Atheist Campus Group Denied Recognition

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Posted by August Brunsman at the SSA on Sat, 2008-02-02.

This post originally appeard on Hemant Mehta's blog  Hemant is the chair of the board of directors of the Secular Student Alliance. 

Anatoly is vice-president of a campus atheist group that meets at Wilfrid Laurier University, a public school in
Ontario, Canada. The goal of the “Laurier Freethought Alliance” (LFA) is: “to promote science, freedom of inquiry, skepticism, and a good life without the need for superstition or religious belief.”

Sounds reasonable, no?

For whatever reason, it has taken nine months for a school representative to get back to the leaders about the LFA becoming an “officially recognized” campus group. Groups that are “officially recognized” get perks that include free meeting space, potential grant money for events and activities, etc.

The school’s response to the request: “No.”

They can’t be an officially recognized campus group.

Why not? Here’s the email from the school representative (emphases mine):

While the Campus Clubs department understands the goals and visions of your organization, they are not compatible with the guidelines of what may be approved and incorporated into our department. While the promotion of reason, science and freedom of inquiry are perfectly legitimate goals, what is most in question in regards to your club’s vision is the promotion of “a fulfilling life without religion and superstition“. While this university is indeed technically a secular institution, secular does not denote taking an active stance in opposition to the principles and status of religious beliefs and practices. To be clear, this is not meant to say that the promotion of science and reason are illegitimate goals. But due to the need to respect and tolerate the views of others, the Campus Clubs department is unable to approve a club of this nature at this time. If you wish to adjust and rethink your club’s application and vision, you may resubmit a revised proposal at any time.

You’ve got to be &%*$ing kidding me.

This means that religious groups (like Campus Crusade for Christ) get recognition from the campus, but the atheist group will get none. It also implies that religious groups are tolerant of each other while the atheist group is not. (”If you don’t believe what we do, you’re going to Hell for eternity” is apparently the epitome of tolerance.)

Sounds like a clear case of discrimination against atheists.

Anatoly adds this:

We suggested both a revision and a meeting with them. We’ll see how this turns out but I wanted to let the freethought blogging community in on it and ask those who had previous experience founding freethought groups if they had any such problems and how they can be resolved.

I don’t see what needs to be revised… but the bigger concern is just getting approved by the school. Hopefully, this was just ignorance on the part of one school representative that can be quickly corrected.

If not, though, I’m sure there are plenty of atheist lawyers who can offer Anatoly some good advice…


A Horrible decision that I was embarrased to read! I have personally emailed the President of WLU to let him know of my displeasure and will ensure that this information is spread throughout the Atheist network!



We have a similar group in University of Waterloo, and they are approved as we do not try to convert others or "advance" our belief. we simply like to find ways to be more accepted by the population. I personally feel the purpose of the group is indeed incompatible with secular systems.

Get a lawyer - in Canada as the US this must violate some civil rights statues. There is nothibng liuke a law suit to focus adminstrators" attention. It is also a gopopd educational experience.

there's no rule that states the world has to be fair
or make sense for that matter.
if you are suprised by this act of hypocricy you're obviously very naive. all the people in power are 2 faced bastards and there's not really anything you can do about it since the majority of people simply does not care
as long as they can wear their gucci clothing and drive their hummers (or dream of one day being able to) they simply don't care about injustice like this.
and besides millions of people live their life in ever present danger of being killed over even more pointless reasons.
so I'd suggest WE (that's right ALL OF US!!!) start worrying about the real problems in this world and then when there's time left we might even help you form your little clubhouse.
(note i'm being cynical I totally agree with your point of view but in the bigger picture it's the least of our problems)

What else would you expect coming from Canada? We're a bunch of pussies.

Terrible. As a Canadian, I'm embarrassed that this has happened at a university in my country.

hasn't atheism/free thought existed in every culture since the beginning of time? why discriminate against the oldest group? well the young pups do like to pick on the old dogs.

Stumbled this post, thought I'd comment:

I think the thing that isn't helping here is injecting the word "superstition" into the objective statement. We, as modern atheists, think of religion in such terms, to the extent that it is perhaps hard for us to see that as an offensive word. If we look at this mission from the perspective of the Christian Coalition, then you should see just how antagonistic that single word presents itself.

It is of utmost importance that we draw a clear line between how we handle the diplomacy of our cause, and how we make the arguments that found our beliefs. I haven't read the application, but if it was further laced with the same arguably passive-aggressive phrases, then it shouldn't be entirely surprising that it is being rejected. The group will not be seen as being founded in objectivity. Rather, it may be seen as just another group of students who value arguing the ideals over building bridges between idealists.


Reminds me of "Escape from L.A." where they were shipping atheists off as prisoners, because they were "unwanted".

Recognition for not believing in fairy tales? Don't be absurd..

Local news media eats these things up, contact them. Then you will see what the school says

They got accepted!

As an atheist who researches religious and spiritual practices with Andrew Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania, I take the side of the University because I believe the vision statement is discriminatory. Atheism can be defined as "against theology" or it can be defined as "without theology." If the wording was changed to say "“to promote science, freedom of inquiry, skepticism, and THE RATIONAL EXPLORATION OF superstition or religious belief,” the problem could be solved. A "Students for Christ" group does not necessarily imply animosity against others who believe differently, and I have even found fundamentalists who are fully accepting of my choice to be an atheist. In fact, our research shows that as many as 50-70% of American believers are accepting of secular systems of beliefs. It's just the angry noisy ones that make it into headline news.

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