Woody Kaplan, Longtime Civil Liberties Activist and Secular Coalition for America Advisory Board Chair, Has Died

At SCA’s last executive committee meeting as he shared news of his prognosis, he asked those in the meeting not to be sad, only saying, “I had a great time.” 

It is with the heaviest of hearts in sharing the sad news that Woody Kaplan, chair of the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America (SCA) and longtime civil liberties activist and philanthropist, died on August 3, 2023, due to cancer.   It would be impossible to fully calculate the far-reaching impact Woody made on the secular movement. He, along with fellow secular activist Herb Silverman, first dreamed of an organized coalition of atheist, humanist, and freethought organizations in the early aughts, and made that dream a reality in 2002 with the founding of the Secular Coalition for America, the largest coalition of national atheist, humanist, and secular organizations in the United States.

Under Woody’s leadership, the Secular Coalition for America grew from four national organizations to 21 today, and established the first full-time lobbyist in Washington, DC representing atheist, humanist, and secular Americans, also known as the “nones.” 

Maggie Ardiente, President of the Secular Coalition for America, said, “Woody Kaplan’s impact on the secular community knew no bounds. Simply put, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Woody; I took my first training on nonprofit fundraising under his leadership, and he continued to mentor me and many other nonprofit leaders over the years. Every organization in the secular movement has Woody Kaplan to thank for where they are today.”  Herb Silverman, Founder of the Secular Coalition for America, said, “Woody was passionate about advocating on behalf of atheists and envisioned a lobbyist on Capitol Hill who would represent all secular Americans. He single handedly helped insular secular organizations unite to become an organized political movement.” 

Woody Kaplan’s activism to defend freedom of expression, separation of church and state, reproductive freedom, LGBTQ+ rights, and other civil liberties spans decades. He served in leadership and advisory roles at organizations such as Defending Dissent Foundation, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and the Secular Student Alliance. He was a former member of the ACLU’s National Board of Directors and founded the Civil Liberties List, a political action committee. 

Woody was honored with the 2023 Secular Coalition for America’s Lifetime Achievement Award at its last meeting of member organizations in February. At SCA’s last executive committee meeting as he shared news of his prognosis, he asked those in the meeting not to be sad, only saying, “I had a great time.” 

Woody is survived by his wife, author and lawyer, Wendy Kaminer, family, and many friends and admirers.  

You can donate to SCA in Woody’s honor by visiting: www.secular.org/donate


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