Students still trying to find their niche among the multitude of campus organizations now have yet another option. With the first meeting of the Princeton Freethought Association, held last week, students now have a new forum where they can openly address important campus and national issues.
Initiated by Austin Klein GS '97 last spring and continued by a group of undergraduates, the PFA was established to provide an atmosphere where "students can gather to challenge all ideas and not take any beliefs purely on faith," said PFA Secretary Aaron Harnly '99. "We think of (the PFA) as a forum for people of varying ideas to come together to promote a freethinking viewpoint."
Unlike organizations with a political affiliation, the PFA does not identify itself with a particular side or issue. However, Harnly does attest that one of its stronger concerns is the separation of church and state. He said that while he has not taken up this issue with the University, he said he still believes it to be of vital national importance. If so, many students may not find a proper forum where they can address the issue on campus, he added.
'Interests of freethought'
"We feel that the line is too often blurred," Harnly said. However, he makes it clear that the PFA was not formed with the intention of rivaling campus religious groups such as Campus Crusade for Christ. "I simply feel (Campus Crusade for Christ) roles are not the ones we want to play. We are not interested in converting anyone," he said.
While many students may believe the PFA to be a spin-off of other campus activist groups, Harnly stresses that the group is "completely different in ideology." He points out that a similarly named campus group, the Campus Free Thought Alliance, is only an umbrella organization that serves to provide resources for the PFA.
He said that students can easily go on with their daily lives without realizing that there are important issues ignored on campus. Furthermore, many students find that there is no organization tailored to the interests of free thought, Harnly said.
"We feel that there is a voice being left out of many organizations on campus," Harnly said. "While we are still very loose on our goals, we will evolve from what the members of the Association want."
Student involvement, activities
He and the other officers, including president Josh Pepper '00 and treasurer Andrew White '99 were pleased by the first meeting's turnout of 28 members but are still eager to bolster student involvement, Harnly said.
"We are very excited. We feel this is the most critical time for our group to emerge," Harnly said. "It took us several months to get through the hoops, but we are ready to get people considering the ideals of free thought."
The PFA has not set the date of its next meeting, but has said that it will involve a public viewing of the movie "Contact" to be followed by a discussion. The group is also planning to gain press coverage through a letter-writing campaign. They also intend to bring key freethought speakers to campus in the coming months.