Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 33
June 12, 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
CFI Launches Freethought Emergency Fund, Brings Taslima Nasrin to U.S.
The terrorization of secular bloggers and activists has passed the crisis level, as three Bangladeshi freethought writers have now been murdered by Islamic radicals attached to al-Qaeda in Bangladesh since February: Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, and just a few weeks ago, Ananta Bijoy Das. Those same killers were threatening the life of Taslima Nasrin. Working with friends and allies, we helped to bring her to the U.S., away from the immediate threat on her life. A world-renowned secular activist and author, and an inspiration to young freethinkers, Taslima’s uncompromising advocacy of human rights and criticism of religion forced her into exile from her native Bangladesh in 1994. Living in India since 2004, she is now a prolific author, a senior editor of our Free Inquiry magazine, and a speaker at CFI events.
Once Taslima was safely in the U.S., we asked you to lend your support to help her get settled as she looks for a home and employment. We also announced that whatever we raised in excess of what was needed for Taslima would be used for a general Freethought Emergency Fund. Taslima is by no means the only brave activist now under direct threat from violent extremists; we hear from others regularly. The extra money raised will go to help assist other dissidents who fear for their lives in countries such as Bangladesh.
So far, your support has brought in over $38,000, and we can’t thank you enough. But there is so much more to do, so please, if you haven’t, donate now, and help us keep these champions of free expression safe
Educating Congress on Threats to Free Expression
As CFI worked to assist individuals put in danger for exercising their right to speak and think as they like, we also took to Capitol Hill to impress upon Congress the severity of the crackdown on free expression and belief around the world. Along with our allies at the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America, CFI hosted congressional briefings Tuesday on the persecution of secularists and religious minorities in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, and others. Our public policy director, Michael De Dora, explained how Congress can be part of the solution to this global crisis and why they must be, saying, “The open civil space to fight back against extremism is rapidly closing, and many people associated with those jailed or killed … hide in fear.” Other presenters included Elizabeth K. Cassidy of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Tina Ramirez of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and Mahmood Ahmad of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.
The following day, we joined our friends at the Hindu American Foundation for a congressional briefing focused specifically on Bangladesh, examining the impact of political unrest on the nation’s stability and American interests in the region. Michael was joined by the HAF’s Samir Kalra and Jay Kansara.
Reason for Change Kicks Off in Buffalo!
The highly anticipated Reason for Change conference is officially underway! Early arrivals to Buffalo were able to take part in Secular Celebrant training with Reba Boyd Wooden or tour the Center for Inquiry’s headquarters and libraries with CFI staff. The conference was formally kicked off with an evening reception with remarks from President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay, Skeptical Inquirer Editor Kendrick Frazier, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Executive Director Barry Karr, and Free Inquiry editor, as well as executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, Tom Flynn.
The main panels and presentations begin today, including a lecture from Michael Specter of The New Yorker, and a keynote address from novelist and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein. We’ll tell you all about what is sure to be an incredible weekend in the next issue of Cause & Effect, but in the mean time, you can follow the action on Twitter by following @center4inquiry and the hashtag #Reason4Change.
More Great CFI Events This Summer
The in-progress Reason for Change conference is only the beginning of a summer full of amazing CFI events!
July 30-August 3 brings the next CFI Leadership Conference, “Moving Freethought Forward,” to CFI headquarters in Buffalo. This incredibly inspiring program brings together student and community activists from across North America for four days packed with leadership training, workshops, networking, educational presentations, entertainment, and more. Registration is now open. Stay tuned for more details on speakers and schedule.
A few days after that, starting August 6 in Eugene, Oregon, we have the next Skeptic’s Toolbox, a weekend of hands-on workshops and training for the skeptically inclined. This year, the program will examine how framing information affects how it is perceived in journalism, medicine, politics, and other areas in which people have to choose to believe or reject dubious claims. Ray Hyman, James Alcock, Harriet Hall, Lindsay Beyerstein, and Loren Pankratz will be on hand to sharpen attendees’ minds.
And of course there’s Camp Inquiry 2015, 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.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
House Resolution Calls for the End of Blasphemy Laws
We at CFI were delighted when U.S. Reps. Joseph Pitts and Sheila Jackson Lee introduced a new House resolution calling for the repeal of blasphemy laws worldwide. The text of this bipartisan resolution highlights several examples of religious minorities or dissidents who have been subject to state-sanctioned persecution, incarceration, and, in the case of Raif Badawi, outright brutality for exercising their right to free expression. The resolution urges the President of the United States and the State Department to prioritize “direct interventions” with countries that employ blasphemy laws, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt.
