I've served as executive director of the American Humanist Association since 2005, fighting back against the religious right as they seek to turn theology into law. You may have seen me on the news, as I appear occasionally on Good Morning America, CNN, Fox News, and NPR, among others. I've also just published a book, Creating Change Through Humanism.

Want to know more about the nontheist movement and the current threats to secular governance? Ask away!

Comments: 122 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

Frajer15 karma

I feel like politics is becoming increasingly evangelical, would you agree?

theamericanhumanist16 karma

Yes. It seems like they are trying to one-up each other in order to claim the banner of Most Holier Than Thou Politician.

wandafish421 karma

I think Scott Walker won most holier than thou.

theamericanhumanist2 karma

Perhaps this round he did. It'd be entertaining if it didn't have such serious consequences!

whoa_yall13 karma

How do you guys even find the energy to combat a religious government in America? Seems exhausting. And what threats concern you more than others?

theamericanhumanist13 karma

It constantly renews my energy to hear about all the students (like Jessica Ahlquist and Isaiah Thomas) out there facing discrimination head-on. After last night's debate I worry for America. It's sliding more and more toward requiring a religious test for public office.

karolgajda11 karma

Hi Roy. Since you asked ... what do you believe are the current threats to secular governance?

And more importantly, what can we do on an individual level to help combat those threats?

theamericanhumanist13 karma

Actually the biggest threat is religious privileging, what I call "Special Rights for the Religious." And we're seeing that more and more: religious exemptions for vaccines, religious exemptions from performing same-sex marriages or serving LGBT customers, exemptions from providing birth control. Religion is afforded special rights that non-religious people aren't. This is wrong.

The need for our politicians to invoke god and religion, like in last nights debates is a serious matter itself because it indicates there willingness to put their personal beliefs above the needs of their constituents, many (probably most) of whom don't share their particular faith. Elected leaders who use religion to advance extremist ideology like removing reproductive access for women or finding ways to stop LGBT people from getting married are all huge threats.

The biggest thing an individual can do to combat these threats is being open about your humanism, atheism, or secularism. When you demonstrate to others that you are good without a god, it helps dispel stereotypes and myths about nonbelievers. Even in places of the country where it's very difficult to come out (you could lose your job, be ostracized in the community, etc.), we need more people with the courage to do it. You may be surprised to find a lot more people who think just like you.

Also, get involved politically. We have to call out politicians when they try to enforce their religious beliefs and values on others. We have to stand up when they call America a "Christian nation" and remind them that we are a nation of many beliefs---and none at all. Keep an eye out for dangerous bills in your city or state that show preference to one religion or another, and organize as many people as you can so these bills don't become law.

And lastly, I hope you join the American Humanist Association which would help us work on these issues more effectively.

karolgajda1 karma

Thank you, Roy. I'm already quite open about it (youtube, blog, facebook, et al.). Although I'm not an activist in the sense of writing letters or placing phone calls to politicians so that's a good reminder.

Just picked up your book on Kindle and looking forward to more from you.

theamericanhumanist1 karma

Thanks! Sounds like you're making a difference already and poised to expand it.

Blanketzc7 karma

Does your organization have any impact or influence within the US military?

theamericanhumanist9 karma

While it's not our primary area of focus, our organization does get involved in trying to reduce religious influence on the military at every opportunity, and we work cooperatively with a great group called Military Association of Atheist and Freethinkers.

To give an example we're currently engaged in a lawsuit aiming to break through the special right of religious to have military chaplains--we're seeking to make it possible for humanists to become chaplains too. We've also co-sponsored a packed-room Congressional briefing on this subject, and are making good headway.

millenialmalfunction6 karma

What would you say to the (many) people who claim nontheists lack a sense of morality?

theamericanhumanist10 karma

I get that in nearly every interview, even with the liberal media who should know better. Since there's lots of different ways to answer, so I'll do so differently than I did elsewhere on this thread. (I also like GoBrandiRanger's response.) A modestly aggressive approach might be:

"Would you ask Jew or a Buddhist how it is that they are moral and Jewish/Buddhist at the same time? You wouldn't ask that because such questions assume that many or all of that faith are immoral. And while you don't want to offend them you don't mind offending nontheists, of which there are many more in this country---in fact, more than Jews, Buudhistst, Muslims, and Pentacostalists combined. If all nontheists were immoral, the millions of us in this nation and the majorities in nations like Norway and the Netherlands, would lead to catastrophic results, but far more often we see catastrophes initiated by those who claim to know the mind of God. So do you still want to know how nontheists can be moral?"

