The Reason Some College Atheist Groups Have a Second Facebook Page

In Jennifer Kline‘s article about college atheist groups, this passage is just incredible:

Ethan Conklin, director of outreach for the University of Central Florida’s Secular Student Alliance (SSA), has seen his share of “really messed-up situations,” he says. “We have members whose families don’t talk to them anymore, friends who isolated them. All because of that one word: ‘atheist.’”

Consequently, many students seeking like-minded friends are hesitant to openly reveal their involvement in SSA. The club has a public Facebook page but recently created a second group, which is private and visible only to approved members. Conklin explained that several members feel uncomfortable sharing their interest in a secular club with their families, friends or workplaces. The secret page allows those people to remain connected without the publicity of a “like.”

They have a second Facebook group just for the people who can’t publicly “like” something about atheism?!

How depressing is that. (Does the Fellowship of Christian Athletes ever have this problem?)

Maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised, though, since even the Secular Student Alliance makes it very clear in their national conference booklet that we should all be aware that there are students who may not wanted to be “outed”:

Not everyone at this conference is an “out” nontheist. Many students have friends or family members who don’t know about their worldview. Some are financially dependent on religious family members or scholarships. Don’t out them by carelessly posting photos!

Some students at this conference have RED name badge holders. These red lanyards indicate that the student does not want to appear in photos or videos online. Please respect their privacy — check your photos before you upload, and don’t post photos of anyone wearing a red lanyard.

I understand the concern. It’s just disappointing the lengths some students have to go to because they have this crazy belief that angels and demons and God and heaven are just figments of our imagination.

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.

  • Matt Bowyer

    It’ll be a great day when this is no longer considered necessary.

  • Topher Kersting

    Unfortunately, this is necessary in some areas, like mine (Chattanooga, Tennessee). I’m out, but I’m a member of two closed Facebook groups to support those who, because of the nature of the community here, aren’t comfortable with revealing themselves as atheists just yet.

  • Dorothy

    this isn’t just a student problem. our local atheist group (in Canada, i might add) still has 2 fb pages, one open and one closed. Most of us are ‘out’ but want to avoid posting too many articles about atheism, or jokes or jabs at religion, on an open page or on our personal pages

  • clarker86

    I had the same issue with my local (Utah) Atheist group’s page. It was open and I wasn’t out to my in-laws yet. It is now closed (they have a public page too) and I am out to the in-laws, but I am still hesitant to post anything for fear that they will retaliate somehow.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    The risk of an atheist student suddenly having his or her college funding cut off by his religious family is very real. It is a recurrent theme in the “Ask Richard” letters I get from students who are about to enter college or those who are already there. They have to live a double life just like the double Facebook sites. It also has a ripple effect:

    “We’re paying all that money for you to go to that fancy university, and they turn you into a goddamn atheist! Well, your little sister and brother aren’t going to any college, that’s for sure!”

    • advancedatheist

      I’ve posted about this problem on this blog before: Atheist youngsters need to take financial considerations into account before they do something which could alienate them from their religiously obsessed parents. I know about the impetuosity of youth, but you don’t face any urgency to tell your parents about your apostasy. Major in something which has market value, get a job, live frugally, pay off your student loans, and then save up about a year’s worth of living expenses in the bank so you don’t have to move back in with your parents in case you lose our job.

      When you have the money in place, then you can tell your parents that you’ve rejected the family’s deity.

      But then, Americans need to learn in their teens to run their lives as financial projects regardless. That would go a long way towards solving a lot of the country’s problems, and we would see fewer unemployable 20-somethings with their degrees in nonsense subjects like theater, sociology or ethnic studies.

      • Matt Bowyer

        “With their degrees in nonsense subjects like theater, sociology or ethnic studies.”

        I resent that.

        • TheG

          Which is fine. You have every right to resent that.

          Just like I have the right to resent having a higher student loan rate because the people who choose nonsense degrees default on their loans after they are pay too much for a degree that gets them too little to afford loans and rent.

      • http://www.secularview.com/ Dirty_Nerdy

        Sociology and ethnic studies are not nonsense subjects. What degree do you think social workers get??

        • TheG

          Anything that gets them into school for their MSW? I know psychology major social workers and I know business major social workers.

          Edit: Too many night shifts in a row.

