Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 6

May 16, 2014

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

Deb WiS 170Women in Secularism III is Underway!

Women in Secularism III kicks off today and runs until Sunday afternoon in Alexandria, VA. Everyone is looking forward to a weekend of fascinating and evocative presentations and discussions from some of freethought’s bravest and most brilliant women. If you weren’t able to make it to the big event this time around, maybe take some time this weekend to enjoy video of the talks from 2012’s and 2013’s Women in Secularism conferences. Kimberly Winston previewed the conference for Religion News Service and talked to CFI’s Debbie Goddard and Melody Hensley. (Also check out Skepchick’s Women in Secularism interview with conference speaker Lindy West of Jezebel.) 


Raif 170The Fight for Raif Badawi’s Freedom

In the last edition of Cause & Effect, we told you about CFI’s protest at the Saudi Embassy in Washington on behalf of jailed dissident Raif Badawi. Last week, we were horrified to learn that Badawi’s sentence had been increased to 1000 lashes from 600, ten years in prison from seven, and a fine of over $260,000 (US). We at CFI are doing all we can, staying in contact with Badawi’s family and allies and working diplomatic channels. Our public policy director Michael de Dora provided the details of the case in a recent post, offering suggestions of what you can do for Raif right now and started the Twitter hashtag #IStandwithRaif. You can share our image on social media to help spread the word, and we’ll keep you updated as this case progresses.


sudan 170CFI Demands Sudan Free Woman Sentenced to Death for Apostasy

More harrowing news, as a pregnant Sudanese Christian woman, Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, has been sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging for the supposed crime of marrying a Christian man. CFI is contacting representatives of the Sudanese government and demanding that they drop all charges and free Meriam immediately. Read our full message and our press release


Inger170Two New Events: Leadership Conference in July + Ingersoll Conference in August!

2014 is already packed full of excellent CFI events and horizon-expanding experiences, like Women in Secularism III, our cruise to the Galapagos, Camp Inquiry, and The Skeptic’s Toolbox. But we’re not through yet! 

·   First, we’ve just announced a newly expanded CFI Leadership Conference for 2014, June 24–27 at CFI HQ in Amherst, NY! If you’re a CFI student group leader, if you’re starting a skeptic or freethought group at your school, or (and this is new!) if you’re a leader with a group affiliated with CFI, the Council for Secular Humanism, or the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, we want you to sign up for this year’s event—four days packed with leadership training, workshops, networking, educational presentations, and more! 

·   August 16–17, come to Western New York for a special conference: Robert Green Ingersoll and the Reform Imperative: An Appreciation of Ingersoll and the Freethought Trail (or, as we call it, “IngerCon.”) The event will include talks from brilliant thinkers like Susan Jacoby, Sally Roesch Wagner, Margaret Downey, as well as our own Tom Flynn and Lauren Becker, plus an exploration of the Ingersoll Museum, a trip to the museum at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home in Seneca Falls, and a fancy meal at the Belhurst Castle and Winery in Seneca Falls. Come on up for a helping of freethought history!


Action Alert!

CFI Office of Public PolicyTell Your U.S. Senators to Oppose 20-Week Abortion Ban

This week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been leading an effort to force a vote on one of his legislative proposals, S. 1670, which would outlaw all abortions in the United States after 20 weeks—with exceptions only for the mother’s life and officially reported instances of rape and incest. We say that this bill is harmful, as it restricts the reproductive rights of women, imposes outlandish criminal penalties, and addresses a problem that doesn’t even exist. You can help stop it: contact your U.S. Senators now and tell them to reject Sen. Graham’s bill.