GoBrandiRanger4 karma

Is there any real hope of implementing full separation of Church and State?

theamericanhumanist5 karma

Long-term, yes. As the numbers of none's keeps advancing, eventually it will be a political liability (like it should be now) to engage in religious grandstanding. That's a pre-requisite to getting the government to once and for all get out of the religion business. Until then we can chip away at that job in Congress and the courts.

GoBrandiRanger2 karma

How can the average Secular Humanist help your cause?

theamericanhumanist4 karma

-Report to us anything on the local/state level you spot that looks like a violation, we have a 90% win rate handling these issues. -Make sure your representatives know where you stand by visiting them, calling them and writing to them. -When you're with folks who see or are participating in a church-state conflation, remind them that it excludes you and others. -Not trying to over-push my book, but I have whole chapters on what you can do.

HMSErebus3 karma

Hey Roy - I'm wondering what sort of legal work you guys are up to these days? How're you challenging religious influence on a local or state level, given all the difficult decisions with RFRA at the federal level?

theamericanhumanist6 karma

We actually had a few good wins in just the past month---see this article this article written by our legal director David Niose (also author of "Fighting Back the Right" and "Nonbeliever Nation") on TheHumanist.com. There's been a few cases where coaches are leading school football teams in prayer at public schools: students have the right to pray, but coaches can't lead it. We also fight against prayers during graduation ceremonies or when schools force students to attend school assemblies that feature religion or prayer.

RFRA is definitely making things harder, but on the plus side, all progressive groups (not just secular ones) have really jumped on board with fighting religious exemptions. It's something the AHA was long advocating against, but now that RFRA is being used to discriminate on LGBTQ issues, more people are seeing the special rights for the religious negatively. So I have the sense that we're building toward having the public support need to challenge RFRA federally and in the states that have there own RFRA like laws.

TheSpiritof18483 karma

Hello Roy, thanks for doing this AMA. I'm a big fan of the AHA, and I hope you don't mind answering the following:

-How would you define "Humanism" in the contemporary sense?

-What has been the AHA's biggest accomplishment this year in your views?

-Do you have to be a feminist to be a humanist? A question asked by your Facebook page, where the answer in the comments was a resounding yes. I disagree because I do not see third wave feminism as a movement that truly promotes egalitarianism. What's your view on the matter?

Once again, thank you for doing this AMA, please excuse typos, I'm on mobile.

theamericanhumanist5 karma

Humanism is the not so radical idea that you can be good without a god. More than that if you say you're a humanist, it means you get your knowledge from reason, science, and experience, rather than divine revelation or ancient texts. And it means you have empathy for others and value compassionate solutions to the challenges we face today.

Tough to call our biggest accomplishment. I feel the American Humanist Association is constantly nudging the needle toward reason and encouraging everyone to appreciate human values over mythical ones. But that's ongoing. One of our several legal victories stands out to me. It was our second victory with a Mississippi public school who wanted to have required assemblies where a minister preached to the students. After winning the first time and getting a judge order to stop doing it, they did it again! This year the judge paying our legal fees and providing thousands to our plaintiff family, and importantly the judge is requiring education on the First Amendment for the school's faculty.

I just typed feminism in Google at it tells me it means "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men." Yes, it's a natural conclusion drawing from our humanist reliance on reason and empathy, that women should have equal political, social, and economic rights.

iamdrewhawkins2 karma

The Boy Scuts of America has relatively recently allowed gay scouts and leaders.... but still enforces and maintains that scouts need religious guidance, and as a Eagle Scout I was forced to be disingenuous about my true feelings regarding my beliefs, or lack thereof, in order to earn my Eagle scout rank.

Specifically what can be done in large private organizations such as the BSA to introduce nonthiest options when they have such long running traditions of theism?

theamericanhumanist3 karma

While I generally feel it's beyond the scope of my agenda to influence private organizations to allow nontheist option, the Boy Scouts of America is a special case because they aren't really fully private. They get all kinds of advantages in laws and governments and are s pervasive that they should be required to be a public accommodation for all. It may be a long time before the same public pressure that convinced the BSA to open its doors to gay scouts also forces them to accept nonbelievers. Raising public awareness is key since that's the primary pressure point. Whenever there's an opportunity to do so we also seek to remove their government privileges. Such campaigns have the double impact of showing BSA that their discrimination costs them, and the public attention the campaign gets (win or lose) raises awareness.

wandafish422 karma

Thoughts on last night's GOP debate? God was mentioned A LOT.

