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Student Atheist Leaders Invited to White House Meeting on Interfaith Service Projects

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For the first time, leaders of the secular student movement were included in an invitation to the White House to participate in a meeting on interfaith service projects on college campuses. The event, held on Monday June 7th, was sponsored by the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Participating on behalf of nontheistic students were August Brunsman, Executive Director of the Secular Student Alliance, and Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and Chair of the SSA Advisory Board.

"Our inclusion in today's meeting is a welcome acknowledgement that secular students have been working to make a positive difference in the world," said Brunsman. "As more and more students openly identify as nontheistic, we are taking a greater role in the charitable interfaith community."

The meeting centered on connecting the higher education sector to broader national service priorities and creating spaces on campus to foster interfaith and community service. One stated goal was to have interfaith service programs at 500 campuses.

"The secular student community is eager to help reach that goal," said Brunsman. "We are committed to increased cooperation with religious organizations for the betterment of society. But our actions will speak louder than our words."

Almost half of the 200 Secular Student Alliance affiliates engaged in service activities the past year, and the rate of cooperation with religious groups is rising. The national SSA has encouraged such collaboration, and presented their 2008 and 2009 Best Service Project Awards to groups from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Ohio State University for partnering with Christian organizations over Spring break to rebuild houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Monday's meeting marks the second time representatives from the Secular Student Alliance were invited to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Last February, they took part of the Secular Coalition for America's official policy briefing with the administration.

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