Andy Cheadle, the high school organizer at the SSA, has produced something that I believe will be a game-changer at the high school level. Taking a queue from the gay rights movement, he has come up with a program called Secular Safe Zone. You may have heard of the LGBT Safe Zone program which was the inspiration Andy’s program. Essentially, after being screened and trained in how to counsel people, a teacher or a resident assistant or…anybody in a position of authority in an educational environment, would receive a poster to put in their office/floor/etc. This would indicate to every LGBT person that they had someone safe and confidential with whom to speak. It would also indicate that discrimination of any type would not be tolerated there.
The program has been a great success, with not only gay people signing up to become a part of it. Safe Zone’s are run by straight people, religious people, men, women – you name it, and they can all support the cause.
This is how it is to be with Secular Safe Zones. One does not need to be an atheist to complete the training and to implement a safe zone in their classroom. They need only realize that atheists are often the targets of bullying; or that it is not uncommon for atheist teens to be extricated from their homes on account of their non-belief; or to be closeted our of fear of these things and feel like there is nobody they can trust. No, in order to be a safe zone ally, one only need to loathe discrimination and empathize with a group that is consistently beat on by societal norms, and nowhere more fiercely than in public schools. If it is a religious belief that inspires that compassion, awesome, the program wants you.
Becoming an ally does not mean that you are an atheist, it just means that you are opposed to suffering and prejudice. In that vein, I would hope there isn’t a classroom in America that wouldn’t be hanging that poster. Sadly, we all know the reality: that many schools and classrooms in our public education are not at all safe/understanding places for non-believers, which means we need as many safe zone allies as possible. If you’re involved in public education, please consider joining this cause. It’s important.
Many kudos to the Secular Student Alliance and to Andy Cheadle. Of all the programs I’ve reviewed by the various atheist organizations, few give me more hope for the future than this one.