Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 12

August 8, 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

10501941_10152300429745698_7740230697732906042_n.jpgFour Days of Enlightenment at the CFI Leadership Conference: “Reason for Change”

The 2014 CFI Leadership Conference wrapped up last weekend, and it was the kind of event where the connections formed and the skills learned exceeded expectations. Student freethought leaders, community activists, and CFI branch leaders came together to workshop, train, network, and generate ideas for advancing the causes of science, reason, and secular values at the campus, local, national, and international levels. 

There were too many highlights to fully capture in this space. Some moments that did stand out, however, included a conversation with secular activists in Kenya and South Korea over an online video chat; Eric Adriaans and Sergio De Lara’s impressive presentation on a newly energized CFI–Canada; the hands-on training from experts like Desiree Schell, Michael De Dora, and Michael Cardus; the inspirational talks from James Croft, CFI president Ronald Lindsay, and Board Chair Eddie Tabash; and comedian Leighann Lord’s unique and hilarious wit. 

And there was so much more (including ice cream). Definitely check out the photos from Brian Engler and Monica Harmsen (parts one and two). It was a weekend that left all who attended with a trove of skills, strategies, and best of all, optimism for bringing about a new wave of positive change. We can’t wait for next year.


Closer170.jpgMichael De Dora Elected President of UN NGO Committee

Last week we proudly announced that CFI Director of Public Policy Michael De Dora, our 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, which is dedicated to defending and promoting the international agreements that protect the rights to freedom of religion or belief. Michael has big plans for the coming months, in which he intends to hold events with key UN figures and bolster the Committee members’ capacity to communicate and effect change. We are biased, of course, but we think Michael was the perfect choice, for as he’s said himself, “The rights to freedom of religion and belief are not only central to CFI’s mission, they are foundational for a flourishing global civilization.” 


2013__Uganda__Kato_Mukasa_speaking.jpgUgandan Humanist Organization Is Robbed, But You Can Help

The global secular community was recently taken aback when we learned that the offices of Uganda’s Humanist Association for Leadership, Equity, and Accountability (HALEA) had been violently robbed, with security guards beaten and almost everything of value stolen. In response, we’ve activated our Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Effort (SHARE) program to raise funds to help them recover. As CFI’s director of international programs, Bill Cooke, wrote in a letter, HALEA has been doing “tremendous, inspiring work with unemployed, pregnant, and other at-risk teenagers in the poorest districts of the city, where crime, violence and superstition play a poisonous role in destroying their already slim chances of fending for themselves.” We can’t let this key friend and ally down. Find out how you can help support them here. 


wedding-rings.jpgSecular Celebrants Now Free to Solemnize Marriages in Indiana 

Last month, history was made as the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state of Indiana could not bar Secular Celebrants from solemnizing marriages and rejected the idea that Indiana’s nonreligious should hypocritically declare themselves part of a makeshift “religion”to skirt the law. It was a milestone victory for secular Americans, and this week we learned that the state would not try to delay the decision, meaning that Secular Celebrant marriages could begin. (The state could still decide to request an appeal, and we hope they do not.) As Reba Boyd Wooden, director of CFI’s Secular Celebrant program said, “We’re delighted to have the equal status of the nonreligious recognized and finally made official in Indiana. Our Secular Celebrants stand ready to accommodate any couple—religious or nonreligious—who desire a secular ceremony, whether it be a private solemnization or a large wedding in front of family and friends.”


News from HQ and the CFI Community


Our Big Summer Events are Happening Now!

Camp Inquiry, CFI’s weeklong summer camp for young freethinkers, is going on right now in Holland, New York, with this year’s theme, “CI is DIY.” With guidance from some of the best counselors in the business, the kids are learning the creative and critical thinking skills they’ll need when it’s their turn to run the world. Find out more by visiting

On the other side of the country, the skeptically inclined are gathered in Eugene, Oregon, for the 2014 Skeptic’s Toolbox, where they’re sharpening their investigative and critical thinking skills. This year’s event is centered on using model cases to better deal with dubious claims, with sessions taught by experts like Ray Hyman, James Alcock, Harriet Hall, Lindsay Beyerstein, and Loren Pankratz

There’s still time to sign up for part of next weekend’s conference in Amherst, New York, Robert Green Ingersoll and the Reform Imperative. While the second day’s motor coach tour is sold out, you can still come for the first day of lectures and presentations, which includes a special keynote address on secularist pioneer Matilda Joslyn Gage by Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner.

With Camp Inquiry and the Skeptic’s Toolbox happening at the same time this year, followed so quickly by the Ingersoll Conference, we expect average U.S. freethinking quotient to jump a few points by next week.