theamericanhumanist3 karma

You bet. I counted 19 times! Here's the highlight reel ones that indicate their willingness to allow their personal religious views to trump everything else: KASICH: Everybody has a right to their God-given purpose. CARSON: And the one that I’ve advocated is based on tithing, because I think God is a pretty fair guy. HUCKABEE it’s going to take leadership who sees the greatness of this country, and who believes that once again we can be one nation, under God. CRUZ Well, I am blessed to receive a word from God every day in receiving the scriptures and reading the scriptures. And God speaks through the Bible. WALKRE: What God calls us to do is follow his will. And ultimately that’s what I’m going to try to do. RUBIO: And I believe God has blessed our country. This country has been extraordinarily blessed. And we have honored that blessing. And that’s why God has continued to bless us.

GoBrandiRanger2 karma

It amazes me how few of them are aware, or acknowledge that "one nation, under God" has only been in the pledge of allegiance since 1954.

theamericanhumanist4 karma

I agree. Our Boycott the Pledge campaign is helping educate students, teachers and families that kids can't be forced to say the pledge and that if enough of us (and our allies) refuse to say it till it's fixed, we can make it "one nation indivisible" again.

PumpkinBuns1 karma

So long as it's their Christian God and not some dirty muslim, jew, or otherwise God. Right? It's scary lengths they go to pander.

Do you believe THEY actually believe this stuff or are they just going with what's popular for their voters?

theamericanhumanist0 karma

Hard to say how many of them believe it deep down or are just using it for their political gain. Huckabee and Cruz, as much as I'm not their fans, seem be really believe it.

Sometimes it helps to see these people in person so you can see their mannerism and all when the camera isn't running. I know, having attended events with Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed that I got the sense Robertson believed every crazy thing he said and that Reed was just doing what he thought would get him access to power.

OhMyTyson2 karma

Do you have an estimate on acceleration of the exodus from religion on millenials ?

theamericanhumanist5 karma

Check out this Pew Poll There's a chart half-way down called Unaffiliated Make Up Growing Share Across Generations. There you can see that the numbers of nones are increasing across the board, but fastest for the youngest. Assuming the trend line is right, probably double digit increases for the young millennials over seven years. That's fast!

gregcavanaugh2 karma

I live in Virginia and there was recently a vote in the state assembly to allow for a prayer or invocation to proceed government events. It passed. The bill claims to be non-denominational, but the spiritual leaders would be invited by the regulatory body, and only those invited can be considered. It seems to me that this is a way to discriminate or open the door to discrimination. Is this something that your organization sees often? And is it something you would consider taking action against?

I have contacted my delegate that voted in favor of the bill and expressed my thoughts, but I doubt anyone else in my district will.

theamericanhumanist3 karma

Yes, this is a problem that got much worse when the Supreme Court OK'd these legislative prayers in Greece v. Galloway.

We're trying to narrow that decision by working on a lawsuit that stops legislative prayers where just the (often all Christian) government officials are allowed to give the invocations. Contacting our representatives like you did can certainly help. We also have a can't beat em' Join em' strategy where we try to get our members to do humanist invocations, helping them legally get in the door when needed. Check out Secular Invocations!

theamericanhumanist2 karma

Great speaking with you all, I encourage you to go to my book's website. Do any of you still have a burning question? Ask here or catch me on Twitter @RoySpeckhardt -Roy

Aethroz1 karma

Not sure if you are still answering questions, but here's one. As an Educator, I am faced daily with the "one nation under god" debate. I would never force my beliefs (or lack thereof) upon students, but to me the pledge is more of a show of respect to the nation. Is your group leaning toward removal of students reciting the pledge completely, or just removal of the phrase? I never force any students to recite anything, but I do expect all of then to stand and respect the pledge and the moment of silence. How do you feel about this small requirement?

theamericanhumanist2 karma

Students don't have to participate in the pledge including standing for it. Any requirement for them to do so is illegal and has been since before the words Under God were added. We are calling on folks to stand up for religious freedom by sitting it out until its fixed with the under god phrase removed.

Some folks have raised good reasons for there not being a pledge at all, but that's not my fight. As a parent with kids in the public schools, I'll be thrilled to have it back to one nation indivisible.

MrBoogerBoobs1 karma

What's your favorite dinosaur?

theamericanhumanist4 karma

The Brontosaurus kind of came back from the dead (like Jesus was fabled to have done). Rescuing the brontosaurus from paleontological purgatory

Mandy_Graylizard1 karma

How do you create meaningful dialogue that leads to change with a person whose ideology isn't based on logic or reason?

theamericanhumanist11 karma

Even if folks have faith as their foundation instead of more reliable tools like reason and science, they still may be open to change.

