New secular coalition formed

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.


  1. funknjunk says

    I love this. A good option for those who felt a bit underwhelmed by the Secular Global Council, and the folks involved with that. This larger umbrella looks to be a great idea to me.

  2. says

    Unfortunately, I find myself a bit concerned when I see that Todd Stiefel is “a main force” behind this. I fear he is one of those types* of people who does not place much value on poor people, except for in a Mother Teresa way. That would be a “Look at this awesome work we’re doing to help poor people. Aren’t we just great?” kind of way. The poor people’s value is in making the rich person feel good about themself.

    The thing about this, though, that eases those concerns is this may be set up in a way so that poor people can participate and feel welcome.

    * Steifel has expressed that he would perhaps consider himself a Republican, but the main thing keeping him out of that political party is their pandering to religion. If that is one’s main problem with the Republican party, I can’t help but have a problem with them.

  3. One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login says

    Took a couple of days to get around to looking at the article and the site. I am very dubious about the value of this for two reasons. First is the support of the foundations of Dawkins, of Harris, and of Steifel, none of whom I trust or would want representing me (I’m totally fine with the SSA which I contribute to regularly).

    Second and to me more telling is the complete absence of any program beyond “hey, we’re nice people just like you.” That’s not enough in my opinion to justify contributions. Being secular doesn’t mean just being a nice tax-paying citizen, it means being for reproductive freedom, taxation of churches, and other positive ideas that are necessary consequences of the idea. Existing (ahem) “secular” organizations don’t follow through on this, and the new one appears not to either.

    They have made some pretty brochures (see their resources page) and the one addressed to employers is actually impressive, having a clear explanation of US Title VII. But look at the one titled “Shared Values, Different Perspective: A Guide for Clergy”. (The title alone makes me bristle: there are very definitely “values” that I do not “share” with any clergy, and to suggest a general sharing of values with only a bit of “perspective” dividing us is a smarmy cheat.) But this brochure gives the “secular” game away. Look at the section “Leading by Example: Dispelling Secular Myths”. The #1 secular myth the clergyman is advised to dispel? “Secular people are just angry at god.” Why is it a myth? “Secular people don’t believe in a god, so they can’t be mad at a god.”

    Oops. Cover blown.

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