The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

The Right Not to Pray in School

There’s been an interesting development in a story a blogged about earlier, the one about the Oklahoma teen who was kicked off the girls’ basketball team for refusing to join in team prayer, and whose father was assaulted, falsely accused of assault and later found not guilty. Now the parents have filed a civil suit against 16 defendants.

A conspiracy amongst Hardesty School and several Texas County governments is alleged in a million dollar First Amendment Civil Rights lawsuit filed in Federal Court Friday.

The plaintiffs, Chester and Nadia Smalkowski of Hardesty, and American Atheists, Inc., a Texas Non-Profit Corporation, are suing 16 defendants for damages due to a number of Civil Rights violations incurred after the Smalkowskis’ daughter was allegedly kicked off Hardesty’s basketball team, suspended from school and later threatened for refusing to say the Lord’s Prayer before a game.

… “We are asking for a 1983 Civil Rights Violation, and that has nothing to do with the year, that comes from Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 1983,” [the Smalkowski’s attorney, Richard] Rice said. “It’s the civil rights violation that says under color of law you have deprived somebody of their civil rights.

“We are maintaining that there was a conspiracy between a number of governmental employees from the school district to the town of Hardesty to the Sheriff’s Department to the District Attorney’s Office and the violation is based upon the first amendment right that they have not to pray in school and we believe that the daughter was kicked off the basketball team because she refused to pray in school.

“We are now filing a federal law suit because it’s a federal violation.

“I have the Right to pray, believe in God, attend church without fear of reprisal from any branch of any government here in America,” Rice said.

“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,” [Kentucky Attorney Edwin] Kagin said.

I have to applaud the family for standing up for themselves and their daughter, when it would have been easier to breath a sigh of relief and quietly leave town (or the state) after the the “not guilty” verdict on the bogus misdemeanor. I’m not sure that I’d have blamed them for making that choice, because I’d probably have to weigh the possibility of putting my family through worse than they’d already been through, especially where my kid is concerned. On the other hand, I’d be more concerned about what kind of message a quiet retreat would give my child about standing up for his or her rights, and for those who’ll come after them.

What’s most interesting is the religious make-up of the Smalkowski’s legal team. Rice is a Southern Baptist, while Kagin is National Legal Director for American Atheists. And both of them say the same thing: “I have a right to not pray, to not believe in God, or to not attend church without fear of reprisal from any branch of government here in America.” That doesn’t surprise me in Kagin’s case, but I imagine Rice’s identical statement places him in the minority within the Southern Baptist Convention.

If nothing else, perhaps cases like this will help clarify the battle lines on an issue like this. I think the argument should be made that this isn’t about voluntary, student-led prayer in public schools. The line was crossed in this case when the Smalkowski’s daughter faced consequences for refusing to participate and school officials got involved by siding against the Smalkowski family. If the team prayer had been voluntary, student-led, and there were no consequences for choosing not to participate, there might not have been a case.

But how far does the right not to pray go, and what does it require? Is the onus upon the students choosing not to participate? If the voluntary, student-led prayer is allowed, then the non-participating students have two options: stay and just don’t listen, or leave the room until the prayer is finished. I know from experience that neither option is all that comfortable for the non-participating students, in part because both options make them stand out for their non-participation. And the second option almost seems like the classroom, and the even the school itself, belongs less to them than it does to the religious majority.

Should they have to leave the room or sit there and “not listen”? The only other option would be not to allow the prayer at all, and that would likely incense the religious majority, which could mean more negative consequences for those in the religious minority, if they are identified as such and associated with the prohibition in the minds of the religious minority. You only have to look at the what happened to the Dobrich to see that.

In a way, the stories of both families are kind of a reflection of the situation faced by religious minorities (including the non-religious) right about now. Just like with the school situation, if America is a “Christian nation,” what’s the status of non-christians and non-believers? To what degree is this our country too? Or does it primarily belong to the religious majority? And does that mean that in order to keep some semblance of peace, the rest of us must “not look” and “not listen”? And as religion becomes more and more a part of public life, and increasingly informs policy, what does that mean for the citizenship of the non-religious and religious minorities?

