Archive for the ‘Leader statements’ Category

Leader Statement – “Exercise Your Right to Vote on November 8!”

November 7, 2016

Historians remind us that this election is not unique in terms of rancor and divisiveness. Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited the United States from France in 1831, wrote: “Long before the appointed day arrives, the election becomes the greatest, and one might say the only, affair occupying men’s minds. . . As the election draws near, intrigues grow more active and agitation is more lively and widespread. The citizens divide up into several camps. . . The whole nation gets into a feverish state.”


Nonetheless, most Americans experiencing the 2016 campaign have never witnessed such noxious public discourse. Voter suppression and voter fraud are both cited as dangers to our democracy. While there is considerable evidence for the former; the latter is statistically non-existent. Various court orders have been issued to states to lift restrictions to voter registration and to the GOP to prevent intimidation at the polls. The Democratic party, on the other hand, has dedicated itself to full voter registration and getting out the vote. Families and friendships have been torn asunder, with supporters of one presidential candidate vilifying supporters of the other. And the whole nation, anxious about the results, wonders whether these relationships can ever be healed.


I cannot tell you for whom to vote, but I can encourage you to follow your conscience when you do vote – and remind you of who we are. We Ethical Humanists affirm the worth and dignity of every person. Since our founding in 1876, we have devoted ourselves to social justice and the common good. We hold the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights with reverence. Remember who you are and what you value tomorrow and every day – and vote accordingly.

Leader’s Message – “Enough Is Enough!” – January 2016

December 16, 2015

We have all heard the expression “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” I have been paying attention, and I am outraged. That emotion has almost paralyzed me as I gasp for breath in between every day’s new revelations of violence, hate and demagoguery.


Today, on the 35th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, I am trying to imagine the world he described, because I, too, am a dreamer. A world with no heaven or hell, no countries and no religions, no possessions and no need for greed or hunger.


We know that humanity yearns for a world of peace, where we can live together as one, and we are trying our best to join together, but there are people standing in our way. We are dreamers who must take action now. Today and every day we must stand for peace by calling out those who preach hate and teach violence, by confronting those who sell death and pay politicians to deny us safe communities, by responding to those who stand on expensive soapboxes and try to brainwash decent people.


Enough is enough! I call upon the members of this ethical community and the people of this city, state, nation, country and world to make your voices heard. Yell from the highest mountaintops and skyscrapers; let your voices ring from the deepest valleys; call across rivers, oceans and boundaries to one another as together we the people stand for peace, for the end of violence and hatred, and for our joining hands in every way possible – and impossible.


Today I publicly decry the demagoguery of all political candidates who, by their words, demean our democracy and incite violence. The definition of a demagogue is “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument,” (Oxford English Dictionary). We deserve far better from those who hope to serve us as President of the United States, speaking in our name to the people of the world. Not in my name will I allow anyone to wage war against peace, understanding and love. You shouldn’t allow it either.

December 8, 2015

Note: This statement, a clarion call to action, was posted to our website,, on 12/8/2015.

Postscript: I always carry a poem, “Choose to Bless the World,” by Rebecca Parker, in my purple plastic action folder. Last year I rearranged some of the lines so that it works as a call-and-response reading, and I have used it at demonstrations and vigils. I return to it, now that I have expressed my outrage, to remind me that we all have gifts – “the mind’s power, the strength of the hands, the reaches of the heart” – that “can be used to bless or curse the world.” There is much work ahead of us, and it cannot be done in anger. We need to discover our gifts and use them wisely. Our community strives to be a place where everyone feels safe, heard, and supported; a place where we learn about, and how to effectively address, the world’s problems. The language we must use is compassion, especially for those with whom we fundamentally disagree. That is perhaps our greatest ethical challenge. This month I’m starting a course called “Democracy Is a Verb” [see page 4] that I offer as a means to learn more about the political system in which we live and the ways in which we can participate to make sure that every voice is heard and every gift is appreciated.

