Friday, January 8, 2010

Fear of atheist groups: Now available in high schools, too!

As someone who founded a college atheist group, irrational fear and bigotry from the public is something all too familiar to me. We have to deal with flyers being torn down and idiotic statements on a fairly regular basis. Even though Purdue is a conservative campus, you figure a university is a place where you're more likely to find open mindedness, freethinking, and at least some level of maturity. I can't imagine what it would be like having an atheist group at a high school level, dealing with immature students and (sometimes even more immature) members of the community.

Skyler Curtis is dealing with just that at Rising Sun High School in North East, MD.
He noticed that there were different groups in his school, including Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He was recently inspired by atheist bus ads and had the idea of starting a group called Fellowship of Atheist Athletes. He asked a teacher to support his cause and approached the school administration for approval. It seems that the school administrators were concerned with his desire to use the word atheist. Maybe they were afraid that this word A-T-H-E-I-S-T would cause problems. Perhaps they were right. It was agreed that the group would use the name “NonReligious Solutions” or NRS.
I have to applaud the administration for not being complete jerks about the issue. When I was a senior in high school, a lesbian friend of mine tried to start a Gay Straight Alliance. Let's just say the Principal and administrators did everything in their power to stop us and doom the group to failure. I also have to applaud a teacher for being brave enough to sponsor the group. Many teachers are too afraid to be associated with controversial groups because of the alienation they may face from the rest of the staff.

But of course, that's where the nice part of the story ends.

Skyler got permission to put up flyers around the school. They only lasted a couple of hours before being torn down or vandalized. What did these horrible, antagonist heathen flyers look like?I'm pretty sure the thought process of his peers and community went something like "Oohh nooo! I can feel my faith crumbling because I know atheists exist! I better threaten him and act like a jackass before Baby Jesus cries any more!" And act like jackasses they did. In addition to the usually name calling common to high schoolers, Skyler has received threats:
I was told by a fellow peer that he would “Jack me up” and that he was not afraid of me because he was a “Crusader.”
Christians at his school have made an Anti-NRS page on Facebook, and the migraine-inducing letters to the editor have begun:
  1. Either the daughter or parent is too ignorant to get the freaking name of the club correct. We can tell what kind of standard of intellectual integrity we're dealing with here.
  2. Official school clubs are allowed to post flyers. He didn't slap them around willy nilly without permission. If this person's daughter wants to start a Catholic club, then she will be able to post flyers as well.
  3. "I have God on my side and you'll lose." And apparently this guy has the emotional maturity of a 5 year old. Yippee.
This really demonstrates why we so desperately need these sorts of clubs, whether they be for high schoolers, college students, or "adults." People can feel horribly alone before they realize they're not the only atheist around. Groups make great support networks where people can discuss common themes and not feel completely alienated by all the religious organizations.

And with these groups comes visibility for atheists. Students and parents are shocked not because this group is saying anything mean or against religion - they're merely saying that they exist. People are terrified of that. Knowing someone believes differently than you can shake your faith, or make you worried about the faith of your children. People aren't going to start accepting atheists until they realize that we're everywhere and that we're normal, moral human beings.

To Skyler, hang in there! There will be times where you take so much flack that you'll wonder if it's worth it. You have to remember that you're doing a wonderful thing and making your community a better place for atheists in the future.

If you want to support Skyler and the NRS, you can join their Facebook group.
(Via Skeptic Money)


  1. I was told by a fellow peer that he would “Jack me up” and that he was not afraid of me because he was a “Crusader.”

    They sure have a funny way of showing "God's Love".

  2. "I guarantee you do not want a religious war taking place as I have God on my side and you will lose."

    That sounds like a threat. His imaginary friend may not be real but what he's willing to do in the name of that imaginary friend, on the other hand....

  3. And that guy has a teenage daughter? I would think if I had kids I'd teach them to be tolerant of others ideas even if they're not accepting of them. And not to get offended just because somebody disagrees with you.

