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Free of Charge 3 – “Humanist Manifesto I” and the Path of Freethought


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/09/01


Dr. Herb Silverman is the Founder of the Secular Coalition for America, the Founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, and the Founder of the Atheist/Humanist Alliance student group at the College of Charleston. He authored Complex variables (1975), Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt (2012) and An Atheist Stranger in a Strange Religious Land: Selected Writings from the Bible Belt (2017). He co-authored The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America (2003) with Kimberley Blaker and Edward S. Buckner, Complex Variables with Applications (2007) with Saminathan Ponnusamy, and Short Reflections on Secularism (2019), Short Reflections on American Secularism’s History and Philosophy (2020), and Short Reflections on Age and Youth (2020). He discusses: Humanist Manifesto I; freedom of speech; religious humanism; consistent parts over time; and freedom of speech or freedom of expression.

Keywords: freedom of expression, freedom of speech, Herb Silverman, Humanism, Humanist Manifesto I.

Free of Charge 3 – “Humanist Manifesto I” and the Path of Freethought

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: The original documentation of the humanist movements began with the Humanist Manifesto I from 1933 with an opening descriptive quotation by Raymond B. Bragg:

The Manifesto is a product of many minds. It was designed to represent a developing point of view, not a new creed. The individuals whose signatures appear would, had they been writing individual statements, have stated the propositions in differing terms. The importance of the document is that more than thirty men have come to general agreement on matters of final concern and that these men are undoubtedly representative of a large number who are forging a new philosophy out of the materials of the modern world. (American Humanist Association, 1933)

The obvious values delineated within an evolutionary perspective on a worldview, a collective effort for this worldview as presented, the bias of the times inherent in the language of “men,” while working against or in contradistinction to the views of the past or old philosophies with its replacement in this “new philosophy out of the materials of the modern world.” In much of the old world, religion reigned supreme; critics, doubters, unbelievers, and dissenters were shunned, banished, and killed. In this “new philosophy,” these “critics, doubters, unbelievers, and dissenters”[1] came together as “men” to ‘forge a new philosophy.’ In review of the fundamental tenets proposed in the outdated and historical document, the formal foundations of modern or American Humanism, i.e., “religious humanism,”[2] none of the speak to freedom of speech, free speech, free expression, or freedom of expression. In turn, they focus more on the proposition of a paradigm shift into a continual evolution paradigm in which change becomes inevitable without dogma and an emphasis on Humanism as a religious philosophy bound to a natural self-existent armature entitled “the Universe.” First question, why was freedom of expression[3] in general not emphasized at the time?

Dr. Herb Silverman[1],[2]: 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 Manifesto I (1933) is so-called because it was the first attempt to describe a formal humanist philosophy without any gods. The writers knew there would be additional manifestos as we increased our knowledge and cultural attitudes changed. The document speaks of social justice and scientific optimism. It refers 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 Manifesto I. 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 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 my first answer 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.

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

Silverman: Thank you.


American Humanist Association. (1933). Humanist Manifesto I. Retrieved from

Cornell Law School. (n.d.). First Amendment. Retrieved from

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, Secular Coalition for America.

[2] Individual Publication Date: September 1, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020:

[3] In this context, a “Member State” refers to a nation, country, or state with approved and formal status within the United Nations.

[3] The signatories to the Humanist Manifesto I (1933) as follows:

See American Humanist Association (1933).

[4] Ibid.

[5] In international rights, in Canadian law and the constitution, in regional rights stipulations, in the European Union, in the U.K., and in many other nation-states, the rights stipulations continually reference the right to “freedom of expression” as opposed to the more particular “freedom of speech.” The Americans emphasize “freedom of speech”; whereas, most others place more import on the generic and general “freedom of expression.”

[6] See Cornell Law School (n.d.).


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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