Report from the 2015 Secular Student Alliance Conference
This post will be updated as more photos and videos become available!
On July 10, 2015, I traveled with a group of students from the Secular Student Alliance chapter at the University of South Alabama to the annual conference held at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Every year, hundreds of secular students across the United States gather to be trained in grassroots organizing and leadership skills. During the conference, our group separated, and I attended the workshops, panel discussions and lectures focusing on individual activism.
The most notable presentations:
- Working With Allies for Minority Rights with Harsh Voruganti, Esq. Voruganti is the Associate Director of Public Policy at the Hindu American Foundation, and his organization has worked alongside secular organizations such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State to protect the constitutional principle of separation of church and state and religious freedom. He showed the overlap between the oppression of religious minorities and secularists to illustrate the importance of us working together.
- Secular Activism on the Global Level with Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar. Al-Mutar is a Community Manager at Movements.org by Advancing Human Rights and a columnist for Free Inquiry Magazine published by the Center for Inquiry. He urged American secularists to become involved with advocating for freedom of thought and expression on a global scale. He cited examples of the persecution of secularists in predominately religious countries. Although Bangladesh is an officially secular country, over 90 percent of the population identifies as Muslim, and two secular bloggers, Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, were the victims of mob violence.
Defending the Establishment Clause and Taking Part in Secular Activism with Magdalene “Gracie” Bedi. Bedi was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against her high school, Rankin County School District in Brandon, Mississippi. She recalled that one day while she was studying in the school’s library, a school administrator told her she had to attend a mandatory Christian assembly on campus. Feeling that her rights had been violated, she contacted the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, and they filed suit on her behalf and won.
- Why You Should Be Involved in Secular Politics with Kelsey Jo Starr. Jo Starr is a former intern at the Secular Coalition for America dedicated to representing secular Americans at the nation’s capitol and the state level. She explained that secularism is a political issue and urged fellow students to become involved with politics. She provided examples of easy political activities students can do, such as holding voter registration drives on campus, or becoming a member of their school’s chapter of the College Democrats or Republicans.
- How to Get a Job as a Professional Atheist Activist with Danielle Muscato. Muscato is the former Public Relations Director of American Atheists. She has appeared on major news outlets such as The New York Times, NPR, MSNBC and The O’Reilly Factor representing the atheist perspective on current events and issues. Drawing from her own experiences, she advised students to brand themselves through building their own personal website, developing a presence on social media, and networking with others in the field.