Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 56
May 20, 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
Reason Rally 2016: CFI Is Your Home Base, On the Ground and Online
The 2016 Reason Rally is just around the corner, and it’s likely to be the biggest celebration of the nonreligious in history. And whether you’re at the Rally in person, or you’re looking to keep tabs from home, the Center for Inquiry will be at the center of it all and your prime source for everything that’s going on.
This week, CFI announced a great way for everyone to stay informed and up to date on what’s happening at the Rally with CFI Live at the Reason Rally. This will be your central hub for all things Reason Rally, frequently updated throughout the event with news and highlights, interviews with speakers and attendees, insights and commentary from CFI’s on-the-ground team, and much more. Whether you’re sitting comfortably at home or celebrating on the National Mall, you’ll be able to keep current by checking in throughout the Rally at centerforinquiry.live.
And for all those who will be at the Rally, make a point of coming to the Exhibitors’ Tent, where you’ll see the combined display of CFI, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, and the Openly Secular campaign! There, you’ll be able to meet with CFI team members and special guests, take a photo or video for Openly Secular, and even get a chance to win some cool freethought swag and memorabilia.
CFI will be a major part of every aspect of the Reason Rally and its surrounding events, so If you haven’t already, go plan your trip now! And starting June 4, stay up to date with CFI Live.
Germany Grants Asylum to Bangladeshi Blogger Helped by CFI
In the midst of a crisis in Bangladesh, in which secularist writers and activists and other critics of radical Islam are being murdered in the streets by extremists, good news is hard to come by. But CFI was greeted by some excellent news recently, when Bangladeshi blogger and activist Shammi Haque was granted asylum by Germany. At only twenty-two years old, Shammi has made a name for herself as a fearless and outspoken advocate for secularism and human rights. When radical Islamists added her to their ominous hit list of those targeted for death and she began to get direct threats on her life, Shammi approached the Center for Inquiry, which through the Freethought Emergency Fund helped her escape to Germany.
“Every day I thought, this may be my last day. I may not see the next day’s sunrise,” Shammi told CFI. “Connecting with the Center for Inquiry was a big opportunity in my life, for without CFI, I couldn’t have done anything. And CFI helped me immediately. Now I have asylum here, so I can live safely.”
Everyone at CFI is proud to have had a hand in helping Shammi, as should anyone who has supported the Freethought Emergency Fund. Some very real good is being done.
The Supreme Court Punts on Contraceptive Access
In February, CFI with the help of American Atheists filed an amicus brief in the case of Zubik v. Burwell, a kind of Hobby Lobby-gone-haywire in which religious nonprofits claimed that the simple act of signing a paper declaring their intention to opt out of the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act constitutes a violation of their religious freedom. This week, the Supreme Court, short one Justice since the death of Antonin Scalia, decided not to decide, remanding the decision to the lower courts, which disappointed many.
Among those disappointed was, of course, CFI. In a response following the non-decision, Nick Little, CFI’s vice president and general counsel, lamented the Court’s unwillingness to clean up what had become a mess of exemptions. Nick said, “How exasperating to now find ourselves back at square one, thanks to the Court’s failure to ensure the seamless provision of reproductive health care to the hundreds of thousands of women employed by religious non-profit organizations.”
It looks as if this argument over religion and the law will go on, at the very least until the issue finds itself before a Supreme Court that is fully staffed.
New Bill Aims to Make RFRA Do No Harm
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was the law at the center of the infamous Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, in which the Court ruled that employers could exempt themselves from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act due to their religious beliefs, setting dangerous precedents for religious privilege over the law.
This week, however, U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) introduced a potential fix, the “Do No Harm” Act. This bill would plug many of the holes that make RFRA such an easily abused law, with amendments that state that RFRA should not be interpreted to allow the imposition of one’s religious views or practices upon another or to authorize discrimination based on those views, among other provisions.
CFI heralded the law’s introduction as a welcome start to begin solving RFRA’s problems, a way to help ensure that RFRA could no longer be used as a bludgeon to impose one’s religious beliefs and practices on others, or as an excuse to engage in religiously motivated discrimination. “Members of Congress should put aside their partisan differences and approve this fair-minded amendment,” said CFI’s public policy director, Michael De Dora. “We look forward to working with our partners on Capitol Hill, including religious, non-religious, church-state, and civil rights groups, to move this important measure forward.”
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Real Progress Made at CFI–Michigan’s 2nd Annual Civics Day
On May 4, CFI–Michigan held its second annual Civics Day the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, and—no surprise—it was a great success.
Attendees began with in-person training on lobbying and an overview of the current pressing legislative issues facing the state, led by CFI’s Michael De Dora, CFI–Michigan’s executive director Jefferson Seaver, and Andrew Franks of the Michigan chapter of the Secular Coalition for America.
Participants had the chance to meet and discuss issues with about twenty-five legislators or their staff. They also handed out informative literature to the Capitol offices and took a guided tour of the Capitol building.
But this was more than just an educational experience. As a result of this event, CFI–Michigan was invited to offer input on draft language for a Death with Dignity bill, and discussed with legislators the potential for adding secular celebrants to a planned bill to expand the types of people authorized to solemnize marriages.
These are truly substantive developments, and everyone who took part deserves congratulations on an excellent and impactful event.
