While it is not the end of the world if we do not use words about philosophy in exactly the way someone else does, these two words have some importance in our arguments about religion. I am guilty of not using the words precisely.
One of the funniest things Newt Gingrich said during his bungled campaign for the Presidency is that his grandchildren may have to live in a secular, atheist country dominated by Islam. How one could have an secular, atheist country that was Islamic is a mystery to me.
Technically, secularism has nothing to do with either being religious or being not religious. It is about a government that is not religious. Thus, the very successful organization, Americans for the Separation of Church and State, is headed up by a minister. As I recall, it was founded by people who belonged to churches, not atheists.
It seems to be in the interests of some clergy and politicians like Gingrich to confuse people about the meaning of secularism. They do this by mixing it together with atheism, and even with the religion of Islam.
Some atheists mix them together also. There are unbelievers who do not want religion to be available to anyone. If this were the case, they say, we would have a “secular” country. It would be more accurate to call it an atheist country.
Thus, a secular country could be dominated by either religious and not religious people. The founding fathers, in fact, seemed to have this in mind.