Intolerance In Tennessee: Lenoir City High School Students Face Torrent Of Hate

It’s so sad that people who are just trying to live their lives by their own beliefs are shouted down simply because those beliefs don’t conform to the norm in a community.

In March, Americans United intervened in Lenoir City, Tenn. after we received reports about a public school that openly favors Christianity.

Trouble began when Krystal Myers, a senior at Lenoir City High School, attempted to submit a column in her school’s newspaper in which she outlined how difficult it is to be a non-believer in an overwhelmingly Christian community, and how she feels like something of a second-class student at a school in which sectarian prayers before football games and graduations are commonplace. (Her column was banned from the newspaper because, school officials said, because it might cause a disruption. The piece later ran in the Knoxville News Sentinel.)

Now, in what is beginning to feel like a cliché, Myers is being subjected to hateful rhetoric and threats from a community that claims to be Christian and prides itself on loving God. Here’s a sampling of some of what’s being said about Myers in a thread called “Krystal Myers Should be Excommunicated from the City and County” on a local message board.

“We cant [sic] pray at football games or school board meetings anymore because of the .. Tramp…$lut… Bitch,” said a poster named “Dude.”

“She should be taken outside the city and stoned,” a poster named “Jethro” said.

“She will burn…..,” “Tennessee Boy,” said simply.

Others have taken to more traditional forums, such as the News Sentinel. In a letter to the editor, J.A. Frahme of Knoxville had the audacity to accuse Myers, who stood up for the Constitution and the First Amendment, of being the closed-minded one.

“Krystal Myers' god is herself,” Frahme wrote. “She wants all others to adhere to her belief by removing God from having any place in the public arena. So it is one religion (atheism) telling another religion (Christianity) to get out of public and governmental places. The students have every right to exercise their Christian beliefs as she does her atheism.” 

People like Frahme are totally off base. Not only did Myers find it difficult at best to express her beliefs, but Christian educators were expressing their religion in a way that not only offended Myers, but was unconstitutional.

Sadly the community’s intolerance doesn’t end there. In a separate incident, a gay student named Zac Mitchell was featured in an article for the Lenoir City High School yearbook that was called “It’s O.K. to be Gay.”

This sent some in the community into a tirade.

On the Lenoir board, one angry poster wrote:

“As a former editor of the Lenoir City High School Annual, I am sad and mad that such trash could be part of the yearbook. … See, people, when you ask God to leave our schools … this is what is going to happen.”

But the prize for most extreme overreaction goes to Van Shaver, a board member of the adjacent Loudon County Schools, who said the teacher who oversees the yearbook should be fired and that a full police investigation should be launched “to hold accountable any and all those who had a hand in this despicable act.”

Protestors have called on students to rip the article about Mitchell from their yearbooks, and some are asking the school to prevent Mitchell and Myers, from walking across the stage at their upcoming graduation.

Americans United understands that the school probably won’t cave to protestors, but heightened security, possibly local police and National Guard members, may be needed at the ceremony.

It’s so sad that people who are just trying to live their lives by their own beliefs are shouted down simply because those beliefs don’t conform to the norm in a community. The United States is supposed to be a place where people can live their lives as they see fit, provided they don’t harm anyone else. Myers and Mitchell haven’t hurt anyone.

The only folks causing trouble are the citizens of Lenoir City who seek to demonize these kids because they had the fortitude to be different. Myers and Mitchell are courageous young people, and we commend them for their stand.