A new coalition of non-religious groups is borrowing a page from the gay rights movement so all people know that they are “openly secular.” The coalition, a first of its kind, is setting the trend of reaching out to religious people and religious groups by using a secular label that can include even those 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.”
The campaign “Openly Secular: Opening Minds, Changing Hearts,” was launched on September 20 at the 65th yearly meet of the Religion Newswriters Association. It offers families, clergy members and employers various resources including a website and a YouTube channel that features non-believers announcing their names and declaring themselves as being openly secular.
To spread awareness of discrimination against non-believers, members of Openly Secular turned to another project titled, “It Gets Better,” which was launched a few years ago by gay rights advocates. That campaign featured videos of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people sharing stories of being bullied and discriminated against. The aim of the campaign was to encourage other closeted individuals to come out, feeling unashamed. Today, many sociologists credit “It Gets Better” with the increasing acceptance of same-sex relations across the world.
Stiefel, who frequently works with religious people in his philanthropic work, said, “In this campaign we are not going to be critical of religious people or organizations. That does not mean there won’t be member organizations that continue to criticize religion.”
In fact, the coalition’s member groups rarely work together at the same time as each of them has a different concern and approach. For instance, Center for Inquiry focuses on advocacy and education while Freedom from Religion Foundation focuses on separation of church and state. Other groups like American Atheists are outspoken critics of religion.
While critics of atheism insist that the movement is not diverse enough to be called secular, Openly Secular’s inclusion of African-Americans, Jews, Hispanics and Muslims aims to prove those critics wrong. As a matter of fact, Openly Secular also has an international component whereby religious and nonreligious groups from Canada, Britain and the Philippines have signed up as members. Some coalition members have been critical of one another in the past but Stiefel clarified that as part of Openly Secular, all the groups have agreed upon focusing on one single issue, which happens to be discrimination.
“I’ll freely admit the discrimination we face is not like the discrimination faced by gay or black people,” Stiefel said. “But the death threats are not a rarity. It is a part of the territory. You speak up and extremists try and silence you with fear of death.”
This is only one of the many kinds of stories chronicled by Openly Secular, all of which can be viewed on its website. Famous faces like former NFL player Chris Kluwe and former Congressman Barney Frank can be seen in these videos though Stiefel said it was the stories of workaday secularists that urged him to launch the campaign.
Photo Credit: Devout None