Dr. Meyrs over at Pharyngula has a story about a kid who says he was expelled from the Portland Institute of Art for not believing in Leprechauns. Specifically, he says he was expelled because a student who believes in Leprechauns (they live on another energy level) complained about him arguing with her about her beliefs, and because he is an atheist.
The school says that there have been several other complaints about him engaging in rude and belligerent behavior, and this incident was merely the last straw.
Maybe the kid is right, and they are going after him to persecute him for his atheism. Maybe the school is right, and he was being an egregious twit and this was just the last straw in a pattern of socially inept behavior. Based on the impression that this is a single case with a single kid, and not an institutional pattern, I don't think him being an atheist was the cause of his expulsion.
I think this because bureaucrats tend to be lazy and not like paper work, and REALLY don't like lawsuits. So you usually have to be all sorts of bothersome before they will fire you or kick you out of school for your beliefs. It isn't completely unheard of to find bureaucrats that are industrious ideologues out to make life difficult for innocent students with unpopular opinions…but egregious twits with an ax to grind and poor socialization are a lot more common.
I call them "nametag people".
You now what I mean…
"Hi, I'm Sally and I'm an atheist."
"Hi, I'm Joe, and I'm a Christian."
(or sometimes the very special "Hi, I'm Joe, I'm a Christian, and you're going to hell")
"Hi, I'm Bob, and I picket Planned Parenthood in my spare time."
"I'm Beatrice, and I believe in Leprechauns"
They give their name and whatever cause or ideology they've replaced their personality with, and then wait for you to say something about it.
Sometimes they wait with a smirk, sometimes they wait with a look like a cat that's waiting to pounce the next time the mouse twitches, sometimes with the expression young boys wear after they've thrust a huge stick into a giant ant-hill, anticipating the disruption they've caused; but they wait. Every conversation, every new person they meet, every new situation is an opportunity to do battle for the most important thing in the world: what they think about X, Y, or Z.
You can talk to them for hours and learn nothing new about them.
These are the creationist kids who stall and stymie the biology unit on evolution, arguing every point with whatever lame-ass sophomoric platitude they can come up with and accusing the teacher of "anti-Christian bias" if he dismisses it as not worth taking up class time addressing. They can make it all but impossible to cover the material, and nobody learns anything new, excepting tactics for how to be an egregious twit.
There's the guy who holds everybody up at the grocery store arguing with the check-out clerk about how they shouldn't stock a particularly non-eco-friendly product.
The teetotaler who brings the whole mood of the room down at a party by holding forth on the evils of drink rather than just not having a glass himself.
They think of themselves as crusaders, and if people get bummed out by them and ask them to leave, they feel persecuted, and they feel they are being persecuted for their ideas when it could be more that they are being rejected for their methods of interaction.
Now, if you want to proselytize atheism, by all means, do it. If there is a classroom discussion, by all means, participate. Or do like PZ Meyrs does, and start a blog where people interested in what you think can come and find out. Hey, in your own space, where people have a choice, you can be as smug and condescending and dismissive of their thoughts as you want to be. They can stop reading, or they can choose to think about what you have to say. In that situation, it's your space, and it's their choice.
But in the elevator, in classroom discussions, in the coffee shop, in your best friend's house…for Pete's sake, act like a human being. You may think you are acting like a human being, but repeated reports of harassing behavior and complaints about your approach might indicate to you that there is a problem, and you should look into figuring out what it is and fixing it. It doesn't mean you have to change your beliefs, it doesn't mean you have to change your personality or your approach to life. But you might have to change the manner in which you express those things. It's called being human and getting along with other humans. Don't worry, it's perfectly normal, and it isn't "selling out". It's gaining success for yourself and your ideas.
Join conversations and state your beliefs, but use your social skills and remember that if you hold an unpopular opinion, you are an ambassador for that opinion. This doesn't mean hiding your light under a bushel, but it DOES mean being civil, and knowing when to back off and let people think about what you said rather than just continuing to hammer away at them and drive them deeper into a defensive posture to feel attacked and disrespected.
Then again, the girl probably needs to grow a thicker skin as well. If you are going to make public declairations about believeing in leprechauns, you should expect people to be a little incredulous. Lots of people believe a lot of unbelieveable things, but that's pretty rare and odd, and people are just resistant to rare and odd ideas To be offended and make official complaints about a human constant like that is unproductive and unhealthy.