Today Secular Left is introducing a new category to the blog. It is called Religious Intolerance.
I decided to add it after posting several entries related to religious intolerance. One was the post about the academic study that showed atheists are the most hated minority in the country and where I mentioned the Wisconsin legislature threatening to end funding chaplains in prisons after a Wiccan was hired at one of them. There was also the religious harassment carried on by superior officers at the Air Force academy.
Naturally, Secular Left will only highlight those events or incidents where the victims are those who are either non-believers or different believers. Entries will be about intolerance of atheists, agnostics, and non-Christian believers. The other point is that these entries won’t be classified as religious intolerance only if it is an issue of disagreement – because I feel dissent is needed to discover the truth about issues – these posts will be about real harm done to non-believers and non-Christians in this country. This can include outright discrimination, violence, or harassment based only on religious reasons. Today’s entry is a prime example.
Chester “Chuck” Smalkowski is an atheist who lives in Hardesty, Oklahoma. In 2004, he was involved in an altercation with the principal of his daughter’s school. She had been kicked off the school basketball team after refusing to join in a prayer circle with the team on the gym floor. At some point Chuck had gone to the principal’s house to discuss the issue and the principal threw a punch. Chuck was arrested and charged with misdemeanor criminal assault.
After Smalkowski rejected an offer to drop the charges if he and his Atheist family left the state, the charges were raised to a felony. Chuck was put on trial with the possibility of a 5-year prison sentence. Ultimately, the jury found him not guilty on all charges. American Atheists has now filed a Federal lawsuit against school officials, the Texas County Sheriff’s Department, County officials and the town of Hardesty, Oklahoma. Edwin Kagin handled the criminal trial and will represent Chuck in the Federal case.
Chuck wrote an essay about his experience that was posted on a blog. I wanted to highlight some excerpts, left unedited, from his essay. You can read the full version at the following web address: http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/smalko2.htm Chuck’s experiences may not be typical but unfortunately, one is too many in our world today.
Chuck Smalkowski wrote:
The loving Christians brought their children to hear the verdict. They brought the town. They brought ministers. I even saw another Judge in the back of the room. The Judge who in an earlier hearing while slapping an inch thick stack of papers on his bench saying with a list of witnesses this big you had better be a good boy. It was lies then, it was lies now and the DA knew it! (She was later forced to hand over a written statement she denied for over a year existed!) People prayed openly for a conviction. Many holding their bibles. During the trial the Prosecutions side of the courtroom was packed. Only my son and Edwin Kagin’s wife, Helen sat behind me, but now there was not enough room in the whole courtroom.
Well this is not the place for a little debate in a coffee shop with the sweet salt air rolling up from San Francisco bay. This is a place where the children write on their schoolbooks the south will rise again. This is a place where they say that black people caused slavery! Where they burn rock CD’s. Mormons are the tools of Satan. That my daughter is gay cause only homosexuals vote for Kerry and Christians vote for Bush. Atheists worship Satan! Where religious fanaticism is fused with political rhetoric and political leaders pander to this madness. This place has a sickness, a malignant disease and it is spreading. Edwin saw it first hand.
From the start of this legal fight my lawyers said Atheism must be kept out. That it was a no go in the Bible belt. I was just adamant that Atheism be brought in. For it is the reason. It was the motive for all the lies and hate. I felt it was about time that this dirty little secret of hate, persecution, Christian madness and hypocrisy is brought out into the light of day. When I told my lawyers this they all gave me the same bewildered stare.
So one by one, I dropped one lawyer then two. Then I had a hard time in finding another one. My third lawyer was still trying to convince me to keep my atheism out even up till the day of the trial. I still said no. Somewhere along the line I talk to the ACLU out of San Francisco. Who let me know my first civil lawyer was not telling me the whole story. I was advised by them and many others to complain to the Bar about him.
You see he never told me that the prayer in itself is illegal. That the schools in this area were not following the state and federal funding guidelines. When I asked him after finding out from the ACLU. He said yes it is against the law.
I told him I want to have it stopped. He told me he would not for he was a Christian and he believed there should be school prayer. His statement floored me for it bordered on madness. I said what you believe and what you do for a client is two different things and that you took an oath. He still refused.
The whole family was under constant stress. Police trying to get search warrants to the property by having ex-employees file false statements. Other cops trying to hire ex-cons to beat me up. The whole town knows of it! The Sheriff trying to have my bond pulled by the bail bondsman when there was no legal way to do it. My kids have been out of school since November. Principal’s son saying should he get a gun when he sees my daughter and my son. DA has yet to reply to our concerns. The Department of Human Services comes to my place saying they received a complaint that I starve my kids. It was even obvious to them the charge was bogus.
We have become very good at using back roads. The police follow us around. Traffic tickets that when challenged were dropped in court. Not to mention the stares and whispers, the betrayal from employees, one of my healthy dogs dying. Brush fires starting up upwind.
An FBI agent even said, “You aren’t kidding”. When it was obvious someone followed us and was watching our meeting out in the middle of nowhere. I was told about a few things. All I can say is that some of the crooks out here now charged with crimes wore badges and guns! But he could not help my family and me. Not without witnesses willing to come forward. One scared witness left the state. The last words she spoke to me were, Chuck I don’t want to end up dead in a ditch!
Just what you would expect life to be like out here in the Bible belt!
Simply stated without Edwin Kagin, Ellen Johnson and American Atheist I would be in jail now, or worse. Without them, we would have no federal case on separation of church and state. The only group, the only lawyer that would stand with my family and me to protect the wall and not cringe at me wanting to put atheism as part of my defense.
In Edwin’s opening statement American Atheist magazine was shown. The crowd almost rioted. He explained that Atheism was not a dirty word and that it was a conclusion. That my family and I are not devil worshippers. We just have no Gods. It was the basis of the case. It was the danger. It was the truth. Yet the only lawyer to go there freely was Edwin Kagin.
In a world where superstition is the norm and those who seek another path are ridiculed or worse. Being an atheist takes guts. Freedom is never freely given. The good fight is always there.
From: Just Another Salem
Chuck’s essay illustrates what it really means to be persecuted for your religious beliefs. The persecution that the religious right claims whenever the 10 Commandments is removed from a court house pales in comparison.