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Center for Secular Humanism opens up in city

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published May 18, 2016

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FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — Everyone belongs somewhere.

That is the message the Center for Secular Humanism — which opened in late April in Farmington Hills — hopes to instill.

The center is located inside the Birmingham Temple Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, 28611 W. 12 Mile Road.

On April 21, inside a Starbucks on Grand River Avenue, the center’s executive director, Suzanne Paul, discussed its open-door policy.

With a Very Berry Hibiscus drink on a table nearby, the Farmington mother talked with ebullience about the center’s relationship to everything from atheism to satanic-based meetups.  

“A place they can come home to — that can be a real issue, where they can find space they can gather,” Paul, also a former officiant, said. “A lot of times their agendas are unorthodoxed, and a lot of people don’t want to rent to them, and they are excited (that) they can have a place.”

Paul, mother of Farmington City Councilwoman Sara Bowman, said one organization in particular, a sect of a satanic group, wanted to hold an event, but its leaders were unable to find a meeting space. An associate of that group then told them about the center. 

“It turns out they are really not the horrible people you might think that they are,” Paul said. “They have this rather unorthodoxed approach to life, if you will. Obviously, they would have a hard time finding a place where they can have an event.”

She said the meeting space is open to anyone, but events cannot be dangerous or incite violence.

Paul, a past president of the American Humanist Association, is the center’s first president and executive director, according to a press release.

“People … are excited about the fact that they can have a home base,” she said. 

“Nearly 30 years ago, when the planning began for the Humanist Institute, the creation of humanist centers was part of the ultimate goal,” she said in a press release.

Currently, the Birmingham Temple hosts groups from secular, atheist, freethought and humanist communities regularly, according to the press release. 

The goal with the opening of the center is to provide a space with a small conference room for meetings and access to larger areas for workshops, speakers and social gatherings, according to the press release.

Jeffrey Falick, rabbi for the Birmingham Temple Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, said recently that the center was the brainchild of him and Paul.

“We felt that we had a great facility,” he said, adding that with an already dedicated space for the center, it only made sense for hosting the nascent organizations. “We wanted to make our facilities available to a greater number for secular humanists, which benefits both the congregation (and the center).”
Falick said there are a number of groups committed to various factors of skepticism, including secular humanism, atheism and the like.

“We have various relationships with atheists, freethought and secular humanistic groups … basically a coalition of … thinkers; we all sort of come under the same umbrella,” he said. “This is a very growing movement. Historically, we have not had facilities to promote programs.”

Falick said the Birmingham Temple is a unique Jewish congregation built on secular humanistic principles in conjunction with Jewish culture.

“Because of that, we have this congregation (that is) very active and thriving now,” he said, adding that he is seeing other humanism-based groups grow into their own.

“I love having these groups here,” he said, adding that he is looking forward to seeing many events take place.

“(It is) wonderful to see it (the  building) filled with lots of services for people to partake in an interesting discussion,” he said. “That in turn strengthens our congregation.”

For more information, go to www.birminghamtemple.org.

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