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Austin Cline

Just Another Salem: Christian Persecution of Atheists in the American Heartland

By July 10, 2006

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Not long ago I wrote about the experiences of Charles Smalkowski and his family in Okalhoma. Falsely charged with assault, Smalkowski was offered the chance to leave the state and not file suit against the school district because of their official Christian prayers and persecution of his daughter. He resisted, the charges were increased to a felony, and his family suffered. In the end, he won.

Charles Smalkowski writes at Democratic Underground (and it's reprinted by American Atheists) about the experiences before and during the trial:

The loving Christians brought their children to hear the verdict. They brought the town. They brought ministers. I even saw another Judge in the back of the room. The Judge who in an earlier hearing while slapping an inch thick stack of papers on his bench saying with a list of witnesses this big you had better be a good boy. It was lies then, it was lies now and the DA knew it! (She was later forced to hand over a written statement she denied for over a year existed!) People prayed openly for a conviction.

So many people attended... but for some reason, neither the so-called victim of Smalkowki’s alleged assault nor the assistant district attorney bothered to show up. Why? Perhaps they had a good idea that the case wasn’t going to go there way.

Many old women in the courtroom are taking notes. Others have been taking notes at every hearing for the past year and a half! They strain to listen not wanting to miss one juicy word. With the pens and pads they write continuously. The pads shaking with every push of the pen. Even writing down what my children spoke amongst themselves. ...

Others had walked out into the hall and warned a police witness saying that justice must be served, that justice better be served. The judge called a hearing on the threat. He warned the crowd that if it happens one more time he would have no choice but to throw out the case. He was between a rock and a hard place. He knows my lawyers are watching and the loving Christians are out for my blood, and they are watching too. The law, elections and politics were all in play. The Judge left the court for his chambers and stayed away for a quite awhile.

A “mob” is the best way to describe these Christians. They surely would have lynched Smalkowski if they had been given half a chance, and some seem to have tried to influence the court process in order to ensure the “correct” verdict — one that would make them feel better about themselves.

Police trying to get search warrants to the property by having ex-employees file false statements. Other cops trying to hire ex-cons to beat me up. The whole town knows of it! The Sheriff trying to have my bond pulled by the bail bondsman when there was no legal way to do it. My kids have been out of school since November. Principal’s son saying should he get a gun when he sees my daughter and my son. DA has yet to reply to our concerns. The Department of Human Services comes to my place saying they received a complaint that I starve my kids. It was even obvious to them the charge was bogus.

We have become very good at using back roads. The police follow us around. Traffic tickets that when challenged were dropped in court. Not to mention the stares and whispers, the betrayal from employees, one of my healthy dogs dying. Brush fires starting up upwind.

People who might have been able to help the Smalkowski were too afraid to do so — not simply afraid of social censure, but afraid for their lives.

According to Smalkowski, not even his lawyer was willing to be honest with him, much less do the job he was supposed to:

Somewhere along the line I talk to the ACLU out of San Francisco. Who let me know my first civil lawyer was not telling me the whole story. I was advised by them and many others to complain to the Bar about him. You see he never told me that the prayer in itself is illegal. That the schools in this area were not following the state and federal funding guidelines. When I asked him after finding out from the ACLU. He said yes it is against the law.

I told him I want to have it stopped. He told me he would not for he was a Christian and he believed there should be school prayer. His statement floored me for it bordered on madness. I said what you believe and what you do for a client is two different things and that you took an oath. He still refused.

The guy not only kept the original USD $10,000 that he was given, he charged the Smalkowskis another USD $5,000 simply for reading a letter demanding the original money back. What a wonderful, loving, and honest Christian he is — a real credit to his religion as well as his profession. It’s people like him who help ensure that “justice” is done in Christian America.

Sadly, not even the ACLU in Oklahoma was willing to help the Smalkowkis — and I’ll tell you, that’s has me seriously contemplating never to financially support them again. I realize that each state organization is run separately, but if the Oklahoma state organization can be run in such a manner, I have trouble trusting the rest of them. Only Edward Kagin and American Atheists was there to help him and see to it that real justice was served, not the mob-based lynching justice that the local Christians were seeking. The Oklahoma ACLU should be ashamed for not having even participated.

Don’t forget, though, that it’s really the Christians in America who are being persecuted — and their persecutors are all the vicious atheists who have the temerity to criticize Christianity or say horrible, nasty things about religion generally. We just can’t have that, can we? Christians need their sensibilities to be protected from the evil thoughts of atheists; if atheists end up being assaulted by Christians, that’s their just desserts for speaking out of turn and failing to properly “tolerate” the majority’s will.


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Holy sh**, Austin! Don’t you have a job? How do you find and keep up with this stuff? I do a lot of freakin’ searching and digging for my Friday entries and I can’t even TOUCH you! You must pay your full-time staff really well. ; ) -JJ

July 10, 2006 at 7:28 pm

Thanks, James. I use an RSS reader (with around 200 subscriptions, including your site) to try to keep up with news and events. I used to have lots of news sites & blogs in a bookmark folder and hit “open all in tabs,” but an RSS news reader (Net News Wire for the Mac) is more efficient.

