The Humanist Society provides endorsement for those intending to be ambassadors, advocates, leaders, and scholars of humanism. Humanism will never be hierarchical or monastic in character, but there is value to deliberate and progressive collection action as humanists to represent and improve humanist thought and action.
By standardizing processes and applying peer review to humanism, we can earn respect among humanists and in the larger community. Additional certification levels and training programs will require formal organization. The guidelines here will also provide for formal collaboration among humanist organizations. The Society will be able to benefit from and advise the Society endorsement process.
Humanism is, if nothing else, a progressive life stance. The endorsements listed here are intended to grow as the cadre of Celebrants and the base of knowledge grow. The Society will work primarily through the Humanist Institute for education and training programs. The Society gives special recognition to other humanist leadership programs such as the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, American Ethical Union, and The Clergy Project. The Society is open to other organizations interested in being afforded special consideration.
The endorsement programs begin with the standard Celebrant designation. In addition, there is an Associate Celebrant designation that provides an introductory endorsement. Limited qualifications are required and the endorsement expires in 90 days without further improvement. The Lay Leader endorsement meets requirements for military and informal leaders to qualify for Celebrant status (they are not clergy). The Celebrant and Associate Celebrant designations are legally considered equivalent to clergy/ordination with authority, among other things, to solemnize weddings.
Note that upward and downward mobility is possible. Celebrants are encouraged to develop themselves and grow as individuals, but if their study and work stagnate, they may be reduced upon recertification to an appropriate level. This should not be considered problematic as all standards are clear and those who meet standards will be recognized for their efforts.
Associate Humanist Celebrant: Associate Celebrant status is an introductory celebrant credential that confers the rights equivalent to ordained clergy, including wedding solemnization. The Society confers this title with the hope that Associate Celebrants will serve as ambassadors for humanism in the performance of a wedding ceremony. This action affords the opportunity to understand and value an ongoing relationship as a full Humanist Celebrant. The status is non-renewable and Associate Celebrants must re-apply to gain full Celebrant status.
Qualifications: Completed Application with three references, paid $75 application fee, membership in AHA, professed commitment to humanism
Upkeep: Associate Celebrant status is valid for 90 days with no renewal. Those choosing to upgrade within one year to Humanist Celebrant will have their application fee waived.
Humanist Celebrant: A Humanist Celebrant is an ambassador of humanism, serving in the role of congregational leader, ceremony officiant, and scholar of humanism. While Celebrants may display a varying level of commitment and competence in the various areas of celebrancy, the Humanist Celebrant is the first level of involvement. A Humanist Celebrant is legally equivalent to ordained clergy and entitled to all privileges under the law, including solemnization of weddings and “clergy” confidentiality.
Qualifications: Completed Application with three references, paid $40 application fee, current membership in AHA, professed commitment to humanism, background check if requested
Upkeep: $100 annual professional fee, bi-annual re-certification application
Senior Humanist Celebrant: A Senior Humanist Celebrant takes on a commitment to operating and growing as a Celebrant in order to take on a broader role in the community. The intention of a Senior Humanist Celebrant is to be a mentor and teacher to other humanist celebrants. Humanist Celebrants may apply for Senior Humanist Celebrant on their first bi-annual recertification. However, some with prior qualifications may be eligible for early advancement (see special processing).
Qualifications: A minimum of two years in good standing as a Humanist Celebrant, completed Application with three references, paid $40 application fee, current membership in AHA, professed commitment to humanism, background check if requested
Upkeep: 1 ceremony per year, 4 contact hours annually of humanism-related formal education, $100 annual professional fee, bi-annual re-certification application
Humanist Celebrant Leader: This designation is provided to those Celebrants who have successfully taken on an organizational leadership role as a humanist, and have taken the extra step to educate themselves as leaders. Local groups are encouraged to make this a requirement for the leaders within their organizations. This formal program can provide the business skills and professional networking required to ensure success for local groups.
