Texas Christian University Grants Official Recognition to a Campus Atheist Group

Back in February, I posted about how a group of students at Texas Christian University wanted to start an atheist group:

“Freethinking Frogs” is being founded by Alexis Lohse.

The transfer student said she wanted to establish an organization “that was agnostic and secular,” so that students with those beliefs would have a place free to discuss and challenge conventional religious thinking.

It’s not as surprising as you might think; secular students attend religious (at least in name) schools for all sorts of reasons, including the kinds of programs they offer and the quality of education. I attended one myself for grad school and nearly attended one for undergrad.

The idea of an atheist group getting approved didn’t sit well with some of the students on campus:

“There are some kids… who might not want their beliefs challenged,” said student Michael Smith.

What?! Challenging students’ beliefs?! ON A COLLEGE CAMPUS?! Oh, the humanity! Won’t someone think of the children?!

Anyway, there’s finally some good news to report.

This past March, TCU quietly granted official recognition to the group:

When asked by Christian News Network how this decision to recognize the Freethinking Frogs comports with TCU’s standing as a private Christian school, university spokeswoman Lisa Albert emphasized that the unbelieving students followed all the appropriate procedures in applying for recognition, and were thus granted official acceptance. Additionally, she explained that TCU openly encourages all students to explore a wide spectrum of ideas and beliefs.

“The university culture allows for diversity of thought and open dialogue,” she said, “providing a platform … for students to engage with others of differing opinion and ultimately, make decisions for themselves.”

As one friend of mine put it, TCU chose to emphasize the word “University” in its name instead of “Christian” — putting critical thinking over automatic dogma — and that’s precisely what an institution of higher learning should be doing. Asking questions and discussing religion with a skeptical eye should be welcome at any university, including religious ones.

I asked Alexis Lohse, the founder and chair of the group, about how the group is going so far and what the reaction has been like on campus:

To date, a number of students have joined the Freethinking Frogs and we are very optimistic and enthusiastic about the group. However, the reaction of the student body as a whole has yet to be seen. The response from faculty has been very supportive with many professors letting us know they are happy to see a group like ours on the TCU campus.

The Freethinking Frogs are forming during a transitional time for the university. TCU is changing from a small, regional private institution to a more prominent academic and athletic presence. As the diversity of the student body increases it seems like the hardest crowd to please will be the alumni… While non-believing students have not been part of the “traditional” TCU profile we are proud to have the support of our university and look forward to becoming a lasting part of the TCU community.

She’s not kidding about pleasing the alumni. One person wrote the following letter-to-the-editor in the most recent TCU alumni magazine:

I see that as pushing all the right buttons :)

Congratulations to the Freethinking Frogs for getting the group off the ground. I have no doubt it’ll grow, as groups like these often do at religious schools (and in religious communities).

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i’m a former admissions professional, and here’s how it works:

    1. get accreditation as a university
    2. qualify to receive aid money, specifically federal aid money
    3. conform to the rules which dictate what is “an accredited school.”
    4. PROFIT.

    TCU, or any other school with religious overtones, has two choices. don’t get accreditation, and lose out on the vast majority of applicants (and their money.) or, conform, even if it goes against your own internal ‘logic,’ and be part of the gravy train.

    there are a bazillion unaccredited “schools” out there, and a lot of people too dumb to understand that those aren’t worth paying for. it’s how they stay in business. but people who actually get jobs look for the basics, which includes accreditation. this is why the process exists.

    part of that includes tolerance for any group that follows the rules as part of its formation. this is the definition of “a university education,” it includes the right to join or start groups that are student led, relatively free in thought and action, and able to have the same opportunities as alum sponsored, sports, official, or other sorts of groups. tolerance for all.

    nice to see a Christian school joining the club of the sane and fair. good job TCU.

  • Thomas J. Lawson
    • Michael Mock

      I *am* a former student who would approve.

      TCU is Disciples of Christ, which is one of the more… easygoing… of the Christian denominations. But – twenty years ago, at least – an awful lot of students see the word Christian in the name and assume that naturally the University will reflect their own evangelical/fundamentalist/whatever background. The result is that every fall, the student newspaper receives a spate of editorials complaining that Texas Christian University needs to be MORE CHRISTIAN!!!!!eleventy-one! And, depending on just what tack they take, periodically someone from the Brite Divinity School will write a response explaining that the Disciples of Christ, whence the university derives the “Christian” part of its name, do not in fact have (for example) any stance whatsoever on the topic of homosexuality.