    The more I hear of stuff like this the more I'm glad I live in a country where religion is barely talked about, let alone paraded about like in the U.S.

  4. As a resident of Rising Sun, I have to say, the response of the mother and kids who tore down the poster is not unexpected. People here are really afraid of people who "don't think or look like me".

    We are working to open the minds a little, one family at a time.

  5. Very sad, but not unexpected. When I was in high school, a few of my friends tried to start a Pagan group, and they couldn't. No one would sponsor them.

  6. "My daughter has my permission to put up any posters she wants"

    What hubris! Sorry, dumbass, you do not get to decide who is allowed to put up posters in schools.

    The NRS did not hang the posters because their mommy told them they could. They worked with the school administration. If this guy's daughter wants to hang a poster, she is free to go to obtain permission from the school administration if she can, and then she will be allowed to.

    Quick question: has the Fellowship of Christian Athletes never hung a poster in the school?

  7. Skyler Curtis (NRS Creator)January 9, 2010 at 1:22 PM


    Yes the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) have hung posters in the past and us atheists have never touched them. The FCA even has a car they drive around and park at the school.

  8. This horrifies me. I've encountered similar behaviour myself and I am honestly never sure how to handle it - anything you do seems only to exacerbate the situation.

    We can't even blame this one on misinterpretation of the word "atheism" (which is the form of discrimination I most commonly encounter, especially from fellow atheists who won't call themselves that) because the word wasn't used. That in particular really seems to me to highlight the problem...

  9. Non Religious Solutions is not a very good name, I think they should have tried to call it something like "Secular Humanist Students Group" or something of the sort. Still, I find strange that the term "atheism" is perceived like it was a monstrosity. I grew up in a Catholic school, back when Québec still had confessional education system. I wish there had been an Atheist group in high school, it might have opened my mind a bit more. I had to wait for college and uni. Anyway, this is just cheap, cowardly attempt at censorship. It had to be expected I guess.

  10. "Yes the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) have hung posters in the past and us atheists have never touched them."

    So while Steve Allen's daughter has never hung Catholic posters up (because there isn't a catholic club, for starters), the religious HAVE hung posters. Did Steve Allen complain about them? I mean, if he wants to play the "You don't post yours, I won't post mine" game, it's too late.

  11. I'm not quite sure what Christianity has to do with Athletics. Do they have a team to compete against the Fellowship of Sikh Athletics or the Fellowship of Cargo Cult Athletics or what have you?
    I didn't think that they were like the Ancient Greeks, where athletics was a form of worship. Maybe I'm wrong...

  12. erratum: whoops! I of course should have written those Fellowships as of various Athletes

  13. Richard, I think it's all about sticking together and wearing their faith on their sleeves. There was a Fellowship of Christian Athletes in my high school, which was a public school. I don't remember that group actually competing; I think it was just a group of guys from the various athletic teams. And now you've got me wondering if, say, certain football players felt pressured to join. If they weren't willing to join the FCA, for whatever reason, it would probably raise suspicions.

    At the time I thought, "This is a public school," and since the FCA seemed to be a school-sponsored organization (not one students put together) I thought it was a pretty clear case of the school administrators imposing religion.

    The funny thing is I never thought about forming an atheist or humanist student group because I thought there wasn't a need for it. And then, late in my senior year, I had a science teacher who openly criticized evolution, basically giving his own version of "intelligent design". And so much of the class went along with it I was afraid to speak up.

  14. We didn't have problems with atheists and gays and all manner of liberals in our high schools. Hell, we were all just wanting to get out of there for the weekend. I don;t even know an open gay and I only know one atheist and he was too damned drunk to stand up most of the time I knew him. Pretty much if you stamped "VODKA" on a Bible cover, he'd try to eat the thing.

    I guess Mississippi don't have that many problems with this kind of stuff.