The American Humanist Association (a founding member organization of the International Humanist and Ethical Union) has praised President Obama’s comments at the National Prayer Breakfast, expressing gratitude that in his remarks the President included and commended nontheists among those who are leading relief efforts in Haiti. “The compassion and decency of the American people is expressed… by Americans of every faith, and no faith, uniting around a common purpose, a higher purpose,” Obama stated at the event this morning, 4 Feb. 2010.
“By including us in his acknowledgement of the overwhelming and amazing response to the Haitian catastrophe, President Obama echoed what we have claimed all along, that one can be good without God,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “For humanists and others who don’t believe in an afterlife, we recognize that this is the only life we have and we have a responsibility to make it the best it can be. That means helping others in need, such as providing relief in times of disaster-which is exactly what our aid organization Humanist Charities is doing right now in Haiti. Humanist Charities was the first on the ground in Jacmel, a region in Haiti that was devastated by the earthquake but had not received much attention from the media. We have made a big difference for the people there,” said Speckhardt.
Humanist Charities is an explicitly secular relief organization administered by the American Humanist Association. It donated over 50,000 US Dollars to Haitian relief efforts immediately following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January.
In addition to including nontheists in his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, humanists were pleased that President Obama used the forum as an opportunity to condemn Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill. The bill, introduced by Ugandan MP David Bahati, would make homosexuality a capital offence in Uganda. Bahati is connected with the fundamentalist religious network, the Fellowship Foundation, which has numerous connections in Washington and, with congressional sponsorship, organizes the National Prayer Breakfast. In condemning the Ugandan bill, Obama said, “We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are [with] odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.”
“President Obama used this opportunity to not only reiterate his concerns with the Ugandan bill, but to do so in front of an audience that has direct influence on the bill’s sponsor,” noted Speckhardt. “In doing so, he showed great leadership. We hope it will help stop Bahati’s efforts.”
Speckhardt expressed some overall concerns with the nature of the National Prayer Breakfast itself, however, noting that it is essentially a religious event: “Despite being pleased with Obama’s remarks this morning, it is still troubling that President Obama and other elected officials continue to implicitly sanction this event,” he said. Speckhardt also questioned the connection of the Fellowhip to the National Prayer Breakfast, saying its involvement makes the event even more controversial and divisive.
The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event held since 1953 in early February that brings together the president and other politicians with Evangelical leaders.
The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.