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A Brief History of the Secular Student Alliance


In May of 2000, eight student leaders from the grassroots secular movement formed the Secular Student Alliance.


Early leaders of the SSA (from left to right): Amanda Chesworth, Stacy Irwin, Erin Vaughn, Martha Knox, Kate Martin, August E. Brunsman IV, Patrick Kline, Deidre Conn, Eric Snyder, and Gabe Carlson (now Sehr).

The initial months started on a great note with the addition of such people as Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins, Molleen Matsumura, Edwin F. Kagin, Massimo Pigliucci, Lynne Schultz, Rob Boston, Mynga Futrell, Christopher Hitchens, and Wendy Kaminer to the SSA's advisory board. Bob Stephens, founder of Darwin Day, provided the initial gift that got SSA off the ground.

The first major SSA event was in August of 2000. Over 100 students and off-campus supporters met on the campus of the University of Minnesota-home to one of the oldest secular student groups in the nation: the University of Minnesota Atheists and Humanists (recently renamed CASH) which was founded in 1990.

Through the SSA's nonpartisan nature and ability to channel young graduates into the national organizations, it built bridges among the secular community and reached new heights in the promotion of science, reason and free inquiry. In September of 2000, the SSA officially joined the Coalition of the (now defunct) Community of Reason which later blossomed into the Secular Coalition for America. The SSA also developed individual relationships with the Institute for Humanist Studies, American Humanist Association, Atheist Alliance International, American Atheists, Internet Infidels , the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the Gay and Lesbian Atheist and Humanist Alliance, and several other organizations.

That month the Freedom From Religion Foundation awarded then Executive Director Gabriel Carlson for his outstanding contributions to the cause of reason via the SSA.

The SSA's 2001 conference Kicking Ass for the New Enlightenment in Columbus, Ohio drew national media attention via a widely circulated news story by David Briggs.

In 2002, SSA Board members Jeff Dubin, Stephanie Kirmer, and Cliff Palmer attended the IHEU's 15th annual congress in Noordwijkerhout, Netherlands.

The SSA's 2002 conference Education Against Indoctrination in Chicago featured a debate on the topic "One Nation Under God: Church-State Separation in America" between Robert Boston (of AU) and Calvin Lindstrom from the Christian Liberty Academy.

Also noteworthy in 2002 was the SSA's participation in the largest single "godless" event up until then: American Atheist's Godless American's March on Washington. Executive Director, August E. Brunsman IV, delivered a speech where he extolled the importance of off-campus supports get to know their younger co-conspirators (and buy them pizza).

In 2003, the SSA became a democratic membership organization. We invite you to become a member of the SSA and participate in mobilizing students for a new enlightenment.

Also in 2003, with major support from the Institute for Humanist Studies, the SSA hired its first full-time worker: Robert J. Nekervis II as Campus Organizer.

With Robert's help the SSA became a truly professional organization capable of providing students with day to day support. In only a few months Robert managed to deliver to the SSA (and the world) the most active, well organized, networked freethought student movement the US has ever seen.

 Since then, we have had several other talented Campus Organizers, hosted more conferences , expanded our services , deepened our networks, and much more.

The road behind the SSA is a rocky one. Staying organized with busy student schedules and a network spread all over North America has not been easy. But the first few years of the SSA's operations have demonstrated what the perseverance and tenacity of these students and their off-campus supporters can achieve.

We are all deeply excited about the road ahead of us. It will hold its obstacles, but we are confident that we have the resolve to change the course of history.

Deeper Roots…

The beginnings of the SSA started in 1996 when a group of students raised their concerns regarding the need for a secular student movement. With the help of the Council for Secular Humanism, the students founded the Campus Freethought Alliance (CFA). The CFA, while ostensibly an autonomous organization was ultimately governed by the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH). With the volunteer commitment and ingenuity of countless students across the country and in many other parts of the world, the CFA made great strides in strengthening and uniting the secular movement at the campus level.

However, in 1999, the students on the democratically elected Executive Council of the CFA, along with many other students, faculty advisors, and off-campus supporters, came to realize that a national student organization could best fulfill its role only with true autonomy. As the CFA grew and matured as an organization, the exclusive relationship with the CSH quickly proved more detrimental than beneficial to the student movement. In April of 2000, a majority of the members of the CFA Executive Council decided to become independent from the CSH. For this purpose a new, student-governed, national organization was founded: The Secular Student Alliance.

The launch of the SSA was met with healthy support from the secular community.

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