Atheist Campus Group Denied Recognition

Anatoly is vice-president of a campus atheist group that meets at Wilfrid Laurier University, a public school in Ontario, Canada. The goal of the “Laurier Freethought Alliance” (LFA) is: “to promote science, freedom of inquiry, skepticism, and a good life without the need for superstition or religious belief.”

Sounds reasonable, no?

For whatever reason, it has taken nine months for a school representative to get back to the leaders about the LFA becoming an “officially recognized” campus group. Groups that are “officially recognized” get perks that include free meeting space, potential grant money for events and activities, etc.

The school’s response to the request: “No.”

They can’t be an officially recognized campus group.

Why not? Here’s the email from the school representative (emphases mine):

While the Campus Clubs department understands the goals and visions of your organization, they are not compatible with the guidelines of what may be approved and incorporated into our department. While the promotion of reason, science and freedom of inquiry are perfectly legitimate goals, what is most in question in regards to your club’s vision is the promotion of “a fulfilling life without religion and superstition“. While this university is indeed technically a secular institution, secular does not denote taking an active stance in opposition to the principles and status of religious beliefs and practices. To be clear, this is not meant to say that the promotion of science and reason are illegitimate goals. But due to the need to respect and tolerate the views of others, the Campus Clubs department is unable to approve a club of this nature at this time. If you wish to adjust and rethink your club’s application and vision, you may resubmit a revised proposal at any time.

You’ve got to be &%*$ing kidding me.

This means that religious groups (like Campus Crusade for Christ) get recognition from the campus, but the atheist group will get none. It also implies that religious groups are tolerant of each other while the atheist group is not. (“If you don’t believe what we do, you’re going to Hell for eternity” is apparently the epitome of tolerance.)

Sounds like a clear case of discrimination against atheists.

Anatoly adds this:

We suggested both a revision and a meeting with them. We’ll see how this turns out but I wanted to let the freethought blogging community in on it and ask those who had previous experience founding freethought groups if they had any such problems and how they can be resolved.

I don’t see what needs to be revised… but the bigger concern is just getting approved by the school. Hopefully, this was just ignorance on the part of one school representative that can be quickly corrected.

If not, though, I’m sure there are plenty of atheist lawyers who can offer Anatoly some good advice…

***Update***: Anatoly provides some more details here.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Aaron

    While I agree that the college is totally in the wrong, there’s still a shred of truth. There’s a difference between a gathering of Atheists and a gathering of the anti-Religious. One’s tolerant, the other isn’t. It’s frustrating that it seems like secular groups have a hard time forming without taking pot shots at religion.

    I think that if it was simply a gathering of Atheists, the school wouldn’t have had a problem, but I understand why the phrase “a fulfilling life without religion and superstition“ is making them uneasy.

    Again, to be perfectly clear: I think the college is dead wrong. I’m just thinking out loud.

  • Rachel

    I would love to see campus religious groups get involved in protesting this decision. At a number of universities in North America, Christian groups have had to fight for official recognition. They should support the principles of freedom of conscience and freedom of association that are behind their own desire for recognition. Maybe this is a pipe dream, but still…

    As a Christian, I find it insulting that the campus clubs department refuses recognition of a freethinkers organization out of “respect and tolerance” for the views of others. Surely we do not need to be coddled by a university that must protect us from other viewpoints. And surely the university itself can demonstrate respect and tolerance for many views, including those of freethinkers. The suggestion that recognizing such an organization would involve the university in “taking an active stance in opposition to … religious beliefs and practices” is ludicrous.

  • http://formerlyaprildawn.blogspot.com April

    Well, I agree that it’s completely outrageous and just goes to show who the “tolerant” folks really are. Having said that, might I suggest the omission of “superstition” from the goals? While it doesn’t say it exactly, it implies that religion is just superstition, and while I tend to agree with that, I can see those crusaders of Christ causing the school much grief about it! I look forward to checking back here for updates on this! (Love the blog, btw.)

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  • http://www.acosmopolitan.blogspot.com Anatoly

    Thanks Hemant, I greatly appreciate this.

    We hope to avoid a lawsuit but we certainly aren’t going down without a fight. I’ll keep the secular internet community posted as the events progress.