There probably aren’t going to be any answers anytime soon. If anything the battle signified in the Smalkowski and Dobrich cases will heat up even more before it dies down, if the latest case in West Virginia — where a school is fighting to keep a portrait of Jesus on the wall outside the principal’s office — is any indication.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union sued in federal court in June, saying the painting, “Head of Christ,” sends the message that the school endorses Christianity as its official religion.

The painting, which depicts Jesus in sepia tones on a large canvas and hangs outside the principal’s office, has been at the school for 37 years. A guidance counselor left it behind upon retirement.

Residents at the meeting said the issue has unified the community.

… “It was just a matter of time that someone came along and tried to take away our freedom,” said Eddy Currey, a 1985 Bridgeport High graduate.

… The Christian Freedom Fund, established to pay the school board’s legal fees, raised most of the money in less than two weeks. Bridgeport High students raised an additional $6,700.

“The ACLU is saying they have the right to come in and find a few people who disagree with the majority and use them to overtake the majority,” said Dennis Swindle, a local minister whose daughter attends the school. “All we’re saying is, ‘not without a fight.”‘

Not without a fight indeed. For those of us in the minority — religious and non-religious — more and more often the question will probably be when to fight, and when to either “just not listen” or quietly leave.


  1. I am amazed at how big this incident has become and all over a quick prayer before a game. Seems to me that the Christians in this case actually don’t have much faith in their belief system if they have to insist that everyone participate in their prayers.

    I grew up in a small town in North Dakota and went to my school reunion many years ago. At the reunion one of my former classmates led a prayer before our meal and ended it “in Jesus name”. For him to assume that everyone in the class was a Christian was a bit over the top for me. Of course this does not compare to the hell that the Smalkowski family went through, but does give a little incite into life in rural or small town America.

  2. I would like to add from a personal note, my mother delivers the mail to Mr. Czeslaw “Chuck” Samlkowski and this whole story is bogus and mostly ficticious. The truth that nobody is hearing about is the fact that Chuck broke the principal’s arm! But still he gets of as Not Guilty. That is injustice right there for starters. Not to mention, he moves to a town and rants and raves and starts arguments where ever he goes and provoke people just because they aren’t in agreement with his points of view mostly that he directs to being of Athiest religion. The whole reason he has a case is beause of his own radical views and persistence and a majority of people trying to degrade Christian beliefs. I am amazed that so many websites are willing to take one man’s blog story ( a creative version at best ) as actual FACT disgregarding or even considering relative events, facts, proofs, or testimony. What is our world comming to when we can sit back, read one story and decide our oppinions without weighing the pros and cons. Yes the right to a fair trial threw out any Christian jurors, but how fair is that really when it doesn’t boil down to religion, it boils down to being able to see the difference between truth and lies. Hardesty is not a town made up of radical Bible-thumping blood hounds who shove their religion down peoples throats. They are a very small quiet community with 5-10 students per grade. And when a man comes to town ranting and raving and starting fights, nobody is willing to make friends with the guy, so of course he then feels threatened and out numbered. He did it to himself and his daughter by raising her to be as hot-headed and radical as himself. Read his journals on to see an insight to how creative of a writer Chuck is. Then see if you still believe his story.

    Just for once, consider the other side of the story.
    And consider that the accusations that are being made in the Federal Case, just might be an accusation from a mad Atheist that landed and CHOSE to live in a majority Christian and quiet town.

    Birds of a feather flock together, so why did he move there in the first place and why didn’t he just fly home to where other coocoobirds like himself feel nice and cozy?

  3. Well,well,well,
    Stormy first lets get the facts right.
    Nobody’s arm was broken.
    The Principal was/is 325lbs, I am 170lbs 5’7″.Do the math. We are the same age.
    He has a history of a mean streak with the students especially the boys. Corporeal punishment is popular.I had to sign a paper saying not with my children.
    Girls who were tutored by him alone kept their cell phones on for safety.
    I was told he has had two mail order brides. First one died.
    There are many single women out here more than willing. Why a mail order bride?

    Want to play Stormy?

    Furthermore there are many married women more than willing in Hardesty. Maybe it is all the anticipation waiting for the bible thumpin preaching on Sunday morning that has them geting some pre-thumpin Saturday night from a willing neighbor. Hell from what I hear there has been alot of thumpin going on in the DA’s office and a little hideaway in Beaver county.( Whoops can’t let the cat out of the bag!)

