Via Pharyngula comes this story of the persecution of an 8th grade science teacher in North Carolina, persecution based on the students’ and their parents’ belief that the teacher isn’t a Christian. Here are the facts: Melissa Hussain was suspended from her job teaching 8th grade science after she complained on her Facebook page about being the victim of persecution from a bunch of ignorant rednecks, which she called a “hate crime”. This was basically the summation of the complaint that got her in trouble, apparently because that sort of venting from school teachers isn’t allowed. I’m not sure how I feel about that rule—in general, I think the censorship of employees in our country has gotten way out of hand, so I’m on her side—but I can sort of see why there is such a rule. But let’s be clear—that this Facebook posting was discovered probably has a lot to do with the general levels of harassment that the citizens of Wake County felt was appropriate to subject Hussain to, because they believe she’s not a Christian.
The reports I could find on this don’t explain why they think Hussain isn’t a Christian. It could be her last name—I’d be shocked if that wasn’t a factor—or the fact that she’s a science teacher. Or maybe she isn’t a Christian and didn’t take pains to hide that fact. So what? This country supposedly respects religious freedom, and that counts even for school teachers and even for women and even in North Carolina. The levels of harassment this woman was subject to are shocking, even for a bunch of ignorant rednecks. The harassers are admitting that they were provoked by the fact that Hussain taught real world biology that included the theory of evolution.
On her Facebook page, Hussain wrote about students spreading rumors that she was a Jesus hater. She complained about her students wearing Jesus T-shirts and singing “Jesus Loves Me.” She objected to students reading the Bible instead of doing class work.
But Annette Balint, whose daughter is in Hussain’s class, said the students have the right to wear those shirts and sing “Jesus Loves Me,” a long-time Sunday School staple. She said the students were reading the Bible during free time in class.
So, what appears to be happening is that the parents are encouraging their children to disrupt class to harass a woman they believe deserves no respect by refusing to do their schoolwork, and loudly singing hymns. And when called out on it, they play innocent, acting like open disruption of the classroom is just a legitimate, harmless expression of belief. This is not all that Hussain was subject to. Students got into the habit of leaving religious materials on her desk to taunt her. Postcards with pictures of Jesus were left on her desk so that students could act all butt hurt when she did what you always do when junk mail is left for you, which is throw it away. Bibles were left on her desk, presumably to create the same kind of faux outrage if she treated them like anything short of magical objects. After the evolution dust-up, when kids tried to stop the lesson by squawking about Jesus and no doubt freaking out on the teacher, a student left a Christmas card on Hussain’s desk with the word “Christ” underlined.
This behavior, of course, is bullying, and it appears to be encouraged by parents. Bullying is the absolute favorite tactic of the religious right, from women’s clinic blockades to calling the cops on women who dare admit while pregnant to being anything but as blissed out as a dog suckling her pups. Men are subject to this kind of bullying, but generally, wingnuts prefer to set their sights on female targets, because they believe women are weak, and like all bullies, they prefer to pick on someone they perceive as weak.
Since I can smell the victim-blaming coming a mile away, I will say that it’s obvious that Hussain didn’t handle this situation with the utmost maturity. Very young schoolteachers often take students’ misbehavior personally, and then the students smell blood in the water and go nuts. I definitely saw this happen to teachers when I was a kid, especially in junior high school, when a lot of students turn into complete monsters and enjoy torturing teachers, fellow students, anyone they can act out their angst on. Maybe some people just aren’t cut out for teaching, if they really can’t control a classroom full of evil little shitheads.
In addition, Hussain seems to have not really understood what she was up against, in terms of right wing nuttery. But you have to cut people a break on this—even those of us who’ve been deep in the political shit for a long time now can still have our breath taken away by how vicious wingnuts are, how sadistic, and how much they absolutely love ruining the lives of people guilty of disagreeing with them. A fight between a decent human being and someone who would kick little old ladies that have fallen down isn’t going to be a fair fight, since the latter is practically begging to fight dirty. For Hussain, I can’t imagine how frustrating it was to have students act this way with the full support of their parents and the tacit support of the school district. And she made ill-advised choices that indicate that she didn’t understand the full extent of the problem. Now that she’s been punished but the harassers have not, perhaps she’ll wrap her head around this.
The good news is it looks like legal avenues are opening up to people railroaded like Hussain was. Meanwhile, the rest of us have to really be willing to face up to this—the Christianist right wing teabagger freak out has gotten to the point where these idiots are telling their kids that it’s a good thing to harass their science teachers until they crack.