  • http://reasonableatheist.blogspot.com Bart Dorsey

    Well, I agree that it’s completely outrageous and just goes to show who the “tolerant” folks really are. Having said that, might I suggest the omission of “superstition” from the goals? While it doesn’t say it exactly, it implies that religion is just superstition, and while I tend to agree with that, I can see those crusaders of Christ causing the school much grief about it!

    Superstition, is just the fear of the supernatural. Many freethinkers are opposed to this just as much as they are opposed to religion. By leaving that out, I would think this makes this more an “atheist” group than a “freethinker” group. I personally prefer “freethinker” and “skeptic” than I do “atheist”.

    “Atheist” means you don’t belive in a deity. But many “Freethinkers” and “Skeptics” reject other supernatural claims such as Ghosts, Psychics, UFOs, Astrology, Homepathy and a variety of other claims.

    By removing the word superstition, it would make the group seem MORE anti-religion, not less.

  • Vincent

    “While this university is indeed technically a secular institution, secular does not denote taking an active stance in opposition to the principles and status of religious beliefs and practices.”

    I never realized that recognition of a group by a university meant: “taking an active stance” in support of the goals of such a group. That means by recognizing CCC they are taking an active stance in promoting conversion of all non-christians to worship of Jesus. I don’t see how they can claim to be a secular institution if they believe they are actively supporting every religious group on campus.

  • http://purduenontheists.com Jennifurret

    Well, first off, I wish you the best of luck. I know how frustrating bureaucracy can be when it comes to starting clubs. In high school I tried to help a friend of mine start a Gay Straight Alliance, but we were continually shot down. Unfortunately, we were never able to become official, though the principal let us use rooms in order for us to shut up and not sue him. Great system, of course.

    But more relevant, I co-founded The Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University during fall semester of 2007. I have to say, I’m really happy that the student organization office really is honest when they say they want to promote diversity. I was very nervous approaching them, not having any idea how they’d react (especially since Purdue is fairly conservative), but I was lucky that they were completely encouraging. They even said Purdue *needed* a group like us on campus. I’m not sure how much this will help if you’re dealing with biased staff, but here is our statement of purpose in our constitution. Maybe they can help you out with wording and such:

    A. To provide an open forum for the discussion of ideas related to atheism, agnosticism, and other non-theist persuasions.
    B. For the enjoyment of culture, through literature, music, and films that cover atheist, agnostic, or otherwise non-theist themes or issues.
    C. To ensure that the separation of church and state is upheld on the Purdue University campus, and that prejudice and discrimination is eradicated.
    D. To foster fellowship and entertainment amongst freethinking people.
    E. To support charitable and humanitarian causes that we deem admirable.
    F. To provide, when requested, information about atheism, agnosticism, and other non-theist belief systems to parties interested in knowing more about what we believe.

  • Jen

    At a number of universities in North America, Christian groups have had to fight for official recognition.

    Really? I have a hard time believing this. Maybe I was colored by my Catholic college experience, but we couldn’t have a pro-choice club (mind you, there was a pro-life club who got to protest on our campus every year, as well as just generally being annoying, shitty people). The reasoning was that being pro-choice was anti-Catholic, though we found a pro-choice nun to sponser us, and though there were offical school groups that were devoted to being Jewish or Muslim. Now, part of the problem was the head of the pro-life group, who I know personally, convinced the Archdiocese of our city to write a nasty note to our priestly school president, so he had to take away our “official club” status.

    All in all, though, I have never heard of a school where religious groups weren’t allowed. Can you name some names?

  • Ian

    Anatoly is vice-president of a campus atheist group that meets at Wilfrid Laurier University, a public college in Ontario, Canada.

    As the name suggests, Laurier is a university, not a “public college”. There’s a distinction in Canada, and I’m sure you meant no offence, but to tell someone who goes to a university that they are going to a college is an insult.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    As the name suggests, Laurier is a university, not a “public college”. There’s a distinction in Canada, and I’m sure you meant no offence, but to tell someone who goes to a university that they are going to a college is an insult.

    I did not know that! I’ll make a change above. Thanks :)

  • http://www.freethinkersofuta.org/ Becky Robinson

    “I would love to see campus religious groups get involved in protesting this decision.”

