High School Student Faces Challenges in Starting an Atheist Group

This hits kinda close to home.

A student at Johnsburg High School in northwestern McHenry County, IL wants to start an atheist group at her school, but she’s facing a few challenges. Here’s what reporter Diana Sroka writes:

Savannah Lanz doesn’t believe in God, follow religion, or look to any higher powers, and she’s hoping to form a student group at Johnsburg High School that echoes those beliefs.

“The goal of the group is just to prove people can lead ethical and moral lives without religion, and you don’t have to believe in God,” said Lanz, 16. “It’s basically a group for people who consider themselves free-thinkers, atheists, agnostics or humanists.”

However, she’s meeting obstacles as dispute brews over the group’s purpose, potential activities, and whether it’s been approved by school administrators.

Assuming this is student-led, there shouldn’t be any problem here. So long as students can surround the flagpole or discuss the Bible, atheists can gather, too.

And according to Savannah, there is indeed a Christian group at the school. (Assuming this is really her) she writes in a comment following the article:

We already have an official, [sponsored] group at our school called the Fellowship of Christian [S]tudents. Why can’t I have my group as well? Also, most of our meetings will be just consist of discussing different philosophies and issues.

Here’s an excerpt from the article that really gets to me:

Meanwhile, Lanz said she was under the impression that the group — named the Johnsburg Freethinkers Society — had been approved by an assistant principal at the school, and simply wouldn’t be allowed to advertise with fliers in the building.

Again, the school is crossing into illegal waters. As long as the fliers are school-appropriate, the group must be allowed to advertise. You can’t deny their advertising simply because it’s for an atheist club.

Plus, I’m sure everyone would want to know about the first meeting. It sounds awesome:

Group members already are planning their first event, a night when members dress up as pirates and eat spaghetti in honor of the “Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

I’ve tried reaching out to Savannah — the Secular Student Alliance has plenty of experience with students facing challenges when starting atheist groups — and I hope to hear back from her.

It’s really exciting and inspiring that any high school student would have the courage to begin a group like this — especially in a fairly conservative area. Good luck to her in getting the group started!

  • Kayla

    Good for her! I hope things pan out for her and she’s able to get the group up and running.

    Sadly, I’m too scared to even think about starting such a group at my COLLEGE. Even though we have 3+ christian groups…

  • Chase

    Good luck to her. I’ve been in the planning stages for starting a similar club at my high school under the exact same circumstances, so the outcome of this should be interesting.

  • http://www.anatheist.net James

    Interesting how the school seems to be “OK” with it as long as it is billed as a “philosophy” club rather than an atheist/agnostic club.

  • Bob

    Why do freethinkers insist on doing silly things like the Spaghetti Monster? That just hurts the cause I feel. Seems like way too often groups just do things to be the ‘opposite’ of the other group. Way too much ‘Me Too!’ going on. Have group meetings and discuss real issues and be seen as a serious group.

  • Archie

    Woah! Thats amazing! First, i think the idea of an atheist club is pretty cool. a group of atheists acting in a positive way might give others a better view of them. Second, starting off with a meeting celebrating the flying spaghetti monster is amazing.

  • Siamang

    Dear Bob.

    Please start your own organization and run it exactly how you want.

    Love,

    Siamang

  • mkb

    Keep us posted. If you think that anything we could do would help — writing the principal, the school board, the town attorney — let us know. Thanks.

  • Anne

    I have to agree with Bob. She fights for her right to have a freethinkers’ club and then the first thing they want to do is dress up like pirates and eat spaghetti in honor of the flying spaghetti monster?1? Come on…who’s going to take them seriously after that? IMHO, they should show that they take themselves seriously and talk about genuine issues during their meetings – and – to increase their image even more – become a service club. Show the whole school how compassionate atheists are. Then, once they’ve established themselves, have a spaghetti party. Even better, how about having a flying spaghetti monster spaghetti dinner to raise money for charity?

  • Richard Wade

    Bob and Anne,
    They’re high school kids. They want to be taken seriously, and they want to have fun too. Those two things always go together for young people. Fun is seen not as frivolous. It is not sufficient but it is still necesary. They might take some time at that first meeting to discuss important (non pirate) things, but if it was entirely grave and serious, they might not have a second meeting because nobody would want to come back.

    Think about how difficult it will be for the prospective members to get past their fears of social ostracizing and parental disapproval. Peer pressure is extremely powerful to them. A playful party on the very first meeting would be a celebration and a congratulation of their courageous step into personal freedom. There will be plenty of time for the very good suggestions of positive activities you have mentioned.

  • Charon

    Right on, Richard.

    I was reading Parenting Beyond Belief recently, and there’s a story in there of the guy taking his wife and kids to a local freethinkers’ party (meeting? I forget). In any case, it was so awful that his kids pleaded with him to not take them back. Not exactly the way to win over converts.

    I was reading Bertrand Russell in high school, but I can guarantee you that I was the only one in my high school doing so. If I’d started a club where we sat around and discussed empiricism, rationalism, positivism, and whatnot, it would have been a great club of one.

  • Joe

    I hope the members of the Christian organizations in the school are smart enough to come in support of this group. Once one group is successfully limited or kept from forming all other groups become more susceptible to also being limited or banned.

  • RatFink

    Again, the school is crossing into illegal waters. As long as the fliers are school-appropriate, the group must be allowed to advertise. You can’t deny their advertising simply because it’s for an atheist club.

    Is this actually happening or is the advertising ban content neutral? The article nor the quotes do not establish if other groups are held to this too.

    “Group members already are planning their first event, a night when members dress up as pirates and eat spaghetti in honor of the “Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

    Yeah… this may be the problem… The spaghetti monster has nothing to do with atheist/agnostic belief but rather a character designed to belittle and make fun of others beliefs. It’s childish, immature and stupid. Save your outrage for when the local christian club starts their dinner where they dress up with keffiyeh and fake suicide vests.

  • Derek

    I was thrilled to hear a student at my former high school was starting a free thinkers club. Although I was shocked to hear she was getting resistance from the administration due to the fact that the school has received numerous first amendment awards for the supposed free speech the students have.

  • ArchangelChuck

    I hope the members of the Christian organizations in the school are smart enough to come in support of this group.

    Echoed, but if we look at the track record…

  • From her School

    She became suicidally depressed and left school a few days ago. The group will no longer meet.

  • As if

    No she did not become suicidally depressed, no she did not leave school, and no the club never got off the ground because the administration didn’t allow it to. Johnsburg is HIGHLY conservative and HIGHLY Catholic, not to mention HIGHLY ignorant. They also do not receive those First Amendment awards anymore either. The administration in this school are nothing but a bunch of overgrown bullies who will never allow anything that doesn’t go along with their own personal ideals.


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