Katherine Don, from Religion Dispatches, about the rise of secular student alliances on college campuses:
This month at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a select group of students will show their humanitarian spirit by participating in the Bleedin’ Heathens Blood Drive. On February 12, they will eat cake to celebrate Darwin Day, and earlier this year, they performed “de-baptism” ceremonies to celebrate Blasphemy Day, attended a War on Christmas Party, and set up Hug An Atheist and Ask An Atheist booths in the campus quad.
These activities and more are organized by the Illini Secular Student Alliance (ISSA), one of 394 student groups that are affiliated with the national Secular Student Alliance (SSA). “We brand ourselves as a safe place and community for students who are not religious,” says Derek Miller, a junior at Illini and president of the ISSA.
Secular groups on college campuses are proliferating….
A recent SSA presentation entitled “The Unstoppable Secular Students” compared SSA to Cru. Cru takes in $500 million a year, while SSA takes in $998,000; Cru has three paid staff members per 1 campus group, while SSA has 78 campus groups per 1 adult organizer. And yet Cru is growing at a rate of 16 per cent while SSA is growing at a rate of 116 per cent. The presentation concludes:
“Cru has a massively larger budget, the majority of the U.S. population to draw from (76% Christian), an organized political voting bloc to give them politicians and laws and supreme court justices in their favor. But they are losing in the cultural war. The secular students are winning, and they are unstoppable!”
This hawkish stance is understandable in light of Cru’s rather unilateral mission statement: “Win, build, and send Christ-centered multiplying disciples who launch spiritual movements.” No doubt many student secular groups hope to find those freshman questioning their faith and prevent them from becoming multiplying disciples. “As the secular students clear up misconceptions about what it means to be secular, I feel that more students will leave their faith,” says Galef.
Most campus groups are more concerned with strengthening the community, visibility, and tolerance of secularists than engaging in the cultural war. Hashman at the Center For Inquiry says that some students come from homes and communities where they have to hide their secular identity, and secular student groups become an important community for them. “It has now become more acceptable for people to state that they are questioning or no longer religious” says Hashman. “We are dedicated to free inquiry and freedom of expression, and that can come off as abrasive, but we believe it necessary for a free and democratic society.”