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Secular student group seeks official status

Secular Student Alliance: Local chapter, if passed, to foster religion-free

By Dana Choi
On April 5, 2012

To form a sense of community and to dispel misconceptions, a group of students seek to show that lack of religion does not make a person any less of a human.

"There are a lot of assumptions made of people who don't associate with a theistic belief," SSA member senior Amanda Fowler said.

Secular Student Alliance could be ASU's first secularism-based student organization, as Coordinator for Student Organizations Heather Valle said she did not see a past student organization similar to SSA in the Student Organization archives.

The potential SSA chapter is pending as its student organization packet is still under review, Valle said.

Sam Fairchild, potential founder and president of ASU's chapter of SSA, turned in the packet about one or two weeks ago, said SSA member sophomore Ryan Purdom.

So far, members and students who attend the weekly SSA meetings have been discussing various ideas for community service, Purdom said. They plan to raise funds for Planned Parenthood, where they plan to participate in a counter-protest Saturday.

During meetings, members discuss secularity-related current events and philosophical questions and how being secular affects them as students and as community members, SSA member senior Amanda Fowler said.

"It seems like those of us who are seeking to be free from religion or are not associated with religion tend to feel, in this sort of environment, marginalized," Fowler said, "that we don't have a lot of representation."

It is important for them to find a sense of community in which people hold common or similar feelings toward religion, Fowler said.

Secular Student Alliance, which formed in 2000, "built bridges among the secular community and reached new heights in the promotion of science, reason and free inquiry," according to its website.

"It seems likely to me that this group might offer many of our ASU students their first opportunity to interact with fellow humanists," said Associate Professor Dr. Mark L. Hama, who was asked to be SSA's faculty sponsor.

Another of SSA's goals is to educate the community on secular values and what they mean, Fowler said.

Purdom and Fowler said they have experienced some forms of discrimination because of their views.

Some people think atheism and immorality go hand-in-hand, Purdom said, when that is not the case at all.

Fowler said she knows, without associating with a religion, what most people consider right or wrong.

"I'm also a parent," she said. "I've been told that I can't truly love my child because I don't believe in God, or that my child will probably end up in jail when he's older because he was raised in a secular household."

This shows that people do not truly understand what secularists represent, Fowler said.

About six to 10 people usually attend SSA meetings, which are held every Wednesday at 9:20 p.m. in UC 111, she said.

"The word is definitely getting out," Purdom said.

SSA provides a religion-free environment, but not everyone who attends its meetings is an atheist, Fowler said. For example, some people might call themselves agnostic and others apathetic, she said.

Several Christians have attended meetings, Purdom said.

"We're not trying to combat theism or anything like that," Purdom said. "That's really not our mission. [Our mission] is to show that people who are like us have morals and care about our community. We want to better the community as much as some religious groups do."

A group that focuses on secularism has been long overdue at ASU, considering the university's several Christian-based groups, some of which have their own campus facilities, Fowler said.

Fairchild started to form an SSA group at ASU early November last semester, Purdom said.

"We felt that the presence of a secular group was needed, too," he said.

Hama said, "One of the most exciting aspects of university life is having the opportunity to explore new ideas and experiences, and I think this group offers just such an opportunity to our students."


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