Ethical Treatment of Our Homeless Neighbors

December 16, 2015

I usually approach the New York Society for Ethical Culture, where I serve as clergy leader, from Central Park West and look across the street from the park at the words carved into stone on the corner of our meeting house: “Dedicated to the ever-increasing knowledge and practice and love of the right.”

Today “the right” is used to identify a socially conservative political stance, but in 1910, when these words were inscribed, it referred to ethics and a community determined to do the right thing in challenging times. Since founding the Society in 1876, members have sought ways to make the world a better place for everyone, beginning with improving living conditions in tenement housing and forming settlement houses that built affordable housing.

Nearly 140 years later, we still live in challenging times and continue our commitment to treating the homeless as our neighbors and working for affordable housing. Today, we have many partners in the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Affordable Housing. In addition to providing shelter for homeless women for over thirty years, the Society hosts events that gather advocates from across the city and state to work in concert for affordable housing.

The latest event, held on October 23, “Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing,” called upon Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to work together and with the more than 200 state and local organizations calling for 30,000 new units of supportive housing over the next ten years for our most vulnerable neighbors: the homeless, now about 60,000 people who sleep in city shelters or on city streets every night. This statistic includes over 14,000 families with nearly 24,000 children; and it has reached the highest levels since The Great Depression of the 1930s.

How did this happen? Research compiled by the Coalition for the Homeless from data collected by the city Department of Homeless Services and Human Resources Administration shows that the primary cause of homelessness is lack of affordable housing, triggered by eviction and job loss, severely overcrowded and hazardous housing conditions, domestic violence, and serious mental health disorders. This social “perfect storm” has put a strain on the resources of private and public organizations throughout the city, especially in Manhattan, which holds nearly 60 percent of our unsheltered homeless.

How do we address this community reality? Mayor de Blasio, whose administration recently announced a plan to create 15,000 supportive housing units over fifteen years at a cost of $3 billion, will face pushback from neighborhood leaders who oppose the siting of those units. But, it is absolutely essential. Negotiations with Governor Cuomo over a new “New York/New York” deal, the much-anticipated fourth city-state supportive housing plan, are at an impasse. Local advocates, including we clergy in theInterfaith Assembly, are frustrated with the de Blasio-Cuomo feud and have written to both politicians imploring them to stop playing politics and start acting like the leaders we elected them to be. This is an ethical issue that demands immediate and non-egotistical action.

In the meantime, how can we be the good neighbors that so many of us want to be? NYPD Commissioner Bratton has urged New Yorkers not to give money to homeless people living on the streets, and Mayor de Blasio has said that the best way to help is to donate to nonprofit organizations serving homeless people. I agree, we should donate to shelters and organizations, and I hope that more people will volunteer at shelters, including ours. But I see no harm in making a direct and personal donation to individuals. Offering money can be awkward, but offering a piece of fruit, a wrapped sandwich, or a coupon to a restaurant is appreciated. We can also provide information about local sites that offer meals and hot showers. Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing offers a helpful resource that can be referenced, printed, or circulated by email or on social media.

The most important way of helping is to see others as people worthy of dignity and respect. Bear in mind that many people who live in shelters are employed, but their income isn’t enough to cover housing; they are not lazy and useless.

When I leave the Society for Ethical Culture’s meeting house, I always stop to read at least one passage from the “sacred” text mounted on the north wall of our lobby: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a document that set out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected, and was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948, in the wake of World War II.

Today I read very closely Article 25(1): “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

No doubt some New Yorkers have become numb to seeing homeless people on our streets. Homelessness in our city has nearly doubled in the last decade, and “compassion fatigue” can occur, especially if we feel there is nothing we can do to make a difference. But when we acknowledge our common humanity, encounter people with an open heart and gentle words, educate ourselves about the resources available in our communities, and resolve to act, we can make a real difference in the lives of our neighbors.Ethical Treatment of Our Homeless Neighbors

“Eric Garner and Michael Brown: A Father and a Son” – August 26, 2014

August 29, 2014

In my role as Leader of the New York Society, I am called upon to make public statements about local and world events, either to clarify an ethical position or give my personal opinion. It is important that we stay current and join the conversation. But this summer I have been silent. The violence has been so overwhelming that I felt both paralyzed and too full of feelings to write anything meaningful. And then I reflected upon my day and knew.

