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UI atheists group provides alternatives to campus Christians

BY RISHABH R. JAIN | OCTOBER 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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Stationed on the Pentacrest Monday, Hannah Staley sat at a table with an "Ask an Atheist" poster taped on the side and answered questions about why she's an atheist.

"People would think this is very abrasive and in your face but we're just engaging in conversations that are initiated by interested students themselves," said the University of Iowa sophomore and a member of the UI Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, and Free Thinkers.

With growing religious diversity on college campuses nationwide, experts say more organizations are reaching out to inform students about their own religions.

Christopher Soper, professor of political science and former director of the Center for Faith and Learning at the Pepperdine University in Malibu, Cali. said religious diversity has become an important part of college campuses around the nation because United States of America is an increasingly diverse country.

"My sense is that [colleges] have become very open in allowing their space to be used by [people of various beliefs]," Soper said indicating as religious diversity on campus increases so are the number of forums and groups that allow students meet others with similar views.

The student group decided to promote their organization and beliefs following a recent visit to campus by Brother Jed Smock, an evangelist and member of The Campus Ministry, who travels to college campuses across the nation to vocally reach out to students.

"I want students to stop sinning and embrace Jesus Christ as he sacrificed his life for them," Smock said, adding he hoped his outreach would have a lasting impact on students.

Lucas Fergusen, UI freshman and a member of the UI atheist group said the organization chose a different way to reach out to students than Smock by letting students approach them with inquiries.

"Notice also how this is the inverse of what he's doing. He walks up to people and tells them what to believe. We sit here and let you ask us questions and we tell you what we think about that," Fergusen said.

And sometimes powerful rhetoric can offend students Soper said. But public universities are unable to restrict these visits due to First Amendment rights, though private universities have power to regulate religious public outreach.

"I think it's unfortunate and that [rhetoric] is very rarely helpful," Soper said. "What is much better on college campuses is even if religious voices are very clear about what they do and don't believe in, they do so with a certain humility and awareness that the virtue of the university is exposure to lots of different ideas."

The UI atheist group who tabled estimated roughly 100 students approached them with questions about atheism.


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