Qualifications: First must be granted endorsement as a Senior Humanist Celebrant before applying for Humanist Celebrant Leader, reference from organization in which the applicant is a leader, completed application with three references, paid $40 application fee, current membership in AHA, professed commitment to humanism, background check if requested
Upkeep: Maintain standing as a Senior Celebrant, Maintain organizational leadership position, complete 4 contact hours annually of formal group leadership education, $100 annual professional fee, bi-annual re-certification application
Humanist Celebrant Emeritus: Many Celebrants will, over time, retire from their regular activities as Celebrant. This will normally result in a simple lapse. However, for rare instances when an individual has shown themselves to be fully qualified as ambassadors to the movement, the Society Board may award the title of Humanist Celebrant Emeritus to recognize their years of service and status as an example of Humanist Celebrancy. This title carries full credentials and benefits equivalent to ordained clergy.
Qualifications: The Board may select any individual; the individual should have many years as a celebrant and humanist leader, but this is primarily an award with no strict requirement.
Upkeep: None. The title is permanent unless revoked.
Humanist Lay Leader: For those individuals who do not desire clergy-equivalent recognition or do not qualify for Celebrant status, the title of Lay Leader is available. This status is also available for military personnel desiring to organize humanist meetings within chaplain services in accordance with various military regulations. Lay leaders are encouraged over time to apply for full Celebrant status as their qualifications and commitment to humanism grow. The Society understands that some applicants may refuse any clergy-related titles and opt instead to remain a lay leader only.
Qualifications: Completed application and three references, paid $25 application fee, membership in AHA, professed commitment to humanism
Upkeep: $25 annual fee
Humanist Chaplain: A chaplain is empowered to apply for positions outside the humanist community in specialized settings (hospital, military, prison, etc) in order to serve the humanist community as well as individuals with other beliefs. This position is distinguished by a special ethical commitment to serve all and exploit none. Chaplains will generally be Celebrants as well, but this may not be required in certain institutional settings. Those who adopt the chaplain designation are expected to work within the field and to learn and grow as a professional chaplain. See section below on the ethical commitment required for chaplain endorsement. The chaplain designation is intended to be used, and those not working as a chaplain will not be recertified.
Endorsement by the Humanist Society does not entitle a humanist chaplain to a paid chaplain position at an institution. Any given institution may require volunteers or paid staff to have other professional certifications, whether related to chaplain certifications or counseling certifications. The Society endorsement affirms 1) the individual can authentically represent humanism and 2) the individual is ready to serve according to our professional ethic outside the humanist community.
Qualifications: Signed Chaplain Covenant, completed application with three refernces, paid $40 application fee, current membership in AHA, professed commitment to humanism, background check if requested.
Upkeep: complete 4 contact hours annually of formal chaplain education, $100 annual professional fee, bi-annual re-certification application, provide an institutional statement of employment/volunteering related to chaplaincy work.
Applications are processed by the Celebrant Endorsement Committee according to the applications, fees, and qualifications for each endorsement level. Summary approval is provided based on certain qualifications. Summary approval means the candidate is approved with a completed application and the qualifications listed below in lieu of references, unless there is some compelling reason not to approve. The Society expects to add additional ‘special considerations’ as other groups or qualifications are identified as a good proxy for celebrant qualifications.
- Humanist Institute completion certificate: Summary approval as Senior Celebrant if graduated within 5 years. Summary approval as Celebrant if graduated greater than five years prior to application.
- Letter of good standing as AEU Ethical Culture Leader or SHJ Secular Humanist Rabbi: Summary approval as Senior Celebrant.
- Letter of good standing in The Clergy Project: Summary approval as Celebrant.
- Associate Celebrant (lapsed no more than one-year): Basic Celebrant application fee waived.
See Appendix A for Endorsement and Education tracks relevant to Celebrants and their training. These educational requirements are to be integrated more fully as the Celebrant program develops, but they are included here to provide useful suggested areas of study for all Celebrants. The Humanist Society considers the Humanist Institute to be the primary source (but not by any means the only) source of humanist training and education. The Humanist Society provides an accredited program of study in humanist leadership as well as free online education (http://cohe.humanistinstitute.org/).
Ethical Conduct as a Celebrant
Celebrants are ambassadors of humanism and expected to uphold the highest standards of conduct. In addition, those chaplains of humanism who work in institutions with vulnerable and non-humanist populations are expected to maintain an additional standard of non-proselytism in their chaplain duties. These documents are in Appendix B.
