Editor’s Note: The names and locations have been altered to protect the identity of the author.
“Southern man better keep your head,
Don’t forget what your good book said…”
–“Southern Man,” Neil Young
After all the threats and discrimination my family had faced after standing up to the religious proselytization in school we decided that we needed to get out of the South as quickly as possible. As much as we hated the idea, we needed to give our assailants a win of sorts in order to survive and live free from discrimination.
Around this time I reached out to the atheist community to see if anyone could help us, or at the very least share our story to inform others about the type of religious discrimination that can occur in the South. I got into contact with Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist and told him some of what was going on. He got me in touch with Roy Speckhardt at the American Humanist Association. Here is where we truly found support and acceptance.
While Roy explained that the AHA isn’t in the position to help all those facing such circumstances, they decided to make an exception for my case and generously helped us with the funds to get out of the South. I had a line on a couple of houses in the Chicago area but it was going to be too expensive while we were still sweating it. Thankfully, I found a property manager up north who is a fellow nonbeliever, and she offered to let us rent a house in Connecticut. So we packed everything up and left our tormentors behind.
We absolutely love it here. This place is just so completely different. No one cares about our religion or lack of it, and everyone is very liberal and accepting of other people. We are more financially stable even though rent is three times higher than we are used to. Is it perfect? No. Are we out of the woods yet? No. But we are closer. We have hope now. We don’t live in fear. We will make it.
People who know about my story have asked if I regret suing the school because of all of the bad things that happened afterward. My answer to them is both yes and no. If I had to do it over I would do it anonymously, because even though it was a small town we wouldn’t have had to deal with as many problems as we could have denied knowledge of the whole situation.
But, I would do it again. This kind of discrimination and intimidation cannot continue. We have our constitution, which is supposed to protect us from this very sort of thing, but sometimes it doesn’t work. We can and we should stand up and do the right thing and fight for those constitutional values even if other people hate us for it. We didn’t do this just for atheists; we did it for people of all faiths and of no faith because religious freedom doesn’t mean anything if everyone can’t enjoy it. So while I may have regrets about how I chose to fight this fight, I absolutely don’t regret our decision to stand up against religious proselytization in public schools and against those who tormented us after we made our stand.