Secular VIP of the Week: Raul Martinez

Jun 11, 2014

Raul Martinez is a Mexican humanist, children’s author, and comedian who is a board member of the American Humanist Association. From his home in Nevada, he’s been a long-time activist for Las Vegas Atheists, and in 2011 became one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Nevada for the right of atheists to perform marriages. He spoke with Johnny Monsarrat for this interview about his new series of Sunday gatherings for HALV, Humanist and Atheists of Las Vegas, which sparked worldwide attention.



RDF: You moved to the US from Mexico and became a citizen in 2001. What was it like being an atheist in Mexico City? Or did you convert after you arrived here?

Raul Martinez: Nope, it happened while I was still in Mexico… Whether you practice or not, 90% of the population consider themselves Catholic, but in spite of that, the government is rather secular. Part of that has to do with the Cristero War, a battle against the Church that the government led many years ago. The Church had become so corrupt and had taken so much power, land and money that there was a revolution against it… Even today, if a politician makes a statement to the media that even closely mentions any sort of affiliation towards religion, they’re really criticized; they just don’t do that.

RDF: So there are a lot of lapsed Catholics in Mexico?

Raul Martinez: Yes, that is true. It’s a very traditional thing to get married in a church, get baptised, and do the rest of the sacraments, but there are people for whom those are the only times in their life that they go to church.

Raul Martinez: Back in the 1980s, my dad was fascinated with Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, and The Skeptical Inquirer… That’s when he first read the Humanist Manifesto. I remember when he shared it with me and asked me what I thought about it, this whole philosophy as an alternative to religion.

RDF: That’s unusual, to have the parents convert the kids. Usually, it’s the other way around.

Raul Martinez: That is how I began in this movement. I did not have many problems in Mexico City, but then we moved to Puebla. I went to High School there, one owned and ran by Jesuits and that’s where I started dealing with, I wouldn’t say fanatics, but definitely people with a stronger faith… It was the first time that I remember standing up for myself and defending my views instead of going with the flow.

RDF: That took some courage to talk back to your teachers… but I sense from speaking with you that it might have come naturally.

Raul Martinez: (laughs) I managed to stay out of trouble with teachers, some of whom were priests. I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut, but explained to one of them that I wasn’t a believer and there was really no point in me going to church. He just excused me and I left. It wasn’t a big deal to him, but it was a big deal for my classmates that hated going. (laughs) They’d come into the library and yell, “Atheist!” (laughs)

RDF: You beat the system, just by asking! They should have done the same thing.

Raul Martinez: I liked that I could go to the Library and actually learn and study something new, instead of going to church with my classmates and repeat the same thing over and over every week.

RDF: In addition to your full-time job and leadership roles in the humanist community, you’re also a Humanist Celebrant which, for people who don’t know, means that you can perform marriage ceremonies. How did you win Nevada’s permission to do that?

Raul Martinez: I first applied as an atheist for the right to perform weddings, and the court denied my application on the basis that I did not belong to any organized religion. The ACLU took that case with me and a couple of other plaintiffs… I’m still not satisfied, because even now that notary publics can solemnize a wedding, priests/ministers/pastors and other religious characters don’t have to become a notary public to perform weddings. So the law is unequal in that sense; we’re not receiving equal treatment and a religious test is in effect and being applied in Las Vegas. At that point, I was tired of fighting the government so I decided that I could serve my community better by becoming a humanist celebrant while avoiding the hassle and the restrictions of becoming a notary public.

RDF: Vegas is known for its drive-through and Elvis weddings. Do you have any crazy stories?

Raul Martinez: A friend of mine and his now wife held a Day of the Dead wedding, with full makeup, like zombies. It was a lot of fun.

RDF: You just started a new series of Sunday meetings for the Humanist Association of Las Vegas and Southern Nevada that others may take as a new model for bringing nonbelievers together. Your location is beautiful.

