Secular group formed at Pisgah

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Feb 18, 2014
Photo by: Donated photo Pictured is Kalei Wilson, a freshman at Pisgah High School who is behind the recent formation of a Secular Student Alliance group.

Pisgah High School freshman Kalei Wilson is looking forward to holding her first meeting with the Secular Student Alliance club this month now that two faculty members have stepped up to oversee the group.

Teachers Valerie Dunlap and Amber Riddle have agreed to serve as faculty sponsors for the Secular Student Alliance, an affiliate group that will offer a community for nonreligious students at Pisgah.

“I’m excited to meet some like-minded friends so I can actually relate to them,” Wilson said.

The group will kick off its first meeting with a pizza party on Feb. 28, Wilson said.

The student alliance group was formed only after Haywood County Schools officials were threatened with a lawsuit last week by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Wilson reached out for help from the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) last fall when the assistant principal at Pisgah, Connie Weeks, told her the club would cause problems.

The SSA, an educational nonprofit group that promotes the ideals of scientific and critical inquiry, democracy, secularism, and human-based ethics in student communities, sent a letter to Pisgah Principal Greg Bailey last fall and contend they never received a response. As a result, Haywood County School administrators received a letter from the FFRF and the ACLU last week threatening a lawsuit.

When Wilson met with Bailey on Monday, she said he was in favor of supporting the club.

“He seemed a lot more on board with (the club) this time,” Wilson said.

As of press time, Bailey could not be reached for comment after multiple attempts.

Superintendent Anne Garrett and Associate Superintendent Bill Nolte were both unaware of the issue until receiving the letter.

“We were not aware of that request from her,” Nolte said. “We had a similar request before and those had not been followed up on. That’s still something the attorneys are communicating on.”

Student scowls

Wilson said she had been nervous while walking the halls now that everyone at schools knows who she is. While she does not feel threatened, she said some students had been giving her dirty looks and sending her hateful emails.

“I get looks every now and then and somebody messaged me, but nothing really bad or really threatening,” Wilson said. “My friends keep me close to them. I heard a rumor going around that I was going to get hurt … I’m not really nervous that they are going to try to do anything to me, I’m nervous about what they think of me.”

Wilson said she had reported the incidents to the teachers at school, and said she would continue to do so in the future. Her father, Cash Wilson, however, is still worried about her.

“Although I've been scared to death for Kalei due to the threats and hateful comments, I'm so very proud of her,” Cash said. “Her efforts will make it easier for others to feel safe in being themselves. This group will serve to educate many that an atheist can be good without a god and that atheist simply means a lack of belief in God.”

Seeking to educate

The mission of a Secular Student Alliance group is to educate high school students about the value of secularism in its atheistic and humanistic manifestations.

Wilson is expecting about 13 students to join the group. She said her goals for the club included planning fundraisers to be able to purchase school supplies to help teachers and educating other students.

Wilson hopes she will be able to reach out to other Christian students at Pisgah and teach them about secularism.

“I want to try to get some Christian groups to come to one of the meetings, and I would designate that meeting to teaching what atheism is and who we are as people, and teach them it’s not a devil-worshipping lifestyle. I think they’ll accept it at some point. I don’t know if it will be this year.”

While she is currently the leader of the club, Wilson said she would like to have a new member voted in as president every year.