In Memoriam: Edd Doerr

Longtime humanist activist Edd Doerr passed away on February 6, 2020. He was eighty-nine years old.  Born into a working-class Catholic family in the 1930s Midwest, Doerr was the oldest of four children. At sixteen, he started college at Butler University in Indianapolis. During that time he encountered a copy of the Humanist on a newsstand, which led to a lifelong commitment to humanism. Doerr completed his bachelor of science in education at Indiana University, where he met his wife, Herenia, a humanist from Colombia. He taught science and math at a private school in Bogota, Columbia, and then history, English, and Spanish in Indiana public schools until 1966, when he was offered a position with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Doerr is remembered for his commitment to advancing religious liberty, secular governance, and reproductive rights. He served in many leadership positions throughout his life. In 1973 he joined the governing body of Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and also served on the boards of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the ACLU of Maryland,  the National Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty, and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (now Humanists International). Additionally, he was the executive director and president of Americans for Religious Liberty.

A frequent lecturer, newspaper contributor, and guest on radio and television, Doerr is remembered as a gifted speaker, tireless worker, and accomplished coalition-builder. Throughout his life, he published many articles. He is the author, co-author, editor, or translator of twenty books, including The Case Against Charitable Choice; The Case Against School Vouchers; Abortion Rights and “Fetal Personhood”; and Vox Populi. Doerr published a collection of letters to the editor that appeared in major newspapers such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, as well as smaller papers, magazines, and journals. His topics focus on church/state separation, reproductive rights, opposition to creationism, the theocratic bent of certain presidential administrations, and defending and explaining humanism. He also had a regular column in the Humanist, producing over 3,000 articles for the magazine. Right up to his death, he was an active columnist for Free Inquiry.

Doerr was deeply involved in the American Humanist Association. He served as vice president and board chair from 1985-1991, and was president from 1995-2002. For his dedication to the movement, the AHA awarded him the Humanist Pioneer Award in 1984 and the Humanist Distinguished Service Award in 1992. In a tribute in May 2003 at an AHA conference, Bette Chambers remarked,

Edd has given heart to those humanists and freethinkers who have felt timid and speechless, oppressed by the clouds of theistic babble from the current administration that affront our eyes and ears every day. He’s given courage to those fearful of speaking out for humanism when doing so might label us as unpatriotic or even unworthy of our full rights of citizenship.

Doerr’s generosity and contributions to the American Humanist Association and the greater nontheist movement over the years have made a lasting impact on humanism. He will be greatly missed.