Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 11
July 25, 2014
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
Victory in Indiana!
Last Monday morning, July 14, everyone here at CFI began the week with tremendously good news. In a landmark victory for all nonreligious Americans, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously ruled in our favor in our case against the state of Indiana, declaring that Indiana must allow marriages to be solemnized by Secular Celebrants, such as those certified by CFI.
It’s been a long road to this victory. In 2012, the U.S. District Court dismissed our case, called our complaint a mere “inconvenience,” and asserted that religion was entitled to special accommodations not applicable to anyone else. In May, we brought the case before the Seventh Court of Appeals.
Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote the opinion of the court and fully recognized that secular humanists and other nonreligious Americans hold their beliefs and principles as dear as any religious person and deserve the same right to mark life’s milestones in a manner that befits those principles. He pointed out that members of CFI were rightfully “unwilling to pretend to be something they are not, or pretend to believe something they do not,” by holding a religious ceremony or settling for a “sham ceremony” before a court clerk. “They are shut out as long as they are sincere in following an ethical system that does not worship any god, adopt any theology, or accept a religious label,” he wrote.
Check out coverage of this big win in the Washington Post (three times! Here, here, and here), the Indianapolis Star, which has an interview with CFI–Indiana’s Reba Boyd Wooden, director of our celebrant program, and Slate. You can also listen to a radio interview with Reba on the State of Belief program.
We’re all very grateful to Ken Falk of the ACLU of Indiana for his brilliant work in representing us in this case. The attorney general of Indiana says he is weighing whether to challenge this ruling, so stay tuned for what may be more developments.
Watch the Atheist Invocation and Rally in Greece, NY
The day after the Indiana decision came down, staff and supporters of CFI took a road trip to the Town of Greece, New York, to support local atheist activist Dan Courtney as he delivered a historic secular invocation before Greece’s Town Board. Greece, you’ll recall, was ground zero of the Supreme Court case of Greece v. Galloway, in which the Court unwisely ruled in favor of allowing sectarian prayer at public government meetings. In response, Dan asked to be able to deliver an atheist invocation in place of a prayer, and CFI and other freethought movement representatives joined him, holding a rally outside Town Hall after the invocation.
The Town Hall was packed with secular supporters – standing room only! – and no fewer than twelve news crews came to cover the event.
You can watch Dan deliver his invocation here, and we also have video of the remarks given by Dan and CFI’s president and CEO Ron Lindsay at the rally. Outlets such as USA Today and the Associated Press covered both the big event as well as CFI’s involvement specifically, and Dan and Ron were jointly interviewed by Evan Dawson on his program Connections on WXXI radio.
The CFI Leadership Conference is Underway!
Yesterday the 2014 CFI Leadership Conference kicked off at our headquarters in Amherst, New York. For the first time this year, not only do we have student freethought leaders and CFI branch staff and volunteers, but also community leaders from local secular groups around North America.
Everyone’s primed for a great weekend packed with workshops, training, networking, and one heck of a lot of fun. If you’re on Twitter, follow the action under the hashtag #CFICon.
Support CFI’s Bill for Secular Celebrants in Ohio
Fresh off our victory in Indiana, CFI now looks to Ohio. The intrepid folks of CFI–Northeast Ohio have partnered with State Rep. Mike Foley to introduce Ohio House Bill 591, which would authorize Secular Celebrants to solemnize marriages in Ohio.
If you live in Ohio, we need your help to get this bill to a vote! If HB 591 becomes law, secular humanists, atheists, and other nonreligious Ohioans will no longer have to settle for marriage by government employee, or through some quasi-religious mail-order certification, but will instead be able to celebrate this wonderful milestone event in a way that embraces their nontheistic worldview.
As Rep. Foley said of the issue, “It is time we allow couples greater freedom in choosing who performs their marriage, especially those couples in our state who do not have ties to a certain religious organization.” We agree, so Ohioans: contact your state representatives now!
News from HQ and the CFI Community
President Obama Resists Religious Pressure on Anti-Discrimination Executive Order
One week after Indiana, we got a rare bit of good news from the White House. On Monday, President Obama signed a new executive order that protects LGBT Americans from discrimination by any business contracting with the federal government, and did so without including a special exemption for organizations styling themselves as religious. This is excellent news in itself, but from a president who partakes in National Prayer Breakfasts and sided with sectarian prayer in the Greece v. Galloway case, it is encouraging indeed to see him stand firm for secular principles, even and especially in the face of overwhelming pressure from religious interests.
Our Public Policy Director Michael De Dora said this order is “a welcome step in the right direction, toward a secular government in which religion can’t be used as a shield for prejudice and unequal treatment.” Our reaction was noted by the Washington Times and the Christian Post. CFI was part of a coalition of 98 organizations urging the president not to include the religious exemption language.
Texas Medical Board Goes After Burzynski and His Baseless Cancer Treatments
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration inexplicably lifted restrictions it had placed on the clinical trials of Stanislaw Burzynski, a Houston-based physician who has spent the past few decades luring desperate patients and soaking them of money to pay for his “experimental” and baseless cancer treatments. We responded firmly with a demand that the FDA explain itself and shut down Burzynski’s operation. Last week the Texas Medical Board filed a 200-page administrative complaint, which includes eleven separate possible statutory violations and six aggravating factors arising out of Burzynski’s conduct, including harm to one or more patients. USA Today reported on these developments, and quoted CFI’s Ron Lindsay who applauded the medical board’s moves, saying, “Burzynski should not be practicing medicine. Period.”
We’ll continue to press this case, and we’re glad to see the Texas Medical Board take action where the FDA is lying down. 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.