Raul Martinez: We found this wonderful place with its gorgeous gardens and we hope that’ll attract more families with children to our meetings. We want to have a program for kids of families who currently don’t have anything to satisfy that need. That’s our alternative for them.

RDF: I have one of the flyers here and it’s pretty compelling. It says, “Highly dynamic, multiple guest speakers, games and prizes, musical performances, family friendly, free food, and free drinks.” Now I wish I lived in Las Vegas!

Raul Martinez: Well, we won’t have food in every meeting. (laughs) That was a one-time thing, but the rest will continue in the same way. It’s a more dynamic program. Instead of having a single speaker on a pedestal, we have various speakers that talk about common interests. It doesn’t have to be so “dry.”

RDF: What are the emotions people feel going to your event?

Raul Martinez: It’s inspiring for everyone. It’s refreshing for a non-believer to talk, interact, and just have a normal conversation and fun with other people without always having the God reference there, without being afraid of stepping on someone’s beliefs.

RDF: What would you like to say to other groups that may want to model their own gatherings after yours?

Raul Martinez: The central message of our Grand Spring Celebration was that we may have many labels. We may call ourselves Atheists, Agnostics, Freethinkers, or Humanists… but to the rest of the world, our label and message must be just one. It should be united. That’s what I hope Humanist and Atheist groups can do. This is how all of us can get together in a single voice so that we can actually affect change.


Read more about HALVASON at, find the Day of the Dead wedding on Youtube, Part 1, Part 2, and see video of the Grand Spring Celebration, the Humanist event in Las Vegas. Raul’s website for Humanist weddings is

10 comments on “Secular VIP of the Week: Raul Martinez

  • 2
    Katy Cordeth says:

    Hello Raul. Sorry your comment hasn’t received more responses. The site is going through a bit of a turbulent time at the moment is all. You are indeed very cute. I’m half tempted at this point to do a smiley face, having nothing more really to say, but the new software would transform it into a Pac-Man, and I’m sure neither of us would want that.

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  • Raul, it’s so cool to appear on Richard Dawkins’ website! congrats! Day of the Dead wedding ceremony is awesome! Especially vows “we recognize no God..(…) promises are to ourselves and each other… here on earth and not in the heaven” :)))

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  • 4
    Pinball1970 says:

    @OP“I liked that I could go to the Library and actually learn and study something new, instead of going to church with my classmates and repeat the same thing over and over every week.”

    Blimey you just summed up a large part of my childhood.

    A colossal waste of time that should have spent studying maths or something!

    I will check you out Raul.

    Best wishes

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  • Raul Martinez: I liked that I could go to the Library and actually learn and study something new, instead of going to church with my classmates and repeat the same thing over and over every week.


    I agree with you about the colossal waste of time. If only those Sunday mornings could have been put to better use. A couple of hours of quiet reading time or a couple hours of nature walk in the woods sounds like actual heaven to me instead of the actual hell of sitting in a church classroom forced to read and recite verses and chapters of the Bible, a book written by dunces for dunces.

    In the end it created a teen with a bitter hatred for all things religious.

    There’s more going on here than learning the Bible though, right? It’s also very much about having one’s kids meet the right friends and romantic partners. Make sure they’re surrounded by the right kind of Christian in every spare minute they have and this must raise the probability that they’ll marry the right person and raise their kids in the right church.

    This is why Raul’s ideas of the importance of becoming a humanist celebrant really resonate with me. We need to let people know that they DON’T need to involve religion and clergy in their family rituals and traditions. There is a secular option out there that is, in my opinion, much more personal and MUCH more meaningful.

    Raul, if you’re still reading this, I want you to know that I’m not just supporting your idea with words on the computer screen. I’m making some strong moves in my own (Methodist) family and with my (Muslim) in-laws to take control of family rituals. I have bluntly announced that the traditions and rituals that are positive will stay, but those that are negative and/or meaningless will be deleted from our repertoire.

