35 Years Ago in Free Inquiry
“The campaign against the public schools has intensified in recent years … vigilante groups seek to censor what is being taught in the schools and rid them of the influence of secular humanism. The new law [the Education for Economic Security Act of 1984] and the rule [regulations proposed to implement the law] drafted by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) represents, as far as we are aware, the first official attempt by the federal government to ban ‘the religion of secular humanism’ from the public schools. … It is a dangerous development and an unwarranted assault on the freedom of speech clause of the First Amendment, and if allowed to go unchallenged, it may undermine the entire educational process. …
“There is a vast difference between indoctrinating students into a specific faith—or none—and teaching them how to carefully weigh arguments pro and con, which it is the business of education to do.”
—Paul Kurtz, “The New Witch-hunt Against Secular Humanism,”
Free Inquiry, Volume 5, No. 2 (Spring 1985)
Editor’s Note: Paul Kurtz (1925–2012) was the founding editor of Free Inquiry. The Education for Economic Security Act (EESA), adopted by Congress with minimal debate in the summer of 1984, represented a signal victory for religious conservatives who considered secular humanism an alien religion on the strength of an unfortunate remark by Associate Justice Hugo Black in a footnote to the U.S. Supreme Court decision Torcaso v. Watkins, 1961. Black erroneously included secular humanism in a list of nontheistic “religions.” Fortunately, EESA had a short sunset clause. When the law came up for congressional review in September 1985, the Senate voted to delete the seventeen-word passage barring magnet schools from using federal funds to inculcate secular humanism (over Sen. Hatch’s vigorous objections) before extending the bill. In November 1985, the House passed the Senate bill, and HR 1310 was signed into law.
25 Years Ago in Free Inquiry
“As secular humanists, we should defend the availability of safe, legal abortion not only out of a commitment to choice, but because abortion so powerfully expresses the Promethean impulse: the desire to take action to improve quality of life, even when—perhaps especially when—that means empowering individuals to pursue options that outmoded religious moralities might otherwise place off-limits. In simple terms, abortion is a good per se because, in a way that nothing else can, it allows women to make their own decisions whether or when to embrace the joys and obligations of motherhood. That avenue for self-determination is one we cannot allow to be closed by violence—or through apathy.”
—Tom Flynn, “Abortion Violence: The Crisis Deepened,”
Free Inquiry, Volume 15, No. 2 (Spring 1995)
Editor’s Note: Tom Flynn wrote at a time when radical-Christian violence against abortion clinics and abortion doctors was rising sharply. That trend would later crest with two events very near Free Inquiry’s offices in Amherst, New York. 1996’s “Spring of Life” saw anti-abortion protestors from across the country converge on Western New York in ultimately unsuccessful efforts to close abortion clinics in Buffalo and one of its suburbs, Amherst. In October 1998, Buffalo abortion doctor Barnett A. Slepian was assassinated in his Amherst home. Public revulsion to that murder encouraged a reduction in “pro-life” violence thereafter.