US sees increase in secular student groups

Atheist and religious sceptic groups are on the rise in high school and college campuses across the US.

The Secular Student Alliance added its 160th affiliate campus group last week and reports that demand for their group starting packets are high.

"It's been a challenge to keep up with the demand for services, especially group-starting packets and follow-up," said Lyz Liddell, senior campus organiser. "That's a nice problem to have."

The number of SSA campus affiliate groups has increased from 100 in 2008 to 160 this year. In 2007, the alliance counted only 80.

Kirk Wilcox, president of the Non-Religious, Atheist, Free Thinker and Agnostic Alliance, told Central Michigan University's student newspaper Central Michigan Life that he's not surprised.

"Over the years, it's become more acceptable – people should be proud of who they are," he said. "If you want to be a Christian and go to church, that's fine, but there should be institutions for people who aren't religious."

More Americans are claiming no religion and many have taken on more outspoken and public campaigns. According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 15 per cent of Americans are part of the non-religious population, or "nones", up from 8.2 per cent in 1990.

SSA, meanwhile, provides a social network for students who are seeking an alternative to campus religious ministries, the alliance says.

The UK has seen a similar growth in secular student groups. The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) announced in April that would expand its network of atheist groups in schools. In the summer, it ran its first atheist summer camp for children with the aim of encouraging children to assess different beliefs critically.

Between 2007 and 2009, the number of AHS campus groups rose from seven to 25.