Gay Arkansas Student Forced To Read Bible At Public School

A gay junior high school student in Arkansas says he was subjected to a barrage of fundamentalist Christian preaching from teachers and administrators after they learned about his homosexuality.

Thomas McLaughlin, 14, said an assistant principal at Jacksonville Junior High School in Jacksonville, Ark., pulled him out of class last year after rumors surfaced that the boy was gay. According to McLaughlin, the assistant principal asked if his parents knew.

"When I said no, she said I had until 3:40 to tell them or the school would," McLaughlin said. He says the assistant principal also forced him to read Bible passages condemning homosexuality.

"I was too upset to sit through eighth period," McLaughlin told The New York Times, "so I went to the guidance counselor, and she made the call. Later, the science teacher wrote me a four-page handwritten letter about the Bible's teachings on homosexuality, telling me I would be condemned to hell. I threw it out."

McLaughlin asserts that he has been subject to a campaign of harassment since then. Backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, McLaughlin and his mother have filed suit against the school, alleging violations of his civil and religious rights.

McLaughlin, now in the ninth grade, said that in the fall of 2002 a typing teacher asked him to stay after class and lectured him about the Bible.

"She kind of hinted at some Bible verses, but I didn't acknowledge what else she was saying. I just went to my next class," he told the Washington Blade.

McLaughlin said another assistant principal, who is an ordained Baptist minister, brought him into the office and asked him to read certain Bible passages. When the boy began reading the scripture silently, the school official said, "No, read it aloud so I can hear you."

When McLaughlin finished reading, the assistant principal reportedly asked him if he had been saved and gave him a card with more Bible verses on it. The school official allegedly then said the boy could be saved there in his office and began praying with him.

McLaughlin's parents told reporters they are angry over the harassment their son has received and also believe the preaching is inappropriate.

"Thomas didn't tell me about the Bible preaching until recently," Delia McLaughlin told The Times. "That's what made me call the ACLU. We're Christians, but this isn't the school's business. It's something for us, the parents, to talk about."

Officials at the school are remaining tight lipped about the charges. In March they issued a brief statement that read, "Based on the information the district has received, the district is unable to substantiate, and therefore denies, the specific allegations set forth in the letter. The district denies that it intentionally violated the student's constitutional rights, and no disciplinary action has been taken because of the student's sexual orientation."

The statement also asserted that if school officials had "advocated religious beliefs...such action was not appropriate and is not condoned by the district."