Openly Secular

Kimberly Winston reports on the Openly Secular campaign.

A new coalition of atheists, humanists and other nonreligious groups is taking a page from the gay rights movement and encouraging people to admit they are “openly secular.”

The coalition — unprecedented in its scope — is broadening a trend of reaching out to religious people and religious groups by making the secular label a catchall for people who are not religious.

I’m not sure how making the secular label a catchall for people who are not religious is reaching out to religious people, but maybe the idea is that “secular” comes across as less antagonistic than “atheist.” People can of course be both secular and religious under one meaning of the word – but that one meaning isn’t the only one, so we get clashes and arguments.

The campaign, “Openly Secular: Opening Minds, Changing Hearts,” was unveiled at the 65th annual gathering of the Religion Newswriters Association here on Sept. 20. It includes a website, resources for families, employers and clergy, and a YouTube channel featuring both prominent and rank-and-file nonbelievers announcing their names followed by the declaration, “I am openly secular.”

I’ve been asked to do one of those videos, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

To raise awareness of discrimination against nonbelievers, Openly Secular looked to the “It Gets Better” project launched several years ago by gay rights activists. In that campaign, openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people sat down in front of a video camera and told their stories of discrimination and bullying and encouraged closeted LGBT people to do the same. Many sociologists credit the “It Gets Better” project with the growing acceptance of same-sex relationships.

One hint? If the goal is to increase acceptance of non-religious people, it would probably be a good idea not to keep broadcasting brutally callous and wrong opinions on rape. Just a thought.

But as innovative as the campaign claims to be, it has a major hurdle. One of the main backers of the campaign is the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, headed by the famous evolutionary biologist who is one of the most outspoken critics of religion and religious people. Project Reason, founded by vocal anti-theist and New York Times best-seller Sam Harris, is also a supporter.

Openly Secular organizers are confident that hurdle can be overcome. Robyn Blumner, executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, told reporters the Oxford don has many friends who are religious.

Does he have many friends who have been raped?

A frequent criticism of the atheism movement is that it is not diverse enough, but Openly Secular’s coalition includes humanistic Jewish, African-American, Hispanic and ex-Muslim groups. The campaign also has an international component. Groups from Canada, England and the Philippines have signed on.

Cool. Now if it could just fix The Woman Problem…



  1. Graham Mullan says

    I have not followed in any detail the apparent controversy surrounding Prof. Dawkins and what he may, or may not, have said concerning rape but I do know that, seen from the point of view of fundamentalist religious types, the most reliable way of ruining the reputation of an opponent is to embroil then in a scandal involving sex. I’m only surprised that no-one has yet manufactured anything involving him and children. Guaranteed to ruin anyone.

  2. says

    Hi Graham,

    You seem to assume that “ruining” Richard Dawkins is someone’s goal. It isn’t. At least, it’s not Ophelia’s goal, or the goal of anyone I know who has a problem with his repeated indefensible statements about rape. Those are ruinous enough on their own, and quite frankly we’d rather he not have made them in the first place. As to why no one has “manufactured anything involving him and children”– it’s because that’s called libel, and it’s both illegal and immoral. Hope that clears things up a bit.

  3. AsqJames says

    encouraging people to admit they are “openly secular.”

    That framing is not to my liking.

    It’s also quite jarring immediately after likening Openly Secular to the gay rights movement – I don’t remember the latter’s slogan being “OK, I admit it: I’m gay.” It was “Out and Proud” wasn’t it? Thus all the “Pride” festivals. You don’t “admit” to something you’re “proud” of, and you do not display your “pride” in something by making an “admission”.

  4. Anthony K says

    I have not followed in any detail the apparent controversy surrounding Prof. Dawkins and what he may, or may not, have said concerning rape but

    “Knowing as little as possible is what makes my opinion objective and worth sharing!”

  5. Doug Berger says

    I’m still trying to figure out why they didn’t just name the group “Openly Not Religious”

    Like the Secular Student Alliance, Openly Secular technically is open to everyone although the group is focusing on nastiness toward atheists – like getting disowned by the parents.

    I’m not sure the group is really needed since we have multiple groups who can help out if a kid gets kicked out of her home and there are plenty of lawyers if a legal cases is needed.

  6. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    @1 Having spent much of the weekend looking at the large volumes of evidence linking past and current Tory MPs to serial rapes of children in care it is very clear that your original premise is completely and utterly wrong. Not only is the mere hint of scandal not enough to doom a career, a senior police officer can send an urgent warning that an MP has been making unexplained night time visits to children’s homes outside his constituency where allegations of sexual abuse are currently being investigated and not only will he remain an MP, he will be made deputy party chairman shortly afterwards.

    The problem with Dawkins is that he is peddling the same ignorant prejudices and assumptions that enabled the abusers for so long. Like David Steel’s comment that all Cyril Smith is accused of is ‘spanking a few bare bottoms’, the statements made recently by Dawkins on Twitter come across as totally unacceptable as the full facts of the situation emerge.

    It is because of people like you and in particular ignorant establishment buffoons that the abuse in the children’s homes went on so long. The reformers who went public with accusations were ridiculed and removed from public life by people who simply didn’t want to ask any questions or find out any facts. Dawkins is not implicated in that scandal but his comments look identical to the comments made by members of the establishment rallying round to blame the victim to protect their friends.

    Yes, I am aware that there are on occasion false claims made. If you search the net you will find accusations made against every past UK PM since Ted Heath. These are not claims of that type. They are claims where the staff of a children’s home are accused of a long list of abuses and there is an official enquiry with terms of reference deliberately drawn up to exclude all the evidence that isn’t in the least independent as the members are all people whose jobs would be at risk if the report found the evidence to be true. Then five years later the staff go to jail for sex offenses but the likes of Peter Morrison can’t even be questioned by police. And the only reason I use his name a second time is because the dead can’t sue for libel.

    On the Dawkins issue, I found it pretty astonishing that the women would be circulating a ‘creep list’ of men known to be a problem. That for me suggests that there is a very real problem. But what was the response from the establishment? Dawkins immediately dismissed the possibility that the list might be a sign of a real problem. Instead he bashed the women.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *