American Humanist Association

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American Humanist Association
Official AHA logo.jpg
Abbreviation AHA
Formation 1941
Type Non-profit
Purpose Advocate for progressive values and equality for humanists, atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers.
Location Washington, D.C.
Key people
Rebecca Hale
(President)
David Niose
(Immediate Past President)
Roy Speckhardt
(Executive Director)
Website www.americanhumanist.org

The American Humanist Association (AHA) is an educational organization in the United States that advances Humanism, a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms the ability and responsibility of human beings to lead personal lives of ethical fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.[1] The mission of the American Humanist Association is to be a clear, democratic voice for Humanism in the United States, to increase public awareness and acceptance of Humanism, to establish, protect and promote the position of humanists in American society, and to develop and advance humanist thought and action.[2]

The American Humanist Association was founded in 1941 and currently provides legal assistance to defend the constitutional rights of secular and religious minorities,[3] actively lobbies Congress on church-state separation and progressive issues,[4] and maintains a grassroots network of 150 local affiliates and chapters that engage in social activism, philosophical discussion and community-building events.[5] The AHA has several publications, including the award-winning bi-monthly magazine The Humanist, a quarterly newsletter Free Mind, a peer-reviewed semi-annual scholastic journal Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism, and a weekly Internet magazine Humanist Network News.[6] AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt is also a regular contributor to The Huffington Post[7] and Patheos.[8]

Early history[edit]

The American Humanist Association was founded in 1941, though its history can be traced back to 1927, when professors and seminarians at the University of Chicago organized the Humanist Fellowship and began publishing the New Humanist magazine. By 1935 the Humanist Fellowship had become the Humanist Press Association, replacing the New Humanist with the Humanist Bulletin. With the help of Curtis Reese and John H. Dietrich, the Humanist Press Association reorganized itself in 1941, forming the American Humanist Association. Along with its reorganization, the AHA began printing The Humanist magazine as the successor to the Humanist Bulletin.[2]

The AHA was originally headquartered in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Over time the organization grew in size and prominence, first moving to San Francisco, California, and then to Amherst, New York. Finally, continuing with a trend toward increasing advocacy, the AHA moved to Washington, D.C., to better affect national policy and increase its social impact.

In 1952 the AHA became a founding member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) in Amsterdam, Netherlands.[9] As an international coalition of Humanist organizations, the IHEU stands today as the only international umbrella group for Humanism, claiming millions of members from over one hundred organizations throughout the world. The IHEU acts as a Humanist clearinghouse. With memberships in the United Nations, the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the U.N. International Children’s Educational Fund (UNICEF), the Council of Europe, and the European Union, the IHEU aims to create growth and support for Humanism through interaction and cooperation with its member organizations.

Throughout the 1960s the AHA became actively involved in challenging the illegality of abortion and was the first national membership organization to support abortion rights. Humanist leaders were prominent in the founding of pro-choice organizations, including the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (now the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now NARAL Pro-Choice America). Around the same time, the AHA joined hands with the American Ethical Union (AEU) to help establish the rights of nontheistic conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War. This time also saw Humanists involved in the creation of the first nationwide memorial societies, giving people broader access to cheaper alternatives than the traditional mortuary controlled burial.

In the late 1960s the AHA also secured a religious tax exemption in support of its celebrant program, allowing Humanist celebrants to legally officiate at weddings, perform chaplaincy functions, and in other ways enjoy the same rights as traditional clergy. In 1991 the AHA took control of the Humanist Society, a religious Humanist organization that now runs the celebrant program. After this transfer, the AHA commenced the process of jettisoning its religious tax exemption and resumed its exclusively educational status. Today the AHA is recognized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit, tax exempt, 501(c)(3), publicly supported educational organization.

Adjuncts and affiliates[edit]

The AHA is also the supervising organization for numerous Humanist affiliates and adjunct organizations.

Feminist Caucus[edit]

The Feminist Caucus of the American Humanist Association was established in 1977 as a coalition of both women and men within the AHA to work toward the advancement of women's rights and equality between the sexes in all aspects of society. Originally called the Women's Caucus, the new name was adopted in 1985 as more representative of all the members of the caucus and of the caucus' goals.[10]

The Feminist Caucus continues to be the active feminist arm of the organization. Over the years, members of the Caucus have advocated for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and participated in various public demonstrations, including marches for women's and civil rights. In 1982, the Caucus established its annual Humanist Heroine Award, with the initial award being presented to Sonia Johnson. Other Humanist Heroines include Tish Sommers, Christine Craft, Anne N. Gaylor, Patricia Maginnis, Fran Hosken, Cleo Kocol, Carolyn McDade, Sherry Matulis, and Sally Roesch Wagner.[11]

In recent years, Feminist Caucus breakout sessions at AHA annual conventions have varied in focus: “Women’s Rights as Human Rights” in 2008; “Humanism, Feminism and Women in Politics” in 2009; “From Nursery Tales to Contemporary Tech Influences on Kids and their Keepers” and “Varying Views on Porn and Prostitution” in 2010; “Health and Sexuality in Our 50s and Beyond” in 2011.[12] In 2012 the Feminist Caucus declared it would be organizing around two principal efforts: "Refocusing on passing the ERA" and "Promoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."[13]

Humanist Charities[edit]

Official logo of Humanist Charities

Humanist Charities was established in 2005 and specializes in benevolent aid and action to further the health and welfare of humankind. Its purpose includes applying uniquely Humanist approaches to those in need and directing the generosity of American humanists to worthy disaster relief and development projects around the world.[14]

In 2011 Humanist Charities raised $5,000 from AHA members to donate to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund.[15]

At the end of 2008, Humanist Charities participated in a medical textbook drive for students of medicine in Afghanistan. The drive collected over 160 medical textbooks, which were shipped to Afghanistan via Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The drive sought to alleviate a chronic shortage of medical textbooks in Afghanistan caused by the systematic destruction of any materials depicting the human form, which was considered to be blasphemous, during the years of Taliban rule.[16] In September 2008 Humanist Charities raised over $2,500 on behalf of an effort by the Children of the Border project, a relief and development project run by humanist Sebastián Vélez of Harvard University, to expand emergency medical service and health care for expectant mothers living in the Haitian border region of the Dominican Republic.[16] When Cyclone Nargis struck the Asian mainland in May 2008, Humanist Charities worked with Planet Care/Global Health Access Program, a US-based nongovernmental organization, to deliver aid to Myanmar.[16]

Following severe and destructive monsoon rains in India in August 2007, Humanist Charities coordinated with the International School of Humanitarian Thoughts and Practices to send over $1,000 to assist in relief efforts in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.[16] In July 2007 Humanist Charities worked with the D.R. Schools Project to help bring free, secular and non-discriminatory education to Haitian-Dominican children living in the community of El Mogote, Dominican Republic. With donations totaling over $2,000, Humanist Charities was able to support the cost of the library building at the school.[16]

Appignani Humanist Legal Center[edit]

Official logo of the AHLC

The American Humanist Association launched the Appignani Humanist Legal Center (AHLC) in 2006 to ensure that humanists' constitutional rights are represented in court. Through amicus activity, litigation, and legal advocacy, a team of cooperating lawyers, including Humanist luminaries such as Jim McCollum, Wendy Kaminer, and Michael Newdow, provide legal assistance by directly challenging clear violations of the Establishment Clause and seeking equal rights for humanists, atheists and other freethinkers.[3]

The AHLC’s first independent litigation was filed on November 29, 2006, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Attorney James Hurley, the AHLC lawyer serving as lead counsel, filed suit against the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections on behalf of Plaintiff Jerry Rabinowitz, whose polling place was a church in Delray Beach, Florida. The church featured numerous religious symbols, including signs exhorting people to “Make a Difference with God” and anti-abortion posters, which the AHLC claimed demonstrated a violation of the Establishment Clause. In the voting area itself, "Rabinowitz observed many religious symbols in plain view, both surrounding the election judges and in direct line above the voting machines. He took photographs that will be entered in evidence."[17] U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks ruled that Jerry Rabinowitz did not have standing to challenge the placement of polling sites in churches, and dismissed the case.[18]

The AHLC is currently representing an atheist family who claims that the equal rights amendment of the Massachusetts constitution prohibits mandatory daily recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance because the anthem contains the phrase “under God.” The judge for this case, Jane Doe, et. als. v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District et al., heard oral arguments in January 2012.[19] Unlike previous cases relating to this issue, the AHA’s lawsuit does not allege that the “under God” version of the Pledge violates the Establishment Clause of the federal Constitution, which guarantees a separation of church and state. Instead, the court agreed with the AHLC's argument that daily recitation of the religious version of the pledge in public school classrooms discriminates against humanist and other atheist students in violation of the equal protection clause of the Massachusetts Constitution, which prohibits state discrimination on the basis of religious views.[20] In November 2012 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court permitted a direct appeal with oral arguments set for early 2013.[21]

LGBT Humanist Council[edit]

The LGBT Humanist Council of the American Humanist Association is committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families. The Council seeks to improve the lives of LGBT individuals through education, public service and outreach and serve as a resource for members of the American Humanist Association, the greater freethought community, and the public on LGBT issues.[22]

Humanist Society[edit]

In July 1939 a group of Quakers, inspired by the 1933 Humanist Manifesto, incorporated under the state laws of California the Humanist Society of Friends as a religious, educational, charitable nonprofit organization authorized to issue charters anywhere in the world and to train and ordain its own ministry. Upon ordination these ministers were then accorded the same rights and privileges granted by law to priests, ministers, and rabbis of traditional theistic religions.[23]

Since 1991 the organization has worked as an adjunct to the American Humanist Association to certify qualified members to serve in this special capacity as ministers. The Humanist Society's unique ministry prepares Humanist Celebrants to lead ceremonial observances across the nation and worldwide. Celebrants provide millions of Americans an alternative to traditional religious weddings, memorial services, and other life cycle events.[24]

Advertising campaigns[edit]

2008 Bus Campaign

The American Humanist Association has received national media attention for its various advertising campaigns, with media outlets often referring to their controversial nature among local residents and religious leaders.[25][26][27]

In 2008 the AHA ran ads on buses in Washington, D.C. that proclaimed "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake",[28] and since 2009 the organization has paid for billboard advertisements nationwide.[29] One such billboard, which stated "No God...No Problem" was repeatedly vandalized.[30]

In 2010 the AHA launched another ad campaign promoting Humanism, which the New York Times said was the "first (atheist campaign) to include spots on television and cable"[31] and was described by CNN as the "largest, most extensive advertising campaign ever by a godless organization".[32] The campaign featured violent or sexist quotes from holy books, contrasted with more compassionate quotes from humanist thinkers, including physicist Albert Einstein, biologist Richard Dawkins, and anthropologist Carleton Coon. In late 2011 the AHA launched a holiday billboard campaign "in cities across the United States where atheists have experienced discrimination due to their lack of belief in a traditional god".[33] Overall, the organization placed advertisements in 7 different cities: Kearny, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; Cranston, Rhode Island; Bastrop, Louisiana; Oregon City, Oregon; College Station, Texas and Rochester Hills, Michigan.

In November 2012, the AHA launched a national ad campaign to promote a new website, KidsWithoutGod.com, with ads using the slogans "I'm getting a bit old for imaginary friends" [34] and "You're Not The Only One." [35] The campaign included bus advertising in Washington, DC, a billboard in Moscow, Idaho, and online ads on the family of websites run by Cheezburger and Pandora Radio, as well as Facebook, Reddit, Google, and YouTube.[36] Ads were turned down for content by Disney, Time for Kids and National Geographic Kids.[37]

National Day of Reason[edit]

The National Day of Reason was created by the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists in 2003.[38] In addition to serving as a holiday for secularists, the National Day of Reason was created in response to the perceived unconstitutionality of the National Day of Prayer. According to the organizers of the National Day of Reason, the National Day of Prayer, "violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution because it asks federal, state, and local government entities to set aside tax dollar supported time and space to engage in religious ceremonies".[38]

Several organizations associated with the National Day of Reason have organized food drives and blood donations, while other groups have called for an end to prayer invocations at city meetings.[39][40][41] Other organizations, such as the Oklahoma Atheists and the Minnesota Atheists, have organized local secular celebrations as alternatives to the National Day of Prayer.[42] Additionally, many individuals affiliated with these atheistic groups choose to protest the official National Day of Prayer.[43]

Famous awardees[edit]

The American Humanist Association has named a "Humanist of the Year" annually since 1953. It has also granted other honors to numerous leading figures, including Salman Rushdie (Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism 2007), Oliver Stone (Humanist Arts Award, 1996), Katharine Hepburn (Humanist Arts Award 1985), John Dewey (Humanist Pioneer Award, 1954), Jack Kevorkian (Humanist Hero Award, 1996) and Vashti McCollum (Distinguished Service Award, 1991).

