Cal Poly’s Secular Society club serves as a forum for students to debate issues relating to religion, philosophy, science and current events.
The club represents students with increasing concerns on the role that religion plays in society and the separation of church and state, Shelayne Werfel, club president and nutrition sophomore, said.
“We want to show that people who are not religiously affiliated are not the bad guys,” Werfel said. “We care about other people. We’re interested in making the world a better place, and one of the things we think can make the world a better place is to have it be more secular so it’s an equal playing field for people of all denominations and faiths.”
This year, Werfel said she hopes to involve the club with a letter-writing campaign, guest speakers, a fundraiser for Haiti relief and increased interaction with other campus clubs and organizations.
“We really want to get people involved and build a bigger base,” she said. “It’s fun to have a bunch of atheists in a room, but you don’t get very much original input.”
The Secular Society differs from the Cal Poly chapter of Brights, though they share club members. A bright is a term for someone who follows a naturalistic (free from supernatural and mystical elements) world view. Brights are more focused on non-belief in and of itself and less about its influence on the political and governmental sphere, Werfel said.
“We share common cause with supporting science and advancements and examining religion, but the Secular Society tries to stay as much as possible away from critiquing the religion itself because we want to create an environment that’s open to people of all faiths,” she said.
Nicholas Utschig, computer engineering senior, is the secretary for the Secular Society and president of Cal Poly’s chapter of Brights. He thinks it’s important to have both clubs.
“There is a dividing line between promotion of understanding and taking action in what you believe in,” he said.
Utschig also said through the clubs he has joined a community of friends that hang out aside from philosophical discussions.
The Secular Society was founded by a group of friends in 2008. The founding members are mechanical engineering alumnus Harrison Weinstein, history alumnus Greg Perello and architectural engineering senior Walt Handloser.
“We wanted to try to make sure religious ideas didn’t dictate people’s decisions,” Weinstein said.
On average, meetings garner 10 to 20 students who tend to be atheist, although they are open to anyone who is interested in religious or non-religious discussion, he said.
Handloser describes religious debate as one of his favorite hobbies. He said he would like to see more people come to meetings with political backgrounds.
“I think this cause needs more political folks,” Handloser said. “We have the religious side. If you’re going to be in activism you need both sides of the pictures. We are always looking for more.”