A student who dressed up as Jesus Christ for his high school’s “Fictional Character Day” will be receiving a $1,000 scholarship from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Seventeen-year-old Jeff Shott, a student at Summit High School in Tennessee, wore the costume to school in January. The story was first reported in The Tennessean.
He explained on the organization’s website that he decided to wear the costume because of his science teacher. The teacher had expressed skepticism about evolutionary theory and had told students that “we actually come from Adam and Eve.”
Legislation recently signed into law allows public school teachers in Tennessee to teach alternatives to mainstream scientific theory.
School officials, including the principal, took Shott aside and warned him that he would have to remove the religiously-themed costume if it caused any disruption. He voluntarily removed his Jesus costume and was not disciplined.
“Both principals said they were worried my costume would spark religious debates in every class and take up large amounts of time,” Shott said. “I was sternly warned that if even one teacher reported the slightest disruption, I would have to take off my costume. Then and there, I decided to take it off.”
When Shott went home, he uploaded pictures of his costume to the social media website Reddit.com and described what had happened. Commenters on the website encouraged him to contact the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“Statistics show that the least trusted and most despised American minority is the atheist community,” Shott added. “I, along with most of my atheist friends and family, have experienced this firsthand.”
Schools in have struggled to balance the First Amendment rights of students with the need to maintain order. Public school students have First Amendment rights like every other American, but the Supreme Court has ruled that those rights can be reasonably limited to prevent disruption to education.
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