Yesterday was New Student Orientation at Columbia University. I staffed the University Chaplain’s table with two colleagues for two hours in the blazing sun, greeting freshmen and their parents from across the country – and not a few from among NYC’s five boroughs. We handed out literature and swag (pens and plastic bracelets decorated with faith logos); we chatted with them about their dreams.

Yesterday was also Michael Brown’s memorial service. He and his parents did not participate in any school’s New Student Orientation, although he, too, had dreams. With his hands in the air, he was shot to death on a street in Ferguson, Missouri and left there for four hours while the police officer who killed him waited for back-up. His parents, who rushed to the scene as soon as they heard the news, were not allowed to go to him. They were not allowed to cradle the body of their beloved son.

Eric Garner had dreams for his children and also will not be the “helicopter parent” that colleges fear: the ones who “hover” over their children, loathe to let them go, even though they know they must. His children will grow up without a father because he was killed on a street on Staten Island. While he gasped, “I can’t breathe,” a police officer killed him with a chokehold.

These men were black; their killers white – police officers, civil servants charged with the responsibility of protecting the lives of people in the communities they serve. Now the men who ended their lives may be charged with homicide.

We hold these individuals responsible, but we must also hold the systems in which they work responsible, as well as the culture in which we live that still values one color skin over another. All of us must take responsibility. But how?

Some people took to the streets; others called press conferences, gave media interviews and wrote opinion pieces. Families, friends and neighbors called for justice and were joined by people across the country and around the world. They sent condolences, wrote letters to politicians, and signed petitions for policy changes. One petition demanded that a Missouri judge recuse himself from hearing the case of Brown’s shooter since his father, a police officer, had been killed by an African- American. So divided are we, so suspicious and untrusting, that we cannot imagine a court officer upholding his sworn duty. The social fabric of our nation, this United States, has again been shredded. How do we salvage it?

I don’t know, but I am a pastor, so I know that we must first stop, breathe and grieve. In the midst of so much violence and hatred, we must embrace the sorrow and weep. We must embrace one another and listen deeply to what is needed. Only then can we act.

New York City Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor Hearing on Wage Theft Testimony: 6/27/13

June 27, 2013

My name is Anne Klaeysen, and I am Leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, a congregation that has long fought for social and economic justice. I am here today to cry out on behalf of workers across this city for a living wage. Our founder, Felix Adler, back in 1880, proposed a “maximum,” not a “minimum” wage to remedy the gross disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Tragically, we face an economy today not unlike that in 1880.

Fast food companies are some of the wealthiest corporations in America, yet many fast food workers are forced to rely on public assistance to keep the roof over their families’ heads and food on the table. I have broken bread with workers who walk to their jobs because they cannot afford public transportation: an hour and more on foot to a job that pays $7.25 an hour and perpetuates harsh conditions.

It is unethical for giant fast food multinational corporations to make billions while their employees are dependent on food stamps and Medicaid. The workers know this, and they are standing up to do something about it. I stand with them, and so should every New Yorker. We have always pulled together in times of crisis, and this time is no different.

Our neighbors need us! Together we can make a difference in their lives and our communities. Stand together today and every day for what is right and just, not just for the few, but for every one of us.

* * * * *
NOTE: I read this statement at a press conference on the steps of City Hall, and it was entered into the record at the City Council hearing.

