How Do You Start an Atheist Group at Your School?

I’m working on a project with a local professor called The Atheist Voice in which I tackle some burning question people often ask atheists.

The video below answers the question: How Do You Start an Atheist Group at Your School?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

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.

  • Tobias2772

    The high school groups are a rich vein to be mined. Hemant is absolutely right. These are the ages when students begin to ask these questions and they need a place where they can discuss them safely and openly. It is such a hard time for them to feel differently from their classmates and yet their mind is so ripe for these types of challenging thinking

    I have sponsored a free thought group at my high school in South Carolina (believe me when I tell you that this is a very religious part of the world). I suggest free thought as a label because it is much harder for educators to oppose free thinking than it is for them to oppose atheism (and all of the baby eating that goes along with that). Plus, alot of my kids are not quite ready to declare themselves atheists (huge personal fallout) but they can come and discuss ideas and ask questions in a much more comfortable setting as free-thinkers. We have had thirty plus members both years and we have lots of fun with the issues at hand. Our thirty minute meetings always fly by and if the kids didn’t have to go to their next class they would hang out for much longer.

    We have a few simple guidelines that we try to follow (and that I enforce pretty well without too much effort) 1. We will not be judgmental of someone else’s ideas – we can question their thinking, but not pronounce judgement, especially of the person themselves. 2. We are especially challenging to positions that are based on tradition or mythology rather than rational thought – all positions can be empathetically challenged for a logical premise. 3. Two ears and one mouth – try to hear more than you say. We are all trying to become wiser – and we continue to think about what others have said long after the period is over.

    I can’t tell you how encouraging and fun it is to watch these guys think out loud. And letting loose of the millstone that is religion is a process that needs a little nurturing. I have not converted any students, but I have provided them a space where they can begin to convert themselves – a year or two or ten from now, some of these kids will see themselves and their place in the world more positively and clearly because of some of the conversations that they were allowed to have amoungst each other in this club. I strongly encourage more teachers to try to help these free-thinking kids find a space in which to allow their minds to grow. There are kids with these kinds of questions in every high school accross the country and they don’t know they have the right to talk freely about such things. Give them a helping hand.
    This is the

  • URDUM

    Why, exactly, do we need secular groups in secular schools?

    • 3lemenope

      Non-theist students are in the vast majority of cases still a minority in most secular schools, and a despised one at that.

      • URDUM

        So, it’s not the secular schools job to promote equality?

        • 3lemenope

          What does this have to do with the secular school’s job? Student groups, by-and-large, are pretty autonomous, usually with only a nominal faculty advisor. To the extent that a school is a society in miniature, students wanting to congregate in groups for the support of like-minded interests is the most natural thing in the world.

          • URDUM

            Its their job to to prevent a group from being despised.

            I agree that students want to congregate with other like-minded students. I’m just not convinced that teens care much about religion one way or the other. Thus, creating a group seems very evangelical to me. As we all know, being evangelical can have its repercussions.

            • 3lemenope

              It’s their job to to prevent a group from being despised.

              To the extent that’s true, a good first step is to make atheists a less abstract quantity. No easier way to show a kid there are actual atheists in his/her school than for there to be a group where those students congregate.

              I’m just not convinced that teens care much about religion one way or the other.

              I suppose the only real cure for that perception would be for you to go and speak to some teens about what religion means to them. If your experience is typical of such exercises, I think you’ll find a wide cross section of intensity of conviction as well as diversity of beliefs.

              • URDUM

                It is certainly varied (I work with HS teens), but the vast majority give cop-out answers that they probably overheard while being forced to go to Easter services with Grandma. They are much more concerned with boyfriend, girlfriend, sports, parents divorce, phones, etc. I believe this is the same reason why pastors have a hard time getting kids to love Jesus and science teachers have hard time getting kids to love Science. Teens have other issues on their minds.

    • WillBell

      Why exactly do we need Christian groups in schools? We don’t need Christian groups just like we don’t need atheist groups, but there is a lot of those.

  • URDUM

    “You can’t ask those questions in church”

    Hemant, i’m sure some churches are like that, but some are not. This feels like misinformation to me. How can atheists make this comment but also get upset when Christians make similarly broad statements about atheism?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      I think all my statements on this site support the fact that I’m not referring to all churches. If you watch the video, I even say that line sarcastically. Obviously, some churches welcome questions. Many don’t.

  • Rob McClain

    My son started a secular students’ group at his high school last year. To promote it, he passed out business cards with contact information and meeting times. On the back, he used a quote from William Paley (1743-1805):

    There is a principle which is a bar against all information,
    which is proof against all argument,
    and which cannot fail to keep man in everlasting ignorance.
    That principle is condemnation without investigation.

    The fundies in the school were on him like flies on offal, called him a Satan worshipper, told him he was going to hell, etc, etc, ad nauseum. The principal fought the formation of the club even though they met every letter of the requirements, and it was revealed that she is a devout Catholic.

    They met successfully all year, had a couple of speakers via Skype (the school won’t allow outside speakers for clubs) but never got official recognition as a club. Not to be intimidated, I got help from FFRF to drive out the Catholic priests who have anointed with ashes on school grounds for more than 40 years.

    The club will go on, and the club has a place in the pantheon of the high school experience. It was just so frustrating to hear my son tell of the negativity and nonsense from the fundies. Not to fear, his AP science teachers tell me they no longer need to perform “fundie control” in their classrooms. My son handles it with a grace and a ferociousness that shuts down the Goddidit arguments without breaking a sweat.


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