Margaret Downey - Pennsylvania and California

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Margaret Downey
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Margaret Downey is a recognized Secular Humanist Officiant. After attending Humanist leadership classes at The Humanist Institute and training sessions through the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH), Council Chairman Paul Kurtz certified her to conduct marriages and other secular ceremonies. She regularly conducts weddings in California and Pennsylvania


Margaret Downey was born into a multicultural family in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Growing up in the highly prejudiced southern society of the 1950s, Margaret became concerned about persecution at an early age. She has devoted her life to ending any and all discrimination against any and all peoples of the world.  

Margaret read literary works of Thomas Paine and Robert G. Ingersoll which enabled her to develop a keen sense of revolutionary thought. She became an openly declared Atheist and activist in her twenties. Free from the constraints of religious dogma and patriarchal systems, Margaret became involved with the feminist movement. She fought for basic rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of choice, personal family leave for working parents, equal pay and promotion opportunities for women.  

Due to concerns with children's health, Margaret was also involved in anti-smoking issues.  Being an activist for such controversial issues nearly cost Margaret her job twenty-five years ago, however, these initiatives are commonplace today. Even as a single mother Margaret was willing to jeopardize her income to demand respect for women, freedom of choice, freedom of expression and freedom from religious intrusion. 

In 1980 Margaret became a businesswoman when she established her own interior design service. This independence enabled her to become more involved in social issues. She is active in maintaining the Jeffersonian wall of church/state separation, freedom from religious intrusion, freedom of choice and death with dignity.   

Margaret founded the Freethought Society (FS) in 1993. FS has taken a strong stand against prayers in public schools, government sponsored invocations, placement of freethought literature in university and public libraries and the avocation of rational thinking. Through city proclamations, Margaret has established “Freethought Week” and “Thomas Paine Day” in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1997, she submitted a proclamation to the city of Philadelphia which subsequently recognized “Privacy Week”


Marriages in California:

According to California Family Code Section 400, if you want to have a Secular Officiant perform your wedding ceremony, he or she must apply to become a “Deputy Commissioner of Marriages." Doing so would grant Margaret the authority for one day to perform your ceremony. In order to become a deputy commissioner of marriages, Margaret would first obtain the application for appointment issued by the County Clerk.

To complete the application, Margaret will need the following information: date and place of ceremony, the bride and groom's names and mailing addresses. She will need to provide a brief description of why she is seeking deputy commissioner privileges, sign and date the application, then return it to the county clerk. In most counties, a fee must be submitted with the application form. The fee may vary, but $85 is a typical amount. The application must be submitted at least six weeks prior to the ceremony. Read more HERE.

Margaret is committed to secular principles and will guarantee that every event in which she is involved will be non-religious.

Marriages in Pennsylvania:

All couples who want to be married in a "guaranteed secular ceremony" through Secular Ceremonies in the state of Pennsylvania must obtain a Self-Uniting Marriage License. Due to misinformation and the lack of training given to marriage license clerks, difficulties have arisen. Margaret Downey is happy to escort all couples in order to guarantee that the proper license is obtained and that clerks will not force the couple into obtaining any license other than the Self-Uniting Marriage License. If a couple attempts to obtain the license on their own, the couple must be prepared for possible difficulties. All secular/atheist couples have the right to obtain a Self-Uniting Marriage Licenses! Do not let an uneducated clerk tell you any differently. By law, you do not have to be a Quaker to obtain a Self-Uniting Marriage License! There may be confusion in due to a lack of education and proper training, but The Pennsylvania Human Relations Department has process several complaints and has promised to intercede should difficulties arise. Remember, you do NOT have to be a Quaker to get the Self-Uniting License and this is the only way that your secular ceremony will be recognized by the state of Pennsylvania.

Margaret is editor and publisher of a quarterly newsletter, The Freethought Society News, written by and for the Atheist community. The newsletter concentrates on activist issues, political and religious satire, journey stories, separation of religion and government, and the advancement of freethought. As a freelance journalist, she pursues stories of discrimination, choice in dying, humanitarian lifestyles and family planning.

She also founded the Anti-Discrimination Support Network (ADSN), an organization concerned with discrimination against the Atheist community. ADSN monitors public office positions and public schools. ADSN acts immediately upon negative stereotyping by writing letters of complaint that demand the offending party to cease hate speech and issue a public apology and/or retraction. Injured parties are serviced through volunteer counselors and attorneys who are sympathetic to the nontheist community. ADSN is compiling a booklet that highlights incidents of bigotry against nontheists living in America. ADSN’s “Erasing Prejudice” program distributes information and training methods in order to develop a national speakers bureau that teaches about tolerance/acceptance and diversity at elementary, secondary and university levels. ADSN was adopted by the Secular Coalition for America in 2014. The information can be found at

In 1994, she founded the Thomas Paine Memorial Committee. The committee has established recognition for the memory of Thomas Paine in various Pennsylvania cities including Philadelphia, Lancaster and York. Margaret is also the author of city proclamations in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and in Garden Grove, California. She also authored the Philadelphia City Council Resolution that declares June 8th as Thomas Paine Day.

Margaret is a past board member of the American Humanist Association, Scouting For All, The Humanist Institute,and the Thomas Paine National Historical Association. She is a current board member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Reason Rally 2016. She is also on the Advisory Board Member of the Robert Green Ingersoll Museum. 

Margaret has represented the interests of the nontheist community at several United Nations conferences since. She spoke at the United Nations Freedom of Religion and Belief meeting in New York City and attended the 2001 United Nations Freedom of Religion and Belief Conference in Madrid.

In the year 2002, Margaret became the first Secular Humanist Celebrant in Pennsylvania. Taking advantage of Pennsylvania’s “Self-Uniting” marriage licenses, Margaret performs nontheist weddings, baby naming ceremonies, and funeral ceremonies.

Margaret has been a guest speaker on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation and Radio Times. She has also been featured on radio programs in Texas, South Carolina, California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Florida and Georgia. Television appearances include features on local news stations as well as ABC’s Nightline, PBS, and Fox News. She also appears in the fourth season of Penn and Teller’s Bullshit.

Two notable lawsuits have been initiated by Margaret. Prior to the Boy Scouts of America declaring itself a private organization, Margaret filed a discrimination complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission that became the case COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE PENNSYLVANIA HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION, MARGARET DOWNEY-SCHOTTMILLER v. CHESTER COUNTY COUNCIL OF THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA (DOCKET NO. P-3986). In 2001, Margaret represented the interests of the nontheist community in the case Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia v. Chester County.

Margaret created a yearly parade entry for Skeptics in 2012. The parade takes place in Atlanta, Georgia at the annual DragonCon Labor Day Weekend conference. The parade is watched by an estimated 80,000 people.

Always willing to travel, Margaret accepts national and international speaking engagements. She is regularly featured at Atheist/Humanist/Skeptic conferences as a speaker and is well known for her fun-filled presentations that always include visuals, door prizes, props, and well prepared complimentary literature.