This past February at the University of Illinois, members of the Illini Secular Student Alliance assembled on campus to invite their peers to "Ask An Atheist,” inspired by the success of a similar event at Purdue University. The gathering was intended as an opportunity for the general public, particularly those of faith, to approach and ask questions about secular life; it did not disappoint. Encouraged by the experience, the group decided to try to reproduce “Ask An Atheist” on a broader scale. "National Ask An Atheist Day" – launched with the support of the national Secular Student Alliance, with which ISSA is affiliated – will offer members of the secular community a chance to work together to defeat stereotypes about atheism and foster courteous dialogue between believers and nonbelievers alike.
The need for such dialog has never been more striking. While, in recent years, most minority groups have found increasing acceptance from our society as a whole, studies suggest that atheists remain largely distrusted and ostracized. A 2006 Gallup poll found that 53% of Americans would refuse to vote for an otherwise qualified presidential candidate if he or she happened to be an atheist – this compared to 5% for black candidates and 43% for homosexuals.
Still, secular groups are springing up on college campuses and in high schools across the nation. Studies reveal a definite trend towards secularism in America’s youth, with younger generations dramatically less likely than others to go to church. While the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life puts America’s nonreligious population at 5-10%, that number more than quadruples among people under the age of 30. Simply put, nonbelievers do not merely constitute a hated minority, but a significant and rapidly-growing one.
“National Ask An Atheist Day” is a collective response to the problem at hand.
ISSA Vice President Franklin Kramer explained the event as following: "Americans have many inaccurate notions about the approximately 30 million nonreligious individuals living among them. [This] is the perfect opportunity to set the record straight. There are nonbelievers everywhere, and we're just like everyone else."
Added Kramer, "We'd love to see more nonreligious people join the cause, regardless of whether or not they are affiliated with a group of any sort. Together, we can improve perceptions of nonbelief the world over."
For further details, “Ask An Atheist” resources or to get involved, visit IlliniSSA.com.
Jones, Jeffrey M. Some Americans Reluctant to Vote for Mormon, 72-Year-Old Presidential Candidates. Rep. Gallup, Inc., 20 Feb. 2007. Web. 9 Apr. 2011.
U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Web. 09 Apr. 2011.