      TL;DR – This is actually not very surprising if you know TCU, and TCU is a great place to watch Christians disagree with Christians about what Christianity means.

      • Stan

        I also went to TCU (in the early to mid ’80s) and what Michael wrote was true then as well. I vividly remember the culture shock some fundamentalist/evangelical Christians there felt when their views were being challenged, especially in religion classes. (Guess they should have gone to Baylor! :))

        I’ve always been proud to be a TCU graduate and this news just strengthens that for me. Welcome, Freethought Frogs!

  • Oblivnow

    Great shirts

  • Edmond

    Whoa, for a second there, I thought the headline read TEXAS Christian University. LOL, is my face r…

    …holy crap!

  • TCC

    One of my former professors got her PhD from TCU, and she always talked about how ridiculous it was that it was even still called Texas Christian University anymore and in fact insinuated that it only retains the “Christian” in its name because of some high-rolling donors. (She was absolutely not a Christian herself, it must be noted, and I doubt she was in fact religious at all.)

  • Lee Miller

    How can someone like Mr. Van Eaton who graduated in 1997 already sound like such an old crank?

    • WallofSleep

      Well, when it takes you 42 years to finish a Bachelor’s degree…

  • Erp

    The critics don’t seem to be too happy with TCU’s interfaith group either. Or having a Muslim group (and possibly Hillel and maybe the Catholic group). They are probably going to love that the Freethinking Frogs are classified as one of the 23 student religious organizations[1] (between Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Hillel).

    [1] If it is like Stanford there are probably some major advantages to being so classified and under the wing of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

  • WallofSleep

    “Secular Humanism is everywhere in our society…”

    I know, right? When our congress can declare the first Thursday of May the “National Day of Secular Humanist Contemplation”, and then when it was (rightfully) ruled unconstitutional that damned commie-atheist Obama administration filed an appeal to overturn the decision, and actually fucking won because of a damn panel of activist judges reinstated it, you know something is wrong with our society.

    And lets not forget the most powerful man in our country, again, that friggin’ Obama, ends all his speeches with “… and may Humanism bless America”. I mean, you gotta draw the line somewhere, right?

    And don’t even get me started on all those damned Humanist churches that get away without paying any taxes while the IRS turns a blind eye to their constant violations of the law.

    “… why does TCU exist? Just to make lots of money…”

    Dude, are you fucking new?

  • Alice

    It is so refreshing to hear a Christian organization is finally doing something positive, promoting freedom of speech and freedom of belief instead of trying to force atheists underground. I hope this will lead to more change.

  • WallofSleep

    Heh, how did I miss this?

    “It is time for TCU to take a stand!”

    They already have, son. They already have.

  • Paul Reed

    “Congratulations to the Freethinking Frogs for getting the group off the ground.”
    Also, good on TCU for following procedure and approving it.
    And, well done to the alumni magazine editor for giving a level-headed and informative clarification.

  • David

    Good on TCU. But at the same time, they are not a public institution, so if they didn’t want to do this, I don’t think they should have been forced.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Maury_and_Baty/ RLBaty

    Thirty or so years ago one of the TCU professors, Ronald Flowers (church/state scholar) was a test case for the proposition that TCU was an “integral agency” of the church.

    The Court ruled that TCU was NOT an “integral agency” of the church.

    Flowers wrote a treatise (about 20 pages) on his experience and how his position on one of the points in dispute had changed.

    Meanwhile, a similar school up the road (Abilene Christian) had the issue sewed up as to it because George H.W. Bush and Omar Burleson had put the squeeze on the IRS and had an administrative ruling issued granting “integral agency” status to Abilene Christian; so its basketball ministers and other such employees could enjoy income tax free “ministerial” housing allowance benefits.

    In light of today’s allegations about the IRS, it is noted that Congress has never properly investigated how it was back then and the propriety of Bush/Burleson thumping heads at the IRS in order to get their way.