American Humanist Association

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American Humanist Association
Official AHA logo.jpg
PurposeAdvocate for progressive values and equality for humanists, atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers.
Key people
Rebecca Hale
David Niose
(Immediate Past President)
Roy Speckhardt
(Executive Director)
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American Humanist Association
Official AHA logo.jpg
PurposeAdvocate for progressive values and equality for humanists, atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers.
Key people
Rebecca Hale
David Niose
(Immediate Past President)
Roy Speckhardt
(Executive Director)

The American Humanist Association (AHA) is an educational organization in the United States that advances Humanism, a philosophy of life that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms the ability and responsibility of human beings to lead personal lives of ethical fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.[1]

The American Humanist Association was founded in 1941 and currently provides legal assistance to defend the constitutional rights of secular and religious minorities,[2] actively lobbies Congress on church-state separation and other issues,[3] and maintains a grassroots network of 150 local affiliates and chapters that engage in social activism, philosophical discussion and community-building events.[4] The AHA has several publications, including the bi-monthly magazine The Humanist, a quarterly newsletter Free Mind, a peer-reviewed semi-annual scholastic journal Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism, and a weekly Internet magazine Humanist Network News.[5]


In 1927 an organization called the "Humanist Fellowship" began at a gathering in Chicago. In 1928 the Fellowship started publishing the New Humanist magazine. H.G. Creel was the first editor. The New Humanist was published from 1928 to 1936. By 1935 the Humanist Fellowship had become the "Humanist Press Association", the first national association of humanism in the United States.[6]

The first Humanist Manifesto was issued by a conference held at the University of Chicago in 1933. Signatories included the philosopher John Dewey, but the majority were ministers (chiefly Unitarian) and theologians. They identified humanism as an ideology that espouses reason, ethics, and social and economic justice.[7]

In July 1939 a group of Quakers, inspired by the 1933 Humanist Manifesto, incorporated under the state laws of California the Humanist Society of Friends as a religious, educational, charitable nonprofit organization authorized to issue charters anywhere in the world and to train and ordain its own ministry. Upon ordination these ministers were then accorded the same rights and privileges granted by law to priests, ministers, and rabbis of traditional theistic religions.[8]


Curtis Reese was a leader in the 1941 reorganization and incorporation of the "Humanist Press Association" as the American Humanist Association. Along with its reorganization, the AHA began printing The Humanist magazine. The AHA was originally headquartered in Yellow Springs, Ohio, then San Francisco, California, and in 1978 Amherst, New York.[6] Subsequently, the AHA moved to Washington, D.C..

In 1952 the AHA became a founding member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) in Amsterdam, Netherlands.[9] As an international coalition of Humanist organizations, the IHEU stands today as the only international umbrella group for Humanism.

The AHA was the first national membership organization to support abortion rights. Around the same time, the AHA joined hands with the American Ethical Union (AEU) to help establish the rights of nontheistic conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War. This time also saw Humanists involved in the creation of the first nationwide memorial societies, giving people broader access to cheaper alternatives than the traditional burial. In the late 1960s the AHA also secured a religious tax exemption in support of its celebrant program, allowing Humanist celebrants to legally officiate at weddings, perform chaplaincy functions, and in other ways enjoy the same rights as traditional clergy.

In 1991 the AHA took control of the Humanist Society, a religious Humanist organization that now runs the celebrant program. Since 1991 the organization has worked as an adjunct to the American Humanist Association to certify qualified members to serve in this special capacity as ministers. The Humanist Society's ministry prepares Humanist Celebrants to lead ceremonial observances across the nation and worldwide. Celebrants provide millions of Americans an alternative to traditional religious weddings, memorial services, and other life cycle events.[10] After this transfer, the AHA commenced the process of jettisoning its religious tax exemption and resumed its exclusively educational status. Today the AHA is recognized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit, tax exempt, 501(c)(3), publicly supported educational organization.

Membership numbers are disputed, but Djupe and Olson place it under 50,000.[11] The AHA has over 400,000 followers on Facebook. [12]

Adjuncts and affiliates[edit]

The AHA is also the supervising organization for various Humanist affiliates and adjunct organizations.

