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Forget God’s Not Dead. This is What It’s Like to Be an Atheist Teacher in the South

We finally know that the plot of God’s Not Dead 2 involves a religious high school teacher who gets accused of promoting religion in the classroom by a presumably-atheist student… even though what she said was hardly crossing the line. (At least that’s the story I gathered from the brief plot points that have been released so far.)But unless it’s over-the-top proselytizing, this isn’t a very common scenario. Atheist students are used to having Christian teachers. Mentioning church or bringing up a Bible-verse isn’t the end of the world. Only in this work of fiction do innocuous religious comments blow up to this degree.My colleague Neil Carter, however, has experienced something similar in the other direction. He’s an atheist public school teacher in Mississippi, and he’s gotten into trouble before for the crime of… being an atheist public school teacher in Mississippi.

We finally know that the plot of God’s Not Dead 2 involves a religious high school teacher who gets accused of promoting religion in the classroom by a presumably-atheist student… even though what she said was hardly crossing the line. (At least that’s the story I gathered from the brief plot points that have been released so far.)

But unless it’s over-the-top proselytizing, this isn’t a very common scenario. Atheist students are used to having Christian teachers. Mentioning church or bringing up a Bible-verse isn’t the end of the world. Only in this work of fiction do innocuous religious comments blow up to this degree.

My colleague Neil Carter, however, has experienced something similar in the other direction. He’s an atheist public school teacher in Mississippi, and he’s gotten into trouble before for the crime of… being an atheist public school teacher in Mississippi.

I assume this is Neil.

 

He didn’t even say that. When a student asked him if he was an atheist, he just declined to answer the question. Then all hell broke loose:

[The student] shot back, “Why didn’t you say no?!”

Finally one day [the] principal showed up to my room before the start of class to begin outlining a host of topics I was not to discuss in my class. Nothing controversial, nothing that would stir up debate among the students. “They’re talking about your class out in the hallways and at home!” she told me. “That’s… good, right?” I asked. “It stops, right now!” she replied. She went on to prohibit talking about politics or religion (in my history class!) for the remainder of the year. Nothing that would get the kids talking too much about what Mr. Carter said in his class. At last I had to ask her, “Why? Why can’t we talk about these things?”

“Because there’s talk in the community that you told your students you’re an atheist,” she said.

You can read the rest of the story here.

That shit happens all the time in super-religious parts of the country. Neil’s not alone; I’ve heard from plenty of teachers who are afraid of drawing any attention about their atheism while their colleagues walk around holding bibles and wearing cross necklaces.

But no one’s making a movie about that. It doesn’t lend itself to the fake narrative of Christian Persecution.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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