In a typical meeting of the Secular Student Alliance, seven students sit with each other in Bogard Hall, Room 237 discussing everything from religion in politics to how atheist societies use billboards for awareness.
Justin Keowen, vice president of SSA, said the organization is a nonreligious group that supports secularism. Keowen, a sophomore nanosystems engineering major, said anyone can join as long as they are not trying to convert anyone and are willing to question others’ beliefs.
“We support scientific advancement and education,” Keowen said. “If you cannot believe in it with scientific proof, then what is the point in believing in it?”
Keowen said the organization was originally called the Free Thought Society and members would talk about deep and controversial topics.
Keowen said members decided to change the name because they wanted to be more active rather than sitting around and just talking.
“Last year, the organization did a canned food drive and we are trying to do more things this year,” he said.
Andrew Touche, public relations director of SSA, said every week the group talks about random topics.
“We welcome anyone interested in speaking their mind,” Touche said. “Last week we discussed conspiracy theories.”
Keowen said last year at meetings members discussed more religious topics, but negative debates would ensue.
Touche said this year they try to balance it out with more reasonable topics.
The discussion for the Feb. 6 meeting was on whether atheist groups should use billboards such as the one put up in Times Square that has Santa Clause over a crucified Jesus with the words “Keep the MERRY!” under the Clause picture and the words “Dump the MYTH!” under the picture of Jesus.
“I find billboards like this harmful to our cause,” Touche said. “It is poking a bear with a stick.”
Touche said the message makes it seems like there is a war against Christmas.
William Stockton, a member and freshman biology major, said he agrees the billboards like the Christmas one should be used because it is for closeted atheists who are too afraid to come out.
“It is for those atheists who do not feel they should celebrate Christmas,” Stockton said. “Be happy about Christmas and forget the whole crucifixion thing.”
Stockton said the signs bring the issue of not believing in God to the forward ground.
“If you go back to any injustice in the world, there has to be opposition against the injustice,” he said.
Keowen said he does not agree with the use of the signs when they target religious groups.
“There is a difference between promoting good atheist views and targeting those people who are against it,” he said.
The members of the group said they all agreed there is a need to make atheism acceptable today because there is a lot of hostility toward atheists.
Keowen said at last year’s food drive, no one donated to the group when they saw atheists were putting it on.
“As soon as we took the word atheist off of the table, people donated to us,” Keowen said.
Touche said even though the signs are for not believing in a god to become more acceptable, he still does not want the radical billboards to become accepted, but instead wants atheism to be accepted. Stockton said he agreed atheist groups should not target religious groups.
“Saying, ‘Hey you are wrong,’ is obviously not the right way to go, but we should say, ‘Why do you believe in this?’, ” Stockton said.
Keowen said atheist groups like SSA should be used to make atheism more acceptable not the use of billboards.
“We should give people a place where they are trying to come out, instead of going out and trying to get people to convert,” Keowen said.
Email comments to rcj...@latech.edu.