Significant portions of this post are based on information provided by the SSA (Secular Student Alliance)!
10 Easy Steps To Start A High School Atheist Club!
1. Contact the SSA and request a group starting packet!
The group starting packet is for students and faculty wanting to start a secular group at their school. If you are in high school starting a group may sound a little scary but you can do it! You will find it a rewarding and fulfilling experience. You may make new friends and help end the bigotry against atheists by showing the world how nice you are!
2. Read the group starting packet and the group running guide!
These documents are full of ideas and examples of how to start and run your own group. Anyone can do it and you will be great! If you have any questions or get any hassle from the school, contact Andy Cheadle at the SSA right away (andy_at_secularstudents_dot_org). His job is to help you get started. Keep him busy!
3. Go to your school’s office and ask for the rules to become an official group.
These rules should be in writing and must apply equally to all students! If you are asked challenging questions start collecting your own information. You will want to detail who you talked to, what was discussed and the time and place of each conversation. With a little luck you will not need to do this but, if you get a “Roadblock” (see below) you will be ready and this information will help you get the group started faster! Remember, schools may require specific criteria (like number of members, wording of your constitution, etc.) before they officially recognize you but, if you follow all the rules – they MUST recognize you!
4. If you experience “Roadblocks” don’t be shy! Do not let them take your rights away! Collect information as described above and contact the SSA right away.(contact Andy as detailed in step #2) He will help you.
A. You need an advisor! Many schools require an adviser to become an official club, and some teachers are unwilling to help (and some are downright hostile). In some locations this can be seen as a career ending move and only tenured staff will consider it. Don’t give up! Ask as many teachers as possible and do not limit your search to any one academic field (i.e. science or math). Your advisor may teach history, art or some other class! Keep a record of each person you ask. Take notes of when you asked and what they said. Note: If you cannot find an advisor the school must provide you one.
In 1984 Congress passed the Equal Access Act (click the link for more details). This was actually pushed through by christians but applies to ALL GROUPS!
The Act provides that if a school receives federal aid and has a “limited open forum,” or at least one student-led non-curriculum club that meets outside of class time, it must allow additional such clubs to be organized, and must give them equal access to meeting spaces and school publications.
If there are ANY non-curriculum student-led clubs at your school – they MUST allow your group!
B. Slow response by the administration. They may drag their feet in an effort to wear you out or wait until you graduate. A group should take no more than a semester to be approved (unless the school has a rule such as a group can only be approved at a certain time every year). Remember, you have the same rights as the christian group that was approved in just a few weeks. Don’t take no for an answer. If you have more than one delay or canceled meeting reach out for help. As always, keep notes about every event and canceled meeting. A simple call or letter from the SSA may quickly remove that pesky roadblock. If that does not do the trick contact the FFRF and the ACLU they will have their staff attorneys contact the district. In almost every case this solves the problem quickly!
5. Create a Facebook and Meetup page for your group.
This will help new members find you and learn about the next meeting!
6. Put up flyers / signs!
Make your own or contact the SSA, they will send you fliers (and with proper approval) you can hang them up around your school! Put your new Facebook page on the flyer!
7. Have an initial organizational meeting.
At this meeting you can elect officers, write a constitution, set goals, and remember to HAVE FUN. It is time for you as the creator of the group to learn a new skill – delegation! Groups with several leaders are more likely to last and can also help develop leadership skills for more students.
8. Have a recruiting event/meeting.
There are likely many atheists in your school. They just need to know that you are there. See if you can set up a table in your cafeteria, or give out doughnuts before school! Not sure what to do? Go back and read the group running guide for ideas. If nothing else just copy the christians. If they can do it – so can you! You have rights and it is the law! Hang up more fliers and utilize your Facebook/email!
9. Contact other groups.
Do a Google search to see if a local college already has an SSA group. Contact them and see if they can help with supplies, ideas or some event tips. Maybe they are having a cool speaker and you can tell your members! It would be great if they had a speaker in town and that speaker came to your school also! It could happen but, you will need to be in the loop.
Don’t forget about the community groups. There may be one in your town! They would love to hear from you and how you got your group started. Maybe you can find someone who will help buy the doughnuts you want to give away in the morning – just like the christians.
10. Get a speaker
The SSA also has a “Speakers Bureau“! Fill out a little paperwork and you may be able to get a FREE (or reduced cost) speaker. You could have someone famous come to your school and give a talk! If you are within a 5 hour drive of Champaign, Illinois I will come a speak for FREE in your school (based on scheduling ability). There are many great speakers so go check out the list!
Maybe you can make the SSA Annual conference! This year there are TWO: one in Columbus, Ohio and the other in Las Vegas, NV. Once your group is up and running you can even apply for travel assistance. Remember, you can do this, you have rights and you have friends in the SSA. Please start a high school group today or send this information out to every high school student you know.
If you are not in high school but love the SSA – you can make a donation here – it’s for the kids and the future of America!