We’re proud to announce that Michael De Dora, CFI’s director of public policy and main representative to the United Nations, has been elected to a two-year term as president of the UN’s NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
The Committee, working from within UN headquarters in New York City, is dedicated to defending and promoting the international agreements that protect the rights to freedom of religion or belief. As president, Michael will be responsible for organizing high-level meetings and public events with UN officials and foreign diplomats for the Committee and its members, imparting to those in positions of power the importance of the rights to freedom or religion or belief, as well as their relation to other areas of human rights, such as gender equality and LGBT rights.
“I feel extraordinarily honored to be elected to this position,” says Michael, who previously served as Committee secretary. “The rights to freedom of religion and belief are not only central to CFI’s mission, they are foundational for a flourishing global civilization. Around the world individuals are regularly persecuted for holding dissenting religious beliefs, or for having none at all. This must change, and civil society is a key to shifting the landscape. I look forward to working with officials at the United Nations and the Committee’s member organizations to advance the rights to freedom of religion and belief for all persons.”
In the coming months, Michael plans to hold events featuring the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom or Religion or Belief, and with various ambassadors for religious freedom from governments around the world to discuss their work to protect these rights. He’ll also work to improve communication and coordination between Committee member groups in an effort to further strengthen their efforts.
“Michael has shown a tireless commitment to the freedoms of belief and expression around the world,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of CFI. “Leading CFI’s efforts in international policy, he’s put his passion and intelligence to work on behalf of persecuted dissenters such as Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia, Meriam Ibrahim in Sudan, Alexander Aan in Indonesia, and many others. In electing Michael its new president, the Committee has chosen wisely.”
Past presidents of the Committee include Matt Cherry of the International Humanist and Ethical Union and Bani Dugal of the Bahá’í International Community. You can learn more about the Committee at www.unfrb.org.
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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI‘s web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.
Cause & Effect is the biweekly newsletter of the Center for Inquiry community, covering the wide range of work that you help make possible.
The Main Events
Supreme Court Decides an Employer’s Religion is More Important Than a Woman’s Health
In a deeply disappointing decision in the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that privately owned for-profit businesses are entitled to exemptions from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act if the owners claim a religiously based opposition to contraception. That means that employers with religious objections can refuse to cover contraception under their company’s insurance plan, or, to put it more succinctly, it’s okay for some people to break the law if their beliefs tell them to. Our president and CEO Ron Lindsay warned, “The potential effects of this decision are absolutely chilling, setting a precedent that is sure to reverberate far beyond the issue of contraceptive coverage.” Indeed, recent news reports already indicate that the Court has quickly broadened the decision beyond its original scope.
At the Huffington Post, Ron lays out one of the more ominous problems with the ruling: its strict alignment with particularly Catholic dogma. “In Justice Alito‘s majority opinion,” writes Ron, “he relies squarely on Catholic teaching about ‘complicity’ to explain the supposed burden [on religious employers]. In doing so, he reiterates the argument that the Catholic Church has made in the dozens of lawsuits it has brought challenging the contraceptive mandate. ” Ron’s article received an enormous amount of pushback, mostly from the conservative media, including critiques from the Wall Street Journal, The American Conservative, two from the Washington Examiner, and of course the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, among several others.
Meanwhile, our legal director, Nick Little, picked apart several of the arguments made in the Court’s majority opinion, written by Justice Alito. “In some ways, you have to hand it to Justice Alito,” wrote Nick. “It is uncommon for a Supreme Court Justice to get every single question in a case wrong, but that is exactly what the newest member of the Court’s conservative majority managed.”
This decision made clear that we who support secular government and health care free from religious interference need to keep fighting, and that’s the message you helped us spread throughout the Internet with some of our most impactful social media memes ever. At last count, this “keep fighting” image and another calling out “Pope Alito” (both designed by Lauren Becker) have been shared over 10,000 times each! Thank you for helping us keep up the fight.
