Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 59
July 15, 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
Supreme Court Rejects Texas Attempt to Curtail Abortion Rights
It was a tense Monday morning spent glued to SCOTUSblog on June 27, as the Supreme Court was poised to produce its ruling on the crucial case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which millions of women’s legal access to abortion services hung in the balance. Cynically, anti-abortion partisans in the Texas state government had enacted a law that put unrealistically onerous restrictions on facilities providing abortion services, restrictions that would have forced the vast majority of providers in the state to close, and cutting off access for untold numbers of women.
The law, HB 2, was promoted as a means to ensuring women’s “safety,” but in reality it was a transparent end-run around the Constitution and Roe v. Wade. Its speciousness was all the more obvious due to the state’s reliance on “expert testimony” from one Vincent Rue, a man with no medical credentials who is infamous for peddling manufactured and pseudoscientific testimony for similar anti-abortion court cases. It was this issue, the use of unreliable and unscientific testimony, that CFI focused on in its amicus brief to the Court (cosigned by a slew of prominent intellectuals such as Steven Pinker, Carol Tavris, Eugenie Scott, Jill Tarter, Lawrence Krauss, and Richard Dawkins), as well as in an op-ed about the case by CFI’s Nick Little, published in Salon.
With the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat still vacant due to Senate Republicans’ unwillingness to vote on the president’s nominee, it was impossible to predict how the case would be decided, with a 4–4 split a very real possibility. But the tension of that morning was finally released, as secularism, objective science, and women’s equality were affirmed. “We are delighted that the Supreme Court saw through this transparent attempt to effectively ban abortion, an attempt propped up by manufactured pseudoscience,” said Robyn Blumner, CFI’s CEO, in a statement following the decision. “The legal right to an abortion is meaningless without reasonable access to abortion services, and this cynical move to cut off that access has been shown for what it is: the imposition of religious dogma on Americans’ lives.”
CFI and Allies Call on SCOTUS to Reject Taxpayer Funding of Church Facilities
Health care is not the only area in which religious interests seek to skirt the Constitution and drive holes in the wall between church and state. Last week, CFI joined with allies in several progressive and secular organizations in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley, a case in which a church is suing Missouri to force the state to fund a renovation to church property with taxpayer dollars.
The state of Missouri runs a program to fund the installation of safe surfaces in children’s play areas, made from recycled tires. Trinity Lutheran Church also feels that it is entitled to this funding for its own play areas, even though funding such an installation would violate both the state and federal constitutions’ prohibitions on the public funding of religious activities and institutions. The ACLU, the primary authors of the brief, argues that what Trinity is asking for is a blatantly unconstitutional taxpayer subsidy of a house of worship. While religious organizations are sometimes allowed public money for providing secular services, so long as none of that money goes toward sectarian activities, Trinity Lutheran has expressed its intention to reject any such restrictions on any funding it receives.
In our statement, CFI Legal Director Nick Little correctly noted that what Trinity Lutheran seeks “runs contrary to both the U.S. Constitution, and that of the state of Missouri, to require taxpayers, including atheists, Roman Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims, to fund such a facility for a Lutheran Church.” Stay tuned for more information as this case develops, and take a look at Nick’s blog post on the case, and the additional such cases we expect down the road.
A Cosmically Great New Membership Program
Last month, the Center for Inquiry announced a better and simpler membership program, making it much easier for those who share CFI’s mission and values to support the great work being done to advance science, reason, skepticism, and secularism.
No more signing up for one or all of CFI’s branches or organizations, because now one form and one program make you a member of it all. If you’re a die-hard Skeptical Inquirer fan or if you devour Free Inquiry issues; if you champion science and secularism at the national and international levels, or if you cultivate community at local branches; if you’re a longtime CFI supporter or if you’re newly coming from the Dawkins Foundation, there’s one simple way to become a member, and that membership applies across the board and across the country.
To become a member of the Center for Inquiry (and get to show off the new, smart-looking membership card), just go to centerforinquiry.net/membership and choose among the various levels, from “Planetary” to “Universal.” Each level up brings great gifts and benefits, and no matter where you’re coming from, the benefits apply everywhere.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Meet CFI’s New Summer Interns, Sam and London
The Center for Inquiry is fortunate this summer to have two fantastic new outreach interns, young leaders who have already been hard at work helping to advance CFI’s mission.
Samreena “Sam” Farooqui was born in Karachi, Pakistan, moving to the U.S. at the age of 7. She is now pursuing a BA in psychology at Florida State University where she was a founding officer of the FSU Secular Student Alliance. There, she’s helped revive secular activism not just for her school, but for the Tallahassee area. “My enthusiasm knows no bounds,” Sam says, and so far this has proven quite true.
London Sneden is a student at Sam Houston State University in Texas, working on a major in sociology and a minor in political science. A stifling religious-conservative atmosphere at her school led her to become active at the SSA at Sam Houston, whose mission is to advocate for the separation of church and state and provide community for nonreligious students on campus. Her next stop is law school to study human rights and constitutional law.
