Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 28
April 3, 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
Ron Lindsay to Step Down at the End of the Year
Last week, CFI’s president and CEO, Ronald A. Lindsay, announced that he would step down from his position on December 31, 2015. In a blog post on March 23, Ron said that he wanted to give CFI the benefit of new leadership and new thinking and also felt that the time was right for him personally to move on to other things. Ron has led CFI as its president and CEO since 2008, during which time the organization has grown stronger, more effective, and more respected as an advocate for science, reason, and secularism, in the U.S. and around the world. With nine months left to his tenure, a very smooth transition to new leadership is expected.
In the meantime, Ron and his wife, Debra, are celebrating their fortieth anniversary, and we all wish them a happy one.
Indiana’s Right-to-Discriminate Law Backfires Badly
Last week, Indiana governor Mike Pence signed into law the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an ill-considered bill designed to allow anyone to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community. We had been sounding the alarm over this law and others like it, but little did we suspect the blowback that the law would face once it reached public consciousness. In the days since its signing, several corporations and public figures, from companies like Salesforce and Angie’s List to the tour of the band Wilco, have announced their intention to boycott business in Indiana. Apple CEO Tim Cook penned a widely lauded op-ed in the Washington Post, putting his and his company’s weight behind opposition to this law and similar bills now being considered.
CFI–Indiana’s executive director, Reba Boyd Wooden, was featured on NBC Nightly News’ report on the protests against the law, as she has been a central part of the resistance to the law, taking part in all of the hearings, votes, and rallies at the Indiana Statehouse. Tom Flynn eviscerates the law at our Free Thinking blog, writing that laws like this “represent a harvest of church-state entanglement and unfair privileging of religion—a harvest that was sown in the early 1990s, when a misguided coalition of politicos who should have known better rushed to pass an invalid law, the original RFRA.”
Another Atheist Blogger Murdered in Bangladesh
As the global community of skeptics and humanists continues to reel from the savage murder of our friend Avijit Roy in Bangladesh, another freethought writer is murdered in the same fashion. Washiqur Rahman, an atheist blogger, was twenty-seven years old when he was attacked and killed by a group of Islamist thugs in Dhaka, part of a coordinated campaign to terrorize secular voices in Bangladesh. In our official statement on the crime (sadly becoming something of a regular occurrence), we echoed the call of Rafida Bonya Ahmed, Dr. Roy’s wife who was also injured in the attack on her husband, for the Bangladeshi authorities to redouble their efforts to bring perpetrators to justice and to seriously work to counteract this growing string of extremist attacks, protecting the outspoken critics of religion. We wrote:
The power of the ideals and principles Washiqur Rahman championed will now … become a more potent force, and the hateful and backward ideology of his killers will be exposed to the world. Violent Islamic extremists think they will scare their critics into silence and submission, but their barbarity will only serve to strengthen the unity and resolve of those who believe in the fundamental right to free expression—which includes the right to criticize, question, and reject religion.
Kimberly Winston at Religion News Service reports on the reaction from atheists to this latest outrage, leading with our own. Our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Washiqur Rahman. We promise to remain vigilant in the fight for free expression everywhere, for everyone.
CFI to Take Part in FDA Homeopathy Hearings
Three and a half years ago, the Center for Inquiry and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (before they were merged into a single organization) filed three petitions with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking the agency to address problems in the marketing of homeopathic products and to require the same standards for safety and effectiveness as any other drug or medical treatment. That was in August of 2011, and since then, all we ever heard in response was a letter in 2012 informing us that no decisions had been made. After what feels like an age passing, something is finally happening.
Spurred by advocacy from groups like ours and the concerns of medical experts, the FDA announced this week that it will hold public hearings on April 20 and 21 to formally address the agency’s regulatory framework for homeopathic products. This comes just days after a major Australian study showing, unsurprisingly, homeopathy’s utter lack of effectiveness in the treatment of any condition. (There’s no scientific reason homeopathy would have any effect on any condition to begin with.)
CFI has been invited to take part in these hearings; we will be submitting formal comments, and our public policy director, Michael De Dora, will be testifying in person. So stay tuned for more news on this long in coming but very encouraging development in the effort to keep health care safe and secular.
REASON FOR CHANGE Is Sooner Than You Think!
Reason for Change is coming up soon! Taking place June 11–15, 2015, in Buffalo, New York, 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.
(Keep watch for an upcoming special episode of Point of Inquiry with a fascinating interview with a Reason for Change speaker.)
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Nukes and Drugs: New Truths about Old Conflicts on Point of Inquiry
CFI’s flagship podcast, Point of Inquiry, has two timely and eye-opening episodes from the past two weeks, both hosted by Josh Zepps.
March 31 was supposed to be the deadline for a deal between the U.S. and Iran on Iran’s nuclear program, but at the last minute it was announced that the talks needed to be extended beyond the deadline, and yesterday a historic deal was revealed. Just before the original deadline, our guest on Point of Inquiry was someone uniquely qualified to give a deep historical perspective on the decades-old conflict between Iran and the U.S., Senior Historian for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, David Crist. It’s a revealing look at the realpolitik behind this tumultuous and tense relationship.
