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Humanist Manifestos


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): HerbSilverman.Com

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/09/02

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: The fundamental tenets proposed in the outdated and historical document Humanist Manifesto I does not speak to freedom of speech, free speech, free expression, or freedom of expression. It focuses on Humanism as a religious philosophy. First question, why was freedom of expression[3] in general not emphasized at the time?

Dr. Herb Silverman: To me, freedom of expression must include freedom of speech, as well as freedom of the press and the right to peaceably assemble. So my answer to this question will include my answer to your second question about freedom of speech.

Perhapfreedom of expression was assumed because it is included in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.  Humanist ManifestoI (1933) is so-called because it was the first attempt to describe a formal humanist philosophy without any gods. The framers knew there would be additional manifestos as we increased our knowledge and cultural attitudes changed. The document spoke of social justice and scientific optimism. It referred to “socialized and cooperative economic order” and “equitable distribution of the means of life.” Though it wasn’t explicit, it seemed to favor socialism. There was no mention of racism, sexism, minority rights, or environmentalism. 
Humanist Manifesto II (1973) promotes democracy, civil liberties, human freedoms, separation of church and state, and elimination of discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, or national origin. It also refers to ecological damage and overpopulation.

I was on the American Humanist Association Board in 2003 when we approved Humanist Manifesto III. We defined Humanism as a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity. (I hoped to get “atheism” into the definition, but had to be satisfied by “without supernaturalism.”) This document also says that humanists are guided by reason and inspired by compassion. It adds that humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change and that ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.

Jacobsen: Second question, why was freedom of speech[4], in particular, excluded, too?

Silverman: See answer above
Jacobsen: What did this document provide for the foundations of modern Humanism through its “religious humanism”?

Silverman: “Religious Humanism” was an integral part of Humanist ManifestoI. The phrase is still used today by some freethinkers, though it is not without controversy. Ethical Culture societies as well as many Unitarian Universalist congregations describe themselves as religious humanists. There seems to be no difference in worldviews between secular humanists and religious humanists. Secular humanists see their worldview as a philosophy, while religious humanists see it as a religion.                                   

But that depends on your definition of religion. Secular humanists think of religion as theistic. Religious humanists say that religion is that which serves the personal and social needs of a group of people sharing the same philosophical worldview. They say religious humanism offers a basis for moral values, an inspiring set of ideals, methods for dealing with life’s harsher realities, a rationale for living life joyously, and an overall sense of purpose.

When I first became a board member of the American Humanist Association, I discovered it called itself religious, for tax advantages, I argued for abandoning its religious designation, and it eventually did. One of its affiliates to which I belong, Humanist Society, is religious, because that helps its members in some states be allowed to perform weddings. I am a humanist celebrant who, in South Carolina, has performed several weddings, none of which were religious.

Jacobsen: What parts have the humanist movements kept as consistent parts over time because of the value of the principles?

Silverman: The movements have always had an evolutionary, atheistic worldview, though often with different terminology. What I said about Humanist Manifesto III in answer 1 above is a summary of what I think has always been the essence of humanism. We defined Humanism as a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Jacobsen: Do freedom of speech or freedom of expression seem like fundamentally humanist values?

Silverman: They are fundamental humanist values, as well as fundamental values in any democratic society.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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