“What do you organized humanists do, and why should I care?”
At the American Humanist Association, we sometimes receive variations of that pair of related yet distinct questions from Christians and humanists, critics and sympathizers alike. What is the AHA? Why do you exist? Why should I care about the plight of humanists?
The short answer, of course, is that the AHA is here to build a national movement in favor of religious freedom, secular government, human rights, science, and the promotion of human rights and other humanist values. In essence, we want to build a society where humanists flourish alongside the diverse array of our fellow Americans.
This movement is not meant to be an insular and exclusive club for humanists. The AHA has long attracted people from all walks of life who value religious freedom and want to help us build a secular and peaceful society. Whether humanists or not, they share our conviction that nonreligious people should be fairly treated by our nation’s leaders.
Sometimes it only takes a single incident to bring the need for all of this into focus. The comments made by Robert Bentley, Alabama’s new governor, at an event commemorating Martin Luther King Day serve as a stark example of how far we have to go to achieve equality for humanists and other nonreligious people in America. Speaking to a church audience on the very day of his own inauguration, Governor Bentley stated:
Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother
The sentiment of Governor Bentley’s statement—and his complete omission of nontheists from his apology—would probably shock few humanists, although the candor may be a little startling. It is no secret that for some believers, it is an article of faith that one must be of the same religion in order to be considered a fully worthy human being. It is a troubling notion, but nevertheless, it is one you will encounter around the world.
But when an elected state leader expresses a similar notion, it takes on another dimension entirely. This is a man who has real power over people. How can Alabamians trust that Governor Bentley will represent all of them, regardless of whether or not they are Christian? Would he give the same consideration for clemency to a Muslim, Jewish or atheist inmate as he would to a Christian? Will he strive to uphold the constitutional separation of church and state in state affairs?
These are serious questions, and all Alabamians—and all Americans for that matter—would be wise to keep them in mind when considering the types of leaders they would like to put in office and how to respond to those who are already there. And those who are concerned about the marginalization of nonbelievers and other people who fall outside the religious mainstream may want to consider joining with organizations like the American Humanist Association in order to push back. By working together to raise the profile of nontheists and build a society that values all people, and not just those who are part of the chosen religion, we challenge America to live up to its founding values and work for the betterment of all. Let’s raise our voices and let the Governor Bentleys of this world know that we’re here!