Johann Hari is a journalist whose career has been tumultuous and tense in its own way, having recently weathered controversies involving plagiarism. Hari is back with a fresh and often troubling exploration of the historical roots of the war on drugs and the popular misunderstanding of the realities of addiction and recovery. It’s an interview that will have you questioning many of the things you thought you knew about this century-long struggle.
Camp Inquiry 2015 Will Be Unbelievable!
It’s time for kids and parents to get set for our annual Camp Inquiry, a weeklong adventure for kids emphasizing discovery, fun, and critical thinking at beautiful Camp Seven Hills in Holland, New York, taking place August 2–8. The theme for Camp Inquiry 2015 is “To Believe or Not to Believe,” and it will focus on looking at ways young people can deal with the barrage of information they consume day after day in the digital age, and how they can determine for themselves what’s true, what’s false, and what’s just noise. Check out CampInquiry.org for more information, or get registered now!
Action Alerts: Military Oaths and Measles Outbreaks
Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas has decided that it’s not sufficient for men and women of the military to swear an oath to defend the United States and its constitution, but that they should also have to swear an oath to God, whether or not they believe in one. “So help me God” is already an optional addition to the oath newly enlisted members of the Air Force must recite, thanks to pressure from groups like CFI and its allies. But if Rep. Johnson’s bill were to become law, any changes to military oaths would have to be approved by Congress, a move designed to prevent the removal of religious invocations from what is supposed to be a religiously neutral military. So we have an action alert for you to make your own voice heard. Contact your U.S. Representative today and demand that they oppose H.R. 1425, the “Preserve and Protect God in Military Oaths Act of 2015.” Tell them to not impose religious beliefs and speech on those who volunteer to serve us and to keep God optional.
We have another alert specifically for California, where a new bill will help stop the outbreak of measles and other preventable diseases by removing the “personal belief” exemption from required vaccinations. California has been ground zero for anti-vaccination misinformation and conspiracy theories, which led to the infamous Disneyland measles outbreak, so this is your chance to let your state legislators know that you support vaccinations for the good of everyone: for the vaccinated and for those who legitimately can’t receive vaccinations. Californians, act now.
Heina Dadabhoy Explores Religious Criticism with CFI–L.A.
Secular activist Heina Dadabhoy, a former Muslim, visited with CFI–Los Angeles for its monthly Café Inquiry forum. There, she led a conversation on the effective criticism of religion and free expression dilemmas, such as those raised by the massacre of religious satirists at Charlie Hebdo. Dadabhoy, who grew up as a practicing Muslim, has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County since 2007, and on the national stage since 2011. She is currently writing A Skeptic’s Guide to Islam, which will be published in December.
CFI in the Media
● CFI–Michigan is making news for its principled and compelling opposition to the installation of a public park sign sporting a God-invoking Bible verse. Making their case at a meeting of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners, CFI’s Jennifer Beahan was quoted in two pieces at MLive (here and here) as well as the Holland Sentinel.
● CFI–Los Angeles Executive Director Jim Underdown gets quite the flattering introduction in a profile of his skeptical work by South Africa’s Times Live: “He is a powerfully built man with kind eyes set in a lived-in face like a worn wallet.” Will he ever live it down?
● In a Gannett piece on commencement speakers for Rutgers University, Bill Nye is highlighted, and his association with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry is right up front.
● Church & State magazine notes CFI’s “cheeky statement” in response to the American Family Association’s absurd “Bigotry Map.”
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● At Skeptical Briefs, Felipe Nogueira interviews evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist writer Jerry Coyne.
● CFI Education Director David Koepsell explores the Nieuw Universiteit movement, which seeks to shift the emphasis in academics from finances and endowments to the quality of actual research and learning.
● Michael De Dora represents CFI at the UN and was recently working at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. But what goes on there besides all the statements and speeches? Michael gives us a behind-the-scenes look at all the diplomatic intrigue.
● Ron Lindsay urges the U.S. to back a UN resolution calling for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, coming from the humanist perspective, writing, “Permanent suppression by military force, which is what an indefinite occupation of the West Bank and Gaza would entail, is not acceptable. It certainly is not consistent with humanist principles.”
● Carrie Poppy looks at hopeful new research that could lead to new treatments for schizophrenia.
● 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.
● Ben Radford wrestles with some of the more difficult and personal ethics of skeptical paranormal investigation, where real human feelings come into play.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● CFI–Los Angeles hosts a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail for Easter Sunday. None shall pass.
● A survivor of Indiana’s Faith Assembly cult, Josh Wilson, speaks to CFI–Indiana about his experiences and his work in exposing the threat posed by so-called faith healing.
● Biological sciences professor Greg Forbes meets with CFI–Michigan to talk about the anti-vaccination movement.
● CFI–DC hosts FFRF’s Dan Barker discussing “Life Driven Purpose.”
● CFI–Northeast Ohio hosts Richard Carrier for a discussion on the historicity of Jesus.
● Michael De Dora takes part in a symposium on religious freedom and foreign policy at the Newseum in Washington, DC, along with Katrina Lantos Swett, Jay Michaelson, Nina Shea, and Linda Woodhead.
● “Science Babe” Yvette d’Entremont talks about popular and misguided fears about medical science with CFI–Los Angeles.
● Military veteran Paul Loebe discusses with CFI–Michigan the “Christianized radicalization” of the U.S. Armed Forces.
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.