Stiefel Freethought Foundation Gives $50,000 Grant for Atheist Teens September 20, 2010

Stiefel Freethought Foundation Gives $50,000 Grant for Atheist Teens

by Jesse Galef —

The Stiefel Freethought Foundation marked its launch today by announcing that it was giving the Secular Student Alliance a $50,000 grant to help support atheist high school students. I’m clearly biased (I work for the SSA), but I think this is fantastic news. The press release:

Atheist teenagers around the country are likely to find something new this school year – an active group of like-minded peers. The Stiefel Freethought Foundation marked its official launch today by announcing a $50,000 grant to help organize and support high school groups for nonreligious teenagers. The program, to be run by the Secular Student Alliance, will offer both resources and hands-on assistance to teenagers promoting positive secular values in their lives and on their campuses.

“These students have the passion and the numbers to create a more compassionate, reason-driven society,” said Todd Stiefel, founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation. “What they often lack is the support. Our foundation is delighted to provide them with the opportunities they deserve.”

The program aims to foster groups of students who want to create a community for current and budding nontheists, educate themselves and others about secular values, and act upon those values through service projects. The grant will fund a variety of resources for such students including group-starting kits, group-running guides, leadership training, discounted access to prominent speakers, and monetary project grants.

The newly launched Stiefel Freethought Foundation was founded with the mission to gain respect for freethinkers and ensure the complete separation of church and state.

Stiefel, a businessman who retired last year at age 34 to become a full-time secular activist and philanthropist, has a history of supporting students. In March, Todd and his wife donated $20,000 through the American Humanist Association to help sponsor the Second Chance Prom for Constance McMillen after she was not allowed to take her girlfriend to her school’s prom. At the end of 2009, he gave a $50,000 matching challenge gift to the Secular Student Alliance, the organization now tasked with carrying out Stiefel’s vision.

The Secular Student Alliance (SSA), a national nonprofit devoted to assisting nonreligious students, already supports a network of over 200 affiliates on college campuses. They currently have twelve high school affiliates, up from six last year. They expect today’s grant to fuel that number’s growth.

“We’re thrilled that the Stiefel Freethought Foundation is helping us extend our services to more high school students,” said SSA Communications Director Jesse Galef. “Investing in students builds the foundation for a more rational society in which nontheists are valued members of the community.”

Woot. What a way for the Stiefel Freethought Foundation to launch!  Todd Stiefel himself has already been doing a lot on a personal level, but today’s grant is a big splash for his new foundation.

This has the potential to make big ripples in the secular movement in the long run.  Though we always have to be careful to empower students rather than tell them what to do and believe (as if they would listen to us anyway), high schoolers really need support.  One of the resources the SSA produces is a “Nontheistic Students in Your High School” brochure (pdf here) – an educator’s guide to understanding nontheistic students.  You can request them (free!) here.

Nonreligious high school students can be an extremely marginalized and isolated group. If they had a more welcoming community, more organizational help, and the sense that they’re connected to a larger movement, it can make a world of difference.

I’m so glad the Stiefel Freethought Foundation sees the value in supporting these students.  We’re seeing more interest in high schools, so the timing of this grant is perfect.  With its help, we can do a lot more for them.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • So awesome! Wish there was something like this when I was in school. That’s great news.

  • LiLo

    This is great news. I almost wish I wasn’t retired so that I could help my students form a chapter on their campus. I plan to think about the teachers who are still there to see if I could find anyone who would be interested in helping. The brochure is excellent. Go Todd Stiefel!

  • sancho

    please tell me his name is pronounced “stifle”

  • Jesse Galef

    @Sancho – Nope, his name rhymes with “Gleeful”. Which I thought was a pretty cool way to explain it.

  • mkb

    It’s great news and by the way, that’s a terrific brochure.

  • CatBallou

    I was also wondering about how to pronounce his name. To avoid the obvious mispronunciation, Stiefel might consider renaming the foundation. Just a thought!

  • Ty

    How do we get our high school affiliated with them?

    (Hemant says: Go to and all the information you need to affiliate your group can be found there!)

  • tennismom

    AWESOME!!! My son and a couple of his friends have been trying to get a student group going and have now found a teacher to sponsor them, but they are still waiting on approval on it. I think there are 6 already committed to the club and I can’t wait for him to share this info with the sponsor teacher.

  • Seriously, Awesome! High school students definitely need this.

    It got me thinking, I wish there was a Secular Soldier Alliance as active as the college (and now high school) groups. I’m aware of, and a member of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. But they really have no noticeable impact / activity.

    Maybe the Stiefel Freethought Foundation can make a pamphlet for soldiers too?

  • muggle

    This is great news. I know I went to school in the dark ages (way back in the ’70’s) but I wonder how such a group might have speeded my progress to freethinking.

    It was in high school that I started reading the buybull an hour a night in order to get closer to god and understand him better which was the beginning of the end since I learned instead what rubbish it really contained. No way would my fundie nutjob of a mother (I’m very lucky parental permission was not required for sex ed back in the 70’s) would have let me join but just the existence of such a group might have opened up the possibility of acceptably rejecting gawd in my mind and speeded the process.

    Normally I wouldn’t support any club for or against gawd belief in the public schools but as long as they keep allowing the gawd clubs, looking the other way when teachers violate and preach to or coerce their students, reciting the pledge with the under god phrase intact and advertising the boy scouts (my grandson got a flier already this year, groan), let’s counter the stupidity.

  • Annie

    That was my first reading, too: “Stifle Freethought”. Not the message they were hoping for, I’m sure.

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