On September 20, 2014, a new atheist coalition group called Openly Secular was formed to create an umbrella movement and label that all secular people can unite under, without dividing themselves along lines described by atheist, agnostic, skeptic, and the like. This article describes the movement and who is behind it.
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.
“We wanted to rise above who is an atheist, who is an agnostic, who is a humanist, who is a secular Jew,” said Todd Stiefel, founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation and a main force behind the coalition. “This needed to be about something everyone could rally behind so we intentionally used the word secular because it was one thing we could all agree on.”
Indeed, some of the coalition’s almost 30 member groups seldom work together as many have different concerns and approaches. Some, like Freedom from Religion Foundation, focus on church-state breaches, while others, such as the Center for Inquiry, focus on education and advocacy. Member groups like FFRF and American Atheists are also vocal critics of religion.
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.
Finding a good umbrella label that encompasses the varying degrees and qualities of disbelief in the supernatural is not an easy task. Creating new labels such as ‘shafars’ (to stand for skeptics, humanists, atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, rationalists, secularists) did not catch on so secular is as good as anything else. Of course, religious people who support the Establishment Clause separation of church and state may also think of themselves as ‘secular’ in that they view religion as a private matter and think that the public sphere should be secular. They would not be considered secular in the eyes of this new group but we should not quibble too much.