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Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
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Q: I am a student at X University. Every day I check out the bulletin boards on campusfor absolutely anything that might interest me. I've noticed that many religious groups have fliers and notices and little \God loves you\ signs and etc. posted. Well, I was hoping to be able to start some sort of atheism movement here on campus. I would like to hand out pamphlets or something to spread the word about atheism. I would also like to start some kind of on campus organization where atheists can get together and help others \come out of the closet\. The problem is I have no idea where to begin. If you could send me any help to get this ball rolling I would really appreciate it. Mark A
A: Most colleges are chock full of groups of all shapes and sizes, ranging from ultra-religious to chess, science, and yes, Atheism. If your college is not religious in nature, chances are there will be no problems in establishing an Atheist presence at your college, at least not as far as the school is concerned.
Your first objective is to check with your school to see what guidelines to which you must adhere. If there are religious clubs in your college, they must give you the ability to have an Atheist club IF they are not religiously affiliated.
Start by placing big signs where it is permitted. Place them up before lunch or dinner, so nobody will have time to tear your signs down before anyone see it. Alternatively, you could stand and hand out flyers. Make sure you have a nice location or room reserved for the meeting and place it on the flyers and posters.
You'll be surprised at the response you'll get at your first meeting. Chances are, you won't get any incidents from religious nuts. Just a lot of happy Atheists who are glad to meet people like them.
In the case that you do get problems from zealots trying to ruin your party, remember to remain calm. Ask them to leave nicely, challenge them to an organized debate, and, if they refuse to let you meet, call campus security. You have every right to meet and organize just as they do, and you must be prepared to defend that right. Don't let this paragraph frighten you off, but be prepared
Once your club is established, you can associate yourself with American Atheists for free. This will give you free publicity, a pointer to your web page, and discounts for your members (which will give your members a nice benefit for belonging to your group).
At your meetings, you can do anything you want, like discuss politics, religion, have an organized debate with a religions group, get guest speakers (perhaps some instructors from the science program), show videos (I recommend Contact, with Jodi Foster), or make arrangements to use the campus observatory. Most importantly, you will rpovide a means of support for the multitudes to nonreligious college students on campus.
Very shortly, we will be placing some electronic pamphlets on this site. In the mean time, check out the \Coming Out\ section at American Atheists.
Public School Clubs
Q: What can I do at my high school to quietly, legally, and non-violently promote the non-belief in god(s)?
Public school is a different animal from colleges, as there are often much more difficult and stringent rules for clubs. Find out what they are. Most high schools are different, and they need not allow your club to exist UNLESS they allow religious clubs. The Federal Equal Access Act requires public schools which allow one kind of club to allow all kinds.
If a club is an option, follow all the rules of your school, all the time. Give them no good reason to shut you down. Once you've established you can have a club, read the college letter above.
If the club route is no good for you, for whatever reason, you still have a grea tool for the nonviolent promotion of Atheism in your school: Your mouth. Be very open with your Atheism, and be sure to keep a happy and positive manner. No school can stop you from speaking your mind. Also, place nonreligious stickers on your books, and wear non-offensive Atheistic clothing (American Atheists sells a great T-shirt that says simply \Proud to be an American Atheist\).
Q: I'm seventeen years old and I'm an atheist. Recently I have taken on the task of starting an Atheist Club in my school and the teacher which I hope to be sponsored by has told me of the little chance I have in doing so. He has told me that the School Board from which I have to be approved to create a club is predominantly Christian and will mostly likely not give me their acceptance.
The reason for this, to me, is obvious. So far, the main concern is that my club will cause friction among the students and faculty and that is why they will stop the club from forming. I believe this is only a scapegoat to the true reason, which I believe is their intolerance towards atheism in general. In the constitution for the Atheist club many of our goals focus on ending preconceived notions that all atheists are bad people with no ethics or morals of any kind simply because of our lack in a belief of a god. We focus on ending the indifference between theists and atheists in our club which will incorporate free discussion of a variety of topics without the subject of religion ever being brought up (the way it is supposed to be, but isn't in the public school system).
And so now I come to you. I'm not asking for anything special, only a few words of advice and perhaps something I could say to help my case. Over the past couple weeks not a day has gone by without someone telling me how evil I am for doing this and while I know that I am justified and have the rights to do so, I have my doubts.
All I want is to be heard. For years I kept my beliefs, or lack there of, a secret. Now, myself and many of the people I know wish to express ourselves with as many rights as anyone else. And while these are noble goals, I just know that the School Board will find some argument against us which I can't fight on my own. Some loophole around our basic rights to freedom of speech and to assemble. Please send me anything that you think might help.
The school board cannot legally stop you based upon what they consider to be potential problems. There is no basis for this assumption. Besides, the friction and problems will be caused by the people who don't like you and not you or your group.
My advice to you is to proceed with the application for the club. Ask for any response in writing. Also, insist on a response in a reasonable length of time. Oftentimes, in order to avoid granting permission when they don't want to government agencies and school administrators just shove your request aside and try to ignore it until the school year runs out.
Put your request in writing. Tell them you want an answer in writing within two weeks and let me know what they say. If you are denied, American Atheists will write to them if you like. We will inform them of your rights according to the Federal Equal Access Act.
That is the law that allows your group to form.
Hope this helps,
Ellen Johnson, President
You've already taken the first step in promoting freethought by reading the end of this article. I hope you take the next. It may not be easy, but it may be the most rewarding experience of your life. With truth, honesty, and science behind you, you may be able to make a difference in the lives of your classmates and peers. Please let me know what you do, how it works, and how I can help .