In the words of Ivy Burns, Secular URI’s president, the group has a simple message to send: “We’re just regular people.” After witnessing the group’s meeting on Monday night, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion.
Secular URI has only been around for four years, and Burns has been instrumental in getting the club recognized and getting the group affiliated with the national Secular Student Alliance, an organization of nonreligious students made up of independent chapters at universities all over the United States. Initially created just as a group for friends to meet up and talk, Secular URI was not recognized by the Student Senate before Burns took over as President four years ago during her freshman year.
The group’s meetings are forums for discussion between members, and the setup is simply a bunch of friends sitting around a table. Each week, Burns brings in a topic on religious issues for the group to discuss, and members are free to contribute topics for next week’s meeting. Contrary to stereotypes of ‘angry atheists,’ the group’s conversation stayed light and humorous, with countless references to the news about the “cool pope,” as the members refer to him.
Burns summed up Secular URI as “just a group of fun people” who happen to discuss serious issues, and the group never seemed to go more than a few minutes without Burns breaking out into laughter. Even when discussion moved to controversial topics, and the inevitable disagreements arose, there was always an air of agreeableness and friendliness in the room.
Burns said that Secular URI is the “only group of its kind on campus,” meaning specifically nonreligious, and makes fighting the social stigma around nonreligious people important. It is in this kind of group, Burns said, that nonreligious people can be “empowered to discuss and voice their opinions” on subjects involving religion. Â Furthermore, she said that the group provides a kind of “safe place” for people who are not yet “out” or fully open with others about their lack of belief in which they can talk with other like-minded people and be free from any stigma.