CFI Takes FDA to Task for Setting Loose “Cancer Quack” Burzynski
In a disappointing decision of a different sort, the FDA lifted the restrictions it had placed on the clinical trials of Stanislaw Burzynski, a physician who for decades has been fleecing desperate patients with his “experimental” and entirely baseless cancer treatments. In response, we challenged the FDA to explain its “perplexing” and “disturbing” decision to green-light Burzynski’s trials, and to urge it to reverse itself and force him to end his “deceptive, antiscientific, and unethical medical adventurism and profiteering.” Burzynski has many fans, unfortunately, and understandably desperate people have turned to him.
At the CFI Free Thinking blog, Ron Lindsay explains why an organization like ours takes on both religion and medical pseudoscience as part of a whole, as in our Keep Health Care Safe and Secular campaign, writing, “those who exploit these false hopes, especially when the exploitation is done for financial gain, are blameworthy. Indeed, whether they are cloaked in priest’s vestments or a lab coat, they merit our severest condemnation.” Ron also spoke to the Nashua Telegraph about this difficulty, as a young girl in New Hampshire seeks Burzynski’s treatments.
In March, Skeptical Inquirer featured articles by David Gorski and Bob Blaskiewicz on the danger Burzynski poses to cancer patients, his treatments’ lack of scientific standing, and the efforts to raise awareness and shut him down.
Atheist Invocation at Greece Town Meeting Tuesday
This Tuesday, an atheist will deliver the opening invocation before the Town Board of Greece, New York, ground zero of the Supreme Court case that opened the door to sectarian prayer at government assemblies, and CFI will be there to help represent the secular movement! You’ll recall that in May, the Court cleared the way for sectarian prayers to be part of the official business of city councils and legislatures. So folks from CFI will be on hand to support Dan Courtney, a member of the Atheist Community of Rochester, who will deliver a nonreligious invocation before a meeting of the Town Board, followed by a press conference featuring our own Ron Lindsay. If you can, join us in Greece, and stay tuned for news and pictures from this important event!
Tell Your Senators to Fix What Hobby Lobby Broke
The Hobby Lobby decision has done and will do a lot of damage on several fronts, but there’s at least one legislative fix on the horizon that looks to repair some of what’s been broken. U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Mark Udall introduced the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act of 2014” this week, and it states that employers cannot refuse to cover any health coverage—including contraceptive coverage—guaranteed to their employees and their dependents under federal law. We need you to contact your senators and tell them to support this bill.
News from HQ
Free Inquiry Tackles Morality Without God + “Personhood”
The August/September issue of Free Inquiry has just been released with a cover story by Ron Lindsay that makes a powerful case that morality is not a dictate from God but an institution that fosters trust, peace, and stability in human society—with no religion required. “When we obey norms like ‘don’t kill’ and ‘don’t steal,’ we help ensure the security and stability of society,” says Ron. “It really doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.” The piece is excerpted from Ron’s upcoming book, The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do.
Among the other great pieces in this issue is an op-ed by medical ethicist Arthur Caplan, in which he asserts that the true beginning of a fetus’s “personhood” can be determined by using the tools of science rather than the claims of religion. His piece has already spurred a rebuttal from Jeffrey Weiss at the Washington Post.
Two New Opportunities to Become a Secular Celebrant!
You don’t need to be ordained by the creator of the universe, or even believe in one, to officiate and solemnize a marriage, but you might need a little training. Luckily, we’re offering two opportunities this summer at CFI headquarters to get trained and certified as a CFI Secular Celebrant. Secular Celebrants can not only perform weddings (where the law allows, anyway), but also memorials and other life-milestone celebrations. The first opportunity will be on July 24, coinciding with the CFI Leadership Conference, the second on August 15, alongside the Robert Ingersoll Conference. And don’t forget to read about our program and what it means to be a Secular Celebrant.
Reforesting the Galapagos with the CFI Travel Club
On its recent trip to the Galapagos Islands, the CFI Travel Club was invited to take part in the effort to restore its Scalesia forest. Scalesia trees are native to the Galapagos Islands, and are sometimes called the Darwin finches of the vegetation world because they show a similar pattern of adaptation. By removing invasive species and replanting Scalesia trees, the forest can be restored to its former self, thereby creating habitats for local wildlife. Each travel club member, armed with rubber boots, gloves, spades, and two trees, ventured up a steep incline to plant the trees. A numbered tag, exclusive to each person, was tied loosely on the sapling, allowing each person who participated, as well as future generations, to track each personal contribution. Said Patricia Beauchamp, director of the travel club, “Not only was this a great honor but an exciting and somewhat emotional experience for all of us.”