News from HQ

kagan170Disappointing Rulings from U.S. and Massachusetts Supreme Courts

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down its 5-4 ruling in The Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, clearing the way for sectarian prayer at public meetings such as legislative and city council sessions. CFI had submitted an amicus brief to the court on behalf of a coalition of secular groups, and we were extremely disappointed by the outcome of the case. In our official statement, we said, “This ill-reasoned and constitutionally infirm decision sets a dangerous precedent for the blending of religion and government, and sends a message of exclusion to those who do not follow the majoritarian belief system.” We agreed with the dissent written by Justice Elena Kagan, in which she said that government-backed sectarian prayer “does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.” Our CEO Ron Lindsay offered some thoughts as to what comes next in a piece at Religion News Service

A second legal setback came out of Massachusetts last week, as the state’s high court ruled that recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, with its “under God” invocation, does not discriminate against nonbelievers. Ron Lindsay submitted an amicus brief to the court on this case as well, arguing that the Pledge violates nontheist students’ rights to equal protection.


fi kids 170


New in Free Inquiry: Discovering a New Secular Constituency

The latest issue of Free Inquiry magazine is on newsstands now, and it features a rich and fascinating report from CFI board member Barry Kosmin on the religious views of college-age Americans. Kosmin, director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture and lead researcher of the American Religious Identification Survey, concludes that a generational shift away from religion is taking place in the United States, as a large new secular constituency emerges from the Millennial cohort. Learn all about the students who consider themselves “secular,” “spiritual,” or “religious,” how their beliefs do and do not overlap, and what it means for our movement’s future in the June/July issue of Free Inquiry!


cara prothero 170Cara Santa Maria and Donald Prothero on Point of Inquiry

The latest episodes of our flagship podcast Point of Inquiry feature conversations with two very different science communicators who are both fighting the forces of pseudoscience and irrationality. 

  • Josh Zepps has a fun and eye-opening conversation with Cara Santa Maria, host of the Talk Nerdy podcast, about growing up Mormon in Texas, the problem of false equivalency in journalism, and the appeal of pseudoscience to the average consumer. 
  • Lindsay Beyerstein gets down to brass tacks with paleontologist Donald Prothero about the crisis of science denialism and how it threatens our education system, our health, and our existence on this planet.


roanoke signCFI Says No to Discriminatory Prayer Proposal in Roanoke

After the Supreme Court ruling on sectarian prayer, a Roanoke, VA, county supervisor by the name of Al Bedrosian announced his intention to put in place a policy that would exclude all non-Christian prayers from public meetings of the board of supervisors. In response, our legal director Nicholas Little penned a direct and powerful letter to Mr. Bedrosian, warning him that if such a policy were to take effect, “we will have no choice but to file a lawsuit to have it declared unconstitutional.” Stay tuned.


ohio statehouseOhio Legislature Considers Honoring “Crisis Pregnancy Centers,” CFI Steps In

Ohio lawmakers were poised to consider a resolution on May 7 honoring the work of so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs); ideologically and religiously driven “resource centers” that mislead the public into thinking they provide health care, when they exist mainly to advance narrow Christian views on reproductive issues. We sent a letter to the legislature urging them to drop the resolution entirely and asked our friends in Ohio to contact their state representatives to do the same. At least temporarily, we seem to have been successful, as the measure did not come up for a vote. It still may, and we’ll be watching closely.


cfihq170CFI is Hiring!

We’re looking for someone to fill the crucial role of full-time Campus and Community Organizer in the Outreach department. This person will assist in the implementation of CFI’s grassroots and community initiatives, serving the CFI branches across the U.S., as well as its international affiliated campus groups and volunteers. CFI is also looking for a Database Administrator to complete a database conversion project and then maintain and update the system going forward. If you think you might be interested, or know someone who fits the bill, visit our employment page for the complete job description and instructions for applying.


