Unfortunately, the article is inaccessible online, but enjoy the copy I received through email:
Not too long ago, August Brunsman IV was working out of computer labs and coffee shops in Columbus, Ohio, trying to build a network of atheists and agnostics on campuses throughout the world.
Then the Institute for Humanist Studies, an Albany-based think tank, made Brunsman an offer he couldn’t refuse. He could relocate his organization, the nonprofit Secular Student Alliance, to the institute’s Howard Street headquarters and receive free office space.
Founded in 2000 by student leaders who wanted to create an umbrella group to assist campus humanist organizations, the Secular Student Alliance has two full-time employees and two regional campus organizers based in New York City and southern California. The group sees its mission as two-fold: education and public relations. Religious groups such as Campus Crusade for Christ have a “serious presence on many campuses,” and “having an alternative to that is important,” Brunsman said.
“I think academia is a more receptive place to doubt,” he said.
“We feel it’s definitely the case that atheists are discriminated against,” Brunsman said. “We want to let people know that you can be an atheist and be a good person.”
So far, the growth has been rapid, Brunsman said. Two years ago, the Secular Student Alliance had just 54 affiliates at colleges and universities; today, it has 104, mostly based in the United States. So far, none of them are located in the Capital Region, although Brunsman said there is a fledgling group at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Brunsman got his first taste for student organizing while attending Ohio State University, where he co-founded a student atheist/agnostic group, Students for Freethought, in 1997. He got the idea, he said, because he was dating a girl who attended a school that had such a group. Convincing his friends that they should organize at OSU took a little time, mainly because they weren’t convinced a humanist group was necessary. Their arguments, he said, are still common today.
Brunsman recalled talking to a high school student in Florida who wanted to form a humanist group at Brown University, where he planned to study. Once he got to Brown, Brunsman got back in touch with him, but he’d lost interest in forming the group. “He said, ‘This whole place is like a big secular group. I don’t think I need a group,’ ” Brunsman said.
Many students “feel the debate is over,” Brunsman said. “There’s nobody [who is religious] who is worth taking seriously.” His opinion, he said, “is that sometimes people really are discriminatory toward atheists, and it’s worth taking a stand. … I’d like that to be the case, that there was no need for these groups.”
In a 2007 survey, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that the number of 18-to-25-year-olds who are atheist, agnostic or have no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1986, from 11 percent to 20 percent.
The Secular Student Alliance has received more than $130,000 in grants from the Institute for Humanist Studies since 2001, and in January, the alliance will receive another $40,000.
The Institute for Humanist Studies was founded in 1999 by Larry Jones, a retired General Electric research chemist who wanted to improve the collaboration among humanist groups and provide services that weren’t being provided.
The institute gives out more than $100,000 a year, mostly to youth-oriented humanist, atheist and freethinker projects such as the Secular Student Alliance, [Duncan] Crary said.
In January, the organization will pass the $1 million mark in grants awarded for the first time. It’s a milestone, but Crary noted that Americans gave $97 billion to religious groups and causes in 2006, according to the Giving USA Foundation, which monitors charitable organizations.
“That’s the largest category on the pie chart,” Crary said. “Donations to humanist and freethought groups are on the rise, but they don’t even make the pie char t.”
The Institute for Humanist Studies also funds and houses Camp Quest, an international summer camp for humanist, atheist and freethinking families.
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