(Photo: Reuters/Gary Cameron)
The United States Department of Education has invited representatives from the atheist community to be part of its upcoming interfaith meeting in Washington, D.C.
Members of the Secular Student Alliance will be part of the Education Department's "President's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge National Gathering," to be held at Georgetown University.
Jesse Galef, spokesperson for the Secular Student Alliance, said in a statement released Wednesday that they were "honored" by the invitation.
"We're honored to be included in the President's call for interfaith and community service," said Galef.
"There are thousands of nonreligious students eager to work alongside their religious friends to make the world a better place."
The third annual National Gathering will be held at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall from Monday, Sept. 23 through Tuesday, Sept. 24.
According to an announcement on the Education Department's website, the purpose of the gathering is to offer "an opportunity for students, staff, and administrators to share experiences, learn from experts, and meet administration officials who share a commitment to community service with an interfaith engagement component."
"The event is designed to be helpful to institutions of higher education that are just beginning programs in interfaith/community service and those with long traditions in this work," continued the announcement.
"An important part of the program is celebrating all the work that is happening on campuses across the country to provide students with opportunities to develop lifelong skills in interfaith cooperation and community service."
As many as 400 colleges will take part in the Education Department event, with free registration beginning on Monday morning.
Other groups invited to the gathering include Hillel, Campus Compacts, and the Hindu Seva Charities, reads a Secular Student Alliance press release.
"The Obama Administration has had a history of reaching out to secular students, a practice which has provoked some religious leaders," continued the press release.
"The pushback hasn't stopped the Obama administration from including the nonreligious in its campus outreach."
Critics of the decision to include atheism at the interfaith event have argued that it is peculiar that those who profess belief in no faith could be included in something about having faith.
Christine Rousselle, writer at the conservative blog Townhall.com, had a column published Wednesday noting the apparent contradiction.
"Traditionally, an 'interfaith' meeting would mandate that some sort of 'faith' be present by all parties, but that is no longer the case with the Obama administration," wrote Rouselle.
The United States Department of Education did not return comment to The Christian Post by press time.