Humanist Influence In The ACLU And Planned Parenthood

By Jeff Smelser

Humanism, as set forth in the Humanist Manifestos, is represented organizationally by the American Humanist Association (AHA). This organization was formed in 1941 by some of those who had signed the 1933 Humanist Manifesto. It is under the auspices of the AHA that The Humanist is published, and it was in this periodical that Humanist Manifesto Il was originally published in 1973. The AHA “is not primarily an action organization,” but instead serves to encourage co-operation with “specialized organizations devoted to kindred causes” that can actively work to achieve various Humanist goals.(1) In particular, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood are both mentioned by name as being organizations which Humanists “should relate to and strengthen.”


In 1978, New Republic reported that the ACLU was 44more active than the National Organization for Women in litigation involving women’s rights” and was “almost as active as Planned Parenthood in litigation involving the right to abortion.”(2) Concerning First Amendment issues, there seems to be a conflict within the ACLU between those who would adhere to a strict interpretation of that amendment, and those who in reality are using that amendment to propagate secularism.

ACLU officials still are arguing among themselves over the propriety of a lawsuit by their Indiana affiliate . . . which forced public schools to stop using a biology textbook because the book argues on behalf of divine creation. Some of the civil liberterians felt . . . that the use of the book amounted to a flagrant violation of the First Amendment’s ban on an establishment of religion. Others feel that the ACLU, committed as it is to freedom of speech, should never under any circumstances have become involved in an effort to ban the use of a book.(3)

The fact that the AHA can speak of the ACLU as representing a kindred cause should not be surprising in view of the background common to the AHA and Roger Baldwin, the founder of the ACLU. “The American Humanist Association . . . was organized by Unitarian clergyman; and finds its continuing support in those whose philosophy and purpose are closely allied with Unitarianism.”(4) Likewise, Baldwin traced his social activism as well as his view of Jesus as less than “a divine figure” though a teacher of “great stuff” to his Unitarian upbringing in Boston.(5) As a boy, Roger was greatly impressed with the elder Baldwin’s acquaintance with such Unitarian notables as William Ellery Channing and Edward Everett Hale.

In later years Baldwin occasionally wrote for The Humanist. On one occasion he reviewed a book for The Humanist by Corliss Lamont whose credentials as a Humanist include being named “Humanist of the Year” for 1977, being signatory to Humanist Manifesto II, and serving as honorary president of the AHA. Baldwin gave this evaluation of Lamont’s book: “It reads like an expanded annual report of the Civil Liberties Bureau.”(6) In addition to Lamont’s Humanist affiliations, he also sat on the ACLU board for many years, thus further demonstrating the compatibility of Humanism and the ACLU. (Eventually, Lamont did reject the ACLU because of its stand against communism.) Baldwin served as Director of the ACLU until 1949, but thereafter continued to influence the Union as a member of the National Advisory Council.

A philosophical link between the Humanist movement and the ACLU is the rejection of absolute truth. Humanist Lucien Saumur notes that “natural laws and natural rights imply . . . absolute laws and absolute rights,” and then asserts, “there are no such laws and rights but . . . only relative laws and relative rights.”(7) Whereas the founding fathers of this nation believed men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” Humanists believe in neither Creator, nor rights endowed by a Creator. So also modern jurisprudence largely ignores the concept that manmade law should reflect an absolute, divine law, or what is sometimes referred to as “natural law,” and supposes that one’s rights and duties are defined wholly by human statute and precedent. Author Wiliam H. McIlhany refers to this as “legal positivism” and observes that the ACLU leadership, “with its large contingent of lawyers, is greatly influenced by the notions of positivist legal theory.”(8)

The ACLU and Humanists also find common ground on the subject of “economic rights.” Humanist Manifesto II advocates “a minimum guaranteed income.” The rationale behind this begins with that same old premise – no God, no absolute standards. Readily derived from this premise is the declaration, “might is right”(9). Easily discernable is the potential chaos that would result if everyone used his might to attain everything he deemed his right; and especially disconcerting is the realization that others have more might than me. Therefore, the Humanist urges policies which he unrealistically supposes will keep everyone provided for and satisfied, and thereby avert social unrest and upheaval. Thus, Lamont speaks of “economic democracy,” which he says implies the right to “a higher and higher standard of living for the whole population as the over-all wealth of a nation increases.”(10) Thus the first Humanist Manifesto called for “a socialized and co-operative economic order . . . to the end that the equitable distribution of the means of life be possible,” and Humanist Manifesto II speaks of the “need to democratize the economy.”

Similarly, in 1977, “the ACLU board, after considerable debate, adopted a potentially far-reaching resolution putting the organization on record in favor of ‘economic rights.'”(11) Baldwin himself thought of civil liberties “only as tools for social change,” and the social change he had in mind was the resolving of “economic conflict.”(12)

The value of such as a political philosophy is not the point here. Whether the reader supposes that as a political tenet, “economic democracy” (a misnomer) is practical or impractical, the point is the rationale of the Humanist for such a tenet, and the corresponding position of record adopted by the ACLU. Clearly, there is reason for the AHA to think of the ACLU as one of those organizations “devoted to kindred causes.”

