We humanists know that any protections of equal rights, whether those we enjoy in practice or those to which we aspire, have meaning only in the context of a legal and constitutional environment that supports them. Last year, for the first time in the history of our republic, a major right, recognized for half a century, was taken away by the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe in the Dobbs case.
The radically activist judicial movement that brought about Dobbs—characterized by interpretations of ‘originalism’ that morph as necessary to achieve the ends in a given case—represents an antidemocratic threat that could transform our democratic institutions into authoritarian ones within a few years. Erosion of the rights of nontheists is especially likely, given the Christian supremacist underpinnings of that judicial movement. In fact, we have already seen Supreme Court decisions in 2022 that further erode the separation of religion and government.
This extremist judicial movement works in tandem with political actors driven by a White Christian Nationalist ideology refusing to accept election results, denying the racist history of the republic, and demonizing the LGBTQ+ community. American humanists need to brace ourselves for an extended period of struggle to preserve both our broad democratic rights as well as our rights as nonbelievers, a period that may well last decades. The AHA has been fighting for humanists for over eighty years and remains committed to that struggle for however long it takes.
During 2022 the AHA continued to have an impact well beyond its resources because of the hard work of our staff and volunteers. Being a grassroots organization, many of our efforts are geared towards supporting the nearly 250 AHA chapters and affiliates promoting humanism and encouraging community engagement. With the assistance of our staff, the local groups adapted well to the pandemic and moved most of their programming online, enabling them to host more than 3,000 events across the country in 2022. The AHA Center for Education continued to offer a wide variety of programming including scientific topics such as the minds of animals, contemporary ones such as pandemic misinformation and ethical matters such as antiracism and inclusion. Our robust and focused legal efforts continued as we pursued several cases such as one on behalf of a five-year-old and her parents against an Oklahoma school system that hosted a “missionaries” assembly every month for decades, during which students were given copies of the New Testament and coerced into participating in talks about Jesus. As part of our sustained efforts with Congress and the White House to ensure humanist voices are heard on policy issues, last summer we organized our most successful Lobby Day ever, mobilizing humanists from across the country to hold more than fifty meetings with Congressional offices to advocate for the Every Child Deserves a Family Act.
The AHA is different from many non-profits in not being driven from the top down but by its grassroots membership. Our members elect the Board that oversees the organization. Our local groups live their humanism on the ground. We survive and thrive because of the support and dedication of our membership.
The success of the AHA is crucially dependent on fully realizing talent from the ground up. We depend on the hard work of individual staff members and the many hundreds of volunteers across the country who generously give their time, talent, and treasure. While the names of those in AHA leadership positions may be most familiar to you because you see them in publications or emails, our organization owes a great deal more to the staff and volunteers whose names you may not recognize or even ever see. We will depend on their efforts—and your continuing support—even more as the AHA faces very challenging times in the years ahead, fighting for human dignity and combating the antidemocratic and radically extremist religious forces arrayed against humanism and the fundamental democratic traditions of our republic.
President of the American Humanist Association