CFI Community News

Jim and AsnerThey’ve been busy over at CFI–Los Angeles. Last week they held a sold-out, standing-room-only showing of The Unbelievers documentary (where skeptic music star Tim Minchin was among the attendees), where Lawrence Krauss along with filmmakers Gus and Luke Holwerda discussed the film in person. Meanwhile, the Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), headed by Jim Christopher, cosponsored the 7th annual Festival of Recovery. They hosted talks from secularism researcher Phil Zuckerman and Autumn Sandeen, a transgender veteran and an editor of The Transadvocate

As a fun side note, CFI–Los Angeles Executive Director Jim Underdown has been performing in plays at the Barnsdall Theater (just across the street from the CFI offices), and he sent along this photo (on the left) of himself with one of his costars, veteran actor Ed Asner. How cool!


michigan workCFI–Michigan has a great way to spend a weekend this summer: A Secular Summer Retreat at the Long Lake Outdoor Center near Hastings, MI, July 11–13. Enjoy some nature, activities, and quality time with your fellow freethinkers. All the details about how to sign up, how to volunteer, and what you’ll need to bring are here.

The folks at the Michigan branch aren’t just taking advantage of the Long Lake Center, they’ve been working to make it better. On Saturday, CFI–Michigan organized a Secular Service Day to help preserve the campground. The group put in 135 hours of work with just fifteen people, repainting a large cabin and the camp kitchen’s ceiling and floor, repairing screens and windows for the craft house, and clearing a large number of downed trees. Check out photos of the glamorous work at the group’s Facebook page. Nicely done, everybody!


CFI in the Media

wapo 170

●   Responding to an uncritical piece on alt-med last month in the Washington Post, Ron Lindsay penned a letter to the editor taking on a specific claim made about homeopathy’s alleged similarity to vaccines, writing, “[H]omeopathy is a pseudoscience, based on nebulous notions developed long before modern scientific research.”

●   Following the Supreme Court ruling in Greece v. Galloway, Religion News Service,, and The Christian Post looked to CFI for reaction and perspective.

●   Uptown Radio out of the Columbia University journalism school does a piece on humanists fighting to be recognized in the prison system and includes legal perspective from CFI’s Nicholas Little.   

●   Lauren Becker’s excellent essay on James Madison and the necessity of secularism for a moral foundation caught the ire of The New American, a publication affiliated with, of all things, the John Birch Society. 


Highlights from CFI on the Web

reiki 170

●   Carrie Poppy has the touch, discovering how to fix “stagnant energy” as she learns the not-actually ancient art of Reiki for Skeptical Inquirer. 

●  Orion Day of the CFI On Campus affiliate the Secular Alliance at Indiana University posts video of a panel discussion on the compatibility of science and religion and gives background on how it all came together.

●   Skeptical Inquirer has the transcript of the recent Point of Inquiry interview with Cosmos’s Ann Druyan, already a big favorite. 

●  Joe Nickell highlights a letter from a commercial airline pilot, who explains how he introduces skeptical concepts to fellow pilots when they encounter unidentified objects.

●  Ben Radford reviews the new Spider-Man flick, and, well, it’s a mess.

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


Save the Date! Upcoming Events

May 18:

     •  Donald Prothero comes to CFI–Los Angeles to talk about how science denial poses a threat to public health and society’s prospects for the future.

     •  CFI–Tallahassee hosts a talk from Robert Rivas on “Death With Dignity and the Right to Free Speech: Where They Intersect.”

May 28:

     •  CFI–Michigan hosts a presentation by Justin Schieber of the Reasonable Doubts podcast on “Why Theism is Probably False.”

May 30:

     •  CFI’s legal director Nicholas Little gives a presentation for CFI–Western New York on the problems presented by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

June 1:

     •  Author William Poundstone comes to CFI–Los Angeles to talk about a strange ESP phenomenon experienced by millions over the radio in 1937, and his new book Rock Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody.

June 11:

     •  Musician and author Kurt Ellenberger joins CFI–Michigan for a presentation on music and the science behind its power.

June 12:

     •  CFI–DC hosts a screening of the documentary The Contradictions, about the black community’s dedication and commitment to the church and religion, as well as a Q&A with its director Jeremiah Camara.


Thank you!

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!

I Support Reason, Science, and Freedom of InquiryFortnightly updates not enough? Of course they’re not.

       •  Follow CFI on Twitter.

       •  Like us on Facebook

       •  Encircle us on Google+

       •  Subscribe to us on YouTube.


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