AHA's Humanists of the Year[edit]

The AHA website presents the list of the following Humanists of the Year:[44]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "About Humanism". Retrieved 2009-06-04. 
  2. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  3. ^ a b "AHLC mission statement". Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  4. ^ "AHA Action Center". Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  5. ^ "Local Group Information". Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  6. ^ List of Publications americanhumanist.org (Retrieved 2011-10-01)
  7. ^ "Roy Speckhardt on Huffington Post". 
  8. ^ "A Humanist View". 
  9. ^ "IHEU founding". Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  10. ^ "Feminist Caucus History". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  11. ^ "Feminist Caucus Previous Work". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  12. ^ "Feminist Caucus Current Initiatives". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  13. ^ "The Feminist Caucus of the American Humanist Association". Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  14. ^ "Support Humanist Relief Efforts". Humanist Charities. 2012-03-02. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  15. ^ "Recent Projects". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  16. ^ a b c d e "Humanist Charities Past Work". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  17. ^ Jones, Susan (2006-11-30). "'Humanists' Challenge Voting Booths in Churches". crosswalk.com. Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  18. ^ "Voting in churches is constitutional, says Florida federal court.". www.thefreelibrary.com. 2009-09-01. Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  19. ^ "Humanists in Massachusetts Superior Court argue against reciting pledge". www.rawstory.com. 2012-02-14. Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  20. ^ "Appignani Humanist Legal Center » Court Hears Oral Arguments in AHA’s Mass. Case Against “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance". Humanistlegalcenter.org. 2012-02-15. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  21. ^ "SJC to hear case from atheist family". Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  22. ^ "LGBT Council Mission Statement". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  23. ^ "Humanist Society's Early History". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  24. ^ "Humanist Society's Services". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  25. ^ "Ad Campaign Promoting Atheism Across U.S. Draws Ire and Protest - ABC News". Abcnews.go.com. 2010-12-05. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  26. ^ "Atheists Launch ‘Naughty, Not Nice’ Holiday Campaign to Target Discrimination Against Non-Believers". TheBlaze.com. 2011-11-21. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  27. ^ "‘Tis the Season’: Atheists Anti-Religion Campaigns Gear Up for Christmas". TheBlaze.com. 2010-11-10. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  28. ^ "'Why Believe in a God?' Ad Campaign Launches on D.C. Buses". Fox News. 2011-12-01. 
  29. ^ "American Humanist Association | 2009". Americanhumanist.org. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  30. ^ "Humanists replace billboard for the second time | News | KLEW CBS 3 - News, Weather and Sports - Lewiston, ID". Klewtv.com. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  31. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (2010-11-09). "Atheists' Holiday Message: Join Us". The New York Times. 
  32. ^ "Humanists launch huge 'godless' ad campaign". CNN. 2010-11-09. 
  33. ^ "Humanists Launch "Naughty" Awareness Campaign". Americanhumanist.org. 2011-11-21. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  34. ^ Duke, Barry (2012-11-14). "Getting too old for imaginary friends? American humanists have the answers". Freethinker.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  35. ^ "Kids Without God ad campagin". Americanhumanist.org. 2012-11-13. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  36. ^ "National ad campaign promotes KidsWithoutGod.com on buses and online". Secular News Daily. 2012-11-14. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  37. ^ November 13, 2012 (2012-11-13). "Atheist Ad Campaign Promotes Kids Without God; Already, Companies Are Refusing to Run Ads". Patheos.com. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  38. ^ a b National Day of Reason History
  39. ^ National Day of Reason Events
  40. ^ Center For Positive Atheism
  41. ^ Janet Zinc (May 6, 2010). "On National Day of Prayer, atheists renew call to end invocations at Tampa city meetings". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  42. ^ Minnesota Atheists Day of Reason
  43. ^ "National Day of Reason May 5, 2011". WordPress.com. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  44. ^ "The Humanist of the Year". American Humanist Association. Retrieved 1 May 2012. 

External links[edit]