  • Guest

    I was video recording at the farmers market with the manager last Saturday, and she said she had to leave to volunteer at the Angel Museum (as seen on Oprah). Now, I wanted to go there some weekend with Pastafarian signs to counteract the [Jesus people](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YjjnmoSZaQ) with their signs, but what do I do now? Am I risking future videos interviews with the manager?

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Yes, I’d say you’re definitely risking future video interviews with that manager, and everyone she warns about you. If you make videos in the role of a journalist, you might have to sacrifice making videos with you as a subject.

      Living the double life is a pain in the ass. Getting the consequences of living the open life can be a pain in the ass too.

  • Bruce Scott

    This happens with LGBT groups too.

    • Aoife O’Riordan

      Yeah, as a queer person I find this a pretty ordinary courtesy, actually. I can see how it might seem shocking when you’re not used to it but.. yeah. That’s how we do things.

      • Bruce Scott

        I belong to one professional (medical) organization that has mailing lists for “special interest group”. The LGBT group is the only one (of the 15 or so) with a secret mailing list, with no member names disclosed.

      • Buckley

        Aoife, I have two very close lesbian friends and I’ve had this conversation with them. And when the similarities are discussed, I still can’t comprehend how they can be who they are and still have belief in their religion of choice. To be honest, they aren’t as religious as they once were, but they still cling to it. But I still love them regardless.

  • Guest

    I was video recording at the farmers market with the manager last Saturday, and she said she had to leave to volunteer at the Angel Museum (as seen on Oprah). Now, I wanted to go there some weekend with Pastafarian signs to counteract the Jesus people with their signs, but what do I do now? Am I risking future videos interviews with the manager?

  • Bitter Lizard

    Acknowledging your own convictions means you’re persecuting Christians. They get butthurt over billboards that state that one atheist isn’t alone, after all. And if they dictate by force of law what science can be taught in school or who you can marry or how you fuck, that’s an expression of religious freedom, but objecting to any of it is persecuting them.

    But those who criticize those mean atheists for saying mean things about religion have a point. If religious people are offended by something, they must have a good reason, right?

  • Sackbut

    It isn’t just students. My local community freethought group (not a student group) has a (very active!) “secret” Facebook page (meaning that its existence and member list are not visible to anyone other than members) for this reason. (It could be a “closed” group, where existence and member list were visible, for instance.) Some of our members have suffered serious consequences in their lives because of their atheism. We try hard not to “out” anyone, but accidents have happened. Facebook makes it sometimes difficult to tell what the audience for a post or comment will be, and it is easy to be confused about where one is actually posting.

    We also have a public Facebook page that is used by the activist component of the group as we get more into outreach and activism. It is not used for group discussions or member postings.

    A number of members have gradually increased their level of comfort with being “out”, but that’s an individual decision, an individual process, and we strongly respect that.

  • LJinFLA

    Students? I am 61 years old and don’t even like to say anything about it because I live in a town where there is a church every block. ALL my accquaintances here are christians and would flip/disown me if they knew.

    • Miss_Beara

      That is depressing.

  • Jen

    I don’t think it’s incredible at all, really. There are some scary places in this country. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a secular home in an area of the country that isn’t quite so steeped in religious (northern NJ) as other parts of the country. If you are in an area where the church has a huge presence, where folks talk about church activities all the time and where people identify their church as their community, ‘coming out’ would be rather risky.

  • http://www.atheistrev.com/ vjack

    It is absolutely disappointing. While I think it is starting to improve, it is improving slowly enough that I expect we’ll see this sort of thing for awhile. If there is one thing worse than being an atheist, it would have to be being one of those atheist activists types that would join a group like the SSA. It is a tough sort of bigotry to fight because there are likely to be real consequences for doing so.

  • Jennifer Lovejoy

    We have local group members in my area that can’t be in photos or volunteer at public community events for fear of losing their jobs. I cannot even imagine being young and fearing losing your family and financial support. :( Wish I could adopt ALL of them!

  • Buckley

    There is a reason why this is my nom de plume. Where I work, I could lose my job. I like what I do so I keep it to my self and to those that know me and accept me. It does suck not being able to be open, but that’s the price I pay. Others may have the freedom or the ability to be open, but I don’t and that’s OK for the time being. I wish it could change, but I’m unwilling to risk at this point in my life. Perhaps if I were younger.

