Interview with Edd Doerr – CEO, Americans for Religious Liberty

by | March 17, 2020

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Edd Doerr was the CEO of Americans for Religious Liberty. He was in this position since 1982. He was the author of a number of books including My Life as a Humanist. He was a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville, Maryland.

Here we talk about his life and work in brief.

*I have been informed Mr. Doerr died on February 6, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you, e.g., geography, culture, language, religion or lack thereof, education, and family structure and dynamics?

Edd Doerr: Grew up in Catholic schools. Made the easy change to humanist by age 18. Married. Two children. Served as president or vice-president of the American Humanist Association 14 years between 1985 and 2003. A columnist in humanist journals for over 50 years. Writer for nearly 70 years.

Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?

Doerr: B.S. in Education, Indiana University, 200+ credit hours. Taught school in Indiana and South America for about 9 years.

Jacobsen: What were the main takeaways from those 9 years of teaching? What were the core differences that you noticed between teaching in Indiana and South America, e.g., the students and the expected educational methodology?

Doerr: In South America I taught in a private school, in the US in public schools. I came away with an appreciation for the importance of good secular education for all children and have spent the last 50-plus years defending public education and church-state separation.

Jacobsen: How did you get up to 200+ credit hours? That seems quite high. Why pursue so many credits?

Doerr: Working and going to evening classes to work on a master’s degree, which I did not quite finish.

Jacobsen: As a writer for more than 70 years and, especially, for humanist audiences, what have you seen as the main objections against humanism? What has been your standard response? Also, you debated the late Christopher Hitchens. Several years after his death, what do you consider his legacy in writing and in impact on secular culture?

Doerr: The objections to humanism by traditional religionists are too numerous to list and of course are easily refuted. A great many people in the US, Canada, Europe, and other developed countries have lost interest in religion but simply have either not heard of humanism or have given the matter little thought. Hitchens and I agreed on many things; our disagreement seemed to be over my view that humanists need to work with religious folks on issues of common interest, such as climate change, religious liberty, public education, reproductive choice. I might add that I was long a friend and admirer of Dr. Henry Morgentaler, and that I was the person who proposed Margaret (“Handmaid’s Tale”) Atwood for the Humanist of the Year award.

Jacobsen: As the President of the Americans for Religious Liberty, what tasks and responsibilities come with the position?

Doerr: Writing and editing Voice of Reason quarterly journal for 36 years. Published over 20 books. Testified at congressional hearings. Guest on hundreds of radio and TV talk shows. Lectured in over 30 states.  Plus, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Colombia.  Involved in over 70 church-state legal cases. Sadly, after 36 years ARL finally ran out of resources and had to cease operations.

Jacobsen: Founded in 1981, what have been the real victories and honest failures in the efforts of Americans for Religious Liberty for secularism, the separation of church and state?

Doerr: Hard to judge total impact, but believe that our efforts had some effect in defending secularism, public education, women’s rights, and church-state separation.

Jacobsen: Who have been integral individuals and organizations that you have collaborated with on secularism in America? What were those battles?

Doerr: Far too many to list. American Civil Liberties Union, teacher organizations, assorted coalitions, Paul Kurtz, Francis Crick, Leo Pfeffer, and many many others.

Jacobsen: What continue to be the perennial issues of the separation of church and state for the United States?

Doerr: Defending public schools, abortion rights, church-state separation, working on climate change are the major ones.

Jacobsen: What are the newer and ongoing issues? Why are these crucial issues under the current administration?

Doerr: Same as above. The Trump administration has of course been the worst in memory.

Jacobsen: Who are important voices in the combatting of these regressive forces on each of the issues listed above?

Doerr: Civil libertarians, liberal Democrats, teacher unions. pro-choice organizations, concerned citizens across the religious spectrum.

Jacobsen: What relevant books, and activists, artists, authors, philosophers, public intellectuals, scientists would you recommend for readers here?

Doerr: Among many others – Paul Kurtz, Bertrand Russell, Leo Pfeffer, ACLU, Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry magazine, Isaac Asimov, Richard Dawkins.

Jacobsen: Who would you consider the greatest humanist in history?

Doerr: Many of them – Epicurus, Lucretius, Tom Paine, Darwin, Jefferson, and many more too numerous to list.

Jacobsen: How can people become involved with the donation of time, the addition of membership, links to professional and personal networks, giving monetarily, exposure in interviews or writing articles, and so on?

Doerr: Support humanist, abortion rights, environmental, public education, women’s rights, church-state separation groups. Be active on the internet where it can be useful. Write letters to editors.

Jacobsen: What are organizations dealing most effectively with those issues, specifically?

Doerr: Too many to list in the US and I am not familiar with those in Canada other than the Ontario group that defends public education.

Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?

Doerr: With Trump in the White House and political and religious extremist conservatives in positions of power in many countries, we all need to work harder than ever to keep our world safe.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Edd.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-booksfree or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

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