....think for yourself, question authority, and good F*^$#ing luck!
-Andy

Anonymous

My name is Jon Anderson. My son is Jordan. We are the ones who sued this school district. Things thankfully have changed in the schools. It has been a tough road my friends. And I will tell you the harm that has come to us.
Threats of violence. some credible most not.
Blacklisted by church members so my business has tanked even farther than the economy can be blamed for.
My dogs being poisoned (which I cannot prove).
Evicted from our home of over 6 years.
That is not to say it has been all bad or that we wish we didnt do it. The opposite is true. We are glad we did. While we may have been getting a hard time we have made it easier for others. I am especially proud of Jordan. He walks with head held high even when the "christians" say they are going to kick his atheist ass.

Also to any who think we did this for money.. well read the settlement. We asked for and received $2.00.
Thats right 2 bucks.
This was never about money. Not to say that it wouldn't have come in handy lol

Andrea Derrick

Kudos to you and your family, Jon Anderson, for standing up for what is right. You are true heroes.

To the anonymous author of comment #6, maybe people can have values and lead moral lives without belonging to a church or practicing Christianity. Some of the kindest, most ethical people are, in fact, atheists. I realize that is difficult for some people to fathom. I was raised in a Protestant denomination and clearly remember being taught in Sunday school that "Christian" was basically synonymous with "good person." Whether intentionally or not, that message brought with it the implication that "non-Christian" must equal "bad person," so I grew up under the influence of this faulty notion. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. "Good" people come from all groups, and so do "bad" ones. (I am using the terms good and bad people very loosely here. I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people, as my religion teaches.)

Andrea Derrick, SC

Anonymous

My supervisor's from South Carolina, born and bred, and he still thinks they go overboard with a LOT of things.
Like the time we were on duty the night after the election last year, and he got this phone call while we were on our way to an emergency call.
It was his mom. She was hysterical b/c President Obama had "somehow stolen the election," and she begged Britt (my supervisor) to "get on board and help us secede from the Union."
"Mom," he said, "I'm WORKing. I'm on my way to a call. I can't help South Carolina secede from the Union just now."
She called back later when we WEREN'T on a call and wanted to discuss it further. He replied that he "isn't going to discuss this while working even if there's currently no calls."
She ended up accusing him of being "duped by Yankees" and he ended up hanging up on her b/c frankly, he said, it was starting to stress him out.

He thinks they overreact to freedom of religion too. He called it "too many people gun-toting on Saturday and Bible-thumping on Sunday."

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