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Are you an atheist or agnostic in high school?

Or do you know someone who is? Well, exciting news for the younger godless folks – the Secular Student Alliance is making a push to start groups at high schools around the country!

Even in conservative parts of the Bible Belt, atheist teenagers are starting to organize clubs of their own. The Secular Student Alliance, a national nonprofit devoted to supporting nonreligious students, announced early success in its expanded efforts to foster groups for secular high school students. In the past month alone, five new high school groups have affiliated with the SSA, after it took four years for the first twelve to join.

The Secular Student Alliance already offers services to over 200 college affiliates, but says that high school atheists often face unique challenges including stronger pushback from parents and school officials. To confront these challenges, the organization hired JT Eberhard, former student activist and creator of the acclaimed Skepticon conference, as a Campus Organizer and High School Specialist.

“Every teenager deserves a safe space to meet with like minded peers, but hostile administrations and prejudiced communities are stonewalling them from having it,” said Eberhard. “We’re gearing up to give the students the backing they need. Our goal is to see 50 groups for secular high school students by the end of 2011.”

Educating students and teachers about the legal issues involved will be a key part of the effort. Students in conservative areas have difficulty finding a willing faculty advisor, who often report fearing career repercussions. But according to Supreme Court rulings on the Equal Access Act, schools cannot use the lack of a faculty advisor as a reason to bar the group from forming. The Secular Student Alliance is prepared to help mediate those situations and protect the students’ rights.

“While the law is certainly on our side, we would rather have social understanding than legal victory,” remarked August Brunsman, the SSA’s Executive Director. “We want to demonstrate to our fellow Americans that people who don’t believe in a god are nothing to be afraid of.”

Secular groups are encouraged to focus on activism, building community, education, service projects, and cooperation with other groups. The SSA provides such student groups with resources like group-running guides, activity packets, project grants, and a go-to staff member to answer questions.

The development of these new resources and the creation of Eberhard’s position were sparked by a grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, whose mission is to gain respect for freethinkers and ensure the complete separation of church and state.

As someone who started a college group, I can’t stress how rewarding it was. Having hundreds of people thanking me for providing a voice of reason in the community and reminding people that they weren’t alone meant so much to me. Your impact will have lasting effects!

And as someone who attempted to help a friend organize a Gay Straight Alliance in high school but failed thanks to bigoted push back from administrators… I wish I would have had an organization like the SSA to help me out.

If you’re interested in starting a group, make sure to email JT Eberhard ([email protected]). You don’t have to be 100% sure yet – JT is an awesome guy, and he’ll provide you with info about what starting a group would entail.

Comments

  1. WingedBeast says

    I was an atheist in High School and, for all that I knew of the other kids in my High School, I could literally have been the only one. And, a couple of the students at least responded with outright hostility to me being an atheist in the first place.One, in order to argue against my atheism, read from the “Teen Study Bible”. Another told me I’m going to Hell if I don’t convert (I tried informing her that, as an atheist, I don’t believe in Hell, but she didn’t stick around long enough to hear that sentence.) And yet another asked me if I thought we just rotted when we died and didn’t listen to my answer.It would have been nice having an organization where one could be openly atheist without being assumed to be openly a seriel killer.

  2. says

    So, I’m not American, in high school, or an atheist or agnostic (unless you want to get complicated about it), but I have to say a programme like this sounds great. Hopefully it can somehow be used to combat intolerance in places with very few atheists, rather than (as I see theoretical possibilities of) being used to ‘big up’ atheism in areas where it’s already acceptable.

  3. Shane says

    This blog’s archives go back to when she was actively engaged in that student group. You can look through old posts if you’re interested in knowing what it involved.In general, though, I’d assume that it means offering a voice to counter those of religious groups and organizations (including their irrational reverence of mythology, their opposition of science, their hatred of homosexuality, and so on).

  4. Libby says

    I’d love to create/join a group, but I’m a homeschooler. Still… My conservative area could probably use a group for reasonable teenagers to get together. I’ll have to think about it!

  5. Annie says

    Sorry… I still don’t get the point of starting these clubs. The common thread is that all members don’t believe in something? I don’t know why atheists have the need to replace the “church” aspect (or the AA aspect for that matter) with creating groups that say “we are all the same”. I am not a hermit or antisocial, actually the opposite, but I enjoy being with a diverse group of people. I’m not trying to be funny here… I honestly don’t understand this need or desire for solidarity amongst atheism. I assume it has to do with coming out… offering support to those who may come from religious families. But other than that, I don’t understand the purpose. This topic is interesting to me, as I have a middle schooler who is an atheist (being raised by atheists). I wonder what value such groups brings to your lives?

  6. JT Eberhard says

    I touch on that here:http://www.atheismresource.com…You also said something that caught my eye, which I think may be the source of your confusion:”I am not a hermit or antisocial, actually the opposite, but I enjoy being with a diverse group of people.”Not everybody is you, nor is their social road as unobstructive as yours has been. I wish they all were.JT

  7. JT Eberhard says

    The answer is also in the press release:”Secular groups are encouraged to focus on activism, building community, education, service projects, and cooperation with other groups.”JT

  8. WingedBeast says

    Outside of the whole “I’m not alone and not everybody thinks I’m a seriel killer” aspect, there are two tasks that an atheist group can get to that atheists can’t really do on an individual basis.1. Providing evidence that we’re not evil commie bastards. We’re just people. In this, much more than anything, we’re not defined by what we don’t believe in but by our shared and undeserved public image.2. Providing a pathway to charitable works that don’t go through faith. Speaking as an atheist, I want to get into charity, I’d just rather go to a charity where they don’t assume everybody is a Christian, or look like you’re a monster for going to a soupkitchen and not praying with everybody else.

  9. Annie says

    Thanks for your responses. I think the idea of doing charitable work, not as a non-religious organization, but rather as an organization made up of non-religious people (does that make sense?) will do a lot to break down stereotypes that atheists are, in some way, bad people. I also think that people, in general, want to belong to something bigger than themselves. This helps explain why so many people would belong to churches, even when they don’t necessarily believe all that goes along with it. Thanks for taking my question seriously… I was hesitant to post, as I thought it might be misinterpreted as club bashing. ;-)

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