In April, my colleague Stephen D. Foster Jr. wrote about Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, Mississippi and the Christian indoctrination disguised as an assembly that all students were forced to sit through. When some students tried to leave, they were ordered to sit back down and the exit doors were blocked. Afterward, several students approached one senior who had been openly atheist since middle school, Alexis Smith, thinking that she would know what they could do about the ordeal they had just been through. When the idea of a lawsuit was brought up, only Alexis and her younger friend, Magdalene Bedi (who goes by “Gracie”), were willing to be named on it.
The lawsuit is being brought on the girls’ behalf by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center (AHLC), which is part of by the American Humanist Association (AHA)/ This same group is advocating for students at Fayette High School in Missouri.
The young women have been vilified in their school and small town: they were called “angry atheists,” “scorned” and “greedy.” In response, Gracie wrote an open letter for the Humanist Network News, explaining why she joined the lawsuit:
I am not an angry atheist. As a matter of fact, I am not an atheist at all… this case is not about our religious beliefs. I am not a scorned student… My grievances are only with the inappropriate and unconstitutional actions by the administration and staff… I’m not getting rich out of this. The most the school will pay for are the funds to cover legal fees. You may all be rest assured that I will not be driving a state funded car anytime soon. What I hope for readers to have gained from this statement is a deeper awareness of my and Alexis’s intentions. Our sole motive for bringing this case is to uphold the values instilled by our nation’s Constitution, not to tread on the beliefs and values of others.
Alexis, the other plaintiff in the lawsuit brought on their behalf by Appignani Humanist Legal Center, spoke with Patheos this week. Her parents are out of the country right now – boy, are they in for a surprise when they get back. And even though they are religious, I hope that they will be proud of their strong daughter. This is what she said she hoped would come of this lawsuit:
I hope the school stops the close relationship between it and the church. Also that religious events such as these assemblies won’t happen again for future generations, at least not during school hours. And that people will be more open-minded about secularists and nonbelievers and understand that they are around, just not open about it.
These are two amazing young ladies. They are standing up for what this country is supposed to be about. They will be attacked and demonized by those on the right who cannot grasp the concept of the First Amendment, we can be sure. But hopefully, they will know that defenders of that right have their back. We are Alexis and Gracie.
T. Steelman is a lifelong Liberal. She has been writing online about politics since 2007. She lives in Western Washington with her husband, daughter, 2 cats and a small herd of alpacas. How can anybody be enlightened? Truth is, after all, so poorly lit…