Rob Boston is the Editor of Church & State (Americans United for Separation of Church and State). Here we talk about legal training, human rights, and more.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: If ordinary citizens want to learn about the history of grassroots work for the improvement of conditions in their locale, where should they start?
Rob Boston: Communities and neighborhoods often have a person who’s known for local activism. Sometimes it may be more than one person. I’d recommend seeking this person (or people) out and asking what you can do to help. Don’t hesitate to learn from those who have experience.
Jacobsen: For young people entering legal training, who have less experience but more time, or adult learners looking to retrain in law, who have more experience but less time, any advice for those interested in entering into areas of law oriented on secular and freethought issues?
Boston: I’m not a lawyer, but I work with the legal team at Americans United. The main thing I would say here is to have an understanding of what the law can and cannot do when it comes to promoting secularism. I say this because some people see courts as a kind of trump card to defend separation of church and state, and in the United States, the federal courts have become more conservative so that’s not always the case these days.
It’s important that we choose our cases carefully. We don’t want to create bad law.
Jacobsen: Human rights provide a modern ethical framework for the secular and the religious. A bit like evolution, it’s the only game in town for everyone to have a fair shake. What challenges face secular women and men into 2020 regarding their human rights?
Boston: In my view, the biggest threat to human rights at this time is the worldwide rise of neo-fascism. For years, we have just assumed that human rights would expand – and indeed they did. In the United States, we experienced the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the LGBTQ rights movement, the immigrants’ rights movement and others in short order. Now we’re seeing a backlash. As I said, this is not limited to the United States. Xenophobic political movements that are often racist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant and anti-women are growing in power in many nations. Often, the people who align with these movements will cite some version of religious orthodoxy as at least a partially motivating factor for their program if not a major part of it. What they are trying to do is use “traditional” religious values as a vehicle to roll back the social progress we’ve seen in the past 60 years.
Jacobsen: Does a moral imperative exist for secular writers on issues within the ethics framework provided by this “only game in town”?
Boston: I would expand this question beyond writers and assert that humanists have an ethical duty to support human rights for all. It has to be part of our program. Indeed, the very foundation of humanism is the belief that we all sprang from a common origin and thus we’re equal.
Obviously, writers have a special role to play because they can help shape public opinion, but all of us who consider ourselves humanists must speak out to oppose the fascistic movements I’ve mentioned and advocate for the people these movements seek to oppress. But anyone who aspires to activism must find his/her own comfort level. For some people, marching in the streets is empowering, but others may prefer to work behind the scenes. For some people, donating money and supporting causes is the way to go, while others may want to actually lead movements. Whatever activists choose to do is fine, but I would caution people not to try to take on everything. You’ll get burned out that way.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your, Rob.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.