    I would love to see that too, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. My experience with running a campus freethought group is that the religious groups want nothing to do with us. We have tried to hold events that open up dialogue between theists and non-theists, but have never gotten a response from any of the 20+ religious groups on campus.

    We had an “Ask an Atheist” forum where any and all questions were encouraged and we also sponsored a debate between a prominent atheist and a local Baptist minister. My group sent out personalized e-mails to the advisors to every religious group with the clarification:

    “I think these two events are a good way for our respective groups to interact in a positive manner. Again, the purpose of these events is to open a line of dialogue, not for anyone to attempt to force their respective beliefs onto another. Please know that all members of your group are invited and encouraged to intend.”

    We got zero responses.

  • Tyler

    Tyler here – the president of the Laurier Freethought Alliance. I just wanted to add my two cents. “Secular does not denote taking an active stance in opposition to the principles and status of religious beliefs and practices.” It does take a stance against the domination of an institution by religion. Our campus has 6 campus clubs of a religious nature. Yet when a club that comes along promoting a life-stance that values skepticism and scientific naturalism over the supernatural and dogmatic values that these religious clubs promote it is denied official status? For these religiously oriented campus clubs to operate they must have a secular institution, because freedom of religion requires freedom from religion. By this logic, we are fully in our right to be as she says “in opposition to the principles and status of religious beliefs and practices.” I don’t see how this is tolerating the views of others. Not that Promoting skepticism and science is even a form of intolerance; it’s just an opposing life stance. Our club has specifically steered clear of labeling ourselves atheist. This is why we chose the word “freethought” over other words like atheist and antitheist. She failed to notice that we also stand for freedom of inquiry, which promotes open dialogue between clubs of all beliefs – something which we have been actively involved in. I hope this can go over without a hitch, but it’s already turned into one of those events that make me lose trust in humanity. I’d like to think it’s simply a case of ignorance that can be fixed by a simple raising of consciousness.

  • BZ

    At the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign our club – Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers – have had much better luck getting along with the christian groups. We had a 3 hour long discussion with Campus Crusade that hundreds of people attended. Cru has also accepted our help for a spring break trip down to volunteer in New Orleans. Evidently it is still a mess from Katrina. Don’t be too quick to write off the christian groups. There are a lot of good people among them.

  • Tao Jones

    From their response, it seems their problem was with the word “religion” in your vision statement.

    Why not leave out the word “religion,” as anyone who would join your club would surely see the concept of religion is covered under “superstition.”

    Identifying your group by what you are, as opposed to what you are not, is far more marketable.

  • Maria

    that’s ridiculous. I hope they sue and win

  • Torgo

    “There’s a difference between a gathering of Atheists and a gathering of the anti-Religious. One’s tolerant, the other isn’t. It’s frustrating that it seems like secular groups have a hard time forming without taking pot shots at religion.”

    The problem with this is that any legitimate criticism will sound like “pot shots” to the religious. Are we to be unconditionally tolerant of all ideologies? What of naziism, as an obvious example? It would seem far wiser to be tolerant of something based on its merit, rather than tolerating religion because it’s religion. That’s the sort of un-questioning special treatment that we’ve been conditioned to give religion for literally thousands of years, and it’s about time that we asked ourselves whether religion in its most prevalent form truly deserves to be tolerated.

  • Don Halpert

    Wilfred Laurier University (WLI) used to be called Waterloo Lutheran University (WLI). Changed their name to get public funding.
    The decision should be reversed – shame on them!

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  • James – Concerned Laurier Student

    Anatoly,

    First I must declare for the required that if your club was denied by Campus Clubs, then in fact it is WLUSU that you have the beef with, not WLU. Second, I am wondering what it is that you would do with Campus Club status. Are you seeking funding? Will you be running campaigns? What are your goals as an organization?

    Campus Clubs does not approve every other group, nor do they approve of every other group that is associated with a religion. You must understand that every group that becomes an official Campus Club under WLUSU, results in WLUSU being responsible for any illegal or harmful actions taken by that club. Therefore, WLUSU must take care in who they approve and look at every application as a possible liability.

    Do I believe that your club should be approved? Probably. The thing that you need to be aware of is that the Campus Club Co-ordinator is not out to defeat atheism or discriminate against atheists, the CC Co-ordinator simply wants to ensure that all Campus Clubs are enhancing student life, and not posing a threat to any other students.