Feminist Caucus[edit]

The Feminist Caucus of the American Humanist Association was established in 1977 as a coalition of both women and men within the AHA to work toward the advancement of women's rights and equality between the sexes in all aspects of society. Originally called the Women's Caucus, the new name was adopted in 1985 as more representative of all the members of the caucus and of the caucus' goals. Over the years, members of the Caucus have advocated for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and participated in various public demonstrations, including marches for women's and civil rights. In 1982, the Caucus established its annual Humanist Heroine Award, with the initial award being presented to Sonia Johnson. Other Humanist Heroines include Tish Sommers, Christine Craft, and Fran Hosken.[13] In 2012 the Feminist Caucus declared it would be organizing around two principal efforts: "Refocusing on passing the ERA" and "Promoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."[14]

Humanist Charities[edit]

Official logo of Humanist Charities

Humanist Charities was established in 2005 and its purpose includes applying uniquely Humanist approaches to those in need and directing the generosity of American humanists to worthy disaster relief and development projects around the world. In 2011 Humanist Charities raised $5,000 from AHA members to donate to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund.[15]

In September 2008 Humanist Charities raised over $2,500 for the Children of the Border project, a relief and development project to expand emergency medical service and health care for expectant mothers living in the Haitian border region of the Dominican Republic.[16]

Appignani Humanist Legal Center[edit]

Official logo of the AHLC

The American Humanist Association launched the Appignani Humanist Legal Center (AHLC) in 2006 to ensure that humanists' constitutional rights are represented in court. Through amicus activity, litigation, and legal advocacy, a team of cooperating lawyers, including Jim McCollum, Wendy Kaminer, and Michael Newdow, provide legal assistance by challenging perceived violations of the Establishment Clause.

LGBT Humanist Council[edit]

The LGBT Humanist Council of the American Humanist Association is committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families. The Council seeks to improve the lives of LGBT individuals through education, public service and outreach and serve as a resource for members of the American Humanist Association, the greater freethought community, and the public on LGBT issues.[26]

Advertising campaigns[edit]

2008 Bus Campaign

The American Humanist Association has received national media attention for its various advertising campaigns, with media outlets often referring to their controversial nature among local residents and religious leaders.[27][28]

In 2008 the AHA ran ads on buses in Washington, D.C. that proclaimed "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake",[29] and since 2009 the organization has paid for billboard advertisements nationwide.[30] One such billboard, which stated "No God...No Problem" was repeatedly vandalized.[31]

In 2010 the AHA launched another ad campaign promoting Humanism, which the New York Times said was the "first (atheist campaign) to include spots on television and cable"[32] and was described by CNN as the "largest, most extensive advertising campaign ever by a godless organization".[33] The campaign featured violent or sexist quotes from holy books, contrasted with quotes from humanist thinkers, including physicist Albert Einstein, biologist Richard Dawkins, and anthropologist Carleton Coon, and was largely underwritten by Todd Stiefel, a retired pharmaceutical company executive.[32]

In late 2011 the AHA launched a holiday billboard campaign, placing advertisements in 7 different cities: Kearny, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; Cranston, Rhode Island; Bastrop, Louisiana; Oregon City, Oregon; College Station, Texas and Rochester Hills, Michigan", cities where AHA states "atheists have experienced discrimination due to their lack of belief in a traditional god".[34] The organization spent more than $200,000 on their campaign which included a billboard reading "Yes, Virginia, there is no god.".[35]

In November 2012, the AHA launched a national ad campaign to promote a new website,, with ads using the slogans "I'm getting a bit old for imaginary friends" [36] and "You're Not The Only One." [37] The campaign included bus advertising in Washington, DC, a billboard in Moscow, Idaho, and online ads on the family of websites run by Cheezburger and Pandora Radio, as well as Facebook, Reddit, Google, and YouTube.[38] Ads were turned down for content by Disney, Time for Kids and National Geographic Kids.[39]

National Day of Reason[edit]

The National Day of Reason was created by the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists in 2003. In addition to serving as a holiday for secularists, the National Day of Reason was created in response to the perceived unconstitutionality of the National Day of Prayer. According to the organizers of the National Day of Reason, the National Day of Prayer, "violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution because it asks federal, state, and local government entities to set aside tax dollar supported time and space to engage in religious ceremonies".[40]

Several organizations associated with the National Day of Reason have organized food drives and blood donations, while other groups have called for an end to prayer invocations at city meetings.[41][42] Other organizations, such as the Oklahoma Atheists and the Minnesota Atheists, have organized local secular celebrations as alternatives to the National Day of Prayer.[43] Additionally, many individuals affiliated with these atheistic groups choose to protest the official National Day of Prayer.[44]

Famous awardees[edit]

The American Humanist Association has named a "Humanist of the Year" annually since 1953. It has also granted other honors to numerous leading figures, including Salman Rushdie (Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism 2007), Oliver Stone (Humanist Arts Award, 1996), Katharine Hepburn (Humanist Arts Award 1985), John Dewey (Humanist Pioneer Award, 1954), Jack Kevorkian (Humanist Hero Award, 1996) and Vashti McCollum (Distinguished Service Award, 1991).

