Students create group for others not affiliated with religion

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A new organization made up of secular students seeks to create — rather than burn — bridges with religious groups on campus.

The Secular Student Alliance, co-founded by Erick Rodriguez and David Burrows, is open to any student who is not affiliated with any religious denomination. After joining several groups for secular students and watching them all die out as leadership moved on — including the Atheist Longhorns, which was a student group until two summers ago — co-founder and current president Rodriguez decided something needed to be done.

“I could never understand why that was,” he said. “Mid-summer, I began speaking with David, he reached out to me through a Facebook page of a group that had dissolved and was interested in starting a new organization. I said I would get involved.”

Thus, UT’s chapter of the Secular Student Alliance was born. After efforts by Rodriguez, the group is now a branded affiliate and an official chapter of the National Secular Student Alliance.

The group is primarily a service organization and participated in National Secular Student Service Day on Oct. 3 by donating clothes to the Texas Red Cross for Bastrop Fire Relief, Rodriguez said. They also plan on continuing to care for 28th Street, which was adopted by the Atheist Longhorns, he said.

“A lot of people may think that a secular or atheist organization may have a goal to oppose religion or religious organizations,” he said. “This is not at all our goal. There is a space here for anyone with no religious affiliation, and we invite all students to come join our meetings.”

The group is currently preparing for Dec. 2 when its first speaker, author David Fitzgerald, will give a lecture titled “Ten Beautiful Lies about Jesus.” The group, which works with other secular organizations on campus such as Texas Secular Humanists, invites students of all religious affiliations to attend and participate in a question-and-answer session after the lecture, Rodriguez said.

“An exchange of ideas is a good idea as long as there is respect for different beliefs,” said computer science senior Jeremy Shapiro. Shapiro is a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity at UT, and said he would attend an event if invited to represent the Jewish community.

“It’s important for cultures to understand each other, so I think it might be a good idea to build bridges with other religion-based organizations as long as everyone’s beliefs aren’t questioned,” he said. “As long as it is mainly an exchange of ideas, I support that idea.”

“Peace in society must start with understanding across different denominations and religions,” said Bryan Garcia, president of the Social Justice Team. The Social Justice Team is an organization at the University Catholic Center.

“We basically take what we experience in Mass and live out the gospel, live out Christ’s call for radical love in this world,” he said. “I value working together and learning from each other, not necessarily agreeing but understanding why we are the way we are.”

Garcia has worked with other groups that have similar missions as the Secular Student Alliance, such as UT’s Interfaith Council.

“It’s important, and it’s the responsibility of an individual to want to seek peace through dialogue, through trying to understand one another,” he said. “It’s a good idea, and it’s what the world needs at this time. I pray that this organization helps that be possible.”

Printed on Monday, November 21, 2011 as: Welcoming secular group focuses on service projects