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Group assesses religion’s value

By Jennifer Riley

Sept. 29, 2003 9:00 p.m.

While most student groups avoid using names that form crudely
denoted acronyms, one young club jokes that the acronym
“ASS” fits its light-hearted style.

The Associated Secular Students was formed in fall 2002 with the
goal of facilitating rational discussion of a variety of subjects
concerning theology, according to Co-founder Richard Vulich.

“Our name shows that we are straightforward ““ and
with a sense of humor,” he said.

A third-year philosophy student, Vulich was disappointed to find
no secular humanist club when he arrived at UCLA this past

When he shared this frustration with his friend Michael Caffell,
a fourth-year philosophy student, the two decided to take action by
founding the association.

“Though many students assume we are all atheists opposed
to religion, in fact we respect it. But theology is too often
accepted blindly and not questioned enough,” Vulich said.

The organization promotes free-thinking in an environment that
“breeds rational discussion free from reproach,” he

Caffell said the student community was enthusiastic and grateful
to have such a thought-provoking outlet.

“There was a vacuum to be filled, and we were the group to
fill it,” said Vulich. “It took a while to get the club
started, but by spring 2002 it was in full swing.”

He added that with a member list of almost 40 students, and
about 15 people attending the weekly meetings, the club is growing
in popularity.

“At the residential fair, many students were eager to vent
about things they really hadn’t had the opportunity to talk
about in their high school environments,” Caffell said.

Emmanuel Masongsong, a fifth-year biochemistry student and
leader of ASS, said he values the laid-back and up-front nature of
the group. He fits the meetings into his busy schedule between
sitar lessons and a medical internship.

“I grew up in a religious household, and my mom
doesn’t understand when I tell her I’m not like
that,” Masongsong said.

“With this club, I feel free to talk about what I think
without pretending, and without being pressured to be someone
I’m not,” he added.

Group meetings cover religiously themed debate topics such as
the historical accuracy of biblical events and the separation of
church and state, Vulich said.

Weekly discussion topics are advertised at the club’s
booth on Bruin Walk, so that students can think about the specific
subjects before attending the meetings, he said.

Caffell said it is important to have an organization like ASS on
a campus. With its unconventional flair, it provides a necessary
contrast and balance to the many religion-based groups, he

“I think it is important to be open about what we think.
We don’t push our beliefs or pressure people to join. Rather,
we encourage others to think for themselves, often playing
devil’s advocate and always keeping an open mind,”
Vulich said.

“Despite our funny name, we are a club with serious
goals,” he added.

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Jennifer Riley
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