Shortly after things hit the fan in Duncan, earlier this month, I had the pleasure of connecting with Lea (the mother at the center of the controversy) via an atheist Facebook group for Oklahomans. Those of you that follow my Facebook page may have seen the letter I sent to the superintendent:
Please contact email@example.com for information and interview opportunities with Koni and Lea
The incident has since garnered nationwide attention, even resulting in Horus Gilgamesh sending copies of The Awkward Moments Children’s Bible to several areas of Oklahoma.
Lea has withdrawn her son from Duncan Public Schools. I asked Lea if she would like to talk with me about how this has affected her family. She was happy to chat with me and set the record straight about some things.
Koni: Would you describe the environment of the school as religious?
Lea: I wouldn’t say the schools present as religious. My son has attended three schools here and my older kids have attended schools here. My older children had problems with bullying from other students, but nothing from administration itself. This is the first time I have had anything of this nature happen.
Koni: No bullying with your third grader? Was the bullying you mentioned due to your lack of belief?
Lea: Not my 9 year old, that I’m aware of, but being ADHD it was difficult for my him to make friends. He wasn’t invited to Sunday school/church, as is so often the case in the south. When we moved here – six years ago – my daughter started at the high school, as a junior. People asked her what church she went to and she told them she was agnostic. They called her a devil worshipping lesbian transvestite whore. She ended up graduating from the alternative high school. My son two years behind her had to go to a school out of district because he was bullied so bad. Now all this with my 9 year old.
Koni: “Lesbian transvestite whore?” That’s a new one. I can honestly say I’ve never heard that one before. To your knowledge, are there any other non-religious families at the school?
Lea: To my knowledge, no, there are not in the school. I do know of other non-religious families in the area.
Koni: Prior to the bible distribution incident, had other similar events taken place?
Koni: What emotions surrounded your decision to go beyond the administration to resolve the issue?
Lea: It all happened so fast. I didnt have time to form emotion.
Koni: Prior to reporting the incident, did you voice your concern to the school administration?
Lea: There wasn’t time. AHA jumped on it too fast! A friend contacted AHA for me on Friday (there was no school) and they emailed the letter Saturday.
Koni: Did the possibility of retaliation cross your mind?
Lea: Not once.
Koni: I suppose you didn’t really have time to consider that possibility. At what point did you begin to fear for the safety of your child and yourself?
Lea: I began to fear for mine and my sons safety when I read “run her out of town” and “snitches end up in ditches.” I have the comments in an email, but I’d have to go through hundreds of comments to find them. I feared for my son when the parents all had their kids carry their bibles to school one day, to prove a point. Kids are mean. I couldn’t let my son face that kind of ridicule for not having a bible.
Koni: “Snitches end up in ditches?” That is certainly unnerving. I can’t imagine anyone feeling safe with people openly making death threats, like that. Do you have plans to move out of the community?
Lea: Yes. My house is for sale.
Koni: Has he lost friends?
Lea: He didn’t really have any friends to begin with, so I can’t say that he lost any.
Koni: Has this affected your employment situation?
Lea: My office is not open to the public. People at work have talked about it. I’ve tried to ignore it. A supervisor did post on Facebook that I have my daughter sacrifice cats. My daughter does not live in the state. She lives in Nevada, so that shows the huge amount of ignorance surrounding this.
Koni: It’s funny how they always say we sacrifice things when it’s their religion that’s based around a human sacrifice. Will you have to change your employment arrangement to accommodate a home school curriculum?
Lea: A friend of mine is homeschooling my son with her kids.
Koni: How has everything affected your son emotionally?
Lea: He doesn’t know that we were threatened. I don’t want to scare him. I had to pull my son out of the school, but it was for the best; he likes going out to my friend’s farm. I had to pull him out of gymnastics, but my friend was also his gym coach. She said she will work with him one on one at her house.
Koni: Are you going to homeschool permanently or just to finish out this year?
Lea: I don’t know yet; we will have to see how it goes.
Koni: What are you most in need of, and how can people help you through this difficult time?
Lea: I don’t need anything. Just a lot of emotional support and understanding as I go through the motions of being hurt. Then angry. Then lashing out. Thinking that everything everyone says or does is about me and looking over my shoulder constantly. With the right support system, I’ll get through it.
Koni: Looking back, do you still feel speaking up was the right choice?
Lea: Yes, speaking up was the right choice. Times are changing and I couldn’t allow this to continue. I think of my friend I went to school with, who was a JW, and how she had to leave the room every time we said the pledge of allegiance or had a party. I felt so bad for her.
Koni: Yes, people definitely don’t seem to understand separation of church and state isn’t only Atheists vs Theists. Keeping things neutral is better for the religious, too. If you could go back, is there anything you would do differently?
Lea: Could it have been handled differently? Eh. Maybe, But the school needed to know that we were serious. What made this so bad was people’s reaction to it. I don’t know if I would have done anything different. There’s always a what-if in every situation. Hindsight is 20/20. I hate that!
Koni: Rumor has it that you asked for the Awkward Moments Children’s Bible to be handed out across from the school. Horus’ statement on the distribution doesn’t mention you, however. Did you have anything to do with it? Did it go down anything like the news said?
Lea: The article the news ran about that was completely false. I had nothing to do with it. I heard it was happening, so I went down to see what was going on. A man was standing on the sidewalk across the street from the school, asking kids if they wanted a free children’s bible. All but one student took the books. Then it started raining, so he left. There were no pamphlets about atheism given out. It was just volumes 1 and 2 of the children’s bible. No one was shouting things about Satan and there were no angry mobs of parents running him off. Administration didn’t even know he was there, until after he was gone.
Koni: “God’s not real and Satan’s the best” didn’t sound like something an atheist would say, to me. We don’t believe in Satan, either, after all. Folks seem to be trying really hard to make you out to be a monster.
Lea: The town hates me, but I’ve noticed that Duncan, OK, has one of the worst persecution complexes I have ever seen. Anywhere. Something else will happen and in time they’ll move on. Let the hens cackle.
Koni: Living in a small Oklahoma town myself, I know that’s true. Those hens will find someone else to peck at soon! Have family or friends not directly involved in this ordeal been dragged into it?
Lea: They attacked my older children for sticking up for me. That’s what makes me the maddest. They attacked my older son and and his girlfriend’s dyslexia. They posted screen shots from as far back as 5 years ago, trying to paint me and my kids in a bad light. Attack me all you want. Leave my kids out of it. They’re great kids! They don’t cause trouble. I felt attacking us personally was petty and shallow, and I have yet to come onto social media to attack any one of them in a personal fashion.
Koni: In what ways has all the attention this incident has drawn been positive?
Lea: I’ve made a lot of new atheist friends and I could not get through this without them!!!
Koni: I’m happy to have met you, for sure. Everyone can use more friends!