Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 50

February 26, 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

scaliaFighting Religious Privilege at the Supreme Court after the Death of Scalia

All eyes are on the Supreme Court following the death on February 13 of Justice Antonin Scalia, a deeply religious and conservative jurist if ever there was one. His absence on the court, as well as the utter deadlock over replacing him, will have enormous implications for many of the issues of great importance to the freethought community, most immediately on the issue of reproductive rights (more on that in a moment). 

CFI President Ronald A. Lindsay considers the overarching judicial philosophy of Scalia, “originalism,” and hopes that it is “laid to rest” along with the late justice. Writing at Huffington Post, Ron says, “The more fundamental flaw [with originalism] is to assume that the Founders wanted us to use detailed historical research, or perhaps necromancy, to discern the specific things they were thinking of at the time they wrote the Constitution.” CFI’s Council for Secular Humanism also republished a 2014 piece by Michael B. Paulkovich from The American Rationalist on Scalia’s “Bible-based agenda.”

Days after the death of Justice Scalia, the Center for Inquiry joined with American Atheists to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on the case of Zubik v. Burwell. A sort of Hobby Lobby-ad absurdum, religious nonprofits are claiming that the mere act of declaring their intention to opt out of the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act constitutes a violation of their religious freedom. Simply signing a paper would be an offense against their conscience. 

In our press release about the brief, CFI Legal Director Nick Little says, “This ludicrous case is a transparent attempt to legislate from the pulpit. It showcases the intolerable consequences of RFRA, a bad law that has predictably been twisted into a scattershot weapon used by those who want to see their narrow religious beliefs imposed on everyone else. It is religious privilege at its worst.” CFI’s new CEO Robyn Blumner gets to the heart of the matter, saying, “This is about religious employers unconstitutionally inflicting their faith tenets on female employees.” 

In January, CFI assembled a coalition of prominent scientists and scholars to weigh in on the deeply controversial Texas abortion case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole. CFI argues that the so-called “experts” who had been brought in during the trial of the case to give testimony in favor of the draconian over-regulation of abortion providers were peddling pseudoscience and outright falsehoods and that Supreme Court justices should not uphold regulations based on partisan ideology masquerading as science. 

How the death of Justice Scalia will impact these cases is yet to be known.


isisCFI Asks President to Declare ISIS Atrocities against Christians “Genocide”

This week, CFI joined a diverse coalition of groups and individuals to urge President Obama to declare the atrocities committed by ISIS against certain groups as “genocide.” The coalition includes such theologically and ideologically disparate organizations and leaders as the Hindu American Foundation, In Defense of Christians, International Christian Concern, Shia Rights Watch, former chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee Pete Hoekstra, and President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Russell Moore. The letter states, in part:

Mr. President, we urge you to designate the actions perpetrated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria against Christians—Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs, Copts, etc.—Yazidis, Shia Muslims, Turkmen (Shia), Shabak and other religious minorities as genocide. Time and again the Islamic State has committed crimes with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the ethnic and religious minority communities of Iraq and Syria. The world is watching and clear moral leadership by your Administration is needed to declare and subsequently stop such atrocities in order to preserve these ancient communities. 

A secular humanist group such as CFI coming to the defense of Christians did not go unnoticed. The Christian Post published an article on CFI’s inclusion in the coalition, interviewing Public Policy Director Michael De Dora. (The next day the idea even inspired an editorial cartoon.) The Christian Charisma News also picked up the story.


News from HQ and the CFI Community

rddRichard Dawkins Recovers

Two weeks ago, Richard Dawkins—soon to be a CFI board member and whose foundation is merging with CFI—announced that he had recently suffered a mild stroke and was now working toward what is expected to be a full recovery. Dawkins’s legions of fans and admirers reflected upon and expressed not only their well wishes for his health but also all that his work has meant to them. Unfortunately, the stroke forced Prof. Dawkins to cancel some public appearances.

Shortly following the announcement, Prof. Dawkins published a recorded message to update his followers on his condition and later found the strength to type up a written post, reflecting on the wonders of the natural world (particularly the heroism of the Barnacle Goslings of Greenland). Everyone at the Center for Inquiry wishes him a comfortable and speedy recovery and looks forward to benefiting from his future insights.


deppStars Johnny Depp, Margaret Cho, Bill Nye, and More Confirmed for Reason Rally 2016!

The 2016 Reason Rally is going to feature a level of star power that almost no one saw coming. This week, the Reason Rally Coalition announced a slate of newly confirmed speakers that includes actor Johnny Depp, comedian Margaret Cho, “Science Guy” Bill Nye, rapper Killah Priest, human rights defender Maryam Namazie, Mexican diplomat Andrés Roemer, and more. 

