Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 27
March 20, 2015
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
Championing Free Expression at the UN Security Council
Michael De Dora, our public policy director and representative to the United Nations, has been in Geneva for the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council. While there, he’s delivered two statements to the Council concerning the freedoms of expression and belief, specifically calling out those governments that seek to censor speech and persecute speakers.
On March 13, Michael spoke about protecting free expression online, as countries such as Turkey and Russia move to block content on services such as Twitter and on entire websites. (Turkey alone has blocked over 68,000 sites, including those of Charlie Hebdo and the country’s first atheist organization.) “We urge all member states to fully protect online expression,” said Michael. “And, given the lack of accountability at the state level, we also urge the Council to pressure member states to provide detailed justification for their censorship of online content.” You can read the statement here and also check out the video.
Then this past Monday, Michael took on Saudi Arabia, whose delegation was in the room to hear his criticism. Saudi Arabia is set to host an international conference on religious tolerance known as the Istanbul Process, in the same city in which prisoners of conscience such as Raif Badawi are imprisoned, abused, and potentially even face death sentences for religious dissent. “If Saudi Arabia is sincere about acting as host of the next meeting, it could begin to validate its role rather easily: release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, drop all charges against them, and move to protect freedom of religion, belief, and expression,” said Michael. “We urge them to do so, and urge member states to keep them accountable.” Here’s the text of this statement, and the video is here.
Michael was also going to deliver a statement on the sanctioning of religious violence by states as well as radicalized individuals, but time did not allow. It’s been posted to the Free Thinking blog and said in part, “It is often thought that violence in the name of religion refers to acts committed by non-state actors. Yet it also includes acts committed by states—whether in the form of suffocating bans on religious dissent, the jailing and torture of dissenters, or campaigns of intimidation, fear, and exclusion of religious minorities and the non-religious. … [We call on states to] repeal discriminatory and divisive establishments of religions, and laws that criminalize dissent on religion.”
Those Closest to Murdered Writer Avijit Roy Reflect and Persevere
On February 26th, our friend and colleague, freethought writer Avijit Roy, was murdered by Islamic extremists in Dhaka. Dr. Roy’s death has sent powerful reverberations, waking the world up to the threat posed by those who oppose free expression and free inquiry in the name of religious dogma and ideology.
Also badly injured in the attack that killed Dr. Roy was his wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, herself an accomplished writer and freethought activist. Happily, she is on the road to recovery, and we were honored when she chose the Center for Inquiry to deliver her first public statement after the attack. She called the attack “a crime not only against a person, but against freedom of speech and humanity,” and urged the rest of the world to “join us in this demand for justice.” She also spoke to BBC radio in a deeply moving interview in which she expresses her determination to continue to speak out for the ideals she and Dr. Roy always fought for.
We were also honored to publish on our Free Thinking blog an essay by Jahed Ahmed, a friend of Dr. Roy’s and a cofounder of his website Mukto-mona. Ahmed reflects on the legacy of his friend, rightly declaring that “the name Avijit Roy is now synonymous with reason, science, and courage.” Ahmed’s essay will also appear in the next issue of CFI’s Free Inquiry magazine.
REASON FOR CHANGE Is Sooner Than You Think!
Reason for Change is a short three months away, June 11–15, 2015, in Buffalo. Have you made your plans yet? This international conference will feature such distinguished and fascinating speakers as Rebecca Goldstein, Susan Jacoby, Richard Dawkins, Phil Zuckerman, Michael Specter, and a whole host of other brilliant experts, activists, and thinkers.
News and updates about the conference are being posted to the conference’s official website, ReasonforChange.org, and you can follow all of it on Tumblr. Make sure you’re up to date with all the action by clicking the “+ FOLLOW” button on the upper right of the conference website. The complete schedule of events has been posted, and when you see it, you’ll understand why this conference is going to be like no other.
Don’t put off saving your place at this unmissable event! Register right now!
News from HQ and the CFI Community
CFI Urges Supreme Court to Reject Religious Morality in Same-Sex Marriage Case
This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on the most consequential case yet regarding same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges. We’ve partnered with our allies at the American Humanist Association to submit to the Court an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage rights. Coming from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a decision to uphold several states’ bans on same-sex marriage was based mainly on notions of religious morality, which of course has no place determining people’s rights in a secular nation. Our press release notes that “multiple Supreme Court decisions have made clear that tradition does not excuse discrimination” and that “the reliance on a particular strain of religious morality is forbidden by the Constitution.” The entire amicus brief is available here. Be sure to check out CFI Legal Director Nick Little’s blog post explaining why this is so important and why we think the Sixth Circuit was so wrong. We’ll of course keep a close eye on this case and eagerly await the Court’s final decision.
