By Joseph L. Conn
Do non-Christian students face discrimination in some public schools? That certainly seems to be the case.
In a column published in the Knoxville News Sentinel yesterday, student Krystal Myers said Christianity is routinely favored at her Lenoir City (Tenn.) High School.
Myers, an atheist, said there are prayers each year at graduation ceremonies, prayers at football games and other athletic events and religious displays by teachers. Youth ministers, she said, are allowed to come onto the school campus and hand out candy and other food to Christian students and their friends.
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According to her sources, the local school board also opens its meeting with Christian prayers.
“The whole foundation of how our school is conducted is established by obvious Christians,” asserted Myers, an honors student. “Somehow, this is unsurprising. If our school board chooses to ignore the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court, then it is no surprise that teachers choose to do the same.
“I know that I will keep trying to gain my rights as an atheist and as an American citizen,” she continued, “but I also need your help in educating other people to realize the injustice done to all minority groups. The Christian faith cannot rule the United States. It is unconstitutional. Religion and government are supposed to be separate.
“If we let this slide, what other amendments to the Constitution will be ignored? ” Myers asked. “I leave you to decide what you will or will not do, but just remember that nonbelievers are not what you originally thought we were. We are human beings — just like you.”
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Myers’ column was originally written for the Panther Press, the student newspaper where she is editor, but school officials refused to allow it to be published. School Superintendent Wayne Miller told the News Sentinel he feared her editorial had the potential for disruption in the school.
"We do have the right to control the content of the school paper if we feel it is in the best interest of the students," he told the newspaper.
So the bottom line is this: School officials sponsor or allow the promotion of Christianity but censor the expression of dissenting voices. That’s about as clear a violation of the U.S. Constitution as you can get.
Krystal is a bright and courageous young woman. She was right to bring these issues into the light of day so the situation can be corrected. Public schools must welcome all students, regardless of their views about religion. It is a violation of the First Amendment for government to favor the majority faith over others, or to favor religion over nonreligion.
That is a fundamental rule of American life, and it applies in Lenoir City just as it applies in the rest of the country.