Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 52
March 25, 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
ISIS Crimes Labeled Genocide by State Department
In its global diplomacy and advocacy efforts, the Center for Inquiry fights for the freedom of expression and belief for not just the nonreligious but for all people. Just as the murder and persecution of secularists in Bangladesh has become a prime focus of CFI’s efforts, the rights of religious communities to live without fear are no less important. That’s why CFI joined with thirty-seven organizations urging the U.S. State Department to shine a powerful light on the atrocities of the Islamic State against Yazidis, Christians, and Shiites in Iraq and Syria and to name those crimes for what they are: a genocide. CFI was the sole secularist organization to make this plea.
On March 17, meeting a deadline set by Congress in December, Secretary of State John Kerry unexpectedly made the declaration that these mass atrocities are indeed genocide. Referring to ISIS by the more derogatory name “Daesh,” Sec. Kerry said, “Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions – in what it says, what it believes, and what it does. Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.”
In our official statement praising this decision, CFI’s UN representative, Michael De Dora, said, “The international community must put aside theological differences and come together to strongly engage in efforts to defeat the Islamic State, and aid their victims. We applaud Secretary Kerry for doing the right thing, and hope his decision prompts greater collaboration and sincere endeavors to end the Islamic State’s genocide against religious minorities.”
CFI has also urged President Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to make similar pronouncements.
No Vacancies: CFI Urges Hearing on President’s Supreme Court Nominee
The crucial issues taken up by the Supreme Court year after year frequently fall within the scope of CFI’s mission, be the issue one of church-state separation, religious privilege, free expression, or pseudoscience versus fact. This most recent session of the Court has been no different, with major cases that feature anti-abortion partisans trying to choke off access to abortion, religious exemptions to the law that border on the absurd, and the taxpayer funding of religious activities.
This is why it’s so important that the United States have the benefit of a fully functioning Supreme Court, one with all of its Justices in place. Unfortunately, partisans within the U.S. Senate are openly rejecting their constitutional obligation to give a fair hearing and vote to the president’s nominee to fill the seat left by the late Justice Scalia, Judge Merrick Garland. Regardless of one’s opinion of the president or of his nominee, our political system needs to function, and the Senate needs to do its job.
So CFI sounded the call to its community this week to reach out to their senators, if they are among those responsible for the obstruction, and urge them to end this blockade of the Supreme Court nomination process. Issues that skeptics, humanists, and all freethinkers care about are at stake, and they deserve to be considered by a fully-functioning Supreme Court. You can contact your senator here, and tell them to give the president’s nominee a vote.
Promoting Justice and Equality at the UN Human Rights Council
CFI’s Michael De Dora has wrapped up his time in Geneva, taking part in an eventful 31st Session of the UN Human Rights Council. In the previous edition of Cause & Effect, we learned of Michael’s participation in a joint event with allied organizations on the collision of politics and religion and his own statements to the Council on behalf of the rights to freedom and belief.
Since then, Michael has delivered two additional addresses to the Council. In one statement, Michael pointed out how states such as Russia, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Saudi Arabia have jailed and persecuted individuals for peacefully expressing their views on religion and policy and that these states are ignoring their commitments to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which stresses “the promotion of freedom of expression and the administration of justice.”
In a separate statement, Michael pointed to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which fifteen years ago sought to confront racism and xenophobia around the world, and highlighted two of the ways this kind of discrimination exhibits itself today: by official government discrimination through public policy and through social hostility and violence.
“States will never realize their full potential unless all of their citizens have equal standing,” said Michael. “We urge member states to recognize and root out any legal, historical, and social discrimination, and support and protect the civil rights and equal dignity of harmed individuals and groups.”
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Killah Priest is Openly Secular
Since 2014, the Openly Secular campaign has been championing the equality of the nonreligious, opening hearts and minds with testimonials from both nonreligious celebrities and everyday secular Americans. Last week, a new name was added to the roster of artists and entertainers who share the Openly Secular vision, Walter Reed—better known as rapper Killah Priest.
Best known for his work with Wu-Tang Clan and his successful solo career, Reed appears in a new video for the campaign, talking about his experiments with a variety of religious traditions, his discovery of religion’s many contradictions, and his choice to leave faith behind and become openly secular. Speaking to Mandisa Thomas, he says that the nonreligious should speak out about their lack of belief. “We have freedom of speech,” he says, “and you should be able to express your feelings and live your life the way you choose, because we are individuals.”