I don't expect to make headway with public figures like Mike Huckabee, Bill O'Reilly, and Sarah Palin, since they have rigid personalities that they have to maintain in order to keep their positions, but normal people are influenced when they are informed that what they were told about the Founding Fathers all being devout Christians is mistaken. Normal people are swayed when they get to know open atheists and humanists who are good people. Change isn't lightning fast, but it's possible and any friendly dialogue is a step in the right direction.

theonlymagikarp1 karma

Do you like video games?

theamericanhumanist1 karma

Do you like video games?

Sure! I occasionally will get into a game and play it until I either beat the game of get close but tired of the final process. I'm currently just about done with Madden Mobile, but I'm not wed to any particular genre.

jrbcnchz1 karma

How would you define the difference between approaching issues as a humanist vs, say, as an atheist, and what is the meat and potatoes of the humanist response to the notion that human morality comes only from a god/gods?

theamericanhumanist3 karma

First I should say that like most humanists I know, I'm both an atheist and a humanist. In fact, while you could be a non-atheist and still be a humanist, believing in a god that answers today's prayers is definitely inconsistent with modern humanism. So we atheists and humanists are usually on the same page on issues. But since atheism only means you have no god-based (theistic) belief system, humanism's additional emphasis on empathy and compassion does sometimes lead to different conclusions. Example: Karl Rove is an atheist, but definitely not a humanist. Atheism has less political consequences than humanism. I just wrote about this earlier this week in Psychology Today. By the way, a number of the commenters on that article seem to have no idea what humanism is. They could use some Reddit education.

The idea that god is needed for morality is inherently discriminatory to humanists and other nontheists. In fact. morality is is a natural human phenomenon developed when we are babies with no exposure to religion and honed over the years. From psychologist Jean Piaget research on the game of marbles to more recent work by psychologist Kirsten Weir confirms this. And to be blunt about it, since there is no god, obviously gods aren't the source of goodness.

joelschlosberg1 karma

What is your preferred umbrella term for non-theists? I see that you've used "nones" in your answers, which I've always liked but wondered why it never caught on more.

theamericanhumanist1 karma

There's no perfect term, and I'd not argue against using any term that suits you, but I use nontheist frequently since it includes atheist, agnostic, humanist, etc. Nones are a overlapping group. The nones are those who are unaffiliated with religion, but a number of them are theists. Of course, with the rise of the nones, so also rise the numbers of all the other secular identities.

joelschlosberg1 karma

Do you think there is a chance that a major and new religion will arise and last in the United States in the 21st century on the scale Mormonism did in the 19th and 20th?

theamericanhumanist1 karma

Certainly major new religions are possible.

When I went to see the Book of Mormon I noticed that the Church of Latter Day Saints advertises Mormonism to those to go see the show. It seems incredible that they might get a single convert from those who see some of the embarrassingly far-fetched aspects of Mormonism. If that's possible it speaks to just how needy some Americans are for the comforts of faith. And as long as such a need exists, ambitious people will think of increasingly more effective ways to meet it.

joelschlosberg1 karma

What are some secular charities that should be better known?

theamericanhumanist0 karma

While technically, advocacy organizations like the American Humanist Association is a charity, I'm guessing you mean which secular charities are performing direct public service. With that in mind, I highly recommend: Foundation Beyond Belief which supports a variety of such work, SMART Recovery which provides a secular approach to addition recovery that's more effective than AA, and Camp Quest which provides fun week-long summer camps for kids of freethinkers.

the_Hallelucinator1 karma


theamericanhumanist2 karma

The Galloway decision makes clear that if a local legislative body has a legislative prayer practice, it must be inclusive and non-discriminatory. If your local government has refused to allow atheists and humanists to deliver secular invocations, please contact our legal department and provide them with the details. We have successfully helped in many cases. Here's the contact form

edmanet1 karma

What's your favorite Kurt Vonnegut book?

theamericanhumanist3 karma

While I should say A Man Without a Country since he has a short chapter on how he was president of the American Humanist Association, my real favorite is probably Cat's Cradle--I ought to go back and re-read it.

drag0nslave11 karma

Do you anticipate an "escape velocity" type of event wherein, all of a sudden, mass numbers of people unsubscribe to religion?

