The Black Sheep of Hardesty

The Smalkowski family claims persecution by their town for being atheists.

ByABC News
May 11, 2007, 12:02 PM

May 11, 2007— -- Three years ago the Smalkowski family moved to an 80-acre ranch in Oklahoma, and Nicole Smalkowski, who was 13 years old at the time, was excited about it.

"We have a whole bunch of land that's ours, you can walk on it, you can camp on your own land." Nicole said. She looked forward to playing sports at her new high school.

Nicole is a remarkable athlete, and when school started she became the only girl to play on the boys' football team. The boys accepted her, she said, because she kept up with them.

Then came basketball season, and at the first game, everything changed -- because after the game the girls gathered to recite the Lord's Prayer.

Nicole said, "I didn't think they had religion in sports. But when it came to basketball they would pray before and after practices. They would pray during games. And you know, praying was a tradition for them and that is what they said."

Even the opposing basketball team joined in -- from the stands, school officials bowed their heads.

"You could see that all of the teachers that work at the school, the administration had their heads bowed and were saying the Lord's Prayer with the kids. Coach has his head bowed. It's a thing that everyone does," Nicole said.

This was a very uncomfortable situation for Nicole, who has been an atheist all her life.

"I wouldn't do it because it's disrespectful to me. I think it's disrespectful to them. Why would they want an atheist in their circle saying the Lord's Prayer? I mean, if I was a Jew or Muslim or Hindu, I would have a problem with that prayer."