Freethinking teens who are “out” are already bullied in many schools, why wouldn’t they want a support group just for that reason? Of course, despite the oft-repeated “why would anyone want to sit around talking about what they don’t believe in?” sneer, there’s more: what atheists especially do want to talk about is alternative forms of community in environments where church communities dominate the social scene. So many atheists right now are going along to a church just to have the social shield of belonging to a congregation, and they resent having to pretend simply in order to avoid discrimination.
In other words: Atheists — including high school atheists — form groups for the same reasons anyone does. Support in the face of hostility. The pleasure of spending time with people who share your ideas and values, and who like to do the same things you do. Greater visibility in the face of myths and bigotry. A more effective platform for getting your ideas into the world. A more effective platform for doing good work. Just plain fun. Humans are social animals. We like to hang out with other animals we have things in common with. Especially when other animals are being mean to us.
So why are so many high school administrators opposed to it?
High School in the USA is only three or four years depending on district (junior high schools seem to have more restrictions on student groups generally), so it’s easy for administrators to delay and obfuscate until a student graduates and the problem is shelved for a while. The Secular Student Alliance is offering advice and materials to help students counter these blocking tactics.
Student groups work differently here, of course. We don’t get formal academic credit for extracurricular activities, so student associations are far less regulated, and since our school administrators are career bureaucrats rather than elected officials, they are less concerned with voter blowback from the bigots. Going from my own memories of thirty years ago, there was mostly no need for a faculty sponsor or a formal application – if we wanted to meet in a classroom during the lunch hour we just asked. But I was a goodie-two-shoes swot – maybe it was more difficult for other kids. There still would have been nothing to stop them meeting under a tree in one of the quadrangles or by a playing field, although I would hope that such a decision wouldn’t be made purely on the basis of (lack of) religious faith.
Obviously, the more others are exposed to young atheists who are not evil caricatures and who actively band together to do good for themselves and others, the less bigotry against atheists there will be. This seems to be at least part of what many US school administrators are afraid of.