Look for more from the Openly Secular campaign in the coming weeks!
Fear and Loathing and Point of Inquiry
Current events surrounding the presidential race have surfaced an ugly undercurrent of overt racism within segments of the population, with white supremacist figures squirming their way into some corners of the national political conversation. On Point of Inquiry, cohost Josh Zepps spoke to a man who lived in that dark world and emerged to become a champion of peace and tolerance, former white supremacist Arno Michaelis. In an interview you really must not miss, Michaelis discusses not only his own evolution from hate and fear to compassion and nonviolence, but he also lends insight into what is driving the racist eruptions in the political realm and what he sees as the similarities between the rhetoric of the white power movement to that of candidate Donald Trump.
One thing that should inspire far less rage and fear than it does is math, and mathematician John Allen Paulos joins cohost Lindsay Beyerstein to talk about just how numbers can lend a fresh perspective to our day-to-day lives. Paulos is a contributor to The Guardian, a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and has a monthly column for ABCNews.com, “Who’s Counting?” His new book on his insights, a kind of “anti-memoir,” is A Numerate Life: A Mathematician Explores the Vagaries of Life, His Own and Probably Yours.
Science Blogger and Author Explores the History of Spaceflight
In a March 20 “Feed Your Brain” presentation to a full house at the Center for Inquiry in L.A., and later in Costa Mesa for the Orange County CFI community group, science blogger Amy Shira Teitel described how spaceflight developed, particularly in Germany, before NASA and the U.S.’s space race with Russia in the late 1950s. Basing the presentation on her new book Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight before NASA, Teitel also explored in detail the rise and fall of the “Dyna-Soar” plane program that preceded the command module programs such as Mercury and Apollo. During her book signing, Teitel actually talked with one of the engineers who had worked on the Dyna-Soar plane!
Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media
● On March 1, our community lost a pioneer of skeptical activism and a scourge to medical quacks, as William Jarvis died at the age of eighty. William M. London eulogizes him on Skeptical Inquirer’s website.
● Joe Nickell takes Newsweek to task for its February special issue on “Spiritual Living: The Secret to Peace and Happiness,” which gives prominence to one John of God, a faux-healer who performs “invisible surgeries.”
● Joe also looks back on the business of fake cures for alcoholism that sprang up at the time of prohibition, such as the “Keeley Double Gold Cure,” which may or may not have had any gold in it but did, in fact, have alcohol.
● CFI–Los Angeles’s Jim Underdown returns to The Sharin’ Hour radio show on KX 93.5 for a discussion on religion and “the logic of a piety without evidence.”
● Free Inquiry Editor Tom Flynn is the guest on Jay Forrest’s podcast, discussing the concept of “spirituality” for atheists and why he finds it problematic.
● David Koepsell writes that he is cautiously optimistic about peace and equality. While we might not achieve “peace in our time,” he says, “We will continue to follow that slope if we can avoid the trap of fear and authoritarianism, isolationism, and militarism that feeds off of it.”
● In a Spanish-language piece for Skeptical Inquirer online, Luis Alfonso Gámez reports on the increased scrutiny on homeopathy in Spain and the industry’s attempts to unload “a huge dump of disinformation.”
● Ben Radford reviews the film 10 Cloverfield Lane, writing, “One of the film’s most effective themes is essentially a skeptical one: the uncertainty of knowledge. How do we know what’s true?”
● CFI–Indiana chief Reba Boyd Wooden, also president of Indiana’s Health Access and Privacy Alliance (HAPA), hand delivered a letter to Gov. Mike Pence urging him to veto HB 1337, a bill that would seriously obstruct a woman’s right to abortion access.
● The Baptist Standard notes CFI’s role in calling for the State Department to declare ISIS crimes to be genocide.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Celebrate Easter in the best possible way: a Jesus Christ Superstar movie and singalong at CFI HQ in Amherst, NY.
● CFI–Michigan helps the homeless with a service day at Well House.
● Professor Mark Molesky, the author of This Gulf of Fire, discusses the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 at CFI–Los Angeles.
● Dr. Laura Colgin of the Center for Learning and Memory at the University of Texas speaks to CFI–Austin about “The Symphony of the Brain.”
● CFI Legal Director Nick Little speaks to CFI–Northeast Ohio about the problems with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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, the Council for Secular Humanism, and will soon be home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at www.centerforinquiry.net.