Fashioning a polo shirt that complemented his witty humor, an atheist high school math teacher recounted how he won his tussle with an influential right-wing group.
A math teacher by profession, Hemant Mehta catapulted to fame with his controversial book “I Sold My Soul on eBay.”
An active member of several atheist organizations, he tries to change the prevailing societal misconceptions about atheists. For example, he is affiliated with the Foundation Beyond Belief, which fundraises for secular community service groups.
Speaking to a crowd of approximately 30 people, Mehta talked about his encounter with the conservative Illinois Family Institute, which criticized him for expressing his opposition to their views on homosexuality. He said he pointed out the holes in their argument and so they tried to attack his job by claiming that he was trying to “spread the gospel of atheism” to students. Thankfully for Mehta, his employers stood up for him because he never interjected his opinions into his math lectures.
“My employers were more interested in my teaching skills than my views,” Mehta said. “Moreover, I do not talk about my views in school. I do everything I can to keep my atheist life separate from my math teacher life.”
Mehta said he knows where the line separating church and state is but never wishes to cross it. He said there are atheist teachers who can face a lot of animosity in classrooms, especially when students are unwilling to respect the teacher’s religious viewpoint.
“I just want such people to know that there are ways to get around it,” he said. “There are people who can help you. Ultimately, face-to-face conversations are the best way to solve the issue.”
Despite the seriousness of the conversation, Mehta injected humor into his speech by occasionally mocking the hypocrisies of extreme religious groups.
It was obvious from the post-speech talks that he provided inspiration to his audience.
“Mehta has a non-aggressive approach. He tries to dispel hostile views against atheists,” said Janam Jhaveri, a senior in the College of Engineering. “We are just like other people.”
Jhaveri added that aggressive atheists have created a negative portrait of atheists and Hemant’s approach is to promote understanding and acceptance of atheism.
Stuart Pulliam, a senior in the College of Engineering, added “Mehta gives a positive view towards atheism while others may have a negative view of it. He goes out and interacts with several denominations and doesn’t preach atheism or try to convert people.”
“In the end, atheists are just as patriotic as other American citizens,” Mehta said.