SSA and USAToday Win One for Brian

by Jesse Galef -

What a victory! This has been an incredible week for us at the Secular Student Alliance, reaching 250 affiliates and today we got some great news. We all know that teenage atheists can have a really tough time finding a community and starting a group – the story one Oklahoma student posted on reddit is disturbing, but depressingly common. A student wants to start a group, gets delayed or outright blocked by the administration, and suddenly find that their sponsor has withdrawn citing career worries. Brian Lisco was in exactly that situation in Austin, and we at the SSA had been working with him to overcome the obstacles.

As part of our new push to help high school students, we hired JT Eberhard as a special High School Campus Organizer in January and tried to get some media attention. It’s paid off: Look at this inspiring article by Cathy Grossman in USA Today:

If Glee shows singing geeks as high school pariahs, imagine being an atheist on campus.

Now. the Secular Student Alliance, which promotes atheism and humanism with chapters at more than 200 colleges, is sending in reinforcements for teen free-thinkers — a push to launch 50 new high school clubs.

Godless teens want the same social benefits that evangelical teens find at the annual “See you at the pole” flagpole prayer events at thousands of schools every September, and the court-sanctioned after school Bible clubs, and Christian, Jewish and Muslim student groups.

Yes. This is exactly the right message. We want the same legal rights and social opportunities to form communities of like-minded peers. To have a major national paper like the USA Today spreading the message is a huge boon. Oh, and what happened for Brian? (Emphasis mine):

Brian Lisco, 18, a senior Stephen Austin High School in the Houston suburbs, found his efforts to form a club were delayed for three months by one hurdle after another. At one point the principal said he could have the club — if he just called it a Philosophy Club and did not affiliate with the Secular Student Alliance.

Lisco, however, wouldn’t give up the Alliance ties. He says,

“We atheists are already invisible — we don’t come out. That’s a form of repression in itself. It’s about getting pushed to the margin of our community.”

After a request for comment from USA TODAY, the school abruptly granted Lisco the Secular Student Alliance Club on Tuesday. If Lisco moves fast, he can still organize a Darwin Day celebration: Saturday is his 202th birthday.

Fuck. Yes.

It’s remarkable how an administration changes its mind when national media starts paying attention.

We helped Brian win one. But there are countless other students facing the same challenges. Armed with this article, we’ll show other administrations that obstruction won’t work. It’ll still be an uphill battle, but this is a great step forward.

About Dr. Denise Cooper-Clarke

I am a graduate of medicine and theology with a Ph.D in medical ethics. I tutor in medical ethics at the University of Melbourne, am an (occasional) adjunct Lecturer in Ethics at Ridley Melbourne, and a voluntary researcher with Ethos. I am also a Fellow of ISCAST and a past chair of the Melbourne Chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality. I have special interests in professional ethics, sexual ethics and the ethics of virtue.

  • Anna

    wow, it is good to see atheists being treated fairly by the media, usually they are very antagonistic – “who are these people, how dare they say anything and what do christians think about them…”

  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    USA Today got something exactly right? I may have to review my position on miracles.

    Srsly, though, great to see the secular position stated that way. And good for Brian. Amazing how many bullies back down when they have to publicly defend their bigotry. (But still sad how many don’t.)

  • Richard Wade

    Jesse,
    Good work for this case, and good hunting for the next!

    Congratulations to Brian Lisco, to the SSA, and to everyone who supports equality for atheists.

    Bullies and bigots, whether on the playground or sitting in the Principal’s chair are basically cowards. They’ll oppress and obstruct only as long as they think there’s no risk for them. Once it becomes clear that they’ll have a real fight on their hands, they cave in. Expect the forming of high school atheist groups to not just grow, but accelerate. I look forward to the day when this is so common it gets no more press coverage than forming a high school Christian club.

  • AquaJoe

    The article did a good job of highlighting the accomplishment without much of a bias, but I made the sad mistake of reading the comments section.

    Yikes.

  • http://girlofthegaps.blogspot.com/ Nicole Schrand

    I still wish that my high school had had something like this. My family was always urging the “meet you at the pole” events, but the closest thing I had to my own (dis)belief was the Scholastic Bowl team. I would have given about anything for the kind of support that the SSA is making available.

    Hooray for Brian, hooray for the SSA, and here’s to my excitement to see more of this happening!

  • Annie

    Is there any sort of list or clearinghouse for people who would like to volunteer as sponsors for a HS group in their area? If so, I would like to get on it.

    My daughter started middle school this year, and it seems like once a week she comes home to tell me that so-and-so is an atheist too. (She’s usually outed by her preference to remain silent during the “under god” portion of the pledge). It’s so refreshing to know she has peers who share ideas (or lack of) regarding religion.

  • Oz Tilson

    great news. Congrats to all involved. My boys are in K and my daughter Gr 4 so a little young for me to be promoting this for my own kids. Plus, we are in a very liberal part of Canada so Atheism is kind of a “meh” topic most of the time.

    Still, I am loving following the SSA and its example for when we do need it! Keep up the good work!

  • Nakor

    Awesome, high fives all around!

  • Stephen P

    The article did a good job of highlighting the accomplishment without much of a bias, but I made the sad mistake of reading the comments section.

    If you sort the comments by ‘most recommended’ they actually look pretty good. (Maybe some of the folks here had something to do with that.)

  • Brian Lisco

    Thank you everyone for your support! I never thought of myself as the sort of guy that would set an example for other students at other schools who wanted to start a group. The only inaccuracy is that it wasn’t three months of hurdles- I just set it aside for a little while to regroup and focus on my other activities.
    But that I would say that that is impressive in itself! It wasn’t a huge ordeal. All it takes is a little bit of persistence (I inherited it from my mother) and a little bit of knowing exactly what you deserve as a student of an American high school. I would much rather be remembered not by an interesting quote about being invisible, but by pursuing an objective. It wasn’t about becoming a success story that would appear in USA Today or The Friendly Atheist, it was about starting a student group. And I got my student group.


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