Anne Klaeysen is a Leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in pastoral counseling from Hebrew Union College, as well as Masters degrees in German from the State University of NY at Albany and business administration from New York University (NYU). Dr. Klaeysen is the Ethical Humanist Religious Life Adviser at Columbia University and Humanist Chaplain at NYU. She is also co-dean of The Humanist Institute and serves on the board of Sunday Assembly NYC. Dr. Klaeysen participates in several interfaith social justice coalitions.
Joe has a Ph.D. in religion from Columbia University. He teaches seminars in human rights, and human rights and religion to graduate students at Columbia University, advises them in the development of their dissertations, and helps them advance their studies through internships in the international community. He also teaches human rights to undergraduates at the Honors College at Hunter College. Formerly, he taught at the United Nation University for Peace in Costa Rica and Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.
Joe is the former chairman of Amnesty International USA’s Committee Against the Death Penalty and was the chairperson of NJ’s Committee Against the Death Penalty. He recently served on the advisory board of New Jerseyans for a Death Penalty Alternative, which helped abolish capital punishment there last year. He is a member of the Teaneck Clergy Council, which he chaired for three years in the ’90s. He helped organize interracial dialogues after a civil disturbance in the city in 1990, and serves on the Ethics Committee at Holy Name Hospital.
Joe has testified before legislative committees in New Jersey on such issues as the death penalty, moment of silence legislation, and religious cults. He has been amicus curiae in Lewis v. Harris, supporting the legalization of gay marriage in New Jersey, and Alberto R. Gonzalez v. State of Oregon, upholding physician assisted dying in the State of Oregon, which was litigated before the US Supreme Court. In 1983, he was a defendant in a landmark case that established free speech rights in New Jersey shopping malls.
I had been attending a week-long summer youth conference on an island off the coast of New Hampshire. Beholding this view had provoked an inner experience of extraordinary depth, consolidating all the things rolling up in me that I was fascinated about. It was 1950: I was 17 years old. That night, during that strengthening, directive experience, I made decisions that set me on my adult path: to enter a liberal ministry. I heard no voices; doves didn't suddenly descend from the heavens with a message from afar; I just had a great silent inner dialog that no words can describe. I didn't feel my individuality to be swallowed up in some vague oceanic experience; if anything, it was underscored and enhanced. For a moment or two I actually felt invincible!
I was going to be my own kind of religious leader: no incense, robes, or the usual paraphernalia. I chose the path of moral universalism: we are all moral equals. In ethical humanism: our highest purpose is to help improve the lives of human beings, according to their own best wishes. I would not engage in social engineering, but would contribute to the creation of conditions in which people could live richer, more satisfying, self-directed lives. This also meant I would hold the reconstruction and reform of the American democratic prospect constantly before me. Such were the implications of that extraordinary evening in the summer of 1950.
I would love for us to revitalize the New York Society as the epicenter of the Ethical movement; to return it to the spirit of its radical roots in shaping major issues - not just locally, but nationally and perhaps beyond. We plan to organize a series of major public events, to generate some ethical friction in the effort to influence public opinion. The Advocacy Forum will explore issues such as the current assault upon civil liberties, the theological foundations of the religious right, and the paradox of worldwide American dominance. Stoke the public mood, then create a movement to harness its latent energies. The Advocacy Forum may have the potential to become one of the leading public opinion engines in the city. This is what Adler would describe as potentiality transformed into potency.
Millions of Americans are flustered, confused. This country is wealthy beyond belief, yet $15K per year for a family of three is poverty level in this country, a fact that immediately gets you to think about social reform and ethically motivated political action, recapturing in the spirit of our day the reform ethos of the progressive era of moral idealism. We all deserve to flourish if we can; consciousness of our inherent worth is the true source of freedom.
How, than, does one get through all the social machinery (meetings, reports, deadlines) to achieve this underlying goal? How to make most of this gift of life we have at our disposal? With the Advocacy Forum as a fulcrum, restoration of our magnificent building on Central Park West, and continued investment in our ethical humanist initiatives, we hope to prepare ourselves organizationally to attract people of all ages to the Society who want to help answer such questions and formulate the responses with programs and action plans. Our Society with all its promise is ready to go forward only to the degree that we awaken to that possibility and pull together with others who feel a kinship with us.