A Look Back

Several months ago, a committee of Council for Secular Humanism and Center for Inquiry staff members collaborated on a list of twenty-nine conspicuous achievements from the Council for Secular Humanism’s first twenty-nine years. We compiled the original list (from which the below was gently adapted) for an online fund-raising effort, but after the work was finished, I have to admit I was taken aback to see how much this organization has accomplished. If you’re a longtime reader of Free Inquiry, few items on this list will come as a surprise, but I hope you’ll feel some of the same pride I did when you see them all gathered in one place. As the Council steps into its thirtieth year, here’s the world’s fastest summary of what has gone before.

—Tom Flynn

The Council for Secular Humanism’s Top 29 Achievements

by (in alphabetical order) Norm R. Allen Jr., Derek Araujo, Tom Flynn, D. J. Grothe, Whitney Kemp, Ronald A. Lindsay, Sherry Rook, and Andrea Szalanski

  1. The Council for Secular Humanism was founded in 1980 by Paul Kurtz. Secular humanism rejects supernatural accounts of reality and embraces the fullness of human life by creating a positive alternative framework.
  2. The Council issued “A Secular Humanist Declaration” in 1980 with fifty-eight prominent endorsers, such as Sidney Hook, A.J. Ayer, Francis Crick, Albert Ellis, and B.F. Skinner. The Declaration garnered front-page headlines worldwide.
  3. Publication of Free Inquiry magazine began with the Winter 1980/81 issue. Free Inquiry set out to be a provocative, intellectually stimulating journal and is generally recognized today as the authoritative voice of secular humanism in the United States.
  4. The Council founded the International Academy of Humanism, which has included many of the leading scholars, intellectuals, and writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
  5. The Council launched the First Amendment Task Force, a network of volunteer attorneys concerned with protecting church-state separation and fundamental human rights. The FATF has participated in dozens of legal battles. (It is now associated with the Center for Inquiry.)
  6. The Council successfully sued to end tax-funded publication of an annual prayer anthology compiled by the chaplain of the U.S. Senate.
  7. The Council for Secular Humanism held the first conference spotlighting the displacement of moderates by fundamentalist conservatives in U.S. Baptist colleges and seminaries.
  8. At the time of the Council’s founding, secular humanism was declared public enemy number one by Religious Right leaders, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
  9. The Council held the famous 1985 “Jesus in History and Myth” conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which fostered renewed scholarly interest in the problems of a “historical Jesus.”
  10. In the mid-1980s, The Council helped defeat efforts to have secular humanism classified as a religion by the federal courts. Paul Kurtz provided expert testimony, and current Center for Inquiry President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay filed a critical brief.
  11. The Council held the first Mormon-Humanist Dialogue, linking secular humanists with dissident academics whom the Mormon church had threatened with excommunication. (Other important dialogues sponsored by the Council have included meetings with Vatican representatives and leaders of the Baptist church.)
  12. The Council formed the James Madison Memorial Committee, which catalyzed the preservation of Montpelier, historic home of James Madison, and bestows the James Madison Award to recognize outstanding church-state activism.
  13. The Council saved the birthplace of agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll from demolition and accomplished its rehabilitation at a cost of more than $250,000. (The Council continues to operate the nation’s only freethought museum there each summer and fall.)
  14. Under the leadership of Norm Allen Jr., The Council launched African Americans for Humanism, the first permanent humanist outreach to the nonreligious black community.
  15. The Council launched the Campus Freethought Alliance, forerunner to today’s CFI/On Campus, providing outreach to students at two hundred college campuses. Derek Araujo and D.J. Grothe, both of whom now work with CFI, were among its initial leaders.
  16. The Council exposed the faith-healing tricks of televangelist Peter Popoff (dealing his ministry a serious blow and incidentally providing inspiration for the 1992 Steve Martin film Leap of Faith).
  17. The Council recruited more than twenty national humanist organizations from Europe, Africa, and Asia into the international humanist movement.
  18. In 1984, the Council held a groundbreaking conference challenging the apocalyptic tradition in Christianity, which then-President Ronald Reagan suggested had shaped his views on nuclear policy.
  19. In 1999, the Council issued “Humanist Manifesto 2000,” successor to the original “Humanist Manifesto” (1933) and “Humanist Manifesto II” (1973).
  20. The Council raised tens of thousands of dollars for victims of “acts of god” through S.H.A.R.E. (Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort).
  21. The Council for Secular Humanism filed a lawsuit to end Florida’s faith-based initiative, which clearly seems to violate language in the state constitution forbidding any financial aid to religious organizations (in progress).
  22. The Council established the Freethought Trail, an informal network of abolitionist, feminist, anarchist, freethought, and other radical reform sites within eighty miles of the Ingersoll birthplace (see www.freethought-trail.org).
  23. With Jim Christopher, the Council established SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Our Selves), the first self-help recovery group offering an alternative to religious “twelve step” recovery programs, now active worldwide.
  24. The Council launched the Secular Humanist Bulletin, a lively newsletter for associate members of the Council, now in its twenty-fourth year of publication.
  25. The Council produced more than three hundred episodes of The Humanist Perspective, a half-hour public affairs television show aired on more than thirty cable systems around the country.
  26. The Council provides speakers and debaters for humanist groups and campus groups nationwide.
  27. The Council for Secular Humanism pioneered summer adult-education programs for humanists: our “summer sessions” starting in the late 1980s grew into the Center for Inquiry Institute.
  28. Free Inquiry became the first major U.S. publication to reprint the notorious Danish cartoons satirizing extremist interpretations of Islam; Borders and WaldenBooks stores refused to carry the issue, attracting a small media firestorm. Several Canadian bookstore chains refused to carry the following issue, which didn’t make much sense to us either.
  29. Council spokespersons continue to be consulted by the media for their views on cartoons, crosses, crèches, cranks, censorship, churches . . . and dozens of other topics not beginning with the letter c.

Several months ago, a committee of Council for Secular Humanism and Center for Inquiry staff members collaborated on a list of twenty-nine conspicuous achievements from the Council for Secular Humanism’s first twenty-nine years. We compiled the original list (from which the below was gently adapted) for an online fund-raising effort, but after the work was …

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