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To Learn About American Secularism, Look to Secular Americans

by the Secular Coalition for America

Michelle Boorstein’s recent piece in the Washington Post raises many important issues and questions regarding the current and future state of American secularism. Noticeably absent from the piece, however, was any perspective from those within the secular community who are involved in secular organizing and advocacy. As a coalition of secular organizations, we believe this was a missed opportunity to inform the public about who is actually organizing in this space and what we are all doing.

We are a coalition that exists formally through the Secular Coalition for America, whose mission is to amplify the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States while protecting and strengthening the secular character of our government. It was founded in 2002 to formalize a cooperative structure for visible, unified activism and thereby improve the civic situation of citizens with a secular worldview. Twenty years on, this work has only grown in importance.

Twenty years ago roughly 10% of Americans were religiously unaffiliated. Since then, the number of unaffiliated Americans has almost tripled. At the same time, our public institutions have become further entrenched in applications of religious freedom that are hostile to secularism and pluralism. While this is disheartening, our coalition has continued to put forward an alternative that respects the rights of all Americans, no matter their religious affiliation.

For more than two decades, members of this coalition have been advocating on behalf of secularism and secular Americans at the federal, state, and local levels. We have met with hundreds of lawmakers and civil servants, as well as two presidential administrations. Last May, members of our coalition met with the Biden administration’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to highlight the needs of our community and propose actions that could strengthen and protect secularism.

Many analysts have rightfully pointed out that as the religiously unaffiliated increase in size, so does their potential for political influence. Yet harmful stereotypes and stigma remain—albeit fewer each year. Greater representation and visibility of our issues have a large role to play here, which is why the formation of the Congressional Freethought Caucus is such a positive development in our mission to promote secularism in Congress. As a nonpartisan organization, it is laudable to see ongoing efforts to organize and give a platform to secular voters in both major parties.

We know secularism is a widely held American value shared across religious and partisan divides, which is why we ally ourselves with religious groups that have taken vocal stances defending the separation of religion and government. In fact, there are many interfaith and explicitly religious organizations that also vocally and actively defend American secularism. We enthusiastically welcome the support and participation of religious individuals and groups who share our view that true religious freedom extends to people of all faiths and none.

Beyond the political, each of our organizations meets unique needs created due to growing religious disaffiliation and nontheism. With their own perspectives, communities, and missions, each organization continues to bring diverse nontheist Americans together under our unified coalition. It is the diversity of needs in our secular communities—made up of Americans who are young, Black, LGBTQ+, Hispanic, veterans, Jewish, ex-Muslim—that requires working in collaboration and solidarity. Secular America is bigger than any one person, group, or organization but we, the millions of religiously unaffiliated Americans, all have a story to share.


American Ethical Union

American Humanist Association

Black Nonbelievers

Camp Quest

Center for Inquiry/Richard Dawkins Foundation

Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations

Foundation Beyond Belief

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Recovering From Religion

Secular Coalition for America

Secular Student Alliance

Secular Woman

The Clergy Project

The Freethought Society

Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association

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