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RELEASE: Secular Millennials Rising to Counter Religious Right on Abortion, LGBTQ Acceptance

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11/4/2015
For Immediate Release
Contact: Jesse Galef, (617) 858-6727
jesse@secularstudents.org 

Secular Millennials Rising to Counter Religious Right on Abortion, LGBTQ Acceptance

COLUMBUS, OH - As secular Millennials replace their more religious counterparts in older generations, a nonreligious groundswell is rising to oppose the influence of the evangelical Religious Right. The Pew Research Center released its newest Religious Landscape Survey yesterday, finding that the percent of Americans unaffiliated with religion rose from 16% to 23% in seven years, fueled primarily by younger generations rejecting religion and remaining secular as they age. The number of self-identifying atheists and agnostics rose to 11%. The growth and staying power of this culturally progressive cohort heralds a new force to challenge the Religious Right, claims the Secular Student Alliance, a national nonprofit representing nonreligious students.

“Today’s Millennials are rejecting religion in droves, and they won’t stand by as reproductive health is restricted and their LGBTQ friends are stigmatized,” said Secular Student Alliance Executive Director August E. Brunsman IV. “The Religious Right pulled our country toward intolerance for far too long, and young secularists are finally here to pull it back.”

Contrary to two typical reasons for skepticism about the demographic trend, the Pew survey finds that Millennials are not becoming more religious as they age and that the religiously unaffiliated have become more secular over time. From 2007 to 2014, the percent of Americans born 1981 to 1989 who consider religion "Not too/not at all" important in their lives rose from 23% to 29%, and among the 55.8 million unaffiliated Americans, the percent reporting belief in a God fell from 70% to 61%. The trend toward a secular worldview is continuing, with younger Millennials - born 1990 or later - two and a half times as likely not to believe in a God compared to those born before 1945, 20% to 8%.

Pew's survey also found that religiously unaffiliated Americans are among the most likely to hold cultural views opposite to the Religious Right, with atheists and agnostics providing the strongest contrast. 94% of atheists said homosexuality should be accepted by society, while only 36% of evangelical Protestants agreed. Similarly, at 87% atheists and agnostics were the group most likely to support abortion rights, a view shared by only 33% of evangelical Protestants.

This contrast with the Religious Right is alienating the growing unaffiliated constituency. The percent of Democrats who are unaffiliated with religion grew from 19% to 28% since 2007, making it the single largest religious category in the Democratic coalition.

More than ever, the Secular Student Alliance's campus groups are engaging in progressive activism supporting LGBTQ acceptance, reproductive health access, and the teaching of evolution in classrooms. Late last month, the University of Cincinnati Secular Student Alliance lead demonstrations in support of Planned Parenthood, and more plan to follow suit. Buxi Iacabone, a secular student from Ohio, was so disgusted by conservatives’ efforts to restrict access to reproductive health care that she has gone back to school so she can pursue medical school and become an abortion provider.

"The idea that anyone believes they can pick and choose what counts as healthcare and force people to justify their reproductive decisions is appalling," said Iacobone.

Our $1,000 Scholarship 2015 Recipients!

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Throughout the month of September, secular student activists shared their stories with us in hopes of winning one of the SSA’s second annual Scholarships for Student Activists. We sorted through many fantastic stories of activism: everything from interfaith and intersectional work to phenomenal stories of group running success.

We are thrilled to announce the winners of our $1,000 scholarships! A big congratulations to Candace Banks, Ben Blanchard, Kerri Dickey, Gennadiy Gurariy, and Nicole Niebler!

Kerri Dickey is our winner of $1,000 scholarship from the Humanists of Sarasota Bay, Florida. She is a graduate student at the University of South Florida who previously received her Bachelor of Science in Earth Science, Meteorology, Geography from the University of Northern Iowa.  She has been working for the last three years in Orange County, FL with Parks and Recreation at a nature preserve where she has taught 60+ environmental and science based programs to people of all ages. She then decided she wanted to return to school in order in higher education. She hopes to study perceptions of natural disasters and response times associated with them as her masters thesis, and will potentially continue on to get her Ph.D. in GIS and Geography so that she can map high risk areas during hurricanes where people might not have evacuated.

