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“No, you’re not.”


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/05/17

The Breeze reported on some of the experiences of a Secular Student Alliance student group on the campus of a North American school or JMU (James Madison University) started by Kate Hurley.

Hurley was raised by Catholic parents. However, in early life, she came out as a homosexual and an atheist. This did not go over well with the parents.

In fact, the parents firmly stated, “No, you’re not.” Furthermore, if Hurley were to mention the beliefs going against the religious upbringing of youth, then there would be inevitable negative consequences for the explicit statements of being an atheist and gay.

Hurley started the Secular Student Alliance at JMU. It is, in essence, an educational organization intended to teach students about scientific reason and secularism.

In some contexts, this may become an issue of the finding of community for some of the students, because, sometimes, the education in these areas – scientific rationality and secular life – can lead to questioning the religious tenets of one’s upbringing.

According to the article, the parents would cut Hurley off financially if they found out about the founding of the SSA-JMU.

Hurley said, “I figured I only have one more year here… If they really do that, I think I can carry myself through the rest.” Hurley found solace in the work of the “Atheist Experience” on YouTube.

To her, this became a basis to solidify personal views on what some deem fundamental questions of life, god, meaning, and everything.

To her, this became a basis to solidify personal views on what some deem fundamental questions of life, god, meaning, and everything.

Now, Hurley identifies as an agnostic atheist. In turn, as a homosexual, she felt pushed away from the religious community. No religion and comfortable with it, Hurley looked to other places or ideas.

In a conversation over the phone with a friend, ironically in a parking lot of a church, Hurley decided to go ahead and create the SSA-JMU.

As reported, “Hurley, a junior double major in philosophy and psychology and a minor in Religious Studies, wanted a place on campus for freethinkers to share their beliefs in a school that has religious organizations since other schools have similar clubs. Virginia Tech has a Freethinkers club, while UVA has Virginia Atheists and Agnostic.”

Hurley felt as thought she was living a double-life, where the need to find support as an atheist and a homosexual becomes important to her. Hurley takes the religious studies as a means by which to comprehend the religious point of view, where the religious courses in youth were insufficient.

Hurley met a junior psychology major named Alyssa Kniffin at the student-led LGBT organization of JMU called Madison Equality. (Now, Kniffin is the treasurer of the SSA-JMU while Hurley is the president.)

Kniffin stated, “A couple of people in club have already spoken to the fact that they don’t feel really feel comfortable talking about their beliefs with just the general public or their friends, because who knows who agrees or will get angry about it… So just being that safe space, being that place for people who aren’t sure or want to consider some other options.”

Hurley felt uncomfortable as a younger person with the educational system – for her – teaching that a special purpose existed for human beings without the need to care for the biosphere in any way. SSA-JMU intends to support an environmental charity as a result of this.

“The first thing that comes up to your mind with charity work is going through a religious community… If we could find ways to find people who had that same mindset and show them they can help do charity work without going through a religious group and do it through us, that is what we would like to do,” Hurley opined.

Ryan Ferrell, a junior physics major, is an atheist. He went to a discussion entitled “Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice” hosted by the SSA-JMU. He found everyone respectful of one another’s positions. The debate came to about 50-50 for and against, according to Ferrell.

These seem like reasonable provisions amongst a reasonably diverse community of opinions held by a secular group of students. The purpose of the SSA is to simply remove the stereotypes, often bad, of atheists in the public, or the secular in general.

Hurley is looking to the future to keep the campus group alive and well past graduation for her. Most of the executives will be leaving JMU soon, too.

The reportage concluded with Hurley saying, “I think a lot of people are confused on what an atheist is and whether they are bad people or hate religious people… We’re offering this platform because it doesn’t exist anywhere else on campus.”


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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