    If you are still unsatisifed with this response then I recommend that you attend the WLUSU Elections Open Forum Tuesday February 5th (Today) at 1:00 and ask the potential candidates who will run WLUSU next year, how they feel about this issue.

    I further recommend that you re-evaluate you purposal, weaken your language, outline all events as inclusive, explain that funding will be used in a way that is not harmful, and resubmit it. I know it will probably be months until your club will be reviewed again, but patience is the price paid for advancement.

    From one Atheist to Another,

    James – Concerned Laurier Student

  • Jenna Jones

    Campus Crusades for Christ is not an officially recognized Campus Club at Laurier, please refrain from citing this group as a defense of LFA.

    Furthermore:

    Quoting Anatoly and Tyler on LFA’s facebook group. After posting the Mohammed cartoon, the following comments were posted as well. (spelling mistakes left in for accuracy)

    Anatoly: “That’s the one of the ‘infamous’ Muhammad cartoons! Sweeeeet.”

    Tyler: “should i take it down? … i’m scared now”

    Anatoly: “Yes Tyler, I’d suicide bomb your ass if it wasnt for the shortage of virgins”

    Yes there really is a difference between a gathering of Atheists and a gathering of the anti-Religious. Which does this constitute?

  • http://www.wlu.ca Very concerned Laurier student

    Anatoly, I wholeheartedly agree with James and his assessment of the situation. Clubs that promote radical thinking are simply too much of a liability for an organization like WLUSU.

    I would take James’ advice and weaken the language. So instead of the word promote, just use “talk about” and make sure you drop in the word tolerance. Buzzwords are key. If partisan political clubs can get funding to promote their ideologies, so can you.

    I was thinking of start a pro-war group, but I think I may have a better chance of getting approved if I simply state in my application that the club aims to support the troops and promotes tolerance and diversity. Weakening the language is crucial.

    In fact, don’t bother weakening the language, do away with it altogether and play mad libs with a standard form.

    “We would like to create a club called the Laurier Association for the Discussion of _______________ that promotes ____________, tolerance, diversity and mutual respect. We will organize events such as discussion nights and movie nights. Once a semester, we will also invite other groups to be a part of a discussion night that will address issues of tolerance in our multi-faceted campus.”

    Fill in the blanks!

  • Steve Skyeye

    At one time universities openly supported freethinking and social discourse. It seams that now they have become little more than than “brainwashing tanks” clearly demonstrating that the only way to get ahead in Canada is to “Suck the hind tit” which unfortunately has become more and more the case since the late sixties when a “closet queer” (one way to get an airport named after you) became prime minister and compounded by such corrupt (and so far unpunished) regimes as that of “Lie’n Brian M.”, who made a mockery of democrates by instituting the GST although it was resoundingly rejected in a nation-wide referendum.
    It is the “Freethinker” part which is what the Federation Puppets have been instructed to bash. I wish the best of luck to this group as a small step towards the Free country in which I was born nearly 60 years ago.

  • Peter Kroll

    I am an Alumni of Wilfrid Laurier University. Upon reading this blog I immediately called WLU (on feb 7). I was informed by Mike McMan (an Alumni) working as the General Manager of WLUSU (WLU Students Union) that the application for a campus club was denied because of concerns (based on the wording of the application) that not all students would be allowed to join LFA. There was also concerns with comments made on the LFA facebook group which were allegedly discriminatory and apparently those comments have now been removed from the LFA facebook group.

    There seems to be some ignorance on what atheism is and what freethinking is and whether a group of atheists would deny entry to the club to those who profess religious beliefs. It is a rule for all Student Union clubs that membership be open to everyone. This also means religious campus clubs must allow none believers to join; also that ethnic groups allow people from different ethnic backgrounds to join their groups.

    The representative from WLUSU who responded with the intolerant denial is probably a second year student (according to Mike) (with religious beliefs (according to me)) and did not carefully consider his/her response to the LFA. WLUSU regrets that those comments were made in the denial to LFA.

    As of this date Mike McMan has assured me that the group is approved to be a campus club.

    Thankfully the name an honour of my alma mater is restored.

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