Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 48
January 29, 2016
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 to Merge with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science
The Center for Inquiry began an exciting new chapter in its history last week, as CFI announced it will merge with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, and that its chief executive, Robyn Blumner, would also become CEO of CFI.
In March of 2015, Ronald A. Lindsay announced that he would aim to step down as president and CEO by the end of the year. Having led CFI since 2008, Ron explained that he sought to ensure that no one figure would come to represent all that CFI is. In a Free Thinking blog post, Ron wrote:
I think it is a good idea for leadership of organizations, whether it’s a for-profit or a nonprofit corporation, to change every so often. Static leadership can produce static ideas. Plus, the longer one stays in a leadership position, the more likely it is that the organization will become identified with that person, which, on the whole, I do not believe to be a desirable outcome. Secular organizations in particular should be wary of fostering a cult of personality or of acquiescing in lifetime tenure for leaders. Too often we’re in danger of being mistaken for religions; no need to compound that problem by emulating the leadership practices of religious sects.
And so a thorough search began for a new CEO for the Center for Inquiry. That search led to Robyn Blumner, the president and CEO of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, an organization whose mission mirrors CFI’s, and with whom CFI had often partnered on various projects and initiatives. The idea to bring Robyn on board along with combining the talent and resources of these two organizations was sparked, and the ball got rolling on the merger of the Center for Inquiry with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science (RDFRS).
What was decided was that CFI and RDFRS would join together as equals (neither organization was “taking over” the other) under the name of the Center for Inquiry, and RDFRS would become a division of CFI. Robyn Blumner would become CEO of the new organization, with Ron Lindsay temporarily remaining as president during the leadership transition. Robyn officially became CEO of the new Center for Inquiry on January 25.
Announcing the big news, Ron wrote in a letter to CFI supporters, “CFI and RDFRS both seek to make the world a better place for all, religious and nonreligious alike, by untangling faith and pseudoscience from government, promoting critical thinking and skepticism, and advocating for science and reason in all areas of public life. Each organization brings unique strengths to the table, and given the similarity in their missions, these two organizations are an excellent match.”
This match (described in some outlets as a “royal wedding” and a “supergroup”) creates the largest freethought organization in the United States, and with their respective, complementary strengths, is expected to significantly increase their impact on behalf of their shared mission.
Ron has also expressed, as he closes his tenure at CFI, how glad he is that he has been able to help bring about this merger and welcome Robyn Blumner. “An extremely accomplished and deeply respected lawyer, activist, journalist, and nonprofit executive, Robyn has lifted RDFRS to new heights,” he wrote. “There is no one better at this time to lead the Center for Inquiry.”
Who is Robyn Blumner? She is, simply, a deeply experienced, imaginative, and passionate advocate, communicator, and leader of nonprofits. Robyn led two state affiliates of the ACLU, as well as the RDFRS, to new heights, and also spent sixteen years as a widely acclaimed, nationally syndicated columnist with the Tampa Bay Times. In the coming weeks, the CFI community, as well as the freethought movement as a whole, will get to know her even better and see why she was the perfect choice for CFI.
And of course, there’s Richard Dawkins himself! Respected the world over for his eloquence, his passion, and his unmatched ability to communicate the wonders of science and the necessity of secularism, Prof. Dawkins will become an invaluable resource of guidance and wisdom. Prof. Dawkins will soon join CFI’s board of directors, which is currently chaired by veteran freethought activist and attorney Edward Tabash.
The response to this merger has been overwhelmingly positive. “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta called it “a win-win for both sides,” blogger and activist JT Eberhard wrote, “I could not be happier about this,” and Dan Arel lauded, “I believe the merger can only bring more positive change.” Also be sure to check out Robyn’s interview for WBFO radio and coverage of the merger by Kimberly Winston at Religion News Service and by Jake Tokasz at The Buffalo News, among many other outlets.
No doubt, many will have questions about this merger and what it all means. To answer many of those questions, check out the F.A.Q. at the CFI website, which goes into many of the merger’s particulars in more detail. It will continue to be updated as more information becomes available.
This is all, of course, just the beginning. There is much to be done and planned, and the challenges faced by the proponents of science and reason are as daunting as ever. But now the Center for Inquiry can aim higher and dream bigger in pursuit of its mission. CFI extends the warmest of welcomes to the staff, board, volunteers, and supporters of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, as we continue to count on all of you to help us do more good than ever before.
