Thanks to the Religious Right, Atheist Clubs Thrive in Schools

If atheists take over America in a generation or two, you can thank (or blame, depending on how you view it) Jay Sekulow.

Anyone immersed in the culture wars knows Sekulow, who currently runs the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the Religious Right's answer to the ACLU. Founded by fundamentalist televangelist Pat Robertson, the ACLJ asserts and defends the conservative religious agenda in the courts.

How then, you may ask, could Sekulow, as a Religious Right litigator, be responsible for spreading atheism? To answer this, we need some history.

Before Sekulow rose to prominence in the late 1980s, the Religious Right had been repeatedly frustrated in its attempts to inject Christianity into public schools. In landmark cases in the 1960s, the Supreme Court had ruled that school-sponsored prayer and Bible study were unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. In the following decades, religious conservatives saw little success in their efforts to bring Christianity back into public schools, as they were consistently blocked by Establishment Clause jurisprudence.

Sekulow, however, turned things around for the Religious Right. In the case of Westside Community Board of Education vs. Mergens (1990) Sekulow successfully argued, on Free Speech grounds, that public schools generally cannot prohibit formation of Christian clubs if other kinds of clubs are allowed. Since then, Bible clubs, prayer clubs, and other voluntary Christian-oriented extracurricular activities have become commonplace in public schools across the country.

At first glance, this would seem like a clear victory for religious conservatives seeking to use public schools as a beachhead for proselytizing. Although membership is voluntary, such clubs can create a culture of Christianity within public schools in communities with strong Christian churches and few dissenting alternatives. And even in more pluralistic communities, a high school Christian club, if led by a charismatic student or teacher with missionary zeal, can effectively proselytize.

What Sekulow and others on the Christian Right may not have considered, however, is that the Mergens decision opened the doors not just for Christian groups in public schools, but for other groups as well. In fact, it was a game-changer. If Free Speech standards dictate that Christian clubs cannot be banned, then neither can Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim clubs.

Or atheist clubs.

Twenty years ago, it was rare to find a student atheist group even on a college campus, let alone in a high school. But, thanks to Jay Sekulow, organized atheist groups are now rapidly sprouting in high schools all over the country, protected by First Amendment rights and recognized by the school administration. Atheism, unfortunately, has often been seen by the public as mysterious and foreign, as something strange and perhaps dangerous, but thanks to the Mergens decision organized atheist groups can demonstrate to young people that the secular worldview is valid, nothing to be afraid of, and certainly nothing to vilify.

Indeed, because high school atheist groups are normalizing atheism, children are seeing classmates and teachers openly and proudly identify as nonbelievers, as religious skeptics who nevertheless affirm admirable values while rejecting ancient texts and supernatural explanations of the world.

Spearheading this effort to bring atheism to public schools is a remarkable team of activists known as the Secular Student Alliance, a nonprofit organization founded only a few years ago. Until recently the SSA focused only on building college secular groups, and has had great success in doing so. Just a few months ago, however, the organization launched its high school initiative, with staff dedicated specifically to providing resources to high school students interested in starting and running secular groups. Business is booming, with atheist and humanist kids all over the country expressing interest in joining the secular movement.

Continue Reading (via Our Humanity, Naturally)

 

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Comments

Of course we are angry your group has been for years attempting to insert its doctrine into schools to proselytize children, if you can't market cigarettes to children you shouldn't be able to market religion either.
You are all being disingenuous in your postings. There was nothing prohibiting a “Secular Club” when I was in College, or even High School, in the early 1980’s. Take a deep breath, keep an open-mind and calm down. Christians do not care about your secular activities; we simply do not want to be discriminated, punished or otherwise treated unfairly with respect to clubs and/or activities in our public schools. The secularism that you worship is so hostile and angry; it reinforces my Christian beliefs of love and tolerance.
I wonder if a teacher can sponsor or a student has to initiate. I would love to have one on my campus, but I am sure my car will be set on fire and tomatoes thrown at my head. I "came out" to one class as a nontheist and I thought their little heads were going to explode. lol It's just cute.
It's a bit like the bible being atheism's best friend. Many rational people when exposed to the hate filled nonsense contained in the bible turn to atheism, those that don't are better off embracing religion as they are obviously not quite sane and will do more damage to religion than they would as atheists.
Bravo! I wish such clubs had been around when I was a student, or even when I was a college professor! When I retired from a university with 30,000 student s in 1999, there was no secular student club on campus, but things have changed.

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