Hate Cancels Prom; Where is the Love?


For HumanistNetworkNews.org
Mar. 17, 2010

"Jesus is love." 

I have heard that phrase many times in my life. But it is despicable that so many of Jesus' followers stand for hate rather than love.

Take the current case of Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi. 18-year-old student Constance McMillen wanted to attend prom with her girlfriend and to wear a tuxedo. When she was told that she would not be allowed to go to the prom unless she wore a dress and brought an opposite-sex date, she got the American Civil Liberties Union involved to fight the discriminatory policy.  

The reaction of the Itawamba County School District showed anything but love and tolerance: they canceled the prom and made all students suffer because they hold onto an ancient hate taught by the Bible. The school district said they made the decision because of "distractions to the educational process caused by recent events" (an ironic excuse, given the massive distraction of the media circus their cancellation caused). However, their job as government representatives was to provide equal protection to all. Instead, they favored their religious beliefs to the detriment of those they were supposed to care for. They should be held accountable for this.

The ACLU has filed a suit against the school district requesting that the prom be reinstated, the opposite-sex rule be removed and that any student be allowed to wear a tux. It is uncertain what the results of the case will be, but an emergency motion is to be filed to obtain a decision in time to restore the prom. 

In the meantime, the school district is encouraging "private citizens" to throw a prom for the students–apparently intending for this prom to be straight-only, held privately so that there would be no legal recourse to stop the event. However, their hate-filled ignorance led them to completely underestimate responses motivated by love.

Many offers have now been made by private groups to host a prom. And, counter to the aims of the Itawamba school board, the offers are for proms that are inclusive of straight and gay students. One of those offers has been made by the American Humanist Association. My wife and I offered to donate $20,000 to help the AHA plan and fund a fantastic prom for all students, as we believe that the students should not be punished for the bigotry of their leaders.  

I am a Secular Humanist; my wife, Diana, is a Christian. We both agree that the values of love, tolerance and equality should trump the fundamentalist teachings of hate, discrimination and prejudice. We both long for the day that a majority of theists and nontheists join forces to oppose fundamentalism and put reason-based ethics above scripture and dogma. We hope our offer for the prom is another step in the right direction.

In Itawamba County, as in much of the world, the fundamentalists still hold a great deal of power. But it is very encouraging to see the near-universal condemnation of their actions in this prom fiasco. Perhaps this is a sign the tide is turning. Diana and I are both optimistic that time and a lot of teamwork between the faithful and the secular can lead to a society that stands more for love than for hate. This is a noble quest, and one the world cannot afford to fail.


Todd Stiefel is the founder and president of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation. He also serves on the advisory boards of the Secular Coalition for America, the Secular Student Alliance and Atheist Nexus; the National Advisory Council of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; and is a trustee of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.