Reflection on Shootings in Newtown, CT: January 2013

March 21, 2013

Our hearts break when children die, and we feel moral outrage when they are killed. The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday, December 14, call forth both our love and a commitment to stop such violence. Twenty children and six adults were killed at the school by a deeply disturbed young man, barely more than a child himself, who had at his disposal deadly automatic weapons owned by his mother, whom
he had shot earlier at their home. It came as no great surprise that he ended his barrage of bullets – and his inner torment – by killing himself.

In the midst of shock and mourning came the public analysis, the human impulse to give voice to the unspeakable: a cacophony of words about mental illness, gun control, and a society poisoned by violence. One teacher said, “I can’t imagine who would do this to our poor little babies.” The truth is: We all did it. Every time a tragedy of this nature strikes – and there have been far too many in this country – we hear that it is disrespectful to talk the politics of gun control. Comfort the families, tighten safety procedures in public spaces, and dissect the perpetrator’s personality. But let’s not talk about the proliferation of weapons that rapidly fire multiple rounds and accommodate large magazines. We’re not talking about hunting deer; these weapons, so easily available to disturbed individuals, are instruments of murder.

When he addressed the nation, President Obama said, “We’re going to have to come together and take
meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” Saving lives is not “political.” Taking concerted action to control guns is an ethical imperative.

Unite for Women Rally – Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 30, 2012

I am a woman, a mother and wife, daughter and sister, niece and aunt. I am a friend, clergy and Ethical Humanist.

These are all aspects of one human being. We are a multi-dimensional and complex species,
embracing many roles and engaging in many relationships.

But there are those who would diminish us to labels to make us “less than,” to dehumanize and control us.

I hail from western New York,
home of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass of Rochester and Elizabeth Cady Stanton of Seneca Falls, home of the first Women’s Rights Convention of 1848.

There’s a huge sculpture in a park down the street from where Anthony and Douglass lived called “Tea Time.” It shows them sitting together companionably. A stack of books shares the table with the tea set. I imagine them talking about equal rights. The motto of Douglass’s newspaper, The North Star, was “Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color.”

Ethical Culture and Faith
In Ethical Culture, we say “Believe or disbelief as you wish, but put ethics first.” Your behavior, the way you treat others, is of primary concern, and misogyny is unethical.

Several of the “first-wave feminists” were Quakers, a faith tradition that believes in the responsibility of every member – woman and man – to speak out for, and act on behalf of, social justice.

Faith narratives are beautiful. These stories connect believers to a shared history.
They should help us to see ourselves in others and inspire us to good deeds.
They should not be used as an excuse to engage in unethical behavior.

To treat any human being as “less than” is unethical. It is abhorrent. And yet we tolerate this behavior, under the guise of “religious,” not only in our intimate relationships, but also on the public national political stage.

Sadly, there are those today whose beliefs would grant full protection under the law to the unborn, but woe-betide the infant that leaves the womb a female. Then you are relegated to second-class status. And these people have the money to lobby for their beliefs.

It must stop!

Equal Protection
When we were young, my brothers would watch “The Three Stooges” on Saturday mornings. I disliked the show for two reasons: They hit each other, and they had a “Women Haters Club.” I hated the stooges, but at least they were honest, if fictional. Today we have real stooges with power who hate women – and it’s no joke. What they have in store for us women is dangerous, and it’s real – not imaginary.

Shame on our country for preaching democracy and freedom around the world, but denying equal protection under the law to over half of its population!

Suffrage was only the beginning, Sisters. The 14th amendment did not include us when it was ratified in 1868, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has made it painfully clear that it does not apply to us today. Corporations – yes, women – no.

And shame on our sisters of privilege and complicity who do not join us in fighting this injustice!

I have a son and a daughter. I love them both fiercely. They are equally precious to me.
But we live in a country – we are citizens of a country – that does not treat them equally.
That is wrong. That is unethical.
So we must use the vote that we do have to change the laws.
We need an Equal Rights Amendment NOW!
To hell with paternalistic, condescending “fair” treatment under special circumstances determined by a court.
We demand equal protection and rights as human beings, as citizens in our own home.
If we are not equal, we are not free.

