Humanist Groups Making Change and Building Community in 2023

Rachel Laser President & CEO, Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Terrence W. Sloan MD, President Humanist Society of NM; Charlene Baker, Vice President of the Humanist Society of NM; and Elena Quevado, Director of Development for American United

Throughout the year, humanist groups in the American Humanist Association’s network offer their local and online communities opportunities to learn, aid, and celebrate together. They provide educational programs and advocacy efforts on important legal and legislative issues, service projects that address societal needs, and social events to connect people with each other and the world around us. Here are some recent highlights from AHA chapters and affiliates:

Protecting Church-State Separation

In November, the Humanist Society of New Mexico hosted Rachel Laser, President and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, for a talk on “Church-State Separation and the Battle for American Democracy.” Held at the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, the event brought 150 people together to learn about and discuss how to address the dangers of white Christian nationalism. Terrence W. Sloan MD, President Humanist Society of New Mexico, shared why this advocacy work is important to his group:

Church-state separation guarantees that our government cannot establish a national or state religion—or set up a government-sponsored church—but it also does so much more. In America, we base our laws on shared civic values, not the will of religious majorities. Our laws stem from our Constitution, not someone’s interpretation of the Bible. This enables us to come together as equals and build a stronger democracy. The separation of church and state ensures that the government can’t force anyone to believe or not believe in any religion. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “The First Amendment was intended to erect a wall of separation between Church and State.” Christian Nationalists want abortion bans in all instances; fundamental Christianity in public schools; an end to LGBTQ rights; book, entertainment and art bans, to make America a fundamentalist Christian nation; and to dismantle all concepts of secular government and the separation of church and state. They are an existential threat. White Christian nationalism wants to rewrite our history and values. It is pushing forward a government that values fundamental Christianity above all other religions and a legal system that disfavors the nonreligious, religious minorities, women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. The Humanist Society of New Mexico frequently uses the Thomas Paine quote: “All mankind are my Brethren, the World is my Country, and to do good is my religion.” Our Society supports a secular government with the freedoms entailed in our Constitution.

Providing for Communities

Humanists of West Florida has regularly provided food and supply drives to Pensacola residents in need since it began in 2013, including two winter poncho distributions events in 2023 to help hundreds of unhoused individuals stay dry and healthy. So, it is exciting to have them recently recognized by local media as “a beacon of hope for food-insecure families” known for establishing partnerships with local businesses, secular nonprofits, and religious neighbors. Noting census data that shows one in eight Americans faces the challenge of securing reliable, nutritious food, the article encourages readers to support Humanists of West Florida’s fundraising efforts to continue its vital food distribution initiatives. “Together, let’s build a future where no one goes hungry and compassion prevails,” said group Secretary/Treasurer Andre “Buz” Ryland.

Enjoying Each Other and Nature

Atheists United’s Atheist Adventure members in Zion National Park

In November, Atheists United’s Atheist Adventure members took a break from Los Angeles to experience Zion National Park in Utah, one of the most iconic International Dark Sky Places on Earth.

Evan Clark, Atheists United Executive Director, described the trip:

Together we hiked the Riverside Walk trail to the mouth of the Narrows, explored the lower, middle, and upper Emerald Pools, touched the water seeping from Weeping Rock, and experienced sunset at the top of Watchman trail. The highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly our star talk on a moonless night gathered around the campfire. David Hasenauer, a docent from the Mount Wilson Observatory, joined us with his 17-inch telescope and gave an unforgettable lecture on the history behind one of humans’ greatest inventions, the telescope.

This third-annual event generated some great photos and a great article in the Los Angeles Times. Atheists United shared on their website that the media coverage is a win for all atheists because “the only times the media talks about atheists are when there’s controversy, politics, or religion involved. We virtually never get to express our sense of optimism, community, and wonderment on this scale.”

Spreading Humanism

Along with the summer 2023 chapter grant winners, the AHA also awarded a chapter grant in the winter to New Jersey Humanist Network to help them create needed resources to better publicize their group and educate people on humanism. They’re working on a new logo, website, postcards, and a retractable vertical banner to direct visitors to their meetings and tabling events. “We have plans to expand our ‘network’ beyond Central Jersey, into more diverse areas where no humanist group currently exists, which will require us to participate in more tabling opportunities and make our materials more portable,” wrote the group. We look forward to seeing and sharing their new designs!

Find or start a humanist group in your area to connect with other humanists (and atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, etc.), engage in valuable service work, and learn about the wonders of the world together.