Notes on Developing Programs
The following section provides certain considerations for future development of the Society programs. These Guidelines constitute a major expansion of the prior program so new changes may not be immediately forthcoming, but the below items are under consideration even now.
- The Society has expanded from the one-size-only Celebrant to new tiered and special-purpose Celebrant categories. In development are regional training events or conferences that can have Celebrants themselves (on the authority of the Society) generate funds in training other celebrants. Regional training conducted by Senior Celebrants or Leaders may strengthen the bonds of celebrants, connect them to the society, improve their quality as celebrants, and provide a revenue stream for the best celebrants.
- The higher ‘Leader’ status and additional education provides for interaction with other programs like those of the American Ethical Union, Humanist Institute, Freethought Society, and other organizations with operations that are very compatible with the goals of the Society and AHA. Higher levels of Celebrant status also provide for the identification of local and regional representatives that could be empowered to pilot new programs and activities in their area. Sharing of best practices and vibrancy in local communities will be easier than in a flat, undifferentiated structure. Finding qualified candidates to perform the function would be difficult, but pre-qualified “Leaders” would be the first place to look.
- Additional Celebrant categories are listed in Appendix A. Senior Chaplain, Associate Chaplain, and Organizer are all potential designations the Society may work into as candidates present themselves.
- Special skill-specific qualifications may also be recognized within a a Celebrant’s ability to perform a ceremony or counseling competently. Memorials, for example, hold much greater weight and solemnity, and therefore greater opportunity for failure, than baby-namings or weddings. In counseling, celebrants should understand and communicate their qualifications, whether they are being a friend or delivering certified, credentialed counseling services. (For example, a basic Celebrant might request additional recognition as having a special skillset in weddings and to be recognized as a certified counselor.) None of these considerations are addressed in the current program or the proposed designations, but the proposed designations offer a strong foundation to expand into a Level I-II-III-professional-type breakout by service/ceremony.
- Additional documents and forms are not included here but are available on request. Recertification requires the celebrant to show relevant continuing education or experience. “Promotions” to move from one Celebrant level to another or to gain a separate endorsement are done simply by submitting a new application and adding the relevant information. Applicant references are provided a standard form to fill out. Other forms may be available that are not included here.
Appendix A. Humanist Leadership and Educational Tracks
|Humanist Scholarship||Celebrant Track||Organizer Track||Chaplain Track|
|For all tracks||Associate CelebrantC
P – pending development, no applicants accepted
C – legally recognized as equivalent to clergy/ordination
D – priority for board directors
Senior Humanist Celebrants, Humanist Celebrant Leaders and Humanist Chaplains require an upkeep of four contact hours annually. A contact hour is considered to be sixty minutes of sustained classroom, lecture, workshop, or on-line study.
The Humanist Institute and Society will partner to offer dedicated training programs for Celebrants to meet the contact hour requirement. Alternatively, Celebrants may attend seminars or training from other organizations, such as UnitedCOR, American Ethical Union, or Secular Student Alliance. These seminars must be relevant to the requested endorsement.
Celebrants may submit college coursework completed during the endorsement period for credit, so long as it fits one of the recommended educational areas. For example, a Celebrant in a Philosophy degree program could submit results of a philosophy course for Celebrant continuing education credits. Similarly, Celebrants might take a single college course to meet their continuing education requirements.
Celebrants may take online courses to fulfill their continuing education requirements so long as it is a reputable, well-known company. Coursera.org, MIT OpenCourseWare, Humanist Institute COHE courses all have quality online coursework. For example, on the COHE site, completing 8 modules of individual learning courses would meet the contact hour requirement. Learn more here.
Appendix B. Codes of Ethics and Conduct
Codes of Conduct and Covenant
As ambassadors of the Humanist Society and more generally of humanism, Celebrants are expected to maintain a high standard of personal ethics and conduct, especially in their official duties. Celebrants should stay true to the following Code of Conduct and use it to guide their actions. The Chaplain Code of Conduct provides additional standards for chaplains who, in their chaplain duties, work in an environment of pluralistic beliefs and operate in an environment where the expectation is that they will respect and support others first and provide explicitly humanist support only when requested.
