The Secular Student Alliance (SSA) is an educational nonprofit advocacy group. They have 393 affiliated student groups on U.S. high school and college campuses. That number has doubled in the last four years. Their stated purpose is to “organize and empower nonreligious students” and “foster successful grassroots campus groups which provide a welcoming community for secular students to discuss their views and promote their secular values.”
The Secular Safe Zone initiative is designed to create “safe, neutral places for students to talk about their doubts without fear of religious bullying.” That’s done by recruiting "allies” and training them to recognize and respond to anti-atheist bullying. The initiative is modeled off of Gay Alliance’s LGBT Safe Zone program, which was started several years ago, in that it allows mentors at schools to explicitly demarcate spaces where “students know that bullying won’t be tolerated.”
School faculty members who affiliate with the program never have to say a thing; they hang the yellow, green, pink, and blue emblem, and students come to them.
“It's shocking how often people tell secular students that they don't belong in America,” Jesse Galef, communications director for the SSA told me. “Sometimes there are threats of violence against students who openly identify as atheists … We’re calling on supportive role models nationwide to stand up for these students." That can include “teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, RAs, even chaplains, who want to create safe places for people to discuss their doubts and be open about their identities.”
Now I was fortunate enough in high school to be me, so I did not have to worry about being bullied because of my lack of religious belief which I openly discussed with many of my friends.
However I was, in those day, mostly curious and not terribly confrontational. I was more focused on learning why other people believed what they did rather than wanting to dissuade them from their beliefs.
I think today, with conversations becoming more open, and religious organizations working overtime to vilify Atheists, that kids DO need a place where they can feel safe to discuss their lack of belief, or even discuss things about religion that confuses them. I would suggest that not EVERYBODY who seeks out this "Safe Zone" would necessarily become an Atheist or even an agnostic, just like not everybody who attends a church becomes a Christian.
Personally I love the idea that they are modeling this on the LGBT movement as I have always believed that we represent one of the most reviled minorities in this country, and that we will continue to be targeted and marginalized until we stand up for ourselves and each other.
I do not want to take ANYTHING away from my religious brothers and sisters, I simply do not want to have their version of faith shoved down my throat nor be judged by their narrow ideas of morality. I should also be able to support politicians who think like I do, or at the very least support my right to do so. (And I mean REALLY support it!)
If I have any faith at all it is that there are far MORE atheists out there than we are led to believe, and that once it is more acceptable to identify themselves as such, they will start pouring out of the woodwork and, dare I say, stepping out of the closet.
Now where have we seen that before?