The official announcement describes the 2016 Reason Rally as “a Voting Bloc Party to celebrate both the growing number of ‘nones’ and their willingness to speak up for reason, with entertainers … joining scientists … in a four-day extravaganza of lobbying, comedy, music, and serious discussion about how to impact this election.” 

The big event will take place June 4, 2016, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, and 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. 

Reason Rally 2016 will be free to attend, with events beyond the June 4 main rally on the Mall and a variety of activities taking place over several days from Thursday, June 2, through Sunday, June 5. Keep your eye on for all the details!


CupidBow.jpgPoint of Inquiry on Celebrating Sex and the Appeal of Altruism

The Point of Inquiry podcast marked Valentine’s Day with a special conversation between host Lindsay Beyerstein and sex education activist Jaclyn Friedman. Author of the book What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex & Safety, Friedman takes a lighthearted look at the misconceptions surrounding sex, lending some refreshing freethought to an often constricted subject.

This week, Lindsay spoke to New Yorker writer Larissa MacFarquhar about those who are seen as excessively altruistic. Can one be too charitable? And what does a dismissal of selfless people say about our own compassion? Preconceptions are dashed in this fascinating discussion.


Jeff Ingersoll.jpgCFI–Los Angeles Remembers Ingersoll, Hosts Nominee for LA Times Book Award

In a presentation at Centers for Inquiry in Los Angeles and later in Costa Mesa, Jeff Ingersoll, a distant relative of the famous agnostic, Robert Green Ingersoll, explained just how popular Robert was in his time, drawing thousands for his lengthy speeches critical of religion and in support of reason. Jeff, who is a freethought activist and chairs the Robert Green Ingersoll Memorial Committee, also discussed the Ingersoll birthplace home in Dresden, New York, which was purchased by the Center for Inquiry and remodeled into a museum, as well as current efforts to restore a statue of Robert in a park in Peoria, Illinois, where he lived part of his life.

Just nominated Tuesday for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science and Technology, former marine officer, war correspondent, and author David J. Morris discussed the history and nature of PTSD through the lens of his own struggles at this week’s Cafe Inquiry. His nominated book is The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Besides describing how PTSD affected him from his experiences covering the Iraq War and how the disorder became recognized in the official mental illness manual, Morris also discussed how PTSD also affects victims of rape and other violent crimes. He indicated from his own review of scientific research that there is no one particular therapy that fits all cases.


Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media


● CFI–Uganda’s Deo Ssekitooleko recently reported on his organization’s good works, which include education about diseases and their surrounding superstitions, and Communications Director Paul Fidalgo gives them the spotlight at the Free Thinking blog.

● CFI’s Michael De Dora covers national politics with the Houston Chronicle, discussing the political potential of the “nones,” and he has a substantive discussion on the crisis for secular writers in Bangladesh on New Zealand’s Radio Live.

● Ron Lindsay weighs the usefulness and importance of meditation, specifically taking a critical look at the claims made in Sam Harris’s Waking Up.

● CFI–Northeast Ohio’s Monette Richards in quoted in a WCPO article on Ohio’s “Pastor Protection Act,” which she says “is privileging religion and actually codifying bigotry.”

● There really is a thing called the “Conspira-Sea Cruise,” and Kylie Sturgess has an interview with a skeptic who raised the funds to endure the voyage. 

● CFI Legal Director Nick Little is the guest on the Full Disclosure radio program, discussing the heated battles in the U.S. over religious freedom and its accompanying exemptions from the law. 

● Joe Nickell laments that Peter Popoff, the discredited miracle-monger that Joe had investigated years ago, continues his healing crusades hawking “Miracle Spring Water” on TV.  

● In a Spanish-language piece at Skeptical Inquirer, Luis Alfonso Gámez explores the fascination with extraterrestrials and why we seem to imagine them as being so much like us.

● Harriet Hall explains why even infants need vaccination against diseases that are usually transmitted sexually: “[Kids] share their toys; they share their colds; and they share their bodily fluids.” Okay, okay, point made.

● Ben Radford is quoted in a PBS Newshour piece on the math behind conspiracy theories. Ben also helps a middle school class—studying the Bermuda Triangle mystery and Malaysian Airlines flight 370—learn one very simple yet crucial lesson: Double-check things.

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


Upcoming CFI Events


For upcoming Darwin Day events, see “News from HQ and the CFI Community” above. 

March 4:

●   CFI–Michigan hosts a screening of the film A Better Life: An Exploration of Joy & Meaning in a World Without God, along with a Q&A with director Christopher Johnson.  

March 6:

●   UCLA historian Teofilo Ruiz visits CFI–Los Angeles to discuss the “historical terror” of witch hunts in Europe that occurred just as the scientific revolution was underway. 

●   CFI–Michigan takes part in an interfaith service event to help out Habitat for Humanity.

March 20:

●   Science communicator and blogger Amy Shira Teitel visits CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Orange County to discuss the pre-NASA history and future of spaceflight. 


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