“Blasphemy laws target both the religious and nonreligious, making victims of those who criticize or satirize religion, as well as those whose religious beliefs do not comport with their accusers,” said Michael De Dora in our official statement. “Blasphemy laws are a blight on modern civilization, and we are delighted that Reps. Pitts and Jackson Lee have shown the wisdom and courage to take them on.” House Resolution 290 has been submitted to committee, and we’ll be tracking its progress closely.
Celebrity Scientists in Skeptical Inquirer
In the July/August 2015 edition of Skeptical Inquirer, which is hitting newsstands now, author Declan Fahy explains how a select cadre of scientists used their charisma to win the media spotlight and shape the way the general public feels and thinks about science. Starting with Charles Darwin, Fahy tracks the celebrity scientist through figures such as Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan, all the way to the science communicators of today, including Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Writes Fahy, “These scientific stars gripped the public imagination, using their vast influence to stimulate new thinking, drive scientific controversies, enhance public understanding, mobilize social movements, and shape policy.”
Also in this issue: Stephanie Savage tells of the imaginary adventures she experienced during a coma, without claims of a glimpse into an afterlife; Benjamin Radford delicately allays the fears of a woman who has been convinced by psychics that she has been cursed; and Bruce A. Thyer brings to light a little-known opera by Scott Joplin that championed skepticism of pseudoscience and paranormal claims. All this and much more is in the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer!
Point of Inquiry Interviews on Leaving Religion and Anti-Abortion Terrorism
This week on CFI’s flagship podcast Point of Inquiry, Lindsay Beyerstein speaks to David Cohen, Drexel University law professor and coauthor of a new book on the campaign of harassment and terror visited upon abortion providers in the United States. Cohen argues that by skillfully wielding free speech arguments, the anti-abortion movement has created an environment in which abortion providers fear for their privacy and their lives.
Last week, Josh Zepps spoke with Jeff Rasely, once a dedicated member of the Presbyterian Church and now author of Godless: Living a Valuable Life Beyond Belief. Rasley discusses his discovery after twenty-five years in the church of how divisive religion can be and how a secular outlook can serve to unite people around shared values.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● Tom Flynn responds to a New York Times piece on an alleged need for a secular “theology,” bemoaning the lack of public understanding of what it actually means to be a secular humanist, which he says is a variety of humanism that “prefers to avoid communal exercises that borrow too many of the trappings of church or synagogue.”
● In an eye-opening piece for Skeptical Inquirer, Charles S. Reichardt and Ian A. Saari show that for those who believe the Bible is the word of God, higher levels of education tend to entrench those beliefs further, deviating even more from scientific consensus than the less-educated.
● CFI’s Center Stage podcast, the audio program that brings you some of the best presentations from CFI events, is back. The latest two episodes come from last year’s conference, Robert Green Ingersoll and the Reform Imperative, with Tom Flynn’s opening lecture and historian Melinda Grube presenting “A Visit from Elizabeth Cady Stanton.”
● Ben Radford deconstructs what he says is the “myth of privacy,” saying that it is an ideal that is “little more than an elusive figment of our collective romantic cultural imagination.”
● CFI intern Zach Ashton looks at how words lack objective, authoritative definitions, (and also how space aliens may have very different standards of physical attractiveness than we do).
● In Skeptical Inquirer, James McGaha and Joe Nickell round up some lights-in-the-sky UFO sightings and of course clear them up.
● Sadly, two important luminaries from the humanist and skeptic movements were lost recently: The Council for Secular Humanism remembers philosopher Michael L. Martin, author of acclaimed books such as Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has a piece by Harriet Hall on Wallace Sampson, a pioneer of science-based medicine advocacy.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
CFI in the Media
● Our assistance of Taslima Nasrin and the Freethought Emergency Fund are covered at several major outlets, including the BBC, RNS at the Washington Post, Time, Huffington Post, and Agence France-Presse, as well as many Southeast Asian publications.
● In the wake of Saudi dissident Raif Badawi’s case being upheld by Saudi Arabia’s supreme court, Michael De Dora discusses with the Daily Caller and Religion News Service the hypocrisy of the kingdom’s hosting of a human rights conference.
● CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo returns to do “foreign correspondent” duty for the AtheistAus Podcast, which also includes an interview with Michael De Dora.
● Indianapolis Monthly highlights notable locations on the city’s Canal Walk, including CFI–Indiana.
● The Charleston Gazette‘s editorial board warns of the dangers of the population explosion, relying heavily on what they learned in the latest issue of Free Inquiry.
Upcoming CFI Events
● The Reason for Change conference in Buffalo, New York.
● Emily West prepares CFI–Michigan for the zombie apocalypse.
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.