Florida Judge Rejects CFI Suit against Taxpayer Funded Christian Rehab
“Gobsmacked.” “Baffled.” “Flummoxed.” Words like these accurately describe the reaction of CFI staff to a ruling by a Florida judge on CFI’s lawsuit to stop the taxpayer funding of sectarian rehabilitation programs.
Since 2007, CFI and Florida taxpayers Richard and Elaine Hull have been waging a legal battle to put a stop to a blatant violation of both the Florida and U.S. Constitutions, in which two explicitly Christian organizations, Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God, have been subsidized by the state of Florida to provide substance abuse rehabilitation services to former prison inmates. Both organizations are self-described ministries and openly acknowledge that their treatment methods are based on biblical principles and on the need to give one’s life to Jesus Christ.
In 2015, CFI filed for summary judgment on this case, given that the facts were so abundantly clear: two churches that provided a Christian recovery service were being funded by Florida taxpayers, which flies in the face of the state constitution, which unambiguously states that “no revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
Despite these compelling facts, a Leon County circuit court judge ruled that the state’s funding of these religious programs was indeed constitutional, inexplicably claiming that these Christian substance abuse programs did not promote Christianity nor were the services performed “significantly sectarian.”
“A key flaw in the court’s reasoning is that because participation in these indisputably faith-based programs is voluntary, the state isn’t aiding religious activities,” Ron Lindsay explained to Friendly Atheist. “That’s like saying a state could fund a church and minister and defend that practice by saying no one is forced to go to church.”
The Center for Inquiry is evaluating the decision and the current legal landscape in Florida to determine whether it should appeal. One problem is that the intermediate appellate court with jurisdiction over the case has been stacked in recent years with Rick Scott appointees.
Human Rights Activist Samar Badawi, Sister of Raif, Arrested in Saudi Arabia
CFI has been working for years now to free Raif Badawi, the Saudi writer who Saudi Arabia sentenced to a decade behind bars and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” and running a liberal website. His case became a global symbol of Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights abuses and of the need to repeal blasphemy laws around the world. In 2014, Badawi’s lawyer, human rights activist Waleed Abu al-Khair, was himself arrested and jailed, heightening the urgency and the gravity of this case.
On January 12, the Saudi crackdown on free expression briefly ensnared someone close to Badawi, al-Khair, and the Center for Inquiry. That morning, Samar Badawi, sister of Raif and wife of Waleed, was arrested for allegedly posting from her husband’s Twitter account. At the police station, her small child was taken from her as she was questioned.
As you can imagine, we were outraged. Ms. Badawi has been a close ally of CFI’s in our shared mission to free her brother and defend free expression around the world. In our official statement demanding her release, Michael De Dora, who met Ms. Badawi in 2014 at the UN Human Rights Council and has remained in frequent contact with her, said, “She is one of the most impressive, courageous, and devoted activists I have ever met. She is a shining example of the kind of meaningful impact an individual can have, despite incredible odds and unthinkable oppression. Her detention now speaks to how desperate and inhuman Saudi Arabia has become to intimidate, silence, and punish critics.”
This is an opinion shared by both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama who honored Ms. Badawi with a Women of Courage award in 2012.
To the best of our knowledge, Samar is thankfully no longer in custody, and we do not know of any additional actions being taken against her. But we will continue to monitor this situation very closely and to do all we can help her husband and her brother win back their freedom.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Point of Inquiry Returns with New Episodes for 2016
CFI’s podcast Point of Inquiry is back after its holiday hiatus! And since this edition of Cause & Effect is a little overdue, there are three great new episodes to talk about.
Is religion “hardwired” into our brains? Josh Zepps speaks with neuroscientist and computational biologist John C. Wathey, who says, more or less, “yes.” With religious belief such a constant across cultures and throughout history, Wathey believes that faith in the unseen must arise from some evolutionary adaptation.
Lindsay Beyerstein looks at the harrowing war being waged to restrict access to abortion in an illuminating conversation with Dr. David Grimes, a board certified physician in obstetrics and gynecology and author of a new book on the enormous good legalized abortion has been for public health.
Finally, Josh explores the spirituality of “nones” and millennials with Rabbi Mark Wildes. Rabbi Wildes believes that the 68 percent of the religiously unaffiliated who aren’t nonbelievers are seeking some kind of spiritual grounding and thinks that Judaism might offer the right mix of reason and mysticism. A fascinating conversation indeed.
