A story caught my eye earlier, while I was passing another fruitless hour trawling the internet (and recovering from my hangover).
You may have seen a story a few weeks ago about a school in Mississippi which decided to cancel its annual prom because one of the students who planned to attend is a lesbian, and wanted to wear a tuxedo and bring her girlfriend. She petitioned the school board to be allowed to do so, but her requests were denied and a memo was circulated advising everyone that same-sex dates were not permitted. She challenged this decision with the help of the Mississippi ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) who agreed that the decision was a clear violation of her constitutional rights and urged the board to reverse its decision. Instead of doing so, the school decided it would be preferable to cancel the prom completely, due to the "distractions caused by recent events". They also stated that it hoped that the local community would organise a private prom as a replacement (note: apparently a private prom would be perfectly within its rights to prevent gay couples attending, if it so wished).
Needless to say, the young lady involved was upset a) by the school's decision not to allow her to bring her girlfriend and b) at the idea that she now felt responsible for the prom being cancelled and that many other students would feel badly towards her about it.
Now this story alone is enough to have me shaking my head in disbelief, but it gets stranger.
The Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition decided to organise the aforementioned "private" prom and asked the Mississippi ACLU to help with the fundraising. A couple of days ago, the American Humanist Association offered a $20,000 contribution to the fund, a substantial sum. However, the donation was rejected by the ACLU with this explanation:
"Although we support and understand organizations like yours, the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word 'atheist'........... Our staff has been talking a lot about your donation offer and have found ourselves in a bit of a conflict. We have fears that your organization sponsoring the prom could stir up even more controversy."
Wait. WHAT?! So a civil liberties group, whose own website states "The right to practice religion, or no religion at all, is among the most fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights" decided that atheists are so controversial and terrifying that accepting money from them to assist in repairing another case of discrimination is simply impossible? Yes, apparently that is exactly what happened.
In a world where religion is still responsible for the vast majority of wars and terrorist attacks, and where the Catholic church is being brought to its knees (stop making up your own jokes) by the paedophilia exposés, is it really feasible that us atheists/humanists can be seen as subversive dangers to society? Quite honestly, it simply shows what a terrible stranglehold religion has on society as a whole, where the mere presence of people who think for themselves and have chosen not to believe, actually frightens them.
I have just found a recent update on this story which shows a potential light at the end of the tunnel. Apparently the Safe Schools Coalition has the final say on who to accept donations from, and they say no decision has yet been reached on the one from the AHU. They also said that the Mississippi ACLU "made an error in judgment (sic)" in sending the email to the Humanist Association, and that the ACLU has apologised. I'll be interested to see whether the donation is finally accepted.
Let's hope that Constance McMillen, the girl who, in standing up for her fundamental rights, set the ball rolling on this ever-expanding story, finally gets to go to a prom, in a tuxedo if she wishes, to share a slow dance with her girlfriend. What the hell - make them Prom Queen and Queen!! They deserve recognition for bringing the narrow-minded bigotry of some people to the forefront again.