I’m pleased to announce the launch of the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies, an umbrella organization representing freethinking student groups from schools and universities throughout the United Kingdom. Similar to the U.S. Secular Student Alliance, the AHS will do the vital work of organizing nonbelievers where it’s most important – among the young generations that will be the vanguard of the future – and presenting our ideas to those who are most likely to give them a fair hearing. I’m looking forward to great things from their members.
Below is the AHS’ first press release. You can also download a PDF copy of the inaugural issue of their newsletter, Secular Future. You just might recognize one of the contributors…
The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) launched yesterday in central London with addresses of support from Professor Richard Dawkins, Professor A C Grayling and Polly Toynbee. In the wake of the hugely successful atheist bus campaign, the 2009 Darwin Day celebrations and the increased prominence of non-religious sentiments, the launch of AHS marks the mobilisation of the UK’s non-religious students.
The growing influence of atheism on the world stage is undeniable, with more and more non-believers standing up and fighting for the right to a secular society, and equality for peoples of all faiths and none. Atheists have embraced the blogging community in such a way that gives even the most reluctant non-believer the inspiration to speak out against the damaging effect of organised religion. The AHS was formed from a number of student societies who wanted to meet likeminded people, and were keen to see a more lasting atheist movement established in the UK’s universities.
Initially a small community based around an Internet forum – Secular Portal – the AHS has grown into an ambitious and enthusiastic organisation, eager to start work representing its members and increasing the profile of student atheists in the UK. It will support established and newly-forming atheist, humanist and secular student groups and give them a national voice. It will provide resources and make sure that these societies’ needs and views are being considered on the national and international level.
Supporting the launch, Richard Dawkins said, ‘Public statements of non-belief are treated as threatening, an affront to the religious, while the reverse is not true. More concerning is the enduring assumption that religious belief does not have to earn respect like any other view, an approach that has caused politicians and public figures across the UK to withdraw from asking the vital questions: why is religion given such special status in government, culture and the media? Why is belief in a higher power an indication of greater moral fortitude, character and acumen? On the contrary, beliefs that are unsupported, bigoted or demand special privileges should always be challenged. No opinion should be protected from criticism simply by the virtue of being religiously held.’
A C Grayling said, ‘As well as making the case for reason and science, it is great to know that AHS will be standing up against religious privilege and discrimination. All people are entitled to their beliefs but we secularists (whether religious or humanist) are right in arguing that the state must be entirely neutral in these matters. A situation where the religious beliefs of a few may dictate the personal choices of everyone – abortion, for example, or assisted suicide – is quite wrong. Yet some religious groups defend and even aim to expand their considerable privileges – public money for their “faith-based” schools, seats in the House of Lords and exemption from laws inconvenient to their prejudices. AHS shows that increasing numbers of young people are unwilling to put up with it.’
Chloë Clifford-Frith, AHS spokesperson, said, ‘We live in a world where religious governments execute adulterers and homosexuals, deny women and minority groups basic freedoms, circulate fraudulent claims about contraception and scientific research and create laws that protect them from criticism. We are privileged, in such a world, to live in a country where we can even have this debate, and as such we have a duty to bring it into our universities and beyond.’
Norman Ralph, President of the AHS, emphasised that, in addition to challenging organised religion in the UK, the AHS also presents a positive message of community and understanding. Bringing together diverse student societies from across the country, it will support students who wish to establish a safe space for discussion of atheist, Humanist and secular issues and defend their right to express themselves without censure. Further campaigns will promote the public understanding of science, and the importance of ethical values derived from a rational approach to reality. ‘We want to celebrate knowledge and human endeavour’, he added, ‘humanity should take responsibility for its flaws, and also take credit for its successes, not abscond responsibility to an imaginary father figure. We’re about celebrating, learning and making the most of the one life we have.’
You can find out more about the AHS on their website, http://www.ahsstudents.org.uk.