Atheism is now working its way into public high schools. In a move that's certain to spawn debate, The Secular Student Alliance (SSA), an organization that works to organize and spread atheism among young people, is working feverishly to bring non-believing clubs to American students. Known for its more than 300 chapters on college campus, the student group is poised to create a rival to the religious organizations that already reside in many public schools.
Already, these student-led groups are growing, mostly because starting a group is simple and interest is increasing. The SSA provides information and guidance to the pupils and then they organize individual chapters. At the beginning of the 2011-2o12 school year, Religion News Service reports that there were only about a dozen clubs across America.
But, this number has now grown to 39 clubs in 17 states -- a pretty startling figure when you consider the potential upward trajectory. And 73 students from diverse areas across the nation have requested SSA "starter kits" since January -- a fact that will likely lead to even more clubs in the near future. According to the SSA web site, here's what the kit includes:
- A spiral-bound copy of our 70-page Group Running Guide
- Additional materials on getting your group started
- Neon flyers with contact information for your group
- Thumbtacks to hang the flyers
- Secular Student Alliance brochures, stickers and pens [...]
- We create a "YourSchool@secularstudents.org" address for your group. This e-mail address won't have a mailbox you have to check - it simply forwards everything sent to it to the e-mail address you used to sign up for the GSP. Learn more at our Email and Web Forwards page.
- We create a page on our website dedicated to your school. This site will link to your Facebook group and e-mail address, as well as other pages on our site that offer information about who we are and what we can do for your group. (See our Sample Website)
J.T. Eberhard, the director of SSA’s high school program, believes that these clubs will be a positive experience for non-believing students. He also claims that they open up positive discussion avenues.
"I am hoping that atheist students having their clubs and religious students having their clubs will promote dialogue," Eberhard said. "I also hope it will let the atheist students know that you can be an atheist and its okay. You are still a good person. We want to say: Here is a place where you can feel that."
Considering the ripe group of young people who are more questioning and critical of religion, this is a potential area for atheists to use to bring non-belief more into the mainstream (numerous polls of late have shown Millennials to be the most unbelieving generation we've seen).
RNS notes that a recent Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life study (April 2012) found that nearly seven in 10 Millennials "never doubt the existence of God." While this may seem like a positive indicator for believers, the proportion is down 15 points since 2007.
"Some clubs exist in states that have large numbers of people who claim no religious affiliation, such as New York, Washington and California," the Huffington Post reports. "Others are located in more religion-centered states, with North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas all claiming at least one high school with a club for atheists."
While these high school clubs are controversial, most schools will need to comply to allow them, seeing as a 1984 law -- the Equal Access Act -- guarantees that, if publicly-funded schools allow one club, they must allow them all. You can read more about the SSA's atheist clubs here.
(H/T: Religion News Service)