May 24, 2018
We’re excited to welcome EJ Sorrell from the University of Texas at Austin and Kayla Bowen from Morehead State University to the CFI Outreach team this summer! Before they arrive next week at CFI headquarters in Amherst, NY, read what they have to say about their religious backgrounds, their experiences with the freethought movement, and why they’re excited to intern at CFI:
I’m an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, double majoring in Aerospace Engineering and Women’s and Gender Studies. I got involved with the Secular Student Alliance my first semester at UT in the fall of 2014. It was incredible to be in a room full of other secular folks and know that I wouldn’t be interrogated and argued with about my religious beliefs or lack thereof. I loved the organization so much that I became heavily involved throughout my college career, holding three different officer positions over my time in the organization, including my current position of president.
The SSA at UT Austin is primarily focused on community building for secular students. We want to provide that sense of community and welcoming that I remember feeling sitting in my first SSA meeting. People of any faith are welcome to attend, but we are mainly focused on allowing atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and other non-believers to have the space to talk openly about their lack of belief without feeling harassed or judged for it. We also strongly believe in the importance of a diverse and inclusive secular movement, especially given the history of many atheist spaces being unwelcoming to LGBT+ folks and people of color. We make an effort for anyone who believes in secular values to feel welcome, safe, and comfortable participating in our organization.
I grew up in a secular household, where the most exposure I had to religion was through children’s story books of biblical stories given by family members, which were on the bookshelf right next to the books about fairies and talking animals. While we never attended church as a family, I did end up attending an Anglican school for six years due to the area we moved to. It was an interesting experience to attend a religious school as an atheist, and even though I moved to that school when I was just eight, there was never really a chance that I would be convinced. To me, religious stories were like all the other fantasy stories and folk tales I grew up reading—just stories.
Never having been religious is something I’m very grateful for, especially as a member of the LGBT+ community. I can’t imagine how much harder my adolescence would have been when I was figuring out my identity if I had also been forced to reconcile it with a religion that told me I was wrong. However, growing up an atheist surrounded by religious peers presented its own challenges. I learned very quickly that standing up for the things that were important to me would often lead to challenging a whole classroom of my peers on my own, especially when I took debate in a very conservative area of Texas. It definitely made me stronger, and unafraid to stand up for what was right even if that meant standing alone.
I’m incredibly grateful and excited to have the opportunity to intern with the Center for Inquiry this summer. I’m looking forward to improving on the skills and knowledge I already have and learning even more!
I grew up in a very protestant religious household. When I came out, my mother was more concerned by my lack of belief than the fact that I was queer, which is what initially triggered my involvement with the secular movement. However, I started the Secular Student Alliance at Morehead State University as a first semester freshman in response to Kim Davis, the local county clerk, who denied marriage licenses to gay couples based on her religious beliefs. Since then, I’ve also served on the national board of directors for the Secular Student Alliance, and currently work as as an assistant state director for American Atheists and as a field organizer for the David Ermold for Rowan County Clerk campaign (David Ermold is one of the gay men who was denied a marriage license by Kim Davis).
My student group is involved in all kinds of activism, from going to marches and protests to picking up trash at local tourist attractions. We’ve built a strong secular community to show the folks of Morehead, KY (Rowan County) that we exist, and are here to stay.
I’m excited to intern at CFI because I get to meet all kinds of new, awesome people like me. I want to spend my life working within the secular movement to ensure the separation of church and state. I’m so thankful to be able to do what I truly enjoy doing the most, and can’t wait to spend my summer doing it!
Welcome to the team, EJ and Kayla!