Don’t forget to SAVE THE DATE for CFI’s 2015 National Conference! Mark June 11–14, 2015, on your calendars—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—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 Backs Bill Providing Contraceptive Coverage for Women in the Military

At the end of July, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire introduced the Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2014, which would provide for comprehensive contraceptive coverage and family planning counseling for all U.S. servicemembers, as well as their dependents, who rely on the military for health care. We’ve joined a coalition of thirty-six groups that includes the ACLU, Catholics for Choice, and Planned Parenthood in supporting this bill, which already has sixteen cosponsors in the Senate. We and our partners have sent a letter to Sen. Shaheen expressing our support, noting that the bill would “ensure that confidential, comprehensive, and medically accurate family-planning counseling becomes a guaranteed health service for servicewomen, and is offered by medical providers that have the most up-to-date, evidenced-based information regarding the full range of contraceptive methods available.” Read the full letter here.


Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 11.04.03 AM.pngAnimal Madness and Understanding Risk on Point of Inquiry

On CFI’s flagship podcast Point of Inquiry, Lindsay Beyerstein explores the strange, still misunderstood world of mental illness in animals with TED fellow Laurel Braitman, author of Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves. It’s a fascinating discussion that challenges much of what we assume about the inner lives of non-human creatures. 

After so much recent bad news regarding tragic airline disasters, how does it change the way the public understands what is and isn’t “safe”? Josh Zepps is joined by David Ropeik, an international consultant and expert on the subject of risk perception and communication, to talk about how mathematical probabilities clash with our emotions and perceptions.


CFI in the Media


●   At Huffington Post, Ron Lindsay relates his impressions of the Qur’an, calling it a “defensive” work in which “the text exudes insecurity masked with bravado” and compares its sanctioning of violence to that of the Bible.

●   Brian Pellot at Religion News Service previews the World Humanist Congress, and says, “Some of the greatest advocates for these rights I’ve met in the past year have been non-religious groups, a good example being the Center for Inquiry.

●   Foster’s Daily Democrat notes CFI’s criticism of the FDA and the FDA’s failure to stop the dangerous and baseless cancer treatments of Stanislaw Burzynski

●   ThinkProgress touts our Keep Health Care Safe and Secular campaign in a widely read piece on the Satanic Temple and its “religious exemption” gambit against abortion restrictions.   

●   Shahla Khan Salter of Universalist Muslims at Huffington Post calls upon Canada’s Prime Minister to do more for children in war-torn areas like Syria and Gaza and gives a nod to CFI for our human rights work.

●   At Religion News Service, Sarah Jones argues for atheist solidarity with the Muslim groups being targeted by the NYPD’s surveillance operations and cites CFI as one of the groups doing the right thing.


Highlights from CFI on the Web


●  Thanks to the hard work of Protect Portland Children, CFI–Portland (Oregon), and many other local activists, the aggressively evangelical “Good News Club” is now in a critical spotlight for coming to Portland to systematically target school children for religious indoctrination. Just in time, CFI’s Center Stage podcast features a presentation from last year’s CFI Summit by Katherine Stewart on this very subject, including how the “Good News Club” sneaks its way into public schools.

●   David Koepsell, director of CFI’s educational programs, gives us two new articles at the Free Thinking blog: one defending open access to scientific literature in the wake of the arrest of a Colombian student; the other a meditation on “finding ourselves to be an accident of physics” and how humanism helps us create meaning.

●  Let it never be said that Carrie Poppy does not suffer for her art, as she does here with a month of oil pulling (or as she puts it “oral torture”) to see if it “transforms her health.”

●  Bob Blaskiewicz at Skeptical Inquirer looks into the originator of an odd Matrix-based meme alleging that the Jews of Israel are “false Jews,” someone who “embarked on a fourth career as a New Age guru who claims that the world is controlled by capitalist reptilian bloodlines.”

●  Tom Flynn is baffled by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and his apparently recent discovery of religion’s role in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. “The seemingly-perpetual crisis in the Middle East has been a religious conflict ... since its beginnings. And all three Abrahamic faiths bear guilt, in my view.” 

●  Kitty Mervine at Skeptical Briefs recounts the strange legal conflict between an alleged UFO abductee and Carl Sagan over depictions in the original Cosmos.

●  LaRae Meadows reports back from the SkeptiCal conference with new lessons learned, including one on how we behave to those we disagree with: “Being a rude, obnoxious jerk simply to bolster one’s own ego does not further debate or discussion, and it is not an expression of superiority.”

●  Leo Igwe gives a very positive review to the book 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True for Skeptical Inquirer.

●  Ben Radford looks into the real-life history of psychics and spiritualists as portrayed in the film Magic in the Moonlight and finds that the filmmakers have indeed done their homework.

And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.


Upcoming CFI Events

August 10:

     •  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.

August 11:

     •  Astronomy professor and humorist Norm Sperling speaks to CFI–Indiana. 

August 13:

     •  Law professor Daniel Ray joins CFI–Michigan in Grand Rapids to give an overview of the major Supreme Court developments over the past year. 

August 17:

     •  Greta Christina comes to CFI–Orange County to talk about the importance of “coming out atheist.” 

August 23:

     •  CFI–Michigan holds a service day, doing maintenance work at the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding in Rockford.

August 27:

     •  Henry Pollack, professor of geophysics, delivers a presentation to CFI–Michigan on “Ice, Water, and Climate.”


Thank you!

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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