FIRST PERSON | Humanists Gather Globally to Support Democracy

Copenhagen, Denmark, host of the 2023 World Humanist Congress. (Photo by Peter Lloyd on Unsplash)

On August 4th – 6th, more than 400 humanists from around the globe attended the 2023 World Humanist Congress in Copenhagen. The Congress is typically held every three years but, because of world events (including the COVID pandemic), the 2017 and 2020 conferences were cancelled. So this year’s event—hosted by the Scandinavian member organizations from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland—was a long-overdue opportunity for members of Humanists International to gather, forge connections, exchange ideas, and explore the future of humanism.

The event welcomed humanists from North America, Latin America, Western and Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Through the theme of Building Better Democracies through Humanist Values, speakers explored topics including threats to democracy, democratic backsliding, international religious freedom, and human rights, along with discussions about how to attract young humanists, art as free expression, climate change, humanism and technology, LGBTQIA+ rights, and much, much more. And it wasn’t all serious discussion. Participants also toured Copenhagen, gathered for meals at the Community House, and met for morning swims in the harbor.

An important and lasting consequence of the event was the passage of the Copenhagen Declaration on Democracy. Humanists International encourages all of its members and supporters—which includes the American Humanist Association (AHA)—to read the Declaration which affirms that democracy is a humanist value. The Declaration states:

  1. Democracy is a universal fundamental value that is essential to the realization of humanist principles worldwide.
  2. Democracy must be broadly inclusive, transparent, accountable, and secular, with institutions and practices that are responsive to the changing needs and aspirations of citizens.
  3. Citizens must be empowered and the right to exercise citizenship must be protected without prejudice.
  4. Democracy as a culture must be actively defended against all threats, including those from regimes, movements, and political parties that embrace authoritarian principles, from those with unaccountable economic and social power, and from all other forces that seek to undermine democratic values and institutions.

I was honored to be asked to speak at the Congress on the issue of “Threats to Democracy in the United States.” In my speech, I stressed the commitment of the AHA to protecting our democracy at home,

Just as Americans are growing less religious, Christian Nationalists, afraid to be in the minority, are increasingly able to manipulate the levers of power to accomplish their aims, from local to national levels….

Humanists have a responsibility, and a huge opportunity, to step up to protect against the threats to democracy in the United States. The American Humanist Association is focused on working to protect our struggling democracy against the serious threats that I’ve spent the last few minutes describing. And we know that, because of the resources we have in the United States, we must continue to support the efforts of international organizations around the world, like Humanists International, to expand the reach and the strength of democracy more globally. Together, our collective actions in support of a better, more equitable future can change the course of history.

American humanists are determined, and we won’t give up.

The next World Humanist Congress, in August 2026, will be held in Washington, DC and hosted by American Atheists. The AHA will be a major sponsor, and we hope many of our members will attend, so make a note on your calendar now!