How To Start An Atheist Organization At Your School

How do you start an atheist group at your school?


It depends on whether you're in high school or in college. If you're in college, it should be relatively straightforward. You have to probably get a couple people who will be willing to start the club with you.

You need a professor who's willing to at least sign papers, but hopefully, they would come to meetings and take part as well. But once you have those elements, you kind of go to your campus organizations office and say, "I want to start a club." 

Most colleges have a pretty standard procedure to doing it. You just gotta fill out a little bit of paperwork, but that's it. I mean, most public universities have no problem with this. 

As long as you fill the paperwork out correctly and you have all the things they need from you, you can start a group, you get access to grant money and free meeting space, and maybe even free food. It's great. 

If you're at a Christian College, this already gets a little more challenging. If you're at a religious school, we've actually seen a lot of religious schools have atheist groups, but they gotta jump through a lot more hoops. 

Sometimes the school has to approve-- They have to find a way to reconcile your atheist views with the school's personal views. But I've seen a lot of religious schools claim: "You know, we're a Christian school, but our student body is very diverse. 

So, we welcome atheist groups on our campus just like we welcome, you know, Gay-Straight Alliance type of groups on campus." 

So, that's awesome. And I've seen some very-- You would think fundamental Christian colleges, you know, paved the way for letting democrats meet, you know, young democrats and young atheists and young gay kids, because students at that age are exploring and, you know, in the Christian groups-- Christian universities minds, I would think, they're saying: "Go ahead and explore that atheism if you want, because we think you're going to come right back to our side." 

Great, fine. I hope those groups are there still. But for the most part is relatively easy at college, you just got to get the paperwork done and you can go to a website like the Secular Students-- Secular Student Alliance or a center for inquiry on campus, and they can give you information and meeting ideas and what to do with your group once it's started. 

Now, if you're in high school or maybe even younger, this is where it gets a little iffy, because every school is different and every school has different rules. This is really fascinating. The reason-- It's totally legal to have atheist groups in high school. 

And the reason it's legal is because Christians wanted that decades ago. So, they went to the Supreme Court to fight for their right to have, you know, Bible clubs on campus, and they won. And as soon as that door opened, that said: "Hey, schools, public schools, you can't discriminate student groups on the basis of religion." 

It sounds great for Christians and they definitely took advantage of it, but that also opens the door to atheists. You can have atheist groups at high school. If you have a drama club, if you have a yoga club, if you have anything extracurricular, you can have an atheist club. 

It's just a matter of-- Similarly, you gotta fill out the paperwork. You might want to have a few people to start the group with. 

The biggest place we tend to see obstacles is when it comes to finding a faculty sponsor, for one, because in college, I'll admit, it's pretty easy to find a faculty member, you know, either in the science department or the philosophy department, who's willing to sponsor an atheist club, because it's discussing the big questions and that's what they do in college. 

In high school it's a little more difficult, but most students tend to know teachers who, either are with them philosophically on that, or even if they're not, they know teachers who would be willing to support their right to meet, and sign off the paperwork and just show up a little bit after school to be there when those meetings are being held. 

So, you know, you can have an awesome Christian teacher who would be willing to be there for you if you want to explore your faith in other ways. So, hopefully you can find a faculty sponsor. Sometimes administrators give you crap about starting a group and they will try to stop you at every turn. 

But again, it's absolutely legal to start a club and that's what most high school students don't realize. And that's what most administrators, for the most part, either they don't know it, or they know it, and they try to make sure you don't. 

That's why they will throw obstacles in your way. So, what we've seen students do in recent years is they know the law better than the faculty members do. 

So, if the school says, "No, you can't have an atheist group" or they'll say, like, "Well, you can have a group that explores religion, but call it a philosophy club." The students know that's not legal and they will go to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, or Secular Student Alliance, and say, "I need help". 

And they get the help every time. So, what you've seen like a couple years ago, maybe five, six years ago, there were only... I could count on my hand how many high school atheist groups there were in the country. 

And now that number is slowly approaching a hundred. I think if you give it a few years, that number is going to approach 500. These things spread quickly. And, you know, high school... 13, 14, 15, 16, like those years, those are like the ages when you're finally able to question all those things you learned in church. 

You're finally conscious enough to kind of say, "Wait a minute, my pastor said this thing. I don't think I believe what they said." Or "I don't think the Bible is right about Genesis 1." And so you want kids to explore religion at that age. 

And what we've seen is every time a high school student group actually does form and actually has meetings where they discuss this, a lot of students want to come to those meetings, because there's nowhere else in their life where they can talk about these questions openly and honestly. 

And so, you know, they can't go to their church and their youth group or to their pastor and say, you know, "I challenge everything you just said." 

But at an atheist group, you can totally do that and you can find that "Oh, other people are going through those same things that I'm going through and they have the same questions, and they've thought through it, and here's what they have to say: It's great." 

So, you know, there are obstacles along the way, but the moral of the story is it is legal to have a high school or college atheist group just about anywhere. 

All it takes is a little bit of paperwork and maybe one or two really strong leaders willing to do the little bit of work you need to do to get it off the ground and running. 

And then, after that, it's just a matter of making sure that leadership is still there when you graduate.



Originally published by Hemant Mehta on the Atheist Voice. Published on Fadewblogs by Dave Martin.

Disclaimer: This article is published on Fadewblogs with the permission of the author.

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