Katha Pollitt and Soraya Chemaly Added to Women in Secularism 4
Few events in the freethought world have sparked as much conversation, debate, and inspiration as CFI’s Women in Secularism conferences. It’s been almost two years since the third such conference, and the time has come to reconvene on this pivotal topic.
Women in Secularism 4 will be taking place September 23–25 in Arlington, VA, and there are many things to talk about: The intrusion of religion into women’s lives; violence against women around the world who refuse to let dogma relegate them to second-class status; the role of “safe spaces” within a movement that champions free expression; and so much more.
And now, the conference is adding journalists and activists Katha Pollitt and Soraya Chemaly to an already incredible lineup of speakers that includes Rebecca Goldstein, Julia Sweeney, Bonya Rafida Ahmed, Melanie Brewster, Wendy Kaminer, Kavin Senapathy, and many more.
So don’t wait. Register for this highly anticipated conference now.
CSICon 2016: An Oasis of Reason in the Desert
It’s time for skeptics everywhere to gather in a town full of magical thinking!
CSICon 2016, the year’s biggest skeptics’ conference, will take placeOctober 27–30 in Las Vegas! Get set to bring your critical mind to the City of Light, where you’ll hear from the icons of skepticism, such as the amazing James Randi, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, science education champion Eugenie Scott, memory expert Elizabeth Loftus, physicist Lawrence Krauss, climate scientist Michael Mann, The New Yorker’s Maria Konnikova, and so many more.
The conference will take place in the stellar Excalibur Hotel and Casino and will feature amazing presentations, illuminating workshops, a Halloween costume party, and, being that this is the Excalibur, a joust dinner at the Tournament of Kings.
This is no illusion; it’s really happening. Investigate it for yourself, and register right now.
California’s End of Life Option Act Explained at CFI–L.A.
California will be the fifth state to authorize medical aid in dying when the End of Life Option Act becomes effective on June 9. CFI supported the bill and heralded its passage last year.
Explaining the Act last Sunday and providing a portfolio of information for attendees at CFI–Los Angeles in East Hollywood was Cecily Hintzen, Central California Outreach Manager for Compassion & Choices, the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choice at the end of life. Another C&C coordinator, Susan Johnston, explained the Act to CFI–Orange County in Costa Mesa. Hintzen emphasized that the Act does not endorse “physician-assisted suicide.” Her handout indicated that the law allows a mentally capable, terminally ill adult with six months or less to live to request aid-in-dying medication from their doctor for self-administration, if their suffering becomes unbearable.
For more information on this issue, visit CompassionAndChoices.org.
Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media
● With ISIS seeking to build a caliphate and terrorist attacks roiling many parts of the world, what are the hopes of an Islamic reformation that elevates moderation and tolerance? On the Point of Inquiry podcast, Josh Zepps talks to Brookings’ Shadi Hamid about those prospects and how a reformation may not look the way we expect.
● Also on Point of Inquiry, Lindsay Beyerstein welcomes “the Skeptical OB,” Dr. Amy Tuteur, to discuss many of the myths around childbirth, pushing back against the use of guilt as a way to bring mothers into the “natural childbirth” fold.
● The final resting place of Mary Livingston, mother of Robert Ingersoll, is discovered, thanks in large part to CFI’s Tom Flynn and his “curious itch.” Eagle News has more on the discovery.
● CFI’s Nick Little writes an impassioned post about how the Supreme Court abandoned a chance to fix what it broke in Hobby Lobby with its Zubik v. Burwell ruling.
● Delving into his deeper psyche, Nick also recounts a daydream about Winston Churchill, Samuel Alito, RFRA, and an argument over church bells.
● In Skeptical Inquirer, Benjamin Radford explores how believers in the mythical (and relatively recently invented) chupacabra develop pseudohistories to back up their claims.
● At CFI’s Free Thinking blog, Ben also has a substantive interview with feminist activist Shelby Knox (subject of an eponymous 2005 documentary) and tries to let Amy Schumer off the hook for any “responsibility” she may feel for the shooting that took place at one of her movies.
● On the radio show Kingkade and Breakenridge, Ben discusses Friday the 13th myths.
● CFI’s Tim Binga and Skeptical Inquirer Editor Kendrick Frazier do some digging and collect some early articles covering the founding of CSICOP and Skeptical Inquirer itself.
● Michael De Dora is quoted in a Voice of America piece on the crisis in Bangladesh and the bestowing of an award on the secularist Shuddhashar Publishing House, which was a target of extremist attacks last year.
● Joe Nickell eulogizes Sir Harry Kroto, Nobel Prize–winning chemist and fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, saying, “Harry never lost his sense of childlike wonder.”
● Harriet Hall has her “flabber thoroughly gasted” by a listing on Amazon for a “SweatEvaporating/Sauna/HealthyUrn/NanoAnion/NegativeIon/FarInfraredRay/
And Yellow-glazed—-Lotus Out Of Clear Water.”
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 the 10th annual IIG Awards, with special appearances by Ann Druyan, Matt Walsh, Glenn Plummer, and more.
● Brandy Johnson of the Michigan College Access Network speaks to CFI–Michigan about the need for more post-secondary education in the changing job market.
● CFI–Los Angeles hosts what is likely to be a lively discussion with John Shahan, head of an organization that seeks to prove the conspiracy that William Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him.
● The 2016 Reason Rally weekend with advocacy days, parties, a mini-conference, and more—and of course the Rally itself on June 4.
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.