AHA's Humanists of the Year[edit]

The AHA website presents the list of the following Humanists of the Year:[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About Humanism". Retrieved 2009-06-04. 
  2. ^ "AHLC mission statement". Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  3. ^ "AHA Action Center". Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  4. ^ "Local Group Information". Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  5. ^ List of Publications (Retrieved 2011-10-01)
  6. ^ a b Harris, Mark W., The A to Z of Unitarian Universalism, Scarecrow Press, 2009, ISBN 9780810863330
  7. ^ Walter, Nicolas. Humanism: What's in the Word? (London: RPA/BHA/Secular Society Ltd, 1937), p.43.
  8. ^ "Humanist Society's Early History". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  9. ^ "IHEU founding". Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  10. ^ "Humanist Society's Services". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  11. ^ Djupe, Paul A. and Olsen, Laura R., "American Humanist Association", Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics", Infobase Publishing, 2014
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Feminist Caucus Previous Work". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  14. ^ "The Feminist Caucus of the American Humanist Association". Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  15. ^ "Recent Projects". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  16. ^ "Humanist Charities Past Work". Retrieved 2012-03-28. [dead link]
  17. ^ Jones, Susan (2006-11-30). "'Humanists' Challenge Voting Booths in Churches". Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  18. ^ "Voting in churches is constitutional, says Florida federal court.". 2009-09-01. Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  19. ^ Brown, Matthew Hay. "Veterans' cross in Maryland at the center of national battle", Baltimore Sun, May 25, 2014
  20. ^ a b Kuruvilla, Carol. "Humanists suing to tear down cross-shaped World War I memorial", Daily News, March 1, 2014
  21. ^ Jacobs, Danny. "Bladensburg Peace Cross Sparks Legal War", Daily Record, March 1, 2014
  22. ^ Kreuz, Greta. "Bladensburg residents argue over WWI memorial", WJLA-ABC7 News, February 27, 2014
  23. ^ Lloyd, Jonathan, Rascon, Jacob, and Shin, Tony. "Mother Removes Cross Memorial After Dispute With Atheist Rights Group", NBC4-Southern California, March 6, 2014
  24. ^ "SJC to hear case from atheist family". Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  25. ^ a b Spoto, Maryanne. "'Under God' is not discriminatory and will stay in pledge, judge says",, February 6, 2015
  26. ^ "LGBT Council Mission Statement". Retrieved 2012-03-28. [dead link]
  27. ^ "Atheists Launch ‘Naughty, Not Nice’ Holiday Campaign to Target Discrimination Against Non-Believers". 2011-11-21. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  28. ^ "‘Tis the Season’: Atheists Anti-Religion Campaigns Gear Up for Christmas". 2010-11-10. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  29. ^ "'Why Believe in a God?' Ad Campaign Launches on D.C. Buses". Fox News. 2011-12-01. 
  30. ^ "American Humanist Association | 2009". Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  31. ^ "Humanists replace billboard for the second time | News | KLEW CBS 3 - News, Weather and Sports - Lewiston, ID". Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  32. ^ a b Goodstein, Laurie (2010-11-09). "Atheists' Holiday Message: Join Us". The New York Times. 
  33. ^ "Humanists launch huge 'godless' ad campaign". CNN. 2010-11-09. 
  34. ^ "Humanists Launch "Naughty" Awareness Campaign". 2011-11-21. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  35. ^ "Ad Campaign Promoting Atheism Across U.S. Draws Ire and Protest - ABC News". 2010-12-05. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  36. ^ Duke, Barry (2012-11-14). "Getting too old for imaginary friends? American humanists have the answers". Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  37. ^ "Kids Without God ad campagin". 2012-11-13. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  38. ^ "National ad campaign promotes on buses and online". Secular News Daily. 2012-11-14. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  39. ^ November 13, 2012 (2012-11-13). "Atheist Ad Campaign Promotes Kids Without God; Already, Companies Are Refusing to Run Ads". Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  40. ^ National Day of Reason History
  41. ^ Center For Positive Atheism
  42. ^ Janet Zinc (May 6, 2010). "On National Day of Prayer, atheists renew call to end invocations at Tampa city meetings". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  43. ^ Minnesota Atheists Day of Reason[dead link]
  44. ^ "National Day of Reason May 5, 2011". Retrieved May 7, 2011. 
  45. ^ "The Humanist of the Year". American Humanist Association. Retrieved 1 May 2012. 

External links[edit]