Humanism is a progressive philosophy affirming the responsibility and right for neutrality in government towards religious matters, as well as the pursuit of ethical lives for the beneficence of humanity (AHA, 2017; International Humanist and Ethical Union, 2016; Oxford Dictionary, 2017).
Secular humanism, in addition, affirms these ideals while rejecting religious dogma and supernaturalism in morality and decision-making. Secularity in constitutional law has historically allowed for the blossoming of our deep-rooted emphasis on religious freedom. But conservative Christian undertones remain smattered in fundamental legislature intended to be humanistic. ‘One nation, under God’ seems stuck between the comfort of tradition and the push towards progress.
Take, for example, the popular sentiment in literature following the Second World War. Popular “neo-reactionaries”, or those wishing to dampen humanist causes, frowned upon political progress, creating an American disposition inclined towards comfortable conservatism in post-war culture. Orwell’s view that “merely political changes can effect nothing, progress is an illusion.”
The perception of the importance of humanism within law has been battered and warped, reducing its importance to mere legal exercise. Recently, in the aftermath of the 2017 election, an air of acceptability in returning to law of the 1950’s Cold War Era increased paranoia towards atheism because of its association with Communism (International Humanist and Ethical Union, 2016).
President Donald Trump won the appeal of voters through policy pledges around conservative religious and nationalist values (Ibid.). Trump’s election lowered the standard for acceptable public and political behavior. Recent legislature reflects the slow return to institutionalized oppression, localised recurring social marginalisation, and prejudice against the irreligious.
The struggle for equality and integration of humanism is constant. Where the U.S. Constitution prohibits governmental endorsement of one religion over the other, there are still attempts to establish religion (predominantly Christianity). Significant anti-secular laws at the state level disrupt the continuity of federal secularism.
Due to lack of political will to amend them, numerous unconstitutional laws impede upon humanist progress at a state level. Take the Arkansas stateconstitution, requiring that identified secularists may neither hold office nor testify in court — a direct contradiction to the federal constitutional prohibition in Article 6 of any religious test for office (Arkansas State Legislature, 1874). Similar laws exist in Maryland, Mississippi, Texas, both Carolinas, Tennessee and Pennsylvania (International Humanist and Ethical Union, 2016).
The anti-irreligious sentiment of the American legislative system may impart a social perception of true nationalism through adherence to Christianity. By extension, elected officials may feel inclined to promote Christian conservatism in campaign platforms and while in office. The continuation of Christian conservatism for political success has set a precedence, and by extension, a vicious cycle.
The negative consequences of identifying as secular in an elected government have debilitating consequences on success. Possible qualified candidates may be avoiding government positions because the majority of Americans would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate if they were an atheist as opposed to a religious candidate (McCarthy, 2015). American anti-secular sentiment of elected officials goes as far as to suggest “no other trait, including being gay or having never held elected office, garnered a larger share of people saying they’d be less likely to support the potential [presidential] candidate” (International Humanist and Ethical Union, 2016).
Popular sentiment against secular qualities extend into the socio-cultural arena. Social freedom of expression and advocacy of humanist values are limited. Those pressures against humanists are not in the fundamental right to free speech and expression, but, rather, in the ability to discuss topics about religion in a critical manner — in public.
The suppression of humanism can be through social pressure. Even if the right for free expression exists for American citizens, social context can reduce or deter the expression of humanistic or irreligious values. This amounts to a social privilege for the religious over the irreligious in American culture.
The very environment created by the 2017 election polarized activist efforts. A spike in activism interest was seen in voters disillusioned with the election outcome (Kirabo, 2016). This activism was not only for the maintenance of won rights and the pursuit of more complete equality, but in the protection against the reduction, or elimination, of extant rights.
Arkansas State Legislature (1874). Arkansas Constitution. Retrieved arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/Summary/ArkansasConstitution1874.pdf.
American Humanist Association (2017). What is Humanism?. Retrieved from https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/.
International Humanist and Ethical Union. (2016). Freedom of Thought Report: United States of America. Retrieved from http://freethoughtreport.com/countries/americas-northern-america/united-states-of-america/.
Kirabo, S. (2016, November 16). Post-Election, Humanist Activism Kicks into Overdrive. Retrieved from https://thehumanist.com/commentary/post-election-humanist-activism-kicks-overdrive.
McCarthy, J. (2015, June 22). In U.S., Socialist Presidential Candidates Least Appealing. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/183713/socialist-presidential-candidates-least-appealing.aspx.
Oxford Dictionary. (2017). Humanism. Retrieved from http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/humanism?q=humanism.