Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 60

July 29, 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

be20ab985d00aaceab764eefac34f03f.jpgDNC Staffer Suggests Anti-Atheist Smear, CFI Calls for His Resignation 

Just before the Democratic Party nominated the first woman to top a national party presidential ticket in U.S. history, Wikileaks released a trove of hacked email correspondences from the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Among those emails was a suggestion from the DNC’s chief financial officer, Brad Marshall, that Sen. Bernie Sanders could be politically damaged if religious voters were told that Sanders is an atheist. (He is not.) 

The Center for Inquiry was outraged by this. In a statement cosigned by CEO Robyn Blumner, Board Chair Edward Tabash, President Ronald Lindsay, and Council for Secular Humanism Executive Director Tom Flynn, CFI condemned Marshall’s suggestion and the gross anti-atheist bigotry he sought to cynically exacerbate. CFI called for Marshall to resign and for the DNC to make a clear statement that rejects the attitude expressed by Marshall—an attitude that is doubly absurd considering the fact that the religiously unaffiliated are by far the largest belief group within the Democratic coalition.

CFI pushed back hard against the stereotype Marshall looked to take advantage of, saying:

We are as integral a part of the fabric of this country as any other group. Atheists have fought, struggled, and died for this country and its values alongside friends, family, and neighbors of all beliefs. … [We] will no longer be silent when institutions of power attempt to reinforce pernicious stereotypes about the nonreligious. We matter, we have a powerful voice—and a vote—and we will use it. 

A wide variety of outlets of varying political viewpoints covered the statement, including The Huffington Post, The Washington Times, Reason, Deseret News, and others, and Bustle spoke with CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo about the issue, talking about how hard the nonreligious have worked “to be seen as equals, to fight off the absurd and baseless prejudice that atheists somehow lack morals or are untrustworthy.


celebrantSuit Filed in Federal Court for Illinois Secular Celebrants 

Thanks to CFI’s 2014 victory in federal court, the bar against certified Secular Celebrants solemnizing marriages in Indiana was reversed. It was a landmark win for nonreligious Americans, quashing a glaring example of religious privilege and cementing in judicial precedent what we already know to be true: That secular humanists hold their values and principles at least as deeply as any religious person and that they deserve to have such a deeply meaningful milestone as marriage be solemnized by an officiant who represents and reflects those values. But that was not the end!

Last week, CFI set its sights on the neighboring state of Illinois. CFI and its allies had worked diligently to achieve a legislative solution to that state’s exclusion of secular celebrants from being able to solemnize marriages, but none was definitively acted upon by the legislature. That’s why CFI, along with CFI certified Secular Celebrant Galen Broaddus, filed suit in federal court to make things right. 

While the outcome is far from preordained, the good news is that the Indiana decision of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has controlling precedent in Illinois as well. And as CFI Legal Director Nick Little put it, “If anyone can go online and simply purchase a $25 ordination from a made-up church, surely extending this basic right to secular couples and celebrants is long overdue.”


CFIMembership4 copy.jpgThe Best Membership Program in the Known Universe

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 give you membership to all of CFI, regardless of your location or area of interest. That means that 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 just discovering CFI through its merger with the Richard Dawkins Foundation, now there’s one simple way to become a member, and that membership applies across the board and across the country. 

To get your membership (and to get one of the new, smart-looking membership cards), just go to 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. Learn more about the new program here, and then choose your cosmic phenomenon to symbolize your commitment to our shared mission. 


News from HQ and the CFI Community

lyzReason Rally Director Lyz Liddell Arrives for Work at CFI

The 2016 Reason Rally was perhaps the most ambitious and complex event ever put on by the American freethought movement. Logistics, public relations, talent wrangling, volunteer recruitment, fundraising, and more, all for what was not even one single event but several spread out over four days. While such an event was of course the product of collaboration between a wide array of organizations and individuals, at the head of it all—literally running the show—was Lyz Liddell. And this week, she began her work at the Center for Inquiry.

Having just barely recovered from serving as executive director of the 2016 Reason Rally, Lyz joined CFI this week as its new director of programming. Lyz now takes the reins of some of the big initiatives of CFI and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, in particular the Openly Secular campaign, which Lyz helped manage back when it was first launched. 

Everyone at CFI is delighted to welcome Lyz to the team.


Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 11.32.27 AM.pngCSICon Las Vegas: Prescribed by the SkepDoc with a Healthy Dose of Hrab

CSICon 2016 in Las Vegas is shaping up to be a truly amazing event, with a veritable constellation of brilliant speakers including the amazing James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, Elizabeth Loftus, Lawrence Krauss, Michael Mann, Maria Konnikova, and so many more.

One of those speakers in the skeptic firmament is longtime favorite, the “SkepDoc” herself, Dr. Harriet Hall. She just gave a fun interview to Susan Gerbic, special for CSICon, where she talks about some of her most popular works, a preview of what she’ll bring to CSICon, and a funny tidbit about her brief time as an Oprah Magazine columnist. (“That was a fiasco.”) 

