Openly Secular: A Needed Project With A Vague Name

Logo for the Openly Secular project

I’ve been part of the non-religious community for 20 years and one thing is constant, we have many different groups to support us and it seems new ones show up regularly. Case in point is ‘Openly Secular’, a ‘new’ coalition of several large secular groups. Its mission of drawing attention to discrimination of non-religious people is needed but I’m disappointed in the fact that they named the group ‘Openly Secular’ instead of ‘Openly Non-religious’.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and other secular groups have joined together to form a new coalition called Openly Secular to highlight and overcome discrimination in America.

Atheists and other nonreligious people not only face discrimination on a regular basis, but the prejudice often goes unrecognized because it can be socially acceptable to distrust those outside the majority religious faith. A Gallup poll in 2012 found almost half of Americans would vote against a well-qualified presidential candidate from their party, if he or she was an atheist.

“Our mission is to is to eliminate discrimination and increase acceptance by getting atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, humanists and all nonreligious people to be open about their beliefs,” said Todd Stiefel, Chair for the Openly Secular coalition and founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation. “By being open about our beliefs and values, we can show that we, like all people, are worthy of love and kindness undeterred by religious differences.”

Announcing the ‘Openly Secular’ Coalition

The group’s website,, has a lot of good information about ‘coming out’ as a non-religious person. I particularly loved the toolkits available under “Resources“. The information gives a good presentation on how to identify as non-religious and how to navigate a new chapter in your life after you make the break with religion.

Another excellent resource is seen as soon as you reach the website. Videos of numerous people, some famous but most are not, telling their story of living openly non-religious.

The audience the group is trying to reach is young people and others who might have wondered for years why religion didn’t work for them.

I wish I had this group around when I was still trying to shoe horn religion into my increasingly atheist world view. It might have saved me some time.

Openly Secular also wants to reach the whole spectrum of freethinkers:

“We are broadening and expanding the (Out) campaign to make it easier for people to become open with fewer social consequences,” Stiefel said. “We are also expanding the open strategy beyond atheists by reaching out to agnostics, humanists and even the spiritual but not religious.”

They will also enlist religious and civil rights organizations in the effort, Stiefel said.

New ‘Openly Secular’ group seeks to combat anti-atheist discrimination

While I do applaud the effort to eliminate discrimination against the non-religious, it didn’t fill me with excitement to see they named the group ‘Openly Secular’. I was disappointed.

I heard that it took a year of planning to launch the group and I can imagine the excuses used not to use the name ‘Openly Non-religious’ or ‘Openly Not Religious’ (which would have been my vote).

It seems these large groups like Openly Secular and the Secular Student Alliance have an unwarranted concern with giving religious people a sad by being honest and upfront that the group is non-religious and some members are even *GASP* atheist.

I won’t bore you with yet another dictionary debate but usually the reasons for running away from ‘non-religious’ and the ‘A’ word can include those words being seen as “negative”, “doesn’t say what we are for”, or “is anti-religion”. Which are all cop outs – IMHO.

‘Secular’ can mean non-religious but Buddhists can be non-religious yet aren’t all secular. Some Jews are secular but still believe in God – they just don’t follow all the religious rules for their faith.

Secular also refers to government neutrality with regards to religion such as the 1st Amendment and tax exemptions for churches. There are people who are religious yet support a secular government – which is a good thing.

The ‘Openly Secular’ name can be confusing without having the back story and those outside the non-religious community won’t have that back story. What happens if a liberal Christian wants to be part of the group?

It reminds me of the effort, years ago, to apply the name ‘Brights’ to non-religious people like myself. It was rejected by average non-religious people. One reason was it came off sounding arrogant. It was trying to put “lipstick on a pig“.

It’s ironic that ‘Openly Secular’, who’s mission is to end the social cost of being open and honest about one’s non-religious life, would try to whitewash the focus of the group by using a vague name like ‘Openly Secular’.

Sure the information and press releases use the “bad” words like non-religious and atheist but with the group name being murky it won’t “look” so antagonistic to the religious community – like putting lip stick on a pig.

This labeling issue has frustrated me for a long time but I will support the new group and recommend it to people looking for information about being non-religious. The discrimination horror stories and more subtle bigotry like polls showing atheists shouldn’t be elected to public office need to end.

I hope Openly Secular helps do that.

One more minor quibble. It would be nice if ‘Openly Secular’ could be a bit more transparent on who is involved with the project. I know the groups like the Dawkins Foundation and SSA but I would like to know how Openly Secular, the group, is structured and how donations are spent.