CFI–L.A.’s Bob Ladendorf Presents on “Citizen Science”
In a January 17 presentation at Centers for Inquiry in Los Angeles and Costa Mesa, CFI–L.A.’s own chief operating officer, Bob Ladendorf, described the history and practice of citizen science, a term used for scientific projects that include volunteers who gather data on their own time. To illustrate how citizen science works, Ladendorf offered a visual presentation to discuss a week-long project through Earthwatch, a nonprofit science research organization, in which he participated last year. He described how he performed field research with a team in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, on “Tracking Fires and Wolves through the Canadian Rockies,” an ongoing science project by Cristina Eisenberg, chief scientist at Earthwatch and the author of two books on the study of top animal predators, such as wolves, and their impact on the environment.
Incidentally, Bob is also a big help every fortnight with making sure Cause & Effect is informed of the many great things going on at CFI–L.A., so it’s great to see him take the spotlight here.
Get Empowered at CFI–Indiana’s Civics Day
CFI–Indiana is getting set to host its 2016 Civics Day on February 20! It’s a yearly event for freethinking Hoosiers to learn from expert leaders in activism and lobbying, so they can be empowered to fight for the causes they believe in. CFI’s public policy director Michael De Dora will be there, and of course Indiana branch leader and veteran activist Reba Boyd Wooden will be the guide, hosting a truly impressive array of speakers and panelists with top representatives from groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Common Cause Indiana, and more.
Importantly, there’s also a catered dinner, but you have to register by February 12. So if you’re in the area and you want to sharpen your civic skills, sign up for the 2016 Civics Day today.
Reason Rally 2016 Is Coming!
The 2016 Reason Rally, taking place June 4, 2016, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, will bring together atheists, humanists, and other members of the reality-based community for a joyous and inclusive celebration of reason, science, and critical thinking. The rally will feature an array of brilliant speakers and performers, including Cara Santa Maria, Paul Provenza, Richard Dawkins, and many more still to be announced.
Reason Rally 2016 will be free to attend, with events beyond the June 4 main rally on the Mall, with a variety of activities taking place over several days from Thursday, June 2, through Sunday, June 5. Sign up at the Reason Rally website to stay up to date, and stay tuned because there are a lot of big, exciting announcements ahead.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● Responding wryly to the baffling Florida ruling on state funding of Christian rehab ministries, Ron Lindsay channels Jonathan Swift for some “modest proposals” such as taxpayer-funded religious shows like The 700 Club, as long as no one forces you to watch them.
● James Lawrence Powell in Skeptical Inquirer puts the lie to the commonly cited statistic that claims that only 97 percent of scientists accept human-made global warming, when in fact the number is more like 99.9 percent and “may verge on unanimity.”
● From a recent Skeptical Inquirer cover special, veteran skeptical investigator Larry Kusche looks back four decades to the publication of his groundbreaking books on the Bermuda Triangle.
● Susan Gerbic aims a skeptical gaze at the newest celebrity psychic, the young “Hollywood medium” Tyler Henry, and labels him a “grief vampire,” one of those “who prey on families when they are the most desperate and vulnerable.”
● Joe Nickell and James McGaha point out how believers in conspiracies and the paranormal rely almost exclusively on “negative evidence” and other forms of “grandiose extrapolation” of data.
● While many are concerned about the alleged dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Matan Shelomi points out that if new genetic research is correct, the GMOs may be us.
● David Koepsell argues for the lowering of paywalls and other obstacles to accessing scientific research. “All science should ultimately be open,” he writes, “and the current model of publishing is not ultimately serving this need.”
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
CFI in the Media
● Nick Wing at Huffington Post talks to CFI’s Paul Fidalgo about the religion—and lack thereof—of Bernie Sanders.
● CFI’s Michael De Dora gives a detailed and informative look at CFI’s approach to freethought activism in an illuminating interview with Iowa Free Press.
● Atlas Obscura looks to the wisdom of CFI’s Joe Nickell for perspective on the phenomenon of “spontaneous human combustion.”
● The Washington Free Beacon notes CFI’s strong opposition to voucher schemes during National School Choice Week.
Upcoming CFI Events
● In a Darwin Day event, geologist and paleontologist Donald Prothero comes to CFI–Los Angeles to talk about what fossils tell us about evolution.
● CFI–Michigan hosts a Darwin Day event with Kirsten Strom, associate professor of art history at Grand Valley State University, on the evolution of animal art.
● Genetic researcher Anna Battenhouse talks to CFI–Austin about mutations and how they contribute to the forming of cancers.
● CFI–Indiana’s Civic Day. See above for more information.
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.