Here's a synopsis of my 'tie-in' to this panel discussion and a backstory:
I was raised as a Roman Catholic. I went through all of the motions [sacraments] and was a very serious believer. For undergraduate studies, I attended King's College in Pennsylvania -- a Catholic college under the Holy Cross tradition -- and was a theist for my first two years of schooling. I started to seriously question my religious beliefs in my second year of college and came to a conclusion that my beliefs were unjustified...so I became an atheist. A philosophy course I had at the time, "Ethics and the Good Life," was a major part of my 'de-conversion.' Also important was an on-campus discussion concerning atheism.
Soon after my second year of undergraduate studies ended, I contacted the Secular Student Alliance to start a student group at my Catholic college. After gathering many students who were supportive and much back and forth discussion with administration regarding the formation of the group, the group was declined as -- according to administration -- "it [was] against the mission statement of the college." Student affairs said, "It was felt that recognizing the group would go against the mission of King’s College. King’s does not discriminate against anyone on their belief system but we are a catholic college and some of the aspects of the national organization are not consistent with our values. Therefore, the group cannot be active as a King’s College club." Amongst the attempted formation of the club, I received many threats, hate, hate mail items, and bullying from students ranging from Knights of Columbus members, LGBT persons, Catholic students, atheistic students, etc.
Following the SSA attempt, I went public concerning a church/state violation -- a religious holiday display at a county courthouse -- by working with the ACLU, appearing on television for interviews, being in newspapers, etc. The hate continued....and much more so from a college level to a community level culminating in a local radio show host calling me the "third most hated person" in the county (the same county infamous for the 'Kids for Cash' scandal in which two gangster judges -- #1 and #2 -- on this 'list' sent children to juvinille detention centers for kickbacks...and were federally indicted for such along with at least 25 other county officials who were involved, had taken bribes, etc).
After this, I continued to be an active atheist on campus attending Bible study groups, religious events, and other events in an attempt to learn as much as I could about religious believers on campus. I found these interactions to be extremely productive and cherished them - with this knowledge, I can better rebut Christian ideas and understand were people come from. In addition, I gained a humility of sorts and a realization that respectful discourse -- unfortunately sometimes lacking in the 'atheism movement' -- was extremely important. 'Attacking ideas' instead of attacking people has been my, as you might call it, 'catchphrase.'
Following undergraduate studies, I then attended a Catholic graduate school (mainly because of financial reasons and location) and once again tried to start an SSA group. Once again, I was rejected. This time, though, an article was published in the school newspaper. Hemant Mehta also weighed in here.