Saying atheists are bullied and ridiculed, the Secular Student Alliance this fall launched a “Secular Safe Zones” program at campuses across the nation.
“Every time the Pledge of Allegiance is said or a sports team says a prayer before a game, secular students are pushed to the margins of society,” the alliance’s website claims.
Organizers say these so-called safe zones, or classrooms designated on campuses, will protect students who don’t believe in God from alleged persecution by peers, give atheist or agnostic students a chance to develop camaraderie, and allow students to discuss ideas to promote secular issues.
The alliance openly and proudly cites the gay-rights movement as a source for developing its own public relations strategies.
“We’re taking a page right out of (the LGBT) playbook,” alliance spokesman Jesse Galef recently told The Washington Times.
Secular safe zones are needed to “create safe spaces in which secular students can question, criticize, and discuss topics and issues important to them,” according to its website.
“Unfortunately, many Americans fallaciously think that being secular is the same thing as being immoral or un-American,” Phil Zuckerman, a Pitzer College professor of sociology and secular studies, told Religion News Service. “So there is a lot of negative stereotyping that often emerges, and this can sometimes create an uncomfortable environment for secular students.”
The Secular Student Alliance encourages its members to launch safe zones on their campuses, and the group boasts 359 affiliate groups at universities and high schools across the nation, according to its website. An estimated two dozen secular safe zones have been created on high school and college campuses thus far through the fledgling program.
Andy Cheadle-Ford, the secular safe zone coordinator, told The College Fix in an email that the program launched about two months ago and is still in its early stages, but “we have heard from several faculty members that they have interacted with students who have been very excited about the program.”
These safe zones are designed to mimic similar safe zones created by and for the LGBTQ movement over the years, organizers say.
Although most mainstream public colleges are largely considered bastions of secular thoughts and beliefs – from the sciences to the social sciences – the safe zones are needed, the alliance claims, because atheists don’t have religious symbols they can don, noting: “Sadly, the secular community lacks any truly well-defined symbols that are worn by the masses to identify themselves.”
But there may be an agenda behind these secular safe zones, one scholar suggests.
“The liberal democratic state has already privatized language about God and excluded the very discipline that birthed the university from its own practice of rationality,” John Wright, theology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University and pastor at Mid City Heights Church, said in an email to The College Fix. “This shows the underlying reductionism and political agenda to remove all socially mediating groups such as the church between the individual and the state.”
Wright’s book, Postliberal Theology and the Church Catholic, looks in part at how “religious studies” became a part of the contemporary United States academe in order to secularize theological discourse.
Christian scholar Craig Hazen, a professor at the evangelical Biola University in Los Angeles, told The Washington Times he has a good idea: “(Religious groups) should send over a stack of pizza to secular safe zones with a note on it that says, ‘Let’s talk.’”
As of now, Secular Safe Zones are not widely known, but the movement is expect to grow, Cheadle-Ford said.
“We hope to continue to add allies to our program and to continue developing and updating our training,” he said. “We are also planning on adding a facilitator training so that the Secular Student Alliance can train others allies.”
Fix contributor Samantha Watkins is a student at Point Loma Nazarene University.