September 9, 2009
For Immediate Release
Secular Student Alliance Reports Record Numbers of Atheist, Agnostic Students Organizing on Campus
Columbus, OH - College students who consider themselves non-religious or doubting will return to campus this fall with a better chance than ever of finding or starting groups of like-minded young people, according to the Secular Student Alliance (SSA), the national umbrella organization for the secular student movement. The SSA’s Labor Day 2009 count of campus affiliate groups is 159, up from 100 in 2008 and 80 in 2007.
“It’s been a challenge to keep up with the demand for services, especially group-starting packets and follow-up,” said Lyz Liddell, senior campus organizer. “That’s a nice problem to have.”
The rise of the secular student movement parallels that of the broader secular demographic in the U.S., the only population to have grown in every state according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey. Studies consistently report increases among the religiously unaffiliated, with “under 30s” more prominent among atheists and agnostics than among religious respondents. This year’s annual SSA conference drew its largest-ever audience and featured keynote speaker and Pharyngula blogger P. Z. Myers, along with representatives from national atheist and humanist organizations.
Secular student groups provide activities and a social network for college students seeking an alternative to campus religious ministries. In the 2008-2009 school year, three SSA affiliates brought Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, to their campuses and six others hosted Ellery Schempp, litigant in the 1963 Supreme Court case that found public school Bible readings unconstitutional. Service projects are also popular: Students for Freethought at the Ohio State University sent a crew to maintain a portion of the Appalachian Trail in Kentucky and the University of Illinois Atheists, Agnostics, & Freethinkers teamed up with the Campus Crusade for Christ to rebuild homes in New Orleans.
Resources provided by the SSA to its affiliates include program guides and grants, a speakers bureau, business cards, and mentoring for group leaders. Students who want to start new groups can request a packet containing literature, sidewalk chalk, thumbtacks, and a page set up on Facebook. In the weeks leading up to Labor Day, the SSA received seven to ten requests per week from students hoping to launch secular groups on their campuses.
For some students, going away to college offers the first opportunity to openly express doubt about religion or find others with the same perspective. “We got an e-mail recently from a student starting a group in Arizona,” said Liddell. It read, ‘I look forward to getting this process started. Thanks for existing.’ We hear that a lot.”
The Secular Student Alliance is an educational nonprofit whose mission is to organize, unite, educate and serve students and student communities that promote the ideals of scientific rationality, secularism, democracy, and human-based ethics. Learn more at http://www.secularstudents.org.