Atheists Are Organizing in High Schools

Kimberly Winston of the Religion News Service just released her article on the rise of high school atheists. I’ve been doing research on the subject for the past month for my book and this only confirms what I’ve been finding:

There were about a dozen such [high school atheist] clubs at the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic school year, a figure that rose to 39 in 17 states by summer break. The clubs are student-led, with [the Secular Student Alliance] providing information and guidance only upon a student’s request.

Some clubs are in states with high levels of “nones” — people who claim no religious affiliation — such as New York, Washington and California. But some are in the buckle of the Bible Belt: North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas all have at least one high school with a club for atheists.

And more are forming. Students at 73 different high schools have requested “starter kits” since January of this year, according to SSA.

I’ll admit I was shocked to see this, though:

Steve Gerali, dean of the theology department at Grand Canyon University and an expert on ministry to youth, said he is concerned that some administrators favor nonreligious clubs over religious ones.

“My perception is that an atheistic club is a little bit more welcomed than a Christian club,” he said. “I think administrators need to understand that to speak about no God is similar to speaking about a God. So it is, in fact, a religion even though it is anti-religion.”

That’s news to me. I didn’t realize it was soooooo hard to be a young Christian, what with multiple youth groups within a 0.000001 mile radius, and after-school Bible studies run by any of the various Christian clubs at your school, and being in the religious majority… must be tough.

The upshot to the article is that Winston quotes a couple of students who didn’t have much of a problem establishing an atheist group at all. Their administration treated them like they would anybody else. That shouldn’t be news, but I’ve heard so many stories going the other way that this was a pleasant surprise.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Marguerite

    “My perception is that an atheistic club is a little bit more welcomed than a Christian club,” he said.”
    This comment does not seem to accurately reflect reality at this point in time. I think this person may be perceiving persecution against Christians where none actually exists. It seems to be a common problem.

    I agree, though, it’s good news that these students aren’t encountering opposition from the administrations. Nice to hear!

  • Heicart

    So, it’s not just a religion–it’s anti-religion. What’s funny is I’ve spoken to many atheists who think religion is a net positive for humanity. I don’t agree with them, but I think it would be news to them that they’re anti-religious.

  • drtfgy

    Don’t see it as “anti religion” more like pro science!

    • ImRike

       Well, I might just as well say then that religion is “anti atheist”! There are more “antis” connected with religion than with atheism: anti gay, anti science, anti women, anti….

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Gerali is the author of “How to Stay Christian in High School (Experiencing God)” and “What Do I Do When Teenagers Question Their Sexuality? ”

    No critical reviews.  I’m almost tempted to give them a further look to understand this deep persecution of Christian teens.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Bowers/1267654102 Andrew Bowers

    “… to speak about no God is similar to speaking about a God”.
    Can’t argue with reasoning like that. I mean it’s literally impossible.

  • rlrose328

    His perception is warped.  My son would love to start an SAS, but won’t do it because of the crapstorm that will rain down upon him by his fellow students if he just MENTIONED it to the other kids.  By and large, the entire school knows that we don’t believe and for the most part, they don’t mess with him about it.  When he has spoken up (mostly in Social Studies when they discuss politics), he is shut down by most of the other students (while we live in Oregon, we managed to find the mini bible belt surrounding Portland).  So he stays frustrated and quiet.  I feel for him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Timothy-Steele/516182689 Timothy Steele

    Steve Gerali –   “I think administrators need to understand that to speak about no God
    is similar to speaking about a God. So it is, in fact, a religion even
    though it is anti-religion.”

    No it isn’t I think you need to look up the definition of Religion again. You sir are an idiot.

  • Redbeard

    Calling atheism a religion is like calling baldness a hair color.  Mister Gerali apparently needs to take a break from teaching his theology classes so that he can take a few in English.

  • Lucy

    I’d love to start an atheist group at my high school. Unfortunately, though, I can’t, as I can’t risk my parents discovering that I’m no longer baptist.


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