So when I was writing my recent news piece for AlterNet about the Secular Student Alliance and their new dedicated program for high school atheist groups, I kept finding myself being entertained by how hard it was to write. I am so not a news writer: I am an opinion writer, to the nucleus of the cells of the marrow of my bones, and while I'm perfectly happy to reach out of my comfort zone and write more standard news pieces, I could tell that, despite my best efforts to keep it newsy, my personal opinion was leaking out around the edges.
So for those of you who thought that the article was a bit of a puff piece, I thought you'd be entertained by the stuff I left out of the final draft. (If you haven't already, be sure to read the original piece first, so you get the context.)
P.S. This is funnier if you know that all the interviews quoted here were, in fact, conducted via email.
The Secular Student Alliance, an umbrella organization supporting non-theistic student groups, whose dynamic vision for the future is backed with fierce organizational skills, passed 250 affiliates this month -- a number that has doubled in just two years. (Conflict of interest alert: I'm on the speaker's bureau for the Secular Student Alliance; I'm colleagues/ friends with several people in the organization; and I consider it an honor and a privilege to have shared their company and labored at their side.)
According to JT Eberhard, human dynamo and Campus Organizer and High School Specialist for the SSA, "Most of them seem to elect to try and drag their feet until the interested students either lose interest or graduate."
"A predictable pattern has actually emerged," Eberhard continues, a quiver in his voice, his expressive brown eyes snapping with righteous indignation at the injustice.
With the help of a grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, they hired organizational superstar Eberhard, co-founder of the nationally- renowned, hard-rocking, fanatically beloved atheist conference Skepticon (and of the Missouri State University Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an inspiration for atheist student groups everywhere and Skepticon's official host), as their dedicated high school campus organizer. In an organization already recognized as a trailblazer in the movement, it was a daring move that many consider to be among their most brilliant.
According to SSA Director of Campus Organizing Lyz Liddell, a deceptive twinkle in her eye that could transform in a second to a flashing glint of hard steel, "We've had around 4-6 HS groups for most of the time we've been around, but there's been no consistency or sustainability until recently."
As SSA's Executive Director August Brunsman said, compassion and humanity blazing out from behind his cherubic face, "While the law is certainly on our side, we would rather have social understanding than legal victory." August spoke to me from the expansive, tasteful, yet warm and welcoming home he shares with his charming and vibrant wife, Camp Quest executive director Amanda K. Metskas, and their two gregarious cats, Shiva and Vishnu.
Says Eberhard, whose imagination and mischievous humor is matched only by his bulldog determination and his ferocious passion for justice and truth, "Some view the conclusions of religion to be maladaptive and seek to generate public dialogue about the failings of faith."
As Liddell pointed out, a gleam of raw intellect glittering behind her fashionable spectacles, "For an awful lot of people, high school is the last educational system they're in." Liddell ran her fingers through her short, stylishly- coiffed blond hair, and continued, "If all our groups are in colleges, then only college students will be exposed to freethought as a 'normal' worldview."
For other groups, who won't be able to count on national media attention to aid their cause, the battle for their legal right to organize without intimidation may be more uphill.
But they won't be fighting it alone. With the sword and shield of the Secular Student Alliance at their side, the youth of America have a powerful ally. The battle for righteousness carries on valiantly, and the torch of human reason shall not flicker and die.
For more information on the desperately needed Secular Student Alliance high school program, or to lend support to their eminently worthy cause, visit the Secular Student Alliance website.