In Response to Mounting Violations, National Orgs Vow to Protect Atheist Students' Rights
Younger Americans -- increasingly nonreligious and not shy about it -- are about to have new support in speaking out against intrusions of religion in their educational environment. The Secular Student Alliance, an organization devoted to empowering nonreligious students, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to promoting state-church separation and freethought, announced a joint initiative today to connect students with legal assistance when their rights are violated.
"No student should ever be subjected to religious discrimination from their school, but they don't always know where to turn for help," said Andrew Seidel, a staff attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. "With today's partnership, we're telling students that when push comes to shove, we have their backs."
Under the new partnership, the SSA will educate students on their rights and refer students who report violations of those rights to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The FFRF, which has a team of attorneys on staff, will fight to rectify those violations. In turn, the Secular Student Alliance will collaborate with the FFRF's attorneys to identify trends in religious infringement into public education.
In the past academic year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation addressed 405 public school-related complaints, up from 54 in 2009. One increasingly common complaint concerns administrators blocking students trying to start Secular Student Alliance clubs at their school. Despite this resistance, the SSA has seen rapid growth from 143 groups in 2009 to 386 today, 48 of which are at high schools.
"Younger Americans are less religious than ever, and they're turning from religious congregations to secular communities," said SSA Communications Director Jesse Galef. "This partnership ensures that students both know their rights and that we're here to defend them. The message to school administrators is clear: secular students won't be pushed around any more."
Both groups expressed their excitement about building this relationship and using their comparative advantages to help students.