    Hardesty is a drug infested little town.
    In school my daughter was told where drugs are sold.

    Hey Stormy why do’t you call up the DEA lets have Hardesty cleaned up!

    Hey Stormy why don’t you call up USPS and have them find out why my mail is always opened.

    Hey Stormy why don’t you talk to the churches in Hardesty maybe they can stop all the domestic abuse.

    Hey Stormy why don’t you call up the Justice dept. and find out why the law out here in Texas county thinks they are above the law. Where the righteous law in the Hardesty school with teachers present try to hire an ex-con to and I quote “fuck him up” Got it on tape!

    Want to play Stormy? Lets play!

    Hey Stormy why don’t you call the Secretary of Education in Washington DC( a Ms. Spelling’s office)And ask them why they told me that the teachers in Hardesty are correct, this is a Christian country and that my family and I should leave the country because we are freaks. ( A FACT)They have refused my request for their phone tapes.

    Oh by the way I had a jury of christians which included a teacher who taught in Hardesty for many years and knows alot of my daughters accusers and I was still found NOT GUILTY. But you are right and they are wrong, Right Stormy?

    You say I rant and rave and start fights. What fights?
    Please show the police reports on all these fights.
    Why didn’t you tell the story of how school board member Tall ,Big Clinton Martin at Balko school said and I quote ” I’ll kick your fucking ass”? ( he denied it under oath)And I was more than willing to let him try after all they have done to my family. But a bully is a bully and even though he is twice my size and younger the only man willing to go out the door was little old Atheist me. I don’t hold him to backing down but I do hold him to lieing to police and trying to have both me and my wife arrested and also lieing under oath. Luckily there was a Beaver County Deputy there and he saw thru their bullshit.

    Hey Stormy! Why don’t you call Beaver county DA’s office maybe you can have them throw some bullshit charges againt me like Texas county did. You can get more than a few Hardesty righteous christians like yourself to lie through their teeth. There’s always your music teacher. But good luck I think Beaver county is hip to whats really going on.

    Hey Stormy!
    Were you the one that shut down the PA’s when we played at the “Battle of the Bands”. Or were you the one that said Jesus still loves you when the announcer said Blue Rose Rocket was playing next. I know you weren’t one of the E-mails ( some from other bands)about how great we sounded even though people were screwing with the PA. There is alot of talk about something funny that was going on. Oh don’t worry we won’t win. We never expected too. How much you want to bet, the college band that the organizer played in, will win it. Same old same old. It was worth it. Our Blue Rose Rocket band site is poppin with hits. We just got back from gigs in New Mexico didn’t your buddy tell you. You see I know who you are. You’re just an envious little twit. You must have lost your mind when you heard good old Charley stretch the strings.
    I’ll give you a hint. Play from your heart and make it laugh and cry. Oh those who can do, know what I mean.

    So Stormy, I could go on but I’ll wait for our families day in Federal Civil Court.
    Thanks for letting me figure out why my mail was so screwed up. Don’t tell me someone at the USPS is using their position to illegally search our mail? Are you working with the opposing Attorneys? Law Enforcement? There had better be warrants for it!

    Oh by the way,do you know who your mother is? We just talked to the lady that delivers the mail She said you are not her son, but I know who you are. So who at the Post office is really your mother? There you go again making up stories.

    I will give you a bit of advice to tell the righteous.
    Smalkowski’s don’t bend to bigots, christian fanatics
    and liars like yourself. The more you beat us down the stronger we become. Oh we have been scarred by this madness. My children are will never be the same.
    I brought my children up to believe in the Constitution and the Bill of rights. You say I moved to a place of a Christian majority. So what!
    This might come as a shock to you but we live in a Republic.
    A Republic where the rights of one family, one man , one woman, one child out weigh the christian majority. The day that ends and the mob rules will begin the end of this great experiment we call the United States of America.
    And On that day my family and I will move and you can have it all.
    Okay Stormy.
    But watch out, there maybe other christians that don’t like the way you pray.
    I suppose then you will need the help from men like me.What did you call me? A cuckoo bird? Maybe you’re right, because I would come.

    Chester F Smalkowski