(Photo: Knoxville News Sentinel/Adam Brimer)
Officials at a Tennessee high school, which is reported to have a Christian majority of students and some faculty, have disallowed the publication of an editorial column in which the student editor of the school's newspaper states her rights as an atheist are severely limited on campus.
Lenoir City High School honors student Krystal Myers wrote in her column, "No Rights: The Life of an Atheist," that she feels Christians are allowed special rights at the school while atheists are not.
"As a current student in Government, I have realized that I feel that my rights as an Atheist are severely limited and unjust when compared to other students who are Christians," Myers stated in the article made available to the local media.
"Not only are there multiple clubs featuring the Christian faith, but youth ministers are also allowed to come onto school campus and hand candy and other food out to Christians and their friends. However, I feel like if an Atheist did that, people would not be happy about it," she explained.
While legal teams appear to be defending Christians for their right to express themselves in schools and in the public square at an increasing rate, official actions against atheists for expressing their views are hard to find. However, high school student publications are most often supervised by teachers who generally have more censoring authority because of the under adult age newspaper staff.
Myers states that members of the school staff are violating the Constitution by promoting "pro-Christian" beliefs on campus and at school functions. In her column, she took particular offense to one teacher who "made her religious preferences known by wearing t-shirt depicting the crucifix while performing her duties as a public employee."
The school's director, Wayne Miller, said the decision to not run the column in the staff supervised Panther Press was because of the potential for disruption in the school, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
"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," said Miller as reported by the Sentinel.
Miller also said he is confident the school is not in violation of any constitutional laws as alleged by Myers. Prayers at sporting events are student-led and although school board meetings begin with a prayer, there are usually no students present, according to Miller.
In her editorial, Myers states that she wants to "clear up some misconceptions about Atheism."
"No, we do not worship the 'devil.' We do not believe in God, so we also do not believe in Satan. And we may be 'godless' but that does not mean that we are without morals," she affirms. "I know, personally, I strive to be the best person I can be, even without religion. In fact, I have been a better person since I have rejected religion. And perhaps the most important misconception is that we want to convert everyone into Atheists and that we hate Christians. For the most part, we just want to be respected for who we are and not be judged."
Myers, in defending her opinion that Christians are over-stepping their bounds at the school, listed several court cases in which judges ruled violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, sometimes referred to as the "separation of church and state" clause.
However, some Christian scholars point out that interpretations of the clause such as the ones Myers gives examples of are incorrect.
"Our founding fathers gave no grounds for the false division that has been introduced by our activistic courts and judges under the banner of 'separation of church and state,'" wrote Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. in a column published by The Christian Post several years ago. "No such concept is found in our nation's Constitution or in our Bill of Rights – not even something close to such an idea!"