In this case, though, I received the news via email – I can’t remember the source off hand. I do actually have a day job, but I wish I could have a staff!

July 10, 2006 at 7:59 pm

Whoot! Go get ‘em! Don’t let those Christians pray!

Stupid freak. It *is* an attack on Christianity to do such things. Yes, some idiot Christians don’t know how to properly fight back in such situations. But that isn’t because they are Christians. It’s because they are human.

July 12, 2006 at 12:15 pm

Whoot! Go get ‘em! Don’t let those Christians pray!

Who tried to stop individual Christians from trying to pray?

Stupid freak. It *is* an attack on Christianity to do such things.

To do what things, refuse to pray with them?

Yes, some idiot Christians don’t know how to properly fight back in such situations.

What would have been the “proper” way to fight back? And “fight back” against what?

July 12, 2006 at 12:18 pm
Peter Chapman(5)

I find that all just plain disgusting. How people use religion these days is appalling, they don’t stand for any of the forgiveness and acceptance their religion is supposed to teach them. Their gangs of people with illconcieved notions of how to act just like the crips.

July 12, 2006 at 12:49 pm

I’m having trouble finding any sources for this story. I would like to know if this is a factual story or not.

July 12, 2006 at 2:38 pm

I link to all the original sources in the post above. If you are looking for sources, follow the links.

July 12, 2006 at 4:27 pm

One link is to your own story and one to AA which is just reposting it from DU. So your only actual source is the guy it supposedly happened to. I’m an atheist and would like to believe this story, but you’ve got to be kidding. You don’t consider yourself a journalist do you?

July 13, 2006 at 8:21 am

Andrew: This is a follow-up to the previous post, which I know you saw judging from your comment. Had you read it, you’d have noticed the link to the American Atheists story that runs through the things which happened to the Smalkowskis. American Atheists are the ones who helped Smalkowski get legal representation and I have never found American Atheists to be an unreliable source of factual information

No, I haven’t been to Oklahoma to personally verify all of the details of Smalkowki’s story and I don’t feel any need to do so. No, this isn’t a newspaper and I’m not a newspaper reporter. This is a site about agnosticism, atheism, freethought, and skepticism. One of the purposes of this site is to inform people about atheism and that includes what happens to atheists. If I took the time to travel around to personally verify every story that I find then I would never have time to write anything, so I don’t try.

What I do, which is all I can do, is write about the issues and stories, offer my perspective, and let others form their own opinions. If you don’t believe Smalkowski, go right ahead and don’t — I won’t stop you and I don’t particularly care. Just be aware that if the sole basis for disputing the truth of his story is the idea that people or Christians just wouldn’t do such thing, then you are simply and undeniably wrong about that. It’s possible that they didn’t do such things here, but they have done it many times in the recent past.

What Smalkowski describes on his own his completely consistent both with what others report about this case as well as with what happens to religious theists who challenge official prayers in schools. There is a reason why people in these cases commonly go anonymously in even the court records: they have legitimate fears for their safety. Threats are made. Property is damaged. Children are assaulted. Businesses are ruined. It’s a pattern repeated all over America and if Smalkowski says that the same sorts of things happened to him, I’m inclined to take him at his word.

I should point out there that a jury has found that the Christians accusing Smalkowski weren’t truthful, otherwise he wouldn’t have been found innocent of all charges. This means that thus far the only people who appear to have an established record of dishonesty in this case are the school and police officials in Hardesty, not Smalkowski.

July 13, 2006 at 9:01 am

Ok, good retort. I was just planning on showing this story to a friend and I usually try to verify things so I don’t look like a sucker. I wish that I could find anything on this story that isn’t coming from a bias site. google has proven worthless which incites skepticism.

July 14, 2006 at 8:35 am

I was just planning on showing this story to a friend and I usually try to verify things so I don’t look like a sucker.

That’s entirely reasonable. The more independent sources of information one has, the more secure we can feel about that information. If there were any other sources with any further information, I’d link to them. The only “mainstream media” sources come from back when the charges were first filed — and they contain very little information. Given how uninterested they were in covering the story then, perhaps it’s not surprising that they have been uninterested since the trial ended.

July 14, 2006 at 9:00 am

After much searching I gave up and just called the texas county clerks office. It seems like this case does in fact exist, here’s what she gave me: judge-Greg A. Zigler; ruling date: 6-22-06; ruling: not guilty(obviously); case number: CF-0345. My only hope is that the number succession is only a coincidence.

July 14, 2006 at 5:41 pm

I don’t think that there was ever any basis for wondering if the case actually existed – in the other post, remember, I linked to a news report about the trial being underway. I also don’t think that there was every any basis for wondering if it proceeded in any way other than how AA described in their press release.

At most, people might wonder if every single detail offered by Smalkowski about how he was specifically harassed was true. As I noted, however, even those extreme details have parallels in other cases, so the idea that “people just don’t do this” wouldn’t be enough of a basis to doubt him. If there were some other basis, then the absence of independent verification could lead a person to reasonably doubt at least some of those details.

July 14, 2006 at 6:08 pm
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