The Personal and the Political on Point of Inquiry
In the wake of the Hobby Lobby ruling, Lindsay Beyerstein welcomed Brian Leiter to Point of Inquiry to explore what the decision’s implications might be. A legal scholar and expert on church-state separation issues, Leiter joined CFI for a 2013 symposium on the theme of his book Why Tolerate Religion? and you can watch his presentation here.
Josh Zepps was joined by none other than Montel Williams, best known as a talk show veteran, but also a veteran of the U.S. Marines and the Naval Academy. He’s now bringing his name and dynamic personality to encourage activism to fix the crisis-plagued Veterans Administration.
Big CFI Summer Events Hone Skills and Open Minds
The 2014 Leadership Conference is coming July 24–27 in Amherst, New York, where we’ll deliver some of the best leadership and activism training available in the secular movement. We’ll bring together student and community activists from across the continent for four days packed with workshops, networking, educational presentations, and more. Go sign up now!
For the even younger set, Camp Inquiry gets in gear August 3–9, and this year, “CI is DIY”! We know kids already have the essentials for discovery and inquiry, with their boundless curiosity and imagination. Camp Inquiry, held in Holland, NY, will give them hands-on learning experiences and guidance from some of today’s brightest minds, with the skills they’ll need to apply rationality, creativity, and critical thinking to the world they’ll be running before we know it! Find out more by visiting CampInquiry.org.
While that’s going on, on the other side of the country, folks get to flex their investigative muscles with top-notch expert workshops at the 2014 Skeptic’s Toolbox, August 7–10 in Eugene, Oregon. This year’s event is centered on using model cases to better deal with dubious claims, and it’ll do that with hands-on training alongside experts like Ray Hyman, James Alcock, Harriet Hall, Lindsay Beyerstein, and Loren Pankratz. Register now and reserve your spot in the toolbox!
And SAVE THE DATE for CFI’s 2015 National Conference! Mark June 11–14, 2015, on your calendars, because that’s when it’s time to come home. Join us in Amherst, New York, next summer for our biggest conference of the year, a reunion of skeptics, seculars, humanists, and atheists, all coming together where it all began—at the headquarters of the CFI family of organizations, where Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer were launched thirty-five and (almost) forty years ago. Stay tuned for more details.
CFI Community News
International humanist activist Leo Igwe is coming all the way from Nigeria to visit with several of CFI’s branches in the coming days to share his wisdom and experiences. In one of his presentations, he’ll discuss how Islamic extremism, in particular Boko Haram in Nigeria, threatens to bring about a “looming dark age in Africa.” In a separate talk, he’ll discuss how humanists can better reach hearts rather than just minds, and the work being done to stop the persecution of people accused of being witches in Africa. Here’s the rundown of Leo’s CFI visits, and what he’ll be presenting on:
• July 14: CFI–Northeast Ohio (Boko Haram)
• July 17: CFI–Indiana (Boko Haram)
• July 22: CFI–Michigan in Farmington Hills (Humanism)
• July 23: CFI–Michigan in Grand Rapids (Humanism)
Next week, July 18 and 19, CFI–Western New York will host a two-day summer seminar of considerable proportions on the subject of “Continental Humanism.” With speakers including J. Edward Hackett, Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray, and CFI Educational Director David Koepsell, the event will examine continental sources of humanism, realism, and naturalism in the twentieth century, with discussion of figures such as Husserl, Sartre, de Beauvoir, and others who were instrumental in the early existentialist and phenomenological movements in philosophy. Click here for full details.
George Ongere, director of CFI–Kenya, posts a report of his organization’s activities, as well as an exploration at the various interpretations of what it means to be a humanist in Africa. In particular, CFI–Kenya has been engaged in on-the-ground outreach to colleges, introducing humanistic concepts and providing educational materials. They’re also helping combat superstitions such as belief in witchcraft, which is devastating the lives of women and girls in Africa, and specifically providing education and assistance to orphaned children, victims of this fear of “sorcery.” Writes George, “Supporting these children, who once thought their future was bleak, gives us a lot of motivation.” And it does for us, too.