    • Dave

      Do you live in America or Afghanistan?

      • TheG

        Since 2001, what is the difference (other than urban density of goats)?

  • Beth

    Just college students? I hide my atheism on FB and I’m 30. I’m getting more bold, but I am more concerned with keeping peace in my family and with my sons’ friends families than letting everyone know I don’t give a shit about religion.

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      I’m not even ON FB, and this issue is why. I have colleagues who know nothing about my religious opinions, and staying off FB helps to keep it that way.

      If I were on FB, I’d have to have separate public and private pages, just like the SSA groups above. Too much hassle.

  • The Captain

    I feel bad for those students that have to hide there atheism on Facebook, and I understand why they would have to do this. But the solution being a second private Facebook page, it’s as if they don’t even know that you can communicate with each other on the internet outside of Facebook at all?!

    • Nancy Shrew

      Some people have an easier time communicating via a textual medium.

  • Chance

    Hemant,
    We do the same thing with our group; we have a public page, but we also have a secret group for those who aren’t out. It’s sad, but being in the Bible Belt, we don’t want to take any chances.
    -Chance W.
    SOSU Freethinkers

  • Robster

    It’s a weird thing this having to hide one’s atheism. Strange ‘coz atheists are, as proven (apparently) by recent science, a touch more IQ laden than those embracing that embarrassing faith nonsense. Why is it that the sensible are forced by the deluded to hide or obscure their rational world view? It can only be numbers, not the book in the babble but…numbers.

  • Brian

    I can respect what theyre trying to do, but if youre friends and family can’t respect your beliefs, then they aren’t your friends, and the problem is with your family, not with you.

    • MD

      Piss off your family and lose some or all of your college funding. And with the crazy rises in U.S. university tuition, that’s not merely an inconvenience.

      Piss off your classmates and spend the next four years isolated or hounded.

  • cary_w

    Posting anything on Facebook is like walking through a field of land mines. I have “friends” who are everything from a hard core Christian devoting her life to spreading the gospel to fanatical angry atheists, and from Earth First type environmentalists to drill-baby-drill rednecks. I literally can’t post a cute picture of my cats without offending somebody. I think I’d need at least 5 or 6 secret identities before I’d post even most benign opinion on Facebook.

    • KeithCollyer

      I’m surprised at you. You come here onto an atheist group and post about your CATS! have you no shame?

  • NickDB

    Looks like a problem experienced everywhere, our South African atheist group just had a referendum about this. Ended up keeping it open, but the new Facebook rules did cost a few people a bit (previously your posts on FB for an open group didn’t show up on your timeline) Bit different for students vs adults though. We have got a few kids joining us too now, so might have to rethink things.

  • Marc Wilson

    Hi. I am an atheist. I go to college. I carry a 3.954 GPA. I’m 34 and getting a second start on my education. I am doing my part to become a fitter, happier, more productive member of society. To any atheists who feel you need to hide your identity: Don’t. Do not be afraid of those around you even if their hypocrisy prevents them from loving thy neighbor. The parallel here is that of the LGBT community who have fought long and hard to gain their civil rights. To fight for your rights, you must first be open about who you are. Every day you hide is a victory for those who would judge you. We atheists must make the most of our lives. We must dedicate ourselves to the betterment of society and to making a better tomorrow for future generations. If that means being persecuted, judged, or picked on today, if that even means being beaten and abused now so that future generations of free thinkers can live free of discrimination, then that is our duty. Society has come a long way from burning “heretics” on a stake, but we still have a long way to go. Live your life with honesty, purpose, and without fear. To thine own self be true.

    • Bitter Lizard

      I’m with you most of the way, but some people just can’t afford to put their atheism ahead of their careers or acceptance from family members. Life is messy, and there are a lot of factors that people have to consider outside of how they feel about religion. We shouldn’t vilify closeted atheists for taking these factors into account. Who we should vilify are the atheists who defend religion and help reinforce the double-standards and bullshit that force people into the closet in the first place.

    • TCC

      That really isn’t sound advice. The best advice for any atheist is: If you can be out, be out; if you can’t, do what you can do to get in a place where you can be out, but don’t feel like less of a person if you simply can’t because of your profession, family, or location.