Welcome, Sam and London!
Free Inquiry on the Outsized Role of Humanists in Social Change
You already know that in the twentieth century, the United States underwent great strides in social justice and equality that had never before been realized, though as recent events remind us, there is still so far to go. But rarely noted in the histories of these struggles is the outsized role humanism played in creating monumental change. The latest issue of Free Inquiry features a special article by independent scholar Leah Mickens, who details how humanists made crucial contributions to myriad progressive causes throughout the 1900s.
Mickens focuses on three particular areas of social advancement: abortion rights, the right to die, and the struggle for racial equality. In each area, humanists were in key leadership positions, founding lasting institutions, and kick-starting debates and discussions that define the modern American political landscape. From Planned Parenthood and NARAL to the NAACP to the beginnings of the “right to die” movement, humanists were there, leading the way.
Also in this latest issue: Greta Christina and Free Inquiry Editor Tom Flynn duel over the definition of “atheism”; CFI CEO Robyn Blumner criticizes the “borderline-pathological alliance” some on the political Left make with the most intolerant aspects of Islam; James A. Haught looks aghast at some of the world’s more bewildering and absurd religious practices; and much more.
CSICon 2016 in the City of Illusions: Las Vegas!
The biggest and baddest skeptics’ event, CSICon 2016, is coming to Las Vegas, October 27–30–and it needs your help! Three different designs are being considered for the official CSICon 2016 T-shirt, and you can help decide which one gets chosen.
Taking place at the Excalibur Hotel & Resort in a city known for its fantasies and illusions, CSICon will present some of science and skepticism’s greatest luminaries. It’s a stellar lineup that includes 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, plus special lunch sessions with Massimo Polidoro and Joe Schwarcz, and so many more.
Register now for great 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.
Ex-Scientologist Clears Engrams with E-meters at CFI–L.A.
A former Scientologist, who we’ll refer to only as Russell, brought his toaster-size, pastel blue Mark VI e-meter to CFI–Los Angeles’s Café Inquiry on June 28, demonstrating how a Scientology “auditor” asks probing questions and uses the machine to show responses in its needle fluctuations to measure “engrams”—Scientology’s supposed “pains in the brains.” Russell explained that the aim is to hook people into Scientology so that they return time and again to “clear” their engrams, paying upwards of $500–$1000 per session.
The scientifically baseless device, discredited in federal court and forcing Scientology to publish disclaimers about its efficacy, measures electrodermal activity—a type of galvanic skin response. A collector also brought several old e-meters to the meeting, with one dating back to the 1950s, on which Scientology based its own versions.
Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media
● On Point of Inquiry, Lindsay Beyerstein talks to journalist Autumn Whitefield-Mandrano about the impact that “beauty culture” has on women’s lives; and Josh Zepps interviews David Levy on achieving peace and mindfulness in a world of digital overload.
● Carrie Poppy saves us from ourselves, responding to the World Health Organization’s warnings about drinking beverages that are too hot. Her advice? “Wait a few minutes.”
● Benjamin Radford assembles Mark Edward, Kenny Biddle, Richard Saunders, and Loren Coleman for a blog-symposium on the question as to whether skeptics ought to be financially compensated for appearing on TV shows.
● In a Vocativ article about a band of ghost hunters, Ben is cited as “a science-based paranormal investigator who is renowned (and detested) in the ghost-hunting community for debunking several hauntings.”
● Also, Ben interviews Michael Grosso, author of The Man Who Could Fly: St. Joseph of Copertino and the Mystery of Levitation.
● William M. London profiles the work of the Investigation Network, checking the extraordinary claims of alleged psychics and paranormalists.
● Jim Underdown of CFI–Los Angeles is the guest on the Indie Bohemians’ Podcast discussing atheism, Scientology, Roswell, psychics, and more.
● David Koepsell looks at the difficulty of studying the mind and mental illness, and advises that as a society we should be “compassionate and skeptical” as we move forward.
● Wendy M. Grossman reviews Leah Remini’s Scientology-exposing memoir for Skeptical Inquirer.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Actor and writer Ian Ruskin comes to CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Orange County to show the film of his one-man stage play To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine and take part in an audience Q&A.
● Chris Robison of UT Austin talks to CFI–Austin about the evolution of the human brain.
● Michael De Dora, CFI’s Director of Public Policy and main representative to the United Nations, comes to CFI headquarters in Amherst, New York for a presentation on CFI’s work defending free inquiry around the world.
● Hugo Daniel Estrella discusses the marketing machine behind Pope Francis and how the image differs from the “real” Jorge Mario Bergoglio, for CFI–Tampa Bay.
● CFI–Michigan hosts a discussion with Ed Brayton and constitutional law expert Dan Ray on the rulings of the Supreme Court in 2016.
● CFI–Indiana takes part in a protest against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
● Sean Carroll comes to CFI–Los Angeles to discuss the subjects of his new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself.
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.