Atheist groups decry 'hate speech' from Millard school board member who wants winter break called Christmas break
By Joe Dejka / World-Herald staff writer
A Millard school board member engaged in “hate speech” toward atheists during a meeting Monday, according to the leader of a Nebraska atheist group.
The board member, Paul Meyer, said Tuesday that he stood by his comments “100 percent.”
During a board discussion on the 2017-18 school calendar, Meyer made a motion for the board to rename winter break as “Christmas break.” Then he added that atheists who disagreed with the idea should “crawl back into their hellhole.”
None of the board members present — Mike Kennedy, Mike Pate and Pat Ricketts — seconded the motion. It failed for lack of a second.
The board then adopted the calendar on a 3-1 vote, without specifying a name for the break. Meyer voted no.
Meyer used “unprofessional and derogatory language” during the discussion, which amounted to “hate speech against a minority group,” according to a letter Amanda Novotny wrote Tuesday to the school board and the superintendent. She identified herself as the Nebraska director for American Atheists and the marketing director for Omaha Atheists.
“I personally question Mr. Meyer’s ability to fairly and equally represent those people in his district who do not share his beliefs,” she wrote, “and I hope that will be looked into further to ensure that the best decisions are being made for the students. All the students.”
Novotny cited a report by the Pew Research Center indicating that about one-third of adults under 30 years old have no religious affiliation. She said she knows several atheists who reside in the Millard area.
Meyer, in a phone interview Tuesday, said he was not backing down from his comments.
“I’m getting sick of these atheists trying to take over this country,” he said.
He doesn’t hate them, he said. “What I hate is their sin.”
Meyer said he is Lutheran and said his father was a Lutheran minister. He said the country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and said he thinks it’s OK for public officials to express their religious beliefs.
“Definitely, I wish more did,” he said.
Most of the Founding Fathers were Christians, he said.
Asked whether labeling the winter school vacation “Christmas break” would violate the First Amendment’s “establishment of religion” clause, he said, “We aren’t establishing.”
“This is just what it’s been throughout the ages,” he said. “It’s been considered Christmas break. Why do we even break at this time of the year? What is the purpose? This is why the break was even established, because of the Christmas holiday.”
That portion of the Constitution’s First Amendment — “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — is commonly interpreted as requiring the separation of church and state, although scores of lawsuits testify to disagreement on its scope and intent.
Tom Gray, president of Omaha Atheists, said Meyer’s comments showed a “clear disregard” for separation of church and state.
“His bigoted language, telling atheists to ‘crawl back into their hellhole,’ attempts to discredit the broad range of people who support keeping government out of religion,” Gray said in a statement. “If he believes we are literally pitchfork-wielding demons, then we are concerned for his grasp on reality.”
Voters elected Meyer to a four-year term in 2012 after he led opposition to a Millard schools bond issue.
He is not seeking re-election.