While in undergrad at the University of Northern Iowa, Kerri was involved with UNIFI, one of the Secular Student Alliance's most active affiliates. During her time in UNIFI, Kerri worked with many philanthropies, other student organizations, and the local Pride groups. She also did volunteer work at shelters, food banks, and the local humane society while she was in school.

Our $2,500 Scholarship 2015 Recipients!

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Throughout the month of September, secular student activists shared their stories with us in hopes of winning one of the SSA’s second annual Scholarships for Student Activists. We sorted through many fantastic stories of activism, with students sharing their stories of everything from interfaith and intersectional work to phenomenal stories of group running success.

We are thrilled to announce the winners of our $2,500 scholarships! A big congratulations to Amber Barnhill, Matt Enloe, Buxi Iacobone, and Amanda Scott

Amber Barnhill is the winner of our former fundamentalist prize. She is a student at Lamar University in Texas and a former Independent Fundamental Baptist. She graduated from seminary and then tutored inner-city Chicago youth for five years, went on missions trips, and lived in Mexico where she taught missionary children. She was taught that God despises education and women who work outside the church or home, but after becoming a mother, her beliefs and priorities changed. Following the birth of her second child, Amber wrote down a plan to end her abusive marriage, get real job until her kids were in school, and then take on college. She is currently in her second semester at Lamar University. She is pursuing a degree in Sociology and Mathematics. 

Amber identifies as an atheist even though she feels like labels don't really define who a person is. Last semester, Amber organized an Ask an Atheist day at her campus with the Lamar University Secular Student Alliance and came out publicly as an atheist for the first time. The local reporter covering their event ended up running a story focusing on Amber and how religious bullying led her to be more open about atheism. 

Before Amber was involved with the Secular Student Alliance, she spoke out about separation of church and state when her four-year-old son's public school teacher had a 'repeat after me' prayer and and tried to convert him to Christianity behind her back. Amber was still a Christian at that point. She had never heard of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but was directed to them and had them send a letter. She had no idea what she was getting into by speaking out publicly. Amber was ostracized, bullied, threatened, and even lost her job.

Going back to school last semester has helped Amber regain some normalcy and her activism lead her to find the secular community which helped her process what she was going through, evaluate her values and ideologies, and understand why religious equality is so important. Last year, she ended up reporting her child's school for a long list of church-state violations. Even though she did so anonymously, they figured out who reported them, and started treating Amber like an enemy. Amber was even verbally accosted in the school library and in front of her children. At the end of the year, she wrote an open letter to the district and read it at the school board meeting. The religious bullying in this district is almost unbelievable, but the battle isn't over yet.

Congratulations, Amber! We are so proud of the work you have done, and we wish you the best of luck on your future endeavors! 

Alumni Spotlight: Danielle Muscato

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In our Alumni Spotlight series, we highlight alumni of our affiliate groups and the awesome things they have been doing since they graduated. Are you a Secular Student Alliance alum? Tell us how you've been doing! We'd love to spotlight you!

This month's featured alumna is Danielle Muscato. Danielle is an alumna of the University of Missouri-Columbia, class of 2013, where she was a member of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, and Agnostics (MU SASHA). When she started college at 25, she learned about an atheist group on campus but at that time it only had five people in the group. However, she quickly felt welcome and, for the first time, at home. At first she just attended meetings, then she started giving presentations about topics that had led to her "de-conversion" to atheism until she eventually became the Vice President.

She spent a summer as one of the interns for the national SSA office in Ohio. The next year, she left school without graduating because she was offered a full-time position as the PR Director for American Atheists, and relocated to New Jersey to take that job. She’s currently a freelance activist, writer, public speaker, and pundit, and looking for another full-time opportunity as an activist in the secular community. 

When asked what she remembered most fondly about her SSA experience, she said that her first SSA Annual Conference in 2011 was one of the best experiences of her life.

"It is incredibly important for student leaders to attend the national conference. I simply can't overstate this. The conference is where you learn how to be an effective leader, grow your group, and accomplish activism goals, not to mention that it's the best place to meet other student leaders and professional activists in the secular community."

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