Celebrant Code of Conduct
The following is drawn originally from various documents including the Ethics Statement from The Secular Fellowship located in Ayr, Scotland, the prior Humanist Society Code of Ethical Conduct dated March 2005, the Association of Professional Chaplains, the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy, the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, and others.
- Represent Authentic Humanism
- A Humanist Celebrant shall uphold and represent the ethical and philosophical principles of humanism as expressed in Humanist Manifesto III: Humanism and Its Aspirations. A Humanist Celebrant shall not willfully distort or misrepresent humanism or the greater humanist community.
- The Celebrant may choose or not choose wording referencing divine/supernatural or otherwise non-humanist content. Just as priests may refer to scientific or humanistic ideals, so may we include spiritual ideas in our own ceremonies. However, this should only be to recognize the culture, traditions, or guests of the ceremony. It is unethical for a Humanist Celebrant to present as humanist prayer, scripture readings, or other explicitly supernatural elements or elements of other religions.
- A Humanist Celebrant shall adhere to and uphold the purposes, policies, and bylaws of the American Humanist Association and the Humanist Society; a Humanist Celebrant shall not willfully contravene or misrepresent the purposes, policies, and bylaws of the American Humanist Association or the Humanist Society.
- Celebrants should be honest in any interaction with the nature of humanism including scientific naturalism and human-based rational ethics. This is particular important for ceremonies or coaching.
- Maintain Humanist Values
- Celebrants should at all times conduct themselves in a manner that reflects the highest degree of honesty and integrity when dealing with clients.
- People and the diversity they represent should be valued. This includes diversity of belief. While Celebrants need not hide their own beliefs or avoid disagreements, Celebrants should reserve arguments for the proper time and place.
- A Humanist Celebrant shall be expected to treat others with courtesy, dignity, respect, and tolerance, and without prejudice or bigotry. Celebrants will treat those suffering from stress, trauma, or tragedy with the utmost empathy and care.
- Maintain Professional Integrity
- Celebrants should treat any information divulged by clients with strict confidence at all times within the extent authorized by law.
- Celebrants should not use their position of respect to further any other paid or voluntary work.
- For official work, Celebrants should maintain a high standard of dress and reserve informal when for times when such is called. “Vestments”, if used, should be reserved and strictly humanist in nature.
- Celebrants shall protect the integrity of their profession by investigating and reporting violations that may occur.
- Celebrants should do business primarily as ambassadors of humanism. Financial compensation is appropriate for services provided, but profit-making should never override humanist values.
- In performing any service, Celebrants should never exceed their qualifications. This applies to the type and size of ceremonies, events or counseling. It is particularly important Celebrants provide no mental health services of any kind without proper qualifications.
- All Celebrants should be willing to act on behalf of those they are working with and provide referrals to more-qualified personnel whenever necessary, including psychologists, religious personnel, or other celebrants, as appropriate.
- A Humanist Celebrant shall be expected to work and interact with other Humanist Celebrants and Humanist Leaders in an atmosphere of collegiality, cooperation, and mutual benefit, and without undue enmity or disparagement.
- Protect Those In Your Care
- Celebrants should not publicize the content of any ceremony or activity that has been completed without first ensuring that sufficient changes have been made to ensure that identification of the subject is impossible or that subjects have authorized, in writing, use of their likeness or ceremonies.
- Celebrants shall avoid exploiting those in their care especially for commercial, sexual, political, or other favors.
As a Chaplain, I will uphold the provisions of the Celebrant Code of Conduct, and I further pledge to uphold the following provisions for pluralistic support and non-proselytism in my chaplain duties.
- A Humanist Chaplain is expected to support personnel on their own terms, making every effort to respect and provide for the deeply-held beliefs and practices of non-humanists with just as much care and concern as they would humanists.
- A Humanist Chaplain is prohibited from coercing or encouraging those professing non-humanist beliefs to adopt humanist beliefs.
- Chaplains will not invite others to humanist activities, materials, or discussions unless the chaplain has good reason to believe that the individual wishes to investigate humanism. “Good reason” might be a specific request, a specific profession of nontheistic beliefs or humanistic beliefs.
- Any profession of theistic beliefs or non-humanist beliefs, verbal or non-verbal, shall be a reason (though not a requirement) to end any humanist discussion even if the person has previously invited a conversation.