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Today’s post was supposed to be the traditional Shaming of the Bystanders to encourage donations to Foundation Beyond Belief. But events have o’ertaken me.

hemantLaurie Higgins, one of an apparent two members of a group called Illinois Family Institute (italics theirs) is doing what so many conservative religious groups do best: working 24/7 to keep people terrified — especially of people who are different from themselves. Ms. Higgins has now interrupted a long screed warning about a carnival of recreational abortion and Logan’s Run-style euthanasia that the Obama adminstration is said to be working on (why doesn’t anyone tell me about these things?) so she could frighten Chicago parents about the presence of a high school math teacher whose religious views do not conform to James Dobson’s.

Worse yet, he’s an atheist. And a non-closeted one.

It’s not that he’s mentioned his views in class, or tried to recruit students, or made use of equations that always come out to 666, or worse yet, zero. The stated concern is that students might look up to him. The IFI suggests that concerned parents request that their children be transferred to another teacher, and furthermore implies that if they aren’t concerned, they bloody well should be.

“It’s all about diversity and choice,” she writes. Using the latter to flee the former, I guess.

The good news in all this is that the teacher in question is the bright, funny, and level-headed Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta. If anyone can handle this kind of nonsense well, it’s Hemant.

Like other sufferers of RFD (Religious Freedom Deafness), Ms. Higgins is making herself an incredible pain, but when there’s someone of Hemant’s caliber in the hotseat, it can all end up rather well. In the end, by simply being normal and allowing Ms. Higgins to be decidedly otherwise, he’ll bring credit to us all. And the non-crazy majority of religious folks will learn something about the non-crazy majority of the nonreligious, which means some genuine good can come out of it.

How he first caught their eye
She attacks
He replies
She issues an “open letter”

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.