Oklahoma Atheist Family Resists Right-wing Christian Regime, Prevails

by JewsOnFirst.org, July 11, 2006

Bloggers have been telling the story of Chuck (Chester) Smalkowski for the past ten days — since his acquittal in Texas County, Oklahoma on shockingly severe felony assault charges. The charges stemmed from Smalkowski's 2004 encounter with the principal of his daughter's school; he wanted to protest his daughter's being forced to join her basketball team's prayer circle. The Smalkowskis are atheists.

Smalkowski wrote about it last year on the Democratic Underground blog:

So I had a talk with the principal on a saturday night leting him know I was going to sue the school. A fight ensued and I was charged with assault.

I never started a fight in my life and I have had many. I've seen them all, bullies, bigots, young bucks and just plain-bored idiots.

But a year ago today, I had a fight out in the street with the principal who lied to my family and intentionally harmed my child. He was 350lbs, an ex-Marine.

I weighed 170. It is simple; just do the math. Believe what you want or what you need to believe. 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...

Writing on his own website, Scooter Journals (found courtesy of the Religion Clause blog by Prof. Howard M. Friedman), Smalkowski recounts the agonizing moments when the jury handed the judge the verdict and he waited, amid a lynch-mob-like crowd of spectators praying for his conviction, and braced for the word "guilty," the crowd cheering, the devastation of his family. He recounts his near disbelief when he was acquitted on all counts.

His story is a sobering look (hopefully not a preview) at what it is like to live under the rule of right-wing evangelical Christianity. Here is a bit of his account of his time awaiting trial.

The whole family was under constant stress. 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. Principal's 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.

An FBI agent even said, “ You aren't kidding”. When it was obvious someone followed us and was watching our meeting out in the middle of nowhere. I was told about a few things. All I can say is that some of the crooks out here now charged with crimes wore badges and guns! But he could not help my family and me. Not without witnesses willing to come forward. One scared witness left the state. The last words she spoke to me were, Chuck I don't want to end up dead in a ditch! Just what you would expect life to be like out here in the Bible belt!

Smalkowski also writes about his first attorney, more loyal to that intolerant Christian community of Hardesty than to his client. The lawyer charged him a lot of money and never told him that he should file a federal lawsuit against the school system and its illegal prayer policy. Smalkowski writes of the American Atheist organization's lawyer whom he credits with his acquittal and who also represented him in a civil suit.

JewsOnFirst's efforts to determine the outcome of the civil case have been unsuccessful to date. Court docket entries show that it was filed in May 2005, went to mediation, and was dismissed by both parties in May 2006. Such a dismissal generally indicates that a case has been settled. But the American Atheist news release suggests that a civil case might be filed. That suggests an action for bad faith prosecution. Smalkowski's attorney has not returned phone and email messages and the family cannot (understandably) be reached for comment.

TOPIC: Public Education