If Glee shows singing geeks as high school pariahs, imagine being an atheist on campus.
Now. the Secular Student Alliance, which promotes atheism and humanism with chapters at more than 200 colleges, is sending in reinforcements for teen free-thinkers — a push to launch 50 new high school clubs.Godless teens want the same social benefits that evangelical teens find at the annual “See you at the pole” flagpole prayer events at thousands of schools every September, and the court-sanctioned after school Bible clubs, and Christian, Jewish and Muslim student groups.
J.T. Eberhard, of the Columbus, Ohio-based Alliance, says.
High school is hard for anybody and we are among the most reviled groups in America. These clubs give kids a chance to socialize with like-minded people. There’s nothing in our mission statement about tearing down religion.
Even Glee took an episode to show the double-trouble that gay character Kurt faced when Kurt came out as an atheist.
Eberhard is a young ex-believer (“a teacher witnessed to me in high school,” he recalls) who was hired last month by the Alliance to focus on high school outreach. But so far this year, he’s hit a Jericho wall with administrators using technicalities to block student-led clubs.
The Alliance has launched five new clubs but “three had a struggle and six more are still stymied.” So far, of the two 17 student-led clubs now operating, “two meet secretly,” Eberhard says.
Alliance spokesman Jesse Galef verified the experience of an Oklahoma student (name withheld at his request) who shared his anonymous saga on Reddit’s atheism site last year.
The student held one meeting but as soon as the principal heard about it, he was ordered to the school office where he was accused of launching a “hate club.” Shortly after, the requisite faculty adviser withdrew. According to the student’s saga, the adviser was told it would be “a bad career move.”
Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, calls such maneuvers
… an illegal end-run around the constitutional rights of non-religious students.
Lynn, who helped write the Equal Access Act in 1984, calls it “a free speech benefit,” for believers and atheists alike. The only purpose of including a faculty member in the club establishment requirements is just to be sure discipline and order are maintained, not to make any religious, or irreligious connection in a student led activity, says Lynn.
Brian Lisco, 18, a senior Stephen Austin High School in the Houston suburbs, found his efforts to form a club were delayed for three months by one hurdle after another. At one point the principal said he could have the club — if he just called it a Philosophy Club and did not affiliate with the Secular Student Alliance.
Lisco, however, wouldn’t give up the Alliance ties. He says,
We atheists are already invisible — we don’t come out. That’s a form of repression in itself. It’s about getting pushed to the margin of our community.
After a request for comment from USA TODAY, the school abruptly granted Lisco the Secular Student Alliance Club on Tuesday. If Lisco moves fast, he can still organize a Darwin Day celebration: Saturday is his 202th birthday.
The experience was different for June Murphy, 17, co-founder of the Unbelievables, the Secular Student Alliance club at the elite public magnet high school in Chicago, Northside College Prep. She recalls,
The only bummer was when our flyers were mysteriously torn down.
All it took were three students, a mission statement and an adviser and they were rolling — with new flyers placed in sight of school security cameras.
The 20-or-so Unbelievables fit right in with the religion clubs like one for Muslims and another for Christians, says Murphy, who is also vice-president of the Jewish Student Union, “because I come from a long line of atheist Jews.”
They meet weekly although it was canceled once by “an act of God, the blizzard closed the schools last week,” Murphy says. They talk about how to get through the religious holidays and recently played ” ‘religion Jeopardy’ to see what we know about the Bible.”
And the Secular Student Alliance, now celebrating 250 clubs total, expects more growth. Their latest press release touts findings by the American Religious Identification Survey:
29% of 18-29 year olds are religiously unaffiliated, compared with 15% of the population as a whole.
Editor Note: It is a sad commentary for these young people who are so deceived into running from and turning their back on God who is so good, magnificent and awesome that they miss out on a relationship with Him. They bring to mind the sad truth in Job that another will die in bitterness of soul never having tasted that God is good. I pray that their eyes are opened and God works a miracle in their hearts.