If so, what event would that be?

theamericanhumanist2 karma

I'm skeptical about one trigger event that would flip-flop religiosity in the US. It's hard to imagine how any Catholics, let alone the vast majority of them stay loyal to the Church after the priest pedophilia pandemic, but they are. It's hard to imagine how millions of Americans aren't swayed by the overwhelming evidence that humans evolved, but somehow they aren't. So I doubt we'll see an escape velocity event, but rather a series of steps along the path. Key near future events to watch for will include the second Reason Rally in Washington DC, and the first person to be elected to an open seat in Congress who runs as openly humanist.

wandafish421 karma

Star Trek or Star Wars?

theamericanhumanist2 karma

Star Trek, humanist Gene Roddenberry forever! Though Star Wars is pretty cool too, I think I prefer Seth MacFarlane's versions of it better.

PU171 karma

Who do you support in the presidential election and why?

theamericanhumanist6 karma

As leader of the American Humanist Association, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, I can't legally work for or against any candidate for public office. Personally, I haven't made up my mind but am really liking what I'm hearing from Bernie Sanders. He seems to get what it means to keep government and religion separate, and at the same time supports the individual rights and responsibilities that seem consistent with my view of humanism.

wandafish421 karma

What do you think about Arian Foster's recent announcement on ESPN about not believing in God?

theamericanhumanist2 karma

Terrific! It's about time a prominent NFL player announces that he doesn't buy religion. Too often sports and religion are combined, but doing so is almost as bad as mixing religion with government.

Now, if only Foster's injury would heal quickly so my fantasy football team with him on it has a chance this season.

Tanimal151 karma

I'm a Catholic and I would like to point out that there are a lot aspects about religion, especially mine, that I don't agree with.

What's the worst thing have you had to face doing what you do? In my (very) catholic community, standing up as nontheist can be very threatening. How do you deal with the hate from people who swear by an allegedly benevolent being?

theamericanhumanist7 karma

As a former Catholic myself I can understand where you're coming from. At first I tried to modify my Catholicism bit by bit to fit with my values but eventually I realized that I was no longer a Catholic. I wrote about this in my just released book, Creating Change Through Humanism, but it's sometimes difficult to come out as a humanist.

I do get a steady stream of hate from religious veterans, fundamentalist parents, and even Megyn Kelly, but I know that it's just difficult for them to accept that there are good atheists out there, all goodness doesn't actually come from their god.

Tanimal151 karma

I'd like to learn more about humanism. I'm wary of labels like it though, any -ism kinda puts me off. I think its possible to be good without the religious burden. I think it even adds more value to the goodness because outside of social and self accountability, you can't cite god as your reason.

PumpkinBuns5 karma

What's delicious about humanism is that you can finally take full responsibility for your life and your actions and hold yourself accountable. After turning from Christianity, I found this very empowering and actually made me care MORE about my fellow persons.

wandafish423 karma

Humanism is yummy, indeed.

theamericanhumanist3 karma

Humanism is yummy

That's a line from Bedazzled... Funny!

Peidorreiro-9 karma

Believing in God isn't the same thing to be "religious". There are people that aren't "religious" (human invention) but believe in God.

My question is: why atheists like to generalize everything?

GoBrandiRanger1 karma

You're generalizing in stating all Atheists generalize. Can you elaborate further on what exactly you mean? A general statement about generalization is not direct enough.

Peidorreiro-5 karma

All atheists that I know (in person), are idiots that generalize everything (religion, beliefs, even politics), and famous ones (like Dawking) are the same.

So yes, it seems that I'm generalizing everythin, but put in my context, I'm not.

But in general, atheists are really stupid people.

theamericanhumanist2 karma

While I think your generalization that "atheists are really stupid people" is derogatory and false, I think it's fair to state that atheists aren't immune from ignorance. Just as some religious people who don't know enough atheists falsely think of atheists as a monolithic immoral group, so can some atheists who don't know enough religious people (or Muslims or Christians) can falsely think of the religious as a monolithic regressive group. Atheists sometimes also falsely assume that Muslims, Baptists, or Jews, all believe all the tenants of those faiths, when in truth peoples beliefs are more like snowflakes with very few being exactly the same.

theamericanhumanist1 karma

I couldn't agree more abut separating religious identity from belief. There are nonreligious people who believe in gods and religious people who don't. In fact, there are millions of Americans who choose to identify as religious, even with particular traditional religions, but don't believe any of the theology. I'd personally find that a difficult way to live, but the survey data show this group is bigger than the entire active atheist movement.

I think it's human to want to categorize and generalize, but that doesn't mean we have to give-in to such simplifications and over-generalizations.