A Highland High School graduate attending the University of Akron wants Medina County residents to know people who question the existence of God are all around them.
“We’re your neighbors, your co-workers, your boss,” Craig Bauman, 24, said. “We’re everywhere and we blend in and no one will know unless they ask or we have a conversation about it.”
Bauman, an atheist and president of the University of Akron’s Secular Student Alliance, said it’s important for people to know how prominent secularism is because that helps rid the stigma associated with being nonreligious.
About 11.5 percent of people worldwide identified as atheist or nonreligious in 2010, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.
To show their presence, Bauman said his organization has stepped into the spotlight through events like “Ask an Atheist,” where people can question atheists about their beliefs or lack thereof, and “Hug an Atheist,” where participants can donate money to charity and get a friendly gesture in return.
The alliance also participated in a billboard campaign sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Bauman is one of almost two dozen people featured on 11 billboards across Northeast Ohio.
Bauman is seen on a billboard at East Exchange and Goodkirk streets in Akron that reads, “Question everything? You’re not alone.”
He said the goal of the billboard and events is to get nontheists to feel comfortable enough to come “out of the closet” and be open about their lack of beliefs.
“They’re designed to let people know we’re here,” Bauman said.
For Bauman, being open came naturally.
“I really always thought of myself as being out of the closet as an atheist since I was in fifth grade,” he said. “I was raised as Methodist Christian until then, when I sort of had the chance to do some critical thinking on the subject.
“I do have conscious memory believing in him and Jesus, and praying to him that I passed my spelling tests and such.”
Bauman said his family isn’t very religious anymore, but their beliefs didn’t influence him. He said he came to the conclusion on his own.
“I had the same basic questions that every person does who has doubt in their religion,” he said.
Throughout middle school and high school, he said he encountered some backlash about his beliefs — such as teachers including prayer or religious doctrine into the classroom or classmates teasing him on the subject.
“The First Amendment makes it very clear that there should be a separation of church and state,” he said. “Everybody pays taxes, and if that federal money ever goes toward a religiously embracing institution at all, then I find that extremely unfair for everybody.”
Bauman said the separation of church and state is something everyone should be able to agree on.
“All I try to do when I meet someone who disagrees with me (about religion) is to get them to agree with me on separation of church and state,” he said. “I know I won’t get them to change their mind if they’re set, but we can at least agree on that or there’s no sense in having a conversation at all.”
And he said he’s not the only one who thinks that way: The Secular Student Alliance at the University of Akron has about 20 active members, about 500 on its email list and just as many Facebook followers.
“It’s important for people to know that the Secular Student Alliance is growing, and so are all the ones in other universities,” Bauman said. “People shouldn’t have to search to find a group like us.”