New Rebels on Campus

Young nonbelievers carve out a niche for themselves at universities across the country.

BY: David Briggs


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"In high school, it's really easy for people to get lost and blend in among the woodwork," Kirmer said. "It does make you feel different" to not believe in religion.

Discovering a nationwide network of people who share similar skepticism, however, "makes me a lot more self-confident."

John Franson, 25, started an Individuals for Freethought group at Kansas State University in reaction to fundamentalist evangelists who were active on campus.

"It's a community experience for me," said Tracy Pinsent, 20, a member of the Kansas State group. "Everybody needs to belong somewhere. ...We don't go to church. We go to free-thought things."

As they build networks, both locally and nationally, student leaders say they can be more effective in tackling issues such as opposing government funding of religious social-service providers, prayer in schools and the teaching of creationism.

At Kansas State, alliance members actively opposed the placement of the Ten Commandments in a prominent place in the City Hall in Manhattan, Kan.

At Ohio State University, Students for Freethought have expressed concerns about the continued practice of an invocation at graduation and wording on the diplomas that says "in the year of our Lord."

While student leaders say there is still prejudice against atheists and humanists, for the most part they have found a civil environment on campuses. Harassment has been limited to the occasional e-mail saying they are all going to hell or having posters for a campus event taken down.

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