Atheist Acquitted on Assault Charges After Being Harassed by Local Christians
by Austin Cline
Is America the sort of country where Christians can harass an atheist girl in school, assault her father, then blame the father for the assault and file criminal charges against him? Is America the sort of country where the father can be told to leave the state if he wants the charges dropped? Yes, America is that sort of country because American Christians can be exactly that sort of person.
Fortunately, America is also the sort of country where real justice is possible despite some Christians best efforts. Chester Smalkowski, an atheist living in Hardesty, Oklahoma, was found not guilty by a jury who heard all manner of nonsense from Christians who seem to have wanted nothing more than to run him and his family out of town. American Atheists reports:
Nicole Smalkowski was kicked off of the girls' basketball team after refusing to stand in a circle with her teammates on the gymnasium floor of the Hardesty public High School and recite the "Lord's Prayer." After school officials learned that she and her family were Atheists, lies were created about her as grounds to take her off of the team.
Nicole's father Chuck made the mistake of going to the home of principal Lloyd Buckley to talk about it. Even if atheists didn't have to worry about physical violence, I'd still say that it was a mistake going to a person's home in the evening in such a situation just isn't very appropriate. On the other hand, Hardesty evidently has a population of just a few hundred people and in such small communities it may be that doing such a thing is much more common.
Still, the consequences indicate that Smalkowski probably should have just made a phone call:
Outside of his front fence, the principal struck Chuck, who blocked the blow. Both men fell to the ground and Buckley sustained minor injuries, the provable origins of which were strikingly contrary to his under oath trial testimony. Buckley then took out misdemeanor criminal assault charges against Chuck. After Smalkowski rejected the offer to drop the charges if he and his Atheist family left the state, the charges were raised to a felony. Chuck called American Atheists for help.
The jury acquitted Smalkowski after just two hours of deliberation and that time span included eating dinner. American Atheists description of the jury selection is interesting:
Edwin [Kagin] introduced himself to the jury as National Legal Director for American Atheists and asked the prospective jury in the Oklahoma panhandle if they could accept the testimony of an Atheist over that of a professed Christian. When the jury looked at him blankly, the judge asked the prospects if they understood the question. One woman spoke for many in the group by asking What is an Atheist? Edwin explained that an Atheist was a person who did not believe in a god or gods or in a supernatural world, and that the defendant and his entire family were such persons. Many of the prospects said they could not believe such a person over a Christian and were struck for cause. To their credit, many members of the jury panel, including two ministers wives, told the judge they could not be fair to an Atheist in such a situation and were excused.
I dont know if I should feel more depressed over the fact that so many people were unable to believe the word of an atheist over a Christian, or optimistic about the fact that two ministers wives were willing to admit that they couldn't believe an atheists word over a Christians.
At Democratic Underground, Smalkowski describes the series of events in his own words:
Hardesty has labeled us as devil worshippers. ...Teachers watched as students said she was gay because she voted for Kerry, only homosexuals vote for Kerry, we are Christian we vote for Bush. They persecuted my daughter. They called her a half-breed. Made fun of northerners and Yankees. Teachers said they hated her. Having other students follow her around to catch her on the littlest infraction. No teacher ever tried to enlighten these misguided children. Instead the school encouraged more of the same.
The entire high school only has a couple of dozen students, and thats in all classes, so the harassment being described here would have been very intense and completely inescapable.
I turned myself in within 2 hours of an arrest warrant. Bail was set high at $5000 for a misdemeanor. When I paid it, it was switched to $15,000. A man that turns himself in and owns land is not a flight risk. I am not charged with two charges; the misdemeanor was brought along because of the excessive bail! The Sheriff Benji Fuentes and policeman Guy Cook, who are this mans friend, live within a few doors of each other, have wives and relatives on the school board, never took both sides of the story, though they heard it. If they had it would have stopped right there. Instead they knowingly shaped the evidence to hopefully stop the lawsuit I said I was going to file. They even went so far as to hindering us in obtaining evidence that would prove my innocence and my daughter's civil suit. [...]
The D.A. was willing to drop the charges if I left the county. The charges were switched from a misdemeanor to a felony when I refused. My local lawyer from Guymon was more than compromised and the DA knew it, yet she allowed him to continue until I found out and dropped him. He admitted it himself.
The entire community turned against the Smalkowskis and those who knew the truth were pressured into keeping quiet. Local reporters were pressured to not print the truth and reporters from outside the area appear to have followed suit. Few news outlets even have the story; those that do fail to mention most of the relevant facts, like how Nicole Smalkowski was punished for not participating in a religious exercise in a public school.
KFDA in Texas, for example, has as short piece which doesnt mention the harassment of the entire family for being atheists. Apparently stories about atheists being persecuted arent important, but stories about a parent accused of assaulting a school official are important enough to mention.
Just Another Salem: Christian Persecution of Atheists in the American Heartland
by Austin Cline
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 Smalkowkis alleged assault nor the assistant district attorney bothered to show up. Why? Perhaps they had a good idea that the case wasnt 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. Principals 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. Its 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 Ill tell you, thats 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.
Dont forget, though, that its 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 cant 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, thats their just desserts for speaking out of turn and failing to properly tolerate the majoritys will.