Wednesday, August 07, 2013

A History Lesson

Many humanists and secularists today are familiar with the Secular Coalition for America, but too few are aware of the history of such organizations. So here is a quick history lesson.

In 1968 Edward Ericson, leader of the Washington Ethical Society, social justice activist and writer, got the American Humanist Association and the American Ethical Union to start the Council for Humanist and Ethical Concerns (CHEC) with initial financial support from humanist philosopher and writer Corliss Lamont and matching funds from the AEU. An office with paid staff was created in Washington. Within a couple of years Ericson sought to expand the operation to include the Unitarian Universalist Association, and thus was born the Joint Washington Office for Social Concern (JWO).

The JWO moved into the UU lobby office in the Methodist Building on Maryland Avenue across the street  from the Supreme Court. Expenses were split between the AHA, the AEU and the UUA. Robert Edwards Jones, who had been the UU representative in the nation's capital and was one of the most highly esteemed lobbyists in Washington, headed the new paid staff. The WJO had an advisory board of 10 (later 11) from the three national organization which met monthly with Jones to develop policy on church-state, religious liberty and other issues. (Ericson, representing the AEU, and I, representing the AHA, served on that board for six or so years,) Working with religious and other non-profit organizations, the JWO became well recognized in Washington.

After the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, the JWO was involved with other groups in the founding of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, now the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a coalition of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish groups, the UUA, the AEU and the AHA.

Later in the 1970s both the AHA and the AEU ran short of funds and the JWO ceased operations.

In 1982 Ericson and Sherwin Wine, founder of the Humanistic Judaism movement, combined two organizations based in New York and Michigan and formed Americans for Religious Liberty. Subsequently, ARL CEO Edd Doerr represented ARL and the former JWO groups in testimony at congressional hearings on various church-state matters.

Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty (

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