Close connections for 20 years – Sidmennt and Human-Etisk Forbund (The Norwegian Humanist Association)
Recollections by Hope Knutsson July 2008
We have had a close relationship with many people at Human-Etisk Forbund, known as HEF, from the days even before Sidmennt was formed. I started writing to them when I got the idea to start civil confirmation in 1988. I got the idea from Ari Trausti Gudmundsson, a prominent Icelandic scientist, who had written an article in a newspaper asking if there are any atheists in Iceland and pointing out the need for an organization of atheists/Humanists. He mentioned HEF in Norway and its many activities, including 1 sentence about civil confirmation as an alternative to religious confirmation. I contacted HEF and asked them to tell me all about how they organized their confirmation program and for some assistance in starting it here and they sent me all the curriculum materials for their course
They suggested that I join them later that year in Buffalo, New York at the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s World Humanist Congress. My whole family went and we met many prominent people in the Humanist Community at that time: Paul Kurtz, Tom Flynn, Steinar Nilsen, Levi Fragell, and many more. When we walked in and several people said “This is the family in Iceland that is going to start a Humanist association!” we were given a round of applause! I was a little startled at that introduction because as far as I knew, I was only organizing a civil confirmation course and ceremony for my kids.
Steinar Nilsen who was president of HEF at that time, visited Iceland the following winter along with his wife, and stayed with us. I took them to meet Vigdis Finnbogadottir who was then President of Iceland and we discussed Humanism, HEF, civil confirmation, and other secular ceremonies.
HEF sent us a small grant with a congratulatory message to be read at our founding meeting in 1990. One of their later presidents, Kari Vigeland, came here and gave a public lecture in Nordic House during a few years later. Over the years I visited HEF a number of times and met several staff members, including Knut Berg who ran their library. I still stay in touch with Steinar Nilsen who later became president of the European Humanist Federation. A few years after I had been coordinating the civil confirmation program here a large group of HEF members came on a summer tour in Iceland, which Helgi Sigurdsson who was then president of Sidmennt, organized, and some HEF confirmation class teachers held a seminar with us about further developing our confirmation course.
Every time I have attended a Humanist meeting abroad, I have met and talked with HEF people, for example the editor of Fri Tanke some years back. Sigurður Hólm Gunnarsson another long-time board member has done the same. He attended two IHEU congresses and remained in contact with HEF representatives long afterwards. In recent years Bjarni Jónsson, another board member, has had regular contact with HEF leaders and become our Nordic contact person. Bjarni and Svanur Sigurbjörnsson, yet another board member, attended one of HEF’s national meetings.
HEF sent us their licensed trainer Baard Thalberg in 2007 to professionally train 10 Siðmennt people as celebrants who can conduct secular and Humanist ceremonies. HEF also sent their lawyer Lorentz Stavrum to meet with our lawyer and to speak at a seminar we held jointly with the Icelandic Human Rights Center in 2006 about equality for all life stance organizations. A few years ago HEF gave us a supply of 150 Humanist symbol lapel pins to sell for fundraising purposes.
Siðmennt has always viewed HEF as its big sister organization and HEF has always been ready to help us. There is a 20 year history of them doing so in many different ways. The president of HEF told us recently that they view us as their most productive and successful sister organization.