Oklahoma OK? No, Oklahoma In-Sane!

8 December, 2009

A few months ago, down in the great state of Kentucky, a high school football coach got into a little bit of trouble (I say a little bit as the school district decided this was just okey-dokey) when he loaded up members of his football team and took them to a Baptist revival.  As I pointed out at the time, the argument that ‘it was voluntary’ doesn’t cut it.  Playing time for athletes depends upon the perception of the head coach.  Being on the team depends upon the perception of the head coach.  If a player is, for whatever reason, perceived as ‘not a team player’, the player will spend lots of time sitting on the bench.

Why do I bring this up?  A court case has been filed in another less-than-progressive state:  Oklahoma (from American Atheists).

American Atheists filed suit in federal court today on behalf of an Oklahoma family who say their civil rights were violated by the Hardesty, Oklahoma Public Schools and the Texas County, Oklahoma Sheriff’s Department.

The daughter of Chester Smalkowski wanted to play basketball for the Hardesty Public Schools. She was forced from the team when she, an Atheist, refused to recite the Lord’s Prayer after a game as was required by the school. When the Smalkowski family complained about this unconstitutional practice, she was suspended. Further complaints resulted in criminal charges being brought against her father.

Chester Smalkowski refused to submit to a request from the District Attorney to move his family out of the County in exchange for the charges being dropped. His case went to trial last month, and he was acquitted of all charges by a jury. The Smalkowski children have been threatened and subjected to discrimination for the daughter’s refusal to participate in the prayer recitation.

The family is being represented in the civil lawsuit by Oklahoma City attorney Richard Rice, and by American Atheists National Legal Director Edwin Kagin of Kentucky who, together with attorney Tim Gungoll of Enid, Oklahoma successfully represented Chester Smalkowski in his criminal trial in Hardesty. Mr. Rice is a member of the Southern Baptist Church in Midwest City. Mr. Rice stated: “I have the right to pray, believe in God, attend church without fear of reprisal from any branch of any government here in America.” Co-counsel Edwin Kagin adds: “I have the right to NOT pray, to NOT believe in God, or to NOT attend church without fear of reprisal from any branch of any government here in America.” Both men, differing in their opinions in respect to theology, have teamed up to support the same legal and ideological position with regard to the First Amendment.

Quick summary here:  a girl refuses to join in a public school-mandated prayer, she is cut from the sports team, mom and dad point out that this is a civil rights violation and she is suspended, dad is arrested and told that if he moves out of the county the charges will be dropped. 

Once again, folks, let me point out that the Constitution of the United States of America exists, in large part, to protect minorities from the dominance of majorities.  Atheists are a minority in America (one of the few minorities against which discrimination is accepted). 

For a public school, paid for by all taxpayers in the district, to require a prayer is an attempt by a government entity to establish religion.  When this young lady was tossed off the team, she was being persecuted for her religious non-belief.  When her parents attempt to rectify the situation, apparently pointing out the illegality of the actions, the child is suspended.  I hope this county has a good robust tax base, because the legal bills and restitution for denying this child her civil rights as an American citizen will be large.

Normally, a sports prayer is enforced through peer pressure (which is, if anything, stronger than force of law) or the pressure of the coach (also stronger than law).  This is the first case of which I am aware in the last decade or so in which the school actually required the prayer.  Either way, it is an attempt to use a government agency to establish a religion.

I feel for this family.  They will win.  It may take a while, but they will win.  In the community and the school?  They lost as soon as she refused to say the Lord’s Prayer.  When they win the court case, the family will face vandalism, threats (especially if the lawsuit costs the district some serious bucks), ostracism and other punishments from the ‘good Christians’ of the good state of Oklahoma.  Hopefully, though, another school district will learn that mixing religion and government can get very expensive.  Of course, when the district loses, right wing religious demagogues will point to the case, scream ‘Christian persecution’ and beg for (and get) shit loads of money.


By the way:  all the creationist intelligent design ‘scientists’ out there who insist that they have been ‘expelled’ should read up on this case — a person who actually was expelled because of religious non-belief.  And she was expelled by the narrow-minded Christians.


UPDATE!!!:  As Soitgoes pointed out, this is an older story.  The case started in mid-2006 and was settled in 2008.  My bad.  In my defense, the press release was not dated;  actually, it had a 2009 copyright on it.  But, I assumed, so I apologize.  Blasphemous Blogging:  The Blog of Edwin Kagin has the full story with the disposition of the lawsuits and criminal charges.


  1. Hate to bring this up but this is old news. goes back a couple of years.

  2. Soitgoes: You are correct. I ran across the press release today and the copyright at the bottom was from 2009. I assumed. Sorry. Blasphemous Blogging: The Blog of Edwin Kagin has the full details.

  3. I thought this story sounded familiar. That this happened in the 21st century in the USA is scary.

  4. Nothing wrong with revisiting the case with the wisdom that hindsight and time give us.

  5. Chappie: Not sure why it didn’t sound familiar to me.

    SI: Of course, had I been writing it as a retrospective, I would have come at it completely differently.

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