Appreciating Robert Ingersoll
Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, and Julia Lavarnway, who helps edit both Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer, have a new book about “the Great Agnostic” Robert Ingersoll, just in time for our Ingersoll conference: Religions Are For a Day: Robert Green Ingersoll Appreciated. The book is not just a biography but a deep examination of his ideas, explorations as to why he had until recently been seemingly written out of history, as well as investigations into some of the historical mysteries surrounding his life and times. You can order the book here, or pick up a copy if you’re coming for the conference! At the Free Thinking blog, CFI Libraries Director Tim Binga offers a preview.
Suspending Support for ENDA
It was a difficult decision, but two weeks ago we announced that we could no longer support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in its current form. As the act is written now, it attempts to bar employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals nationwide, a goal we obviously support. But it also includes the same kind of religious loopholes that we were so happy the president left out of his recent executive order (which only applies to federal contractors). After the disastrous Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, a bad compromise for the ENDA’s passage has been made far worse as for-profit corporations would now almost certainly seek and receive the religious exemption and be free to discriminate. That’s a bridge too far for us, and we are suspending our support for ENDA until the exemption is either greatly narrowed or scrapped altogether.
Whale Wars and Blasphemy Laws on Point of Inquiry
Some of our planet’s most intelligent creatures have been in a kind of battle with military forces, and we’re not talking about humans. On Point of Inquiry, CFI’s flagship podcast, Lindsay Beyerstein interviews Joshua Horwitz, author of War of the Whales, where he documents the damage done by U.S. Navy sonar to whales, the militarization of dolphins, and other problems of marine mammals in captivity.
We’ve also re-aired a classic episode of Point of Inquiry from 2009, in which DJ Grothe interviews Austin Dacey, who at the time was CFI’s UN representative. They discuss what was then a relatively new crisis of blasphemy laws and the movement to have them enshrined by the UN itself. The global crackdown on free expression is a problem that has only grown since then and become more dangerous.
CFI’s Summer of Big Events Continues
While the CFI Leadership Conference is in full steam, there’s still a lot more to look forward to this summer.
Next up is Camp Inquiry, August 3–9, with this year’s theme “CI is DIY.” Kids already have the essentials for discovery and inquiry, with their boundless curiosity and imagination. Camp Inquiry, taking place in Holland, New York, will give kids hands-on learning experiences and guidance from some of today’s brightest minds and the skills they’ll need to apply creativity and critical thinking to the world they’ll be in charge of before we know it! Find out more by visiting CampInquiry.org.
At the same time, grownups will get to sharpen their investigative minds 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!
While the second day’s motor coach tour is sold out, you can still come for the first day of lectures and presentations at our conference Robert Green Ingersoll and the Reform Imperative, August 16 at CFI’s headquarters in Amherst.
And SAVE THE DATE for CFI’s 2015 National Conference! Mark June 11–14, 2015 on your calendars, because 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.
Jennifer Ouellette visits CFI–Los Angeles
Science writer Jennifer Ouellette drew an overflowing crowd at CFI–Los Angeles this week for a “Feed Your Brain” lecture on her new book, Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self. The enthusiastic audience was brimming with questions for this highly-regarded author who’s been a favorite of CFI–LA, having spoken to them twice before.
CFI in the Media
With so many big events over the past two weeks, CFI and its staff have been quoted, interviewed, and cited in numerous news outlets. Here are some of them not already mentioned in the news above.
● The Christian Science Monitor calls our Indiana win “a significant victory for nonreligious Americans.” Additional coverage comes from such outlets as Wonkette, Raw Story, and Indiana Public Media, among many others.
● Conservative outlet CNS News covers the Greece, NY, event and for some reason points out that “the wind began swirling” as Ron Lindsay spoke at the rally. AL.com previewed the event a few days before.
● 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.
● ThinkProgress twice cites our Safe and Secular campaign, first in a piece on the plague of anti-choice legislation around the country and again on the slew of medical conspiracy theories that too many people believe.
● The Christian Post interviews CFI–Northeast Ohio’s president, Monette Richards, about the Secular Celebrant bill.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● Ron Lindsay reflects on our big win in Indiana, writing, “What was striking about the court’s opinion was its explicit recognition that the nonreligious—atheists, agnostics, humanists—are part of the fabric of American society, and that they don’t have to pretend to be religious to take part in the legal, social, and civic life of this country.”
● Tom Flynn notes a recent study showing that despite the environmental turn of many Evangelical Christians, stewardship of the planet is not getting through to the rank-and-file, “many of whom still seem to think that God really wants them to ‘subdue the earth.’”
● In CSI’s Skeptical Briefs, Kenneth Biddle explores how so-called ghost and UFO hunters are “conditioning and reinforcing phobias that produce anxiety, stress, a decrease in the quality of life, and even substantial financial losses.” Meanwhile, Chip Taylor investigates the “Rhode Island UFO,” a.k.a. an advertising banner strung from an airplane.
● Michael De Dora caught wind of the coming executive order from the president last week and in a blog post about it takes to task the confused thinking of those who defend the right to discriminate.
● CFI Education Director David Koepsell defends academic philosophy from its detractors in the sciences, writing, “as with any field, expertise comes with practice, and the academy is (still) where the best get that practice.”
● Joe Nickell goes tracking a Skunk Ape, a kind of Bigfoot-swamp monster mashup.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
• CFI Legal Director Nick Little will speak to CFI–DC about the ugly repercussions of the Hobby Lobby decision and its roots in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
• Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State visits CFI–Los Angeles to talk about how the concept of religious liberty is being distorted by the religious right.
• Greta Christina comes to CFI–Orange County to talk about the importance of “coming out atheist.”
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.