Planned Parenthood

Another organization specifically mentioned among those which the AHA views as being “devoted to kindred causes,” and which “Humanists and Humanist groups should relate to and strengthen” is the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.(13) This organization owes its existence to the work of Margaret Sanger in the early part of this century. Her philosophy was described in The Humanist:

The word “Humanism” in its present religio-scientific rueaning was not then current. But call it Freethought or Rationalism or Secularism, it was . . . Margaret Sanger’s creed. The first paper she founded and edited was called The Woman Rebel, and its masthead bore the motto: “No gods, no masters.” At her conviction in 1917 she was asked what her religion was; she answered, “Humanity.”(14)

Margaret Sanger continued as honorary chairman of Planned Parenthood until her death in 1966. She was named “Humanist for the Year” for 1957. Alan F. Guttmacher, another noted Humanist, served as president of Planned Parenthood from 1962 till his death in 1974. Guttmacher is listed among those who signed Humanist Manifesto II.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America is also known as Planned Parenthood/World Population, and it is this appelation that suggests the connection with the Humanist movement. The goal of the Humanist movement, as described in Humanist Manifesto II is “to transcend the limits of national sovereignty and to move toward the building of a world community.” However, the Humanist sees population growth as a threat to such a community. First of all, confronted with “raidly depleting resources” the Manifesto insists, “excessive population growth must be checked by international concord.” Secondly, according to Humanist Julian Huxley who spoke of stress resulting from overcrowding, “stress will manifest itself in mental instability and all kinds of social and political disturbance.”(15) In decrying the withholding of government funds from groups and organizations involved in abortion studies or assistance, the November/December, 1983 issue of The Humanist complained, “What population program will be next?” For the Humanist, abortion is merely a population control program to ensure social tranquility in a world community.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America is this country’s affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). The work of the IPPF is based in part “on the conviction that human progress depends on a balance being struck between world population and natural resources and productivity.”(16) In an address to the IPPF in 1967, C.M. Carstairs warned, “When because of increasing over population, the standards of living actually decline at the very times when people’s aspirations have been raised, the stage is set for further outbreaks of collective irrationality and violence.”(17) When Planned Parenthood advocates abortion, it is doing so for the same reason the ACLU advocates “economic democracy.” Based on the belief that “no diety will save us; we must save ourselves,”(18) and on the conviction that man can save himself by creating a world community in which poverty has been eradicated, the Humanists argue for guaranteed minimum incomes, and abortion as a means of birth control. For the consistent Humanist the abortion issue is not a question of whether or not the fetus is a human being.(19) He is not concerned that abortion represents the killing of a human being.” For the Humanist, who argues that “a particular means may have unfortunate by-products and yet be justified because it achieves the main end in view,”(20) abortion is merely a means justified by its end. The end is a population small enough for all to enjoy a high standard of living on limited resources. It’s the “we threw the old man out of the life boat so the rest of us would make it” story. Abortion is a tool to achieve a Humanist goal, and Planned Parenthood is one of the organizations through which Humanists work to implement this tool.

There are numerous organizations, from the National Organization for Women (NOW) to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which were founded by Humanists and/or are led by Humanists. However, we must not suppose that such organizations are comprised entirely, or even primarily of Humanists. Certainly many of the members of these organizations have no idea what Humanism is and have never heard of the Humanist Manifestos. We make note of a Humanist’s complaint concerning opposing influence in some of these organizations:

Among the international agencies, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), and the World Bank, despite the good intentions of most of their staffs, have all been manipulated and compromised from within and without by the Catholic Church.(21) Also remember that the ACLU resolution to go on record in favor of “economic rights” was adopted only “after considerable debate,” and there was quite an internal debate concerning the banning of science books which taught divine creation. But even those in such organizations who know nothing of Humanism are being influenced by, and unwittingly influencing others for Humanism.

What should the Christian’s attitude toward such organizations be? The Christian should never become so enmeshed in any political or social organization, whether it be the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, the PTA or the NRA, that his thinking about duties, his fellow-man, or life in general reflects a human ideology, or philosophy, rather than the word of God. On the other hand, the Christian should never become so much an opponent of an organization that he opposes the organization more than he opposes sin. “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood.” Nor is it against executive boards and national councils. It is “against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Our armor is truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, the word of God, and prayer (Eph. 6:14-18), not the Moral Majority, Family Life Seminars, or other such counter organizations. We should never be motivated by a fear that Satan might overcome us by superior organization. The victory will be ours.


1. “Intergroup Relations of the American Humanist Association,” The Humanist 23 (January/February 1963):25.

2. J. Mann, “Hard Times for the ACLU,” New Republic (15 April 1978):13-14.

3. Ibid., p. 14.

4. Vergilius Ferm, ed., The American Church of the Protestant Heritage (New York: Philosophical Library, 1953), p. 161.

5. Peggy Lamson, Roger Baldwin, Founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976), p. 6.

6. Roger Baldwin, “A Non-Communist on Civil Liberties,” The Humanist 16 (May/June 1956):147.

7. Lucien Saumur, The Humanist Evangel (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1982), p. 65.

8. William H. McIlhany, II, The ACLU on Trial (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1976), p. 104.

9. Saumur, p. 68.

10. Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism, 6th ed. (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1982), p. 268.

11. Mann, p. 14.

12. Roger Baldwin, Letter to the Editor, New York Times, 11 April 1933, p. 18.

13. “Intergroup Relations,” p. 25.

14. Miriam Allen deFord, “The Woman Rebel, “‘The Humanist 25 (special issue/spring 1965):95.

15. Alan S. Parks, “Social Effects on Sexual Function,” Impact of Science on Society 18 (October-December 1968):286.

16. Richard Hankinson, comp., Agencies and Organizations Working in the International Population Assistance Field (Paris: Development Centre of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 1973), p. 54.

17. Parks, p. 286.

18. Paul Kurtz, “Humanist Manifesto ll,” The Humanist 33 (September/October 1973):6.

19. Saumur, pp. 70-1.

20. Lamont, p. 237.

21. Stephen D. Mumford, “The Vatican & Population Growth Control – Why an American Confrontation?” The Humanist 43 (September/October 19 83):19-20.

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 13, pp. 398-400
July 5, 1984