By Christopher Hood
Christopher Hood is the President of the Secular Student Alliance at the University of North Georgia. Last October, Chris took a pledge to join the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Shortly after, he was removed from the fraternity because he is an atheist and would not profess that he believed in God. Christopher sought remedy for the situation by seeking out support from the University of North Georgia and from the Kappa Sigma National Fraternity, neither of which was able to provide recourse for the discrimination he faced. Christopher was kicked out of his fraternity because he is nonreligious, he is sharing his story with the Secular Student Alliance in the hopes to create a future for secular students that is free from all forms of discrimination.
On October 1, 2020, I pledged the Kappa Sigma fraternity at the University of North Georgia. I was excited to be pledging alongside my best friend, and earliest friend from college. My father was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, so upon initiation, I would have become a legacy member. Instead, forty days after pledging to the Kappa Sigma fraternity, I was relieved of my pledge duties. The reason being, I am an atheist.
Four days prior to being relieved from the Fraternity, two pledge-brothers of mine told me I was being blackballed due explicitly to my atheism.
The fraternity insisted I was blackballed for passive-aggressiveness and flippancy for tradition, but the Brother’s actions demonstrate how atheism was the true reason. What were my demonstrations of flippancy and pattern of passive-aggressiveness? This happened five months ago and I haven’t been told.
Two weeks prior to being blackballed, the Fraternity held a pledge chapter meeting at which the Brothers asked pledgees, “Who would you blackball?” The object wasn’t to stir animosity, nor to cut anyone. Their point was brothers must be able to call out each other’s discrepancies. I was never confronted and told I needed to stop acting in a certain manner or that I needed to take things more seriously. Instead, I received an ultimatum.
Following this meeting, two of my pledge brothers approached me to tell me, “Man, you’re getting put up for blackball due to the atheism shit.” My pledge Brothers demanded that I leave the Secular Student Alliance. I refused to step down from my presidency over this discriminatory matter. They then asked me to quit pledgeship, which I also refused. Four days later, I was officially removed from the organization without recourse.
Kappa Sigma is unofficially a Christian fraternity.
Per the Bononia Docet (Bologna Teaches, the fraternity’s textbook) one must believe in a higher power, not necessarily Yahweh, yet still, profess belief in God.
At the first pledge chapter, pledgees learn the Star and Crescent,
“The Star and Crescent shall not be worn by every man, but only by him who is worthy to wear it. He must be a gentleman, a man of honor and courage, a man of zeal, yet humble, an intelligent man, a man of truth, one who tempers action with wisdom and, above all else, one who walks in the light of God.”
I am being discriminated against because of the last line. In 1982, reported by the New York Times, Kappa Sigma revoked the charter of the Stanford chapter after they omitted God from their ritual. The Brothers of Stanford argued that making people profess a belief in a God they don’t believe in doesn’t make them better men.
The message was… obfuscated. Kappa Sigma doesn’t require Brothers to believe in God but will countermand their membership if they don’t profess belief in God. The Ritual Book (Page 49) of Kappa Sigma is clearer. During initiation, one must state, “That I will not assist at | the Initiation or Pledging | of a boy under fourteen, | an atheist, or a fool, | I knowing him to be such.”
If this is the tradition I have no respect for, I’m guilty. If this isn’t the tradition I was blackballed for, then I ask two questions: Which tradition was it? How do they pick and choose which traditions to follow?
My father was a Kap Sig in college. After getting the bid, I didn’t want to let him down. The night I got the bid, I texted him about it, and he excitedly replied, “AEKDB Brother.” Six weeks later, I texted him that I was blackballed because I’m not a Christian. I was embarrassed when he said he agreed with their decision.
An hour after the ultimatum, I met a Brother and asked if the blackball was happening. He pulled me aside and said I had to understand the fraternity was founded on certain values. When I said I had no issue with the Star and Crescent or the Ritual, he told me something to the effect of, “Yeah, but that’s not good enough.”
After that, my pledge Brothers ceased talking to me. My messages were ignored. I texted our chapter’s president and the master of ceremonies that weekend, “Am I still a part of this pledgeship?” The president never replied, and the latter was unsurprised by me asking and rhetorically replied, “Have I told you otherwise?” Showing no curiosity why I asked.
The following night, I was pulled aside and the president and another Brother informed me that I was relieved of my pledge duties. What shocked me the most was when they told me that it was a unanimous vote. I could hardly believe it, I thought of the Brothers who I was friends with. I thought of the Brothers that I drove home from parties. As a pledge, you are not allowed to drink alcohol, making pledges the perfect DDs. Did they really decide to kick me out?
I was warned weeks before this could happen. A Brother cautioned me. He asked about my involvement with the SSA and my father’s membership. When I confirmed I’m atheist, he asked if my father told me a thing or two about the fraternity.
The day after the ultimatum, I emailed an administrator of fraternity life, asking if fraternities are entitled to choose members based on their religion. She replied they are not allowed to discriminate in membership based on religion. She told the president of the chapter to reach out to me and explain the rationale behind the decision. He never did.
We spent weeks talking about this before I officially filed a grievance with the Dean’s office. I had no physical evidence and no one to take my side. My ex-pledge Brothers never stood up for me.
Despite me sharing evidence that Kappa Sigma is prejudiced against non-religious people, they dismissed the sources since they didn’t directly state I was blackballed for being an atheist. The fact that two people familiar with the issue came to me and told me I was going to be blackballed for my atheism was dismissed because they were pledgees. The chapter president even admitted they had done this but said it was a miscommunication. It became my word vs theirs.
After the semester ended, the Dean’s office determined there wasn’t enough evidence to move forward.
To prove it, I had to have a conversation with the president or another brother, all of whom refused to talk to me. Remembering that the Greek life administrator had told the chapter’s president to reach out to me, I emailed her about his shortcomings. Frustrated, the administrator decided to facilitate the meeting.
Days went past without a word. I then received an email from an assistant of the Dean’s office saying this meeting won’t happen. The previous administrator sent me an email apologizing, seemingly reprimanded for wanting to make sure the meeting happened. The chapter’s president dodged what the school asked of him.
I emailed the alumni advisor of the chapter, hoping he would help correct this discriminatory practice. After two weeks, the advisor replied, simultaneously denying accountability and culpability. He reasoned there’s no policy stating Brothers must share decisions with him. Then said, if they decided I wasn’t a good fit for the organization, then it was for “reasons other than the one <I> was speculating about.” His chapter was just off a suspension for hazing charges, but he’s confident that they wouldn’t break the rules.
I lost many friendships. One of my ex-pledge-brothers had been my friend for years. In December, I attempted to bury the hatchet and reached out to my former pledge brothers. They ignored me.
I was asked to convert to their religion and leave the Secular Student Alliance or be blackballed from Kappa Sigma. Upon refusal, I was blackballed by Kappa Sigma.
I am the president of the Secular Student Alliance chapter at my university. I will continue to fight for the freedom of and from religion for all students. You cannot choose what you believe in. It is impossible for me to believe in God any more than it is impossible for me to believe I can fly. No chapter of Kappa Sigma should be allowed to discriminate based on religion.