Civil rights leader Ella Baker said, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” Say it with me now: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes!”

Support for Cordoba House – Sunday, August 22, 2010

August 31, 2010

Good morning and welcome to the New York Society for Ethical Culture. I am delighted to welcome all the humanists who are here for the summer session of The Humanist Institute. Last night we celebrated the graduation of another class, one that I was fortunate to have co-mentored with Dr. Anthony Pinn. Congratulations again to Class XV: Maggie Ardiente, Bob Baehrman, and Ann Fuller!

Language, for humanists, is extremely important. I dare say that words are “sacred” to us. (Take note that I enclose the word “sacred” in quotation marks.) We like to talk almost as much as we like to read, and are acutely aware of the different meanings words have in different contexts. So let me be clear: I am speaking now as an Ethical Culture Leader about an issue that began quietly and locally in downtown Manhattan and has “gone viral,” as the media put it, over the last week.

People are demonstrating right now, in front of a former retail store – the Burlington Coat Factory, against a proposed Islamic Community Center. They say it is a “mosque at Ground Zero” that desecrates “holy ground.” First of all, no New Yorker calls the site of the September 11 attack “ground zero.” It is – and always will be – the World Trade Center. To verify this, take any subway downtown and listen to the name of the stop. “Ground zero” implies war and retaliation for an act of war, what President Bush chose to call a “war on terror.” The World Trade Center is where 19 terrorists chose to fly two planes into two towers filled with people, killing 3,000 of them. We mourn them – all of them. They were our family, friends, and neighbors, and we remember them dearly every time we pass that site.

Secondly, Cordoba House (aka Park51 Community Center) will be two blocks north of WTC in a bustling neighborhood of retail stores, schools, churches and a well-established mosque, bars, and strip clubs. Community Board No. 1 reviewed its proposal for a center with interfaith spaces, reading rooms, a restaurant, gymnasium and swimming pool, and approved it in a 29 to one vote. The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved it.

Now let’s consider the people who will run Cordoba House, named for the flourishing of Islamic culture in Spain hundreds of years ago. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan, a married couple, are leading figures in the interfaith community of NYC. Rauf has been imam of a mosque in Tribeca for almost 30 years, and Khan is head of the American Muslim Association. Both are strong advocates for women within Islam. They are also Sufis, a branch of Islam at the opposite end of the religious spectrum from the Taliban, Wahhabis, and jihadis.

Those of you who have studied with The Humanist Institute are familiar with Vartan Gregorian’s book, Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith. It is essential reading for everyone, not just humanists. Those cynical politicians and pundits who are exploiting this situation probably recognize the diversity within Christianity but choose to conflate all Muslims. We humanists have also been conflated, and I don’t just mean the differences between religious and secular humanists. (Years ago in Seattle during the G8 Summit, a group of self-proclaimed “humanists” joined the riots that rocked that city. A photo of them appeared in the NY Times, and I remember exclaiming, “They aren’t humanists! No humanist would do that!”) This profound – and, I believe, willful – ignorance incites action on the part of people who need a target for their fear and anger, strong emotions indeed.

And this is an emotional issue. Even a cognitive understanding of the facts cannot overcome the deep feelings we harbor. Nor should it: Human beings employ an emotional intelligence. I understand and empathize with those who feel that the Islamic community center should be moved farther away out of sensitivity to the families of 9/11 victims. But how far is far enough? What distance in terms of geography and theology would be deemed sensitive?

I wholeheartedly support my interfaith colleagues Imam Rauf and Daisy Khan in their Cordoba House venture, which began in the spirit of community and continues in a spirit of courage. To do otherwise would violate my principles as a New Yorker and an Ethical Humanist. New York City, with its roots in a tolerant New Amsterdam, is a cosmopolitan city that celebrates diversity and understanding. Humanism has a long tradition of enlightened reason and compassion. My religious faith is in human beings who find common ground with one another and build a better world upon it for everyone.