As part of its community outreach, CFI–Los Angeles has begun hosting meetings of the Los Angeles Women’s Atheist & Agnostic Group (LAWAAG). The inaugural meeting was held July 1, led by artist Amy Davis Roth. The meeting was attended by 24 women, each of whom discussed her background and what led her to LAWAAG. The group also discussed favorite books, abuse targeted at women who identify as feminists online, and the group’s first sponsored event: an art installation that will be on display at CFI–L.A. in September. The next meeting will be Tuesday, August 5. LAWAAG meets the first Tuesday of every month.
CFI in the Media
● Our response to the Hobby Lobby decision was noted in several news outlets outside our own secular-skeptic movement, including Deseret News, Christianity Today, Global Dispatch, and Joe. My. God., among several others.
● As California suffers through a painful drought, water dowsing has come back into the spotlight. NBC affiliate WWLP-TV profiles a local dowser who asserts 95 percent accuracy in water detection, and CFI–Los Angeles’s own Jim Underdown is brought on to be the very necessary voice of reason.
● As SCOTUS handed down the Hobby Lobby ruling, POTUS quietly signed the bill allowing for a prayer plaque to be placed at the World War II National Memorial, which CFI opposed. Military outlet Stars and Stripes talked to CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo about why we objected.
● CFI Public Policy Director Michael De Dora was the guest on the Token Skeptic podcast, discussing the Keep Health Care Safe and Secular campaign and his own journey to the secular and skeptic movements.
● July 2 was apparently World UFO Day, and USA Today checked in with CFI’s prolific investigator Joe Nickell for his perspective. Meanwhile, New Mexicans are getting worried about UFO stickers on road signs, and Ben Radford goes on KOB-TV news to clear things up.
● Much ado was made about the recent findings that a supposed hair sample of a Yeti was actually just (another) bear. To talk all things abominable and big-footed, Ben Radford was the guest on the Rob Breakenridge radio show.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● At Friendly Atheist, CFI’s Paul Fidalgo interviews the woman who had Saudi Arabia shouting mad, Josephine Macintosh. She’s CFI’s representative on the U.N. Human Rights Council and she called out the Kingdom for its human rights abuses.
● Michael De Dora gives background and context to the plight of Waleed Abu al-Khair, the Saudi activist just sentenced to fifteen years in prison for “insulting” the state. Al-Khair’s was one of the cases highlighted by Macintosh at the U.N.
● In Free Inquiry, Tom Flynn takes issue with the way Barbara Ehrenreich has been talking about “mystical experiences” and suggests we seculars ditch the word transcendence altogether.
● CFI Education Director David Koepsell asks a tough question: Is secularism failing, and are we relying too much on laws to solve our problems?
● Skeptical Inquirer has wrap-ups of October’s CFI Summit from two different perspectives: Editor Kendrick Frazier and Guerilla Skeptic Susan Gerbic. We also have the remarks delivered by Ron Lindsay as we presented Eugenie C. Scott with the CFI Lifetime Achievement Award.
● When some people cry “Bigfoot,” Joe Nickell says “bear.” Why? A bear “has the added characteristic of actually existing.”
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
• CFI–Michigan’s Secular Summer Retreat goes through the weekend.
• Greta Christina joins CFI–DC for a special fundraising event, discussing her book Coming Out Atheist.
• Richard Hull visits with CFI–Tallahassee for his presentation “Huntington’s Disease: Its Medical and Ethical Dimensions.”
• Wesley M. Johnson gives a presentation on “Science, Philosophy and Three ‘isms’ (Atheism, Agnosticism, Humanism)” for CFI–Tampa
• CFI–Orange County hosts author Jennifer Ouellette for a presentation on “the science of self.”
Everything we do at CFI is made possible by you and your support. Let’s keep working together for science, reason, and secular values. Donate today!
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Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter
is edited by Paul Fidalgo, Center for Inquiry communications director.
The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in
Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a
secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI’s web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.
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