Comic and musician George Hrab also talked to Susan about his work and the conference, and gave a preview of his approach to being the master of ceremonies for the event, saying, “This year I think I’ll be using a combination of alpenhorn and Moroccan Schikhatt dance, in conjunction with Morse code performed on the shells of Galapogean tortoises. Just to have a ‘theme.’” Sounds good.

Check it all out at the CSICon website, and then register for great presentations, illuminating workshops, a Halloween costume party, and even a joust dinner at the Tournament of Kings.

This is no illusion; it’s really happening. Investigate it for yourself, and register right now.


wis4simple.jpgWomen in Secularism 4 and the Free Speech Debate

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 conference, and the time has come to reconvene on this pivotal topic.

Women in Secularism 4 is taking place September 23–25 in Arlington, VA, and there is a lot to talk about: The intrusion of religion into women’s lives in the U.S., including how it prevents access to abortion and contraception; violence against women around the world who are religious dissidents or 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.

Speaking of free speech and safe spaces, that is exactly the topic of conversation between Women in Secularism speakers Wendy Kaminer and host Lindsay Beyerstein on the latest episode of Point of Inquiry. Kaminer is a lawyer and writer who has dedicated much of her life’s work to defending free speech, and she and Lindsay engage in a spirited discussion about the grayest areas concerning free expression and censorship on college campuses and in the wider culture.

Also appearing at the fourth Women in Secularism conference are such brilliant speakers as Rebecca Goldstein, Katha Pollitt, Johnetta Elzie, Bonya Rafida Ahmed, Melanie Brewster, Kavin Senapathy, and many more. 

Don’t wait. Register for this highly anticipated conference now.


Thomas Paine documentary (1).jpgIan Ruskin Revives Thomas Paine, Jim Underdown Busts Some Ghost Hunters 

Once again, writer and actor Ian Ruskin brought to life the story of Thomas Paine, with showings on July 17 of a new film from his acclaimed one-man stage play, To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine. CFI–L.A.’s screenings in Hollywood and Costa Mesa were followed by a Q&A session with Ruskin. The film was shot at the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood, directed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler and narrated by actor Elliott Gould. The National Educational Telecommunications Association is distributing the film to public television stations nationwide. Ruskin, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, has written, performed, and produced many plays and radio and film documentaries, including From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks about labor leader Harry Bridges, which he has performed more than 250 times to 50,000 people, including the U.K. and Scottish Parliaments.

Also at CFI–L.A., Jim Underdown, the branch’s executive director and founder and chair of the Independent Investigations Group, brought his fun insight into how science deals with ghosts at the Center’s monthly Café Inquiry on Wednesday. He explained how most people see ghost investigations only through the lens of TV shows in which a team of ghost enthusiasts traipses through a spooky house at night and never actually encounters anything that could be considered a ghost. Underdown discussed what a real ghost investigation looks like—one that is conducted by science-oriented people who hold no pre-existing beliefs in ghosts, apparitions, poltergeists, or even an afterlife. Underdown also will share his knowledge of investigations into the paranormal during an October 27th preconference workshop at CSICon in Las Vegas.


Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media


● Pakistani-Canadian writer and physician Ali Rizvi was a special guest on Point of Inquiry, discussing his upcoming book, Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason and the distinction between identifying as a Muslim and following the doctrines of Islam. 

● Simon Davis, formerly of CFI–DC and now reporting on the death-beat, explores why so many of the religiously unaffiliated still believe in an afterlife and seeks input from Tom Flynn of CFI’s Council for Secular Humanism.

● Susan Gerbic interviews Alan Melikdjanian, who, once he’s applied his silvery metallic makeup, is better known as Captain Disillusion.

● Benjamin Radford answers questions about the practice of dowsing, reminding us that “Any dowser who could reliably and successfully do what they claim could easily become a multi-millionaire consulting agent.”

● Stuart Vyse revisits the Kitty Genovese “bad Samaritan” murder, which is the subject of a new documentary that reexamines the event and its implications for the behavior of bystanders.

● Stephen Law at the Free Thinking blog speaks up for the careful use of appeals to emotion when trying to persuade, as long as reason is the foundation of the appeal.

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


Upcoming CFI Events


July 31:

●   The Rational Volunteer Association of CFI–Los Angeles takes part in a tree-measuring data collection project with Earthwatch.

August 7:

●   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.

August 9:

●   CFI–Indiana holds an event titled “Science! Tattoos! And Beer!,” which really needs no further description.

August 14:

●   CFI–Indiana celebrates the birthday of Robert Green Ingersoll with a presentation by public historian Justin Clark.

August 21:

●   Professor of public health William London visits CFI–L.A. and CFI–Orange County to cast a skeptical eye on the “health freedom movement,” which frees the makers of alt-med remedies from meeting standards or being accountable.


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!

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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