      • Marc Wilson

        I certainly do not think someone is less of a person for not being honest to others about who they are. But, that does make it harder for those of us who are open about who we are. There is strength in numbers. Do you think the LGBT movement would be where it is today without the Stonewall Riots? I agree that not much can be done about family, but if your profession punishes you in any way for being atheist, that is discrimination and completely illegal.

        • TCC

          The moral obligation is exactly the opposite, actually: Those of us who are positions where we can be out must do what we can to make it so that others will feel safe in doing the same. We should never demand that the disadvantaged be the ones to sacrifice for those who are privileged (as you clearly are if you can be out without great repercussions).

          • Marc Wilson

            Ah geez. Alright do what you want. I can’t believe I’m even wasting my time telling a bunch of wimps to “come out of the closet” about being into science and critical thinking and shit of that general nature. You wanna talk about suffering? Go talk to an African American. Go talk to a gay person. ‘Oh my daddy is cutting me off from money because I believe in evolution.’ Cry me a river. Jim Crow laws made African Americans drink at separate fountains, and sit at the back of the bus, and that was only after a war which ripped this country apart and declared that they didn’t have to be slaves anymore. They still marched on Washington 50 years ago for their rights. Matthew Shepard got tied to a fence and beat to death for nothing more than his sexual orientation, and you’re worried about your families disowning you? Grow a pair.

            • TCC

              Fuck you. You don’t have the right to tell anyone when they’re entitled to stay silent and not face recriminations. And no, someone having it worse doesn’t mean that the problems of atheists coming out aren’t legitimate.

              But thanks for contradicting yourself; it sure doesn’t sound like you’re not thinking less of people who don’t come out.

    • MisterTwo

      “If that means being persecuted, judged, or picked on today, if that
      even means being beaten and abused now so that future generations of
      free thinkers can live free of discrimination, then that is our duty.”

      I see your point, but I’m not that selfless. I don’t know what the consequences would be, but I’m most concerned about my relationship with my children and my grandchildren (the first one is on the way). It might work. I might eventually get the courage to open up. But I’m “out” to my wife and she’s freaked out that those future grandchildren won’t get to spend time with us.

      I don’t care at all about public reaction, nobody would care at work, and I don’t even worry about my relationship with my siblings, but I’m just not ready to deal with it with my very devotedly Christian children. I do feel the obligation to undo the damage I’m partially responsible for. Had I not been a believer when they were still at home, they may not be under the delusion either. But what’s done is done, and it’ll have to be undone gradually.

      • Marc Wilson

        I’m sorry you failed to raise your children to be critical thinkers. If they are so devoted to Christianity, then it is their duty to love you. I do believe there is a line in that pedantic book about loving and respecting your parents. I too was raised Christian, Baptist to be precise. It took a while, but my dad eventually broke out of that crap. My mom says she agrees with us, but I think she’s still holding onto that fear of what if she’s wrong sorta thing. That’s fine. I don’t hold it against her.

        It is a shame that Christians do not read their sacred texts more closely and specifically the teachings of their fictional prophet, Jesus. Regardless of my decision to follow the scientific principles and exercise critical thinking, that dude had some good lessons to teach.

        Regarding your children, they’re your kids, man. They will love you no matter what. If not…damn dude. What did you do to them? Please tell me they don’t really think the Earth is 6000 years old or some other nonsense. Or that they really think Noah’s ark could have held every single species of animal on it, or that we are all inbred descendants of Noah. Or that women came from a fucking rib, etc…

  • Dave

    Atheism is the new gay.

  • Dave

    I’m an Atheist. I went to your country on a sales trip and got to travel with area managers. Dallas Fort Worth: What church do you go to? None. What are the churches close to your home? Don’t know. I’m having dinner with my sister and her family tonight, would you like me to drop you off somewhere? LOL f*%k yeah. I wanna have FUN! Nice girls in Dallas. I could live there!

    • tinker

      Ah yes, Dallas, where the ‘Gentleman’s clubs’ are plentiful and full on Saturday night, but the churches get the same clientele on Sunday.

  • http://volunteer11.blogspot.com/ VollyfromtheBlog

    I too have more than one FB page. The one that my UU, liberal and atheist friends know about has locked-down privacy settings. The “vanilla” page that in-laws and co-workers know about is wide open. Sure, I could get in everyone’s face about it but would prefer not to engage with the bullies. Let them have their delusions, and let them wonder why I don’t log onto the page more than once a week or so.


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