    Many years ago I refused to be married in a religious setting and we had no clergy, just a civil procedure at the Town Hall. Now when I encourage our young people to be creative and produce a meaningful ceremony on their own, they don’t accuse me of hypocrisy. They have permission from someone to say no to the dull old way of doing things. This has worked very well.

    Sadly, we have had two funerals in our family this year and I have taken a leadership role in both. I made a stand to keep the church/mosque and all clergy out of these funerals and my family members all said, “Then who will speak at the funeral if not clergy?” My answer was “I will speak. I will write the eulogy and I will read it too.”

    In both funerals this was a positive change. I presented my ideas and even though there was worry and doubt over making such departures with tradition, they all took a leap of faith (literally) and let me do it my way. Now I know that this will be carried down through the generations. I did this because it’s good family leadership. I know that not everyone is suited for public speaking and that’s why we need more humanist celebrants to be available. I plan to bring out young people up in an “on the job” (informal) training program here. As we have more funerals (inevitably) and hopefully more happy occasions to celebrate, I will always be up there speaking in a leadership role but I intend to encourage the younger set to speak too, even if just for a five minutes time, just to get the hang of it.

    I encourage all of our atheists, secularist, humanists, etc. out there to consider taking this on. Trust me, I know it’s frightening. Every time the crowd at the funeral goes silent and looks my way because it’s time to start I have a moment of panic and I felt tears rushing forward, I’m sure I can’t do it. Somehow I do manage to get through it and surprise myself. Practice has made this easier and I always have someone close by who will take the pages from my hand if I falter.

    When others have said that they could never do that because they’d start crying, my answer is “So what if you do? Aren’t you only human? Isn’t this a sad tragic loss to us? You should be crying!” After all, isn’t this what this ritual is all about? We are devastated by the loss of our family member/friend. What I really object to is not someone who is crying, I object to impersonal Priests, Pastors and Imams who show up not knowing the deceased and start rattling off pages on pages of idiotic iron age sacred verses that have nothing to do with anyone alive today and least of all our wonderful family member/friend who has gone from this life forever, leaving us completely broken emotionally. So don’t feel bad about crying. Be proud that you have the strong family and friends all around you in a network of support. That’s a gift from them to you and you’re lucky to have it.

    It’s very important to demonstrate this leadership to the young people. They will see the difference between a boring, anonymous, conventional funeral and wedding and one that is personal, emotional and meaningful. Then the choice will be theirs.

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  • 6
    Pinball1970 says:

    @5 If only those Sunday mornings could have been put to better use.

    Yes indeed, I think I needed something extra as a kid

    Sadly, we have had two funerals in our family this year and I have taken a leadership role in both

    Stronger than me Laurie dont think I could do it, not someone close.
    Hard enough with the funerals I have been to the last few years, friends of family.
    A lovely bloke died a few years ago and I blubbed all the way through, the only thing that helped keep it together at all was all the religious crap all the way through.
    His brother gave the Eulogy and that was the worst part for everyone, not a dry eye in the house.

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  • dont think I could do it, not someone close.

    Ah yes. I can’t blame you for that at all. My own brother was so relieved that I’ve taken on this task. He says the same as you.

    not a dry eye in the house.

    Yes, and that’s how it should be. When we lose our people we need to cry our eyes out. That’s what funerals are for, crying together. An acknowledgement of a devastating truth that is death. A demonstration of support for those who are left here together in this life. What it isn’t – A robotic ritual where clergy go through the motions of banging and clanging and waving magical incense around and reading dusty dull books from cultures that have nothing to do with anything in this day and age and then when everyone leaves they realize that they’ve heard nothing whatsoever about the person who has died and their worldly accomplishments and their character and the mark they left on everyone here and the nature of their relationships with everyone around them. I’m done with those.

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  • @ LaurieB –

    I know, when I saw the initial posting from you today and started from the top down, I was pleased to see Katy Cordeth again, assuming she was back. Alas, it’s an old posting. She was quite the contrarian and always interesting to read. Good stuff from you and PB. I can only agree.

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