Point of Inquiry Covers Islamic Extremism and Human Extinction
If there are two crises the world at large seems at a loss to tackle, it is the threat posed by violent religious extremists and that of climate change. On the Point of Inquiry podcast this week, two journalists explore the present and future of these seemingly intractable problems.
Josh Zepps interviews foreign policy writer Eli Lake about the roots and aims of the Islamic State, touching on the appeal the nascent “caliphate” has for new recruits, as well as the treacherous rhetoric we use to describe its followers and the substantial role of Islam itself.
Lindsay Beyerstein gets a wide-angle perspective on climate change from science journalist Michael Tennesen, who expounds upon the environmental impact global warming is having on the ecosystem as a whole, as well as how it might impact Earth’s surviving species after humans are long gone.
Sun and Secularism with Ron Lindsay in Arizona
CFI’s president and CEO, Ron Lindsay, visited Arizona this past weekend to bask in the sun…I mean, to give some talks. Here, in his own words, is Ron’s report:
“On Saturday afternoon I gave a talk on my book, The Necessity of Secularism, to the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix. The talk had been organized by humanist activist Anne Mardick in conjunction with Richard Dewey, president of HSGP. HSGP represents a strong, engaged community (there was a Girl Scout meeting immediately before my talk), and the discussion following my talk was lively.
“The next morning I gave another book talk in Tucson, to Freethought Arizona. Jerry Karches, president and program chair of Freethought Arizona, helped organize the talk, along with Diane Uhl, a member of the board of directors. We had a good crowd—close to 90. Freethought Arizona is a robust organization and is doing some great work, with some vibrant outreach programs.
“And, by the way, the weather was sunny and in the 80s.”
Way to rub it in, sir.
CFI in the Media
● Oliver Laughland and Saad Hammadi at The Guardian look at the impact of Avijit Roy’s life and death, highlighting Dr. Roy’s friendship and conversations with CFI’s Michael De Dora.
● Also at The Guardian, Adam Lee notes the work of CFI as an example of freethought organizations that “embrace the practical pursuit of justice.”
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● Two of CFI’s leaders write in Free Inquiry about the CFI merger with its programs Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. First, CFI President and CEO Ron Lindsay makes a powerful case for the firm alliance between skepticism and humanism. Then, Council Executive Director Tom Flynn gives broader context to the merger, bringing in some history of the formation of these three organizations that are now one.
● Kylie Sturgess interviews Australian artist Alexia Sinclair, who is working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Art of Saving a Life project. “The hope is that the works will inspire people to think—and act—on how important vaccines are to modern health systems.”
● Stephen Law posts his opening remarks from a debate with Christian evangelist Peter Payne, in which he makes the case that “science has at least the potential to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt the truth or falsity of all sorts of theistic claims.”
● Joe knows Shrouds. CNN? That’s another matter. Joe Nickell weighs in on the network’s coverage of the “controversy” over the Shroud of Turin and finds it wanting.
● In Skeptical Inquirer, Joe also dispels some the old claims of hauntings at the infamous “Amityville Horror” home.
● David Koepsell reminds us of the tenuous position our species finds itself in in regard to the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons wielded by major world powers with axes to grind.
● At Skeptical Inquirer, Rebecca Watson wonders if current laws and campaigns to encourage vaccinations are doing more harm than good by fueling anti-government and anti-science sentiments.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Mandisa L. Thomas and Richard Peacock discuss African American humanism with CFI–Tampa Bay.
● CFI–DC hosts Dr. Paul Offit for a presentation on how religious belief can undermine modern medicine.
● Geologist David R. Montgomery talks at CFI Headquarters in Amherst about the tension between science and religion and the influence they have on each other.
● Bridget Crutchfield, founder and president of Minority Atheists of Michigan, presents on diversity in the secular community with CFI–Michigan.
● CFI–Los Angeles hosts a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail for Easter Sunday. None shall pass.
● CFI–DC hosts FFRF’s Dan Barker discussing “Life Driven Purpose.”
● “Science Babe” Yvette d’Entremont talks about popular and misguided fears about medical science with CFI–Los Angeles.
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.