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Iowa college professor making push to promote atheism.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- An Iowa community college professor is leading an effort to promote atheism and lobby for the removal of religious references from public life.

Lydia Hartunian, an assistant professor of humanities at Kirkwood College, organized a fundraiser last month in New York that attracted dozens of atheist authors and religious skeptics.

"Atheism has such a bad reputation," says Hartunian, a member of the Iowa Atheist Alliance. "One misinterpretation people have is that we say we know there isn't a God. That's an impossible claim to make. We're the ones who say, 'I don't know.'"

Just like many religions, atheists have boosted efforts to spread their message. The New York City Atheists, for example, produce three public-access TV shows. The Rational Response Squad encourages atheists to post "blasphemous" videos on YouTube. Camp Quest is a Boy Scout-like place for children from nonreligious families.

Many atheists also want "God" removed from U.S. currency and religion kept out the abortion debate.

"Ultimately, we're skeptics," Hartunian says. "It means I cherish this world, this moment, this life, and also feel that my morality and my sense of goodness, of being a good person, are entirely dependent on me."

Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Christian Alliance, says atheists have every right to express themselves, but he believes the people who should push for change are people of faith--not atheists.

He says religion has been crowded out of American life by the political left.

"There's certainly been an effort by the left, including the ACLU and other like-minded groups, to strip any reference of God from the public square, whether it's the Ten Commandments can't be posted or somebody brings their favorite story to public school," Scheffler says. "It doesn't look to me like atheists and people who do not want to believe in a supreme being are having their rights abridged or taken away."

The New York City fundraiser--dubbed the "Great American God-Out"--was held last week and included smaller events in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. The New York gathering featured a live Web feed, two guest lecturers, and entertainment that included an Arizona college student who rapped about atheism and a man called the "singing Darwinian scholar."

Kirkwood President Mick Starcevich says Hartunian's event--or any other potentially controversial faculty project--would be welcome on the Cedar Rapids campus under certain terms.

"It's most certainly fine for them to organize events, just so that it doesn't fall over into the classroom where they would try to get others to believe their views," he says. "When you talk about religions of the world and those types of classes, you've got to have these discussions. If they're discussions, that's fine. If you're trying to sell me, then that's not fine."
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Publication:Community College Week
Date:Dec 3, 2007
Words:458
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