Ryan Bell, a Pasadena tenants’ rights activist and the humanist chaplain at USC who ran for a seat on the Pasadena City Council earlier this year, has joined the advisory council of a new political group called Humanists for Biden.
“We will accomplish a great deal by removing Donald Trump from office and positioning ourselves to keep fighting for freedom and justice on stronger footing,” said Bell, who also serves as national organizing manager at the Pasadena-based Secular Student Alliance.
The group hosted its virtual launch event last Thursday to rally support among secular Americans — humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious — to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the final stretch of the 2020 presidential campaign. The inaugural kickoff will feature artists, activists, chaplains, lawmakers, musicians, and authors with just a month to go before the election.
Speakers included humanist U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s daughter Sasha Sagan, former National Poetry Slam champion Regie Gibson, Biden campaign officials, humanist leaders, and a musical performance by the Flaming Lips.
Bell, a formerly devout Seventh-day Adventist pastor-turned-atheist who founded a consulting firm and podcast called Life After God after losing his faith, added that Biden was not his first choice for president. However, Bell realized that too much is at stake to not throw his support behind the Democratic candidate on Nov. 3.
“In fact, [Biden] was almost my last choice, just above [New York City Mayor Michael] Bloomberg,” Bell said. “I did not come to this decision lightly. But now the decision is quite clear to me. We must remove Trump from office by voting for Joe Biden. Trump is a clear and present danger to millions of Americans and people around the world. His administration and his campaign for reelection are a threat to democracy. He stokes white nationalist violence. His lies and incompetence have cost tens of thousands of lives during the coronavirus pandemic and he daily threatens the well-being of immigrants, African Americans, LGBTQ individuals and the environment.”
Humanists for Biden is authorized by the Biden for President campaign and is a program of and paid for by the Secular Democrats of America. The group is chaired by Greg Epstein, humanist chaplain at Harvard and MIT. Other advisory council members include Sagan, Debbie Allen, Jason Callahan, Hemant Mehta, Mary Ellen Giess, Vanessa Gomez-Brake, Sarah Levin, Juhem Navarro-Rivera, Anthony Pinn, Roy Speckhardt and Megan Phelps-Roper. Phelps-Roper is an estranged member of the family that founded the Westboro Baptist Church, denounced as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Humanists for Biden released a video about its campaign to elect Biden and Harris on Sept. 28, available at youtube.com/watch?v=SRpz86CMnOk.
The number of people who identify as religious in the United States has been declining for many years. According to a study by the Pew Research Center last October, 65 percent of Americans said they were Christians, down from 77 percent just 10 years ago. The number of those who said they were atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” increased from 17 percent in 2009 to 26 percent in 2019.
Still, Bell pointed out that “many elected officials do not disclose their nonbelief for fear of the political risks.” Conventional political wisdom suggests atheists can’t get elected to public office and don’t have broad support among the American public. According to a 2019 Gallup study, however, 60 percent of Americans said they would vote for an atheist for public office. But that statistical position is still next to last, just below Muslims and just above socialists. Still, that’s up from 58 percent in 2015.
Young people in particular are increasingly non-religious. Voter turnout among young people is also historically low, a trend Humanists for Biden aims to reverse.
“At a time when the fastest-growing ‘faith’ group in the United States is people with no religious affiliation, we are delighted to announce an initiative of nonreligious people — humanists, atheists, agnostics and others — proud to stand with the Biden-Harris campaign,” reads a statement from the group. “Humanists for Biden marks the first time representatives of the nation’s growing number of secular Americans have been invited to participate in a coalition of communities of faith and conscience, working together on a presidential campaign. The Biden-Harris campaign is working to create the most inclusive campaign and administration in the history of American politics, and we are honored to take part in this effort.”
Members of the group have diverse political beliefs and affiliations, and many of them are publicly endorsing a candidate for the first time. As they put, “The stakes are too high, and the differences between the two campaigns are too dramatic, for us to remain on the sidelines. We are grateful that the Biden-Harris campaign has given us a platform we can support. The religious values Joe Biden and Kamala Harris hold dear overlap with our humanist values.”
Secular humanism is a philosophy that “embraces human reason, secular ethics, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, and superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.”
“The humanist community, like all others, is diverse,” reads the statement. “However, many of us share a number of goals: We support church/state separation; we respect science and listen to scientists; we want religious freedom for all Americans rather than only for a privileged few; we want a society committed to equity; and we want public policy that is rooted in facts and evidence. Beyond that, because we believe this is the only life we are guaranteed, we stand for racial, social, environmental, and economic justice for all Americans, now. There is no room for bigotry of any kind in this country. These are all values that the Biden-Harris campaign stands for as well.”
Learn more at humanistsforbiden.org.