Why We Need Secular Clubs
A Stark Reality
While the stereotypes about nonbelievers may be incorrect, the unfortunate truth is that they face real discrimination.
A 2007 Gallup poll indicated that over half of the American population would not vote for an atheist for president, and a recent study by the University of Minnesota showed that among atheists, Muslims, homosexuals, conservative Christians, recent immigrants, Hispanics, Jews, Asian-Americans, African-Americans and white Americans, atheists are the most distrusted group in the USA.
Nontheists are banned from many cultural and ethnic organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America. Military personnel without a belief in a higher power face exclusion and proselytizing from their officers, and may be denied promotions. Six state constitutions require elected officials to affirm belief in a supreme being, in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against religious tests for public office.
It is a disturbing fact that the voices of non-theistic students are often ignored. The ways in which godless students are wrongly moved into an outgroup are vast and often ea part of common school functions, such as being made to say the Pledge of Allegiance, sports-team prayers, and commencement invocations. These practices and many more force non-theistic students to participate in activities contrary to their beliefs, or face possible social stigma or administrative punishment for not participating.
How You Can Help
Teachers, school officials and administrators bear a legal and moral obligation to safeguard the well-being of nontheistic students. All students are entitled to be treated with respect in a public school environment, regardless of their beliefs.
A first step for educators is to learn more about the spectrum of secular outlooks one may encounter in nontheistic students. As you learn more, you will become aware of both the pervasiveness of misconceptions and ways to counter those stereotypes.
Staff and administrators should create a welcoming environment for nontheistic students. Provide information in the form of brochures, library books or knowledgeable staff to help all students as they develop their own worldviews. When religion or worldview topics are discussed, don't shy away from speaking openly about nontheistic beliefs - silence can imply a taboo. Remain alert for instances of harassment or bullying and make it clear that such behavior is unacceptable, enforcing the same discipline as would be applied in any other case of harassment.
Discrimination against nontheistic student groups in public schools is illegal. Secular student groups have the same rights, protections and accommodations as any other extra-curricular clubs.
The Secular Student Alliance is happy to assist you and your students in forming a nontheist group at your school. This can serve as a community for students who feel they must hide this aspect of their identity in other social settings, and such a group can provide a "safe haven" for students who may face harassment or social difficulties due to their beliefs. To learn more about starting a group, visit our Group Starting page.