Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 72
January 13, 2017
Cause & Effect is the biweekly newsletter of the Center for Inquiry community, covering the wide range of work that you help make possible. Become a member today!
The Main Events
Our Merger is Complete, Ready to Meet Great Challenges
A great unification of freethought institutions was announced one year ago, when the Center for Inquiry began a merger with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. Joining two organizations is a rather complicated process, as you might imagine, and the procedural dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s spanned almost the entirety of 2016. Throughout that time, CFI and RDFRS worked as partners, led by CEO Robyn Blumner. And just as the calendar was about to flip from 2016 to 2017, the job was finally complete.
On December 31, 2016, the two organizations were formally, officially, and legally merged into one: the new Center for Inquiry.
The Richard Dawkins Foundation of course continues to thrive as a division of CFI, along with longtime CFI programs the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism.
While the merger is now final, there remains of a lot of exciting work to be done. To start, you’ll begin to see more and more of the new CFI logo, modernized and symbolic of this new union. Over the coming months, look to see more improvements to the look and layout of CFI’s many sites, projects, and publications.
It’s already very clear that 2017 will bring great challenges for us to meet and important opportunities to have an impact. What better time to join the new Center for Inquiry, and be a part of the movement to defend and advance reason, science, and secularism? Become a member today.
Trump’s Unreasonable Appointments
There has been a swirl of activity surrounding the vetting and questioning of several of Donald Trump’s appointments for various cabinet and agency positions, and the Center for Inquiry has a strong interest in making sure that these nominees offer a full accounting of their records and their positions on key issues.
One particularly contentious nomination is that of right-wing activist Betsy DeVos to lead the Department of Education. She has devoted an enormous amount of time and energy, along with tens of millions of dollars, toward the promotion of vouchers for private and religious schools, and has said outright that she seeks to “advance God’s kingdom.” Her Senate hearing, which was to take place this week, was unexpectedly delayed, but CFI was ready nonetheless, urging senators to press DeVos on her attitude toward, and her plans for, public education, and what role religion plays in her thinking.
Two potential appointments, both deeply concerning, had our attention on the same day: One that got its full hearing before Senate; the other in something of a state of confusion and mixed messages.
Sen. Jeff Sessions is of course Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, and he was the first nominee to be subject to a Senate hearing. While there was much to consider about his answers, one exchange in particular stood out for us. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse asked Sessions whether secular attorneys had “anything to fear” from him, and whether Sessions felt that secular people had an equal claim to understanding the truth as religious people. Sessions’s answer, strangely, was, “Well, I’m not sure.” At the very least, Sessions did admit that the United States is “not a theocracy.” Good to hear. See what CFI had to say to the Senate about Jeff Sessions here.
As this was going on, it was reported that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a fierce anti-vaccine activist, had been invited by Trump to chair some kind of “vaccine safety commission.” The Trump transition team seemed to hedge on the veracity of this report, but nonetheless, CFI could not be silent. We put out a firm and forceful denunciation of this idea, calling the appointment of Kennedy to such a post “the height of absurdity.” The best possible scenario here is that Kennedy was simply mistaken and that this never comes to fruition. If it does, they will never hear the end of it from us.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Another Big Secular Celebrant Victory: Illinois!
One win begets another. The Center for Inquiry made history in 2014 when a federal judge ruled that CFI-trained Secular Celebrants cannot be prohibited from legally solemnizing marriages in the state of Indiana. Reversing a lower court’s decision that kept marriage solemnization within the exclusive purview of religious clergy and government, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals declared that secular humanists have as much a right to a wedding solemnized by an officiant that shares their worldview as any religious person.
That milestone triumph in Indiana now serves as the foundation for CFI’s ongoing endeavor to see this same right acknowledged across the country, and last week saw the latest victory in that effort, as U.S. District Judge Colin S. Bruce ruled that CFI-trained Secular Celebrants were legally authorized to solemnize marriages in the state of Illinois.
This is particularly great news for Galen Broaddus, the plaintiff with CFI in the case, and as of now the only CFI-certified celebrant in Illinois. Fear not, in the coming weeks, CFI will hold trainings for new celebrants so that Galen won’t be alone.
CFI now looks to other states to recognize the equal status of the nonreligious and their right to be married by a celebrant that shares their worldview, and end the outmoded privileging of religion when it comes to this deeply meaningful life milestone. The hope is to see this resolved through legislation, and we’ll be eager to work with state lawmakers. If not, well, we’ll be back in court, and we’ll be ready.
CFI to Join the Women’s March on Washington January 21
The incoming administration brings with it several individuals and ideas that stand starkly opposed to the principles CFI works passionately to advance, among them being reproductive rights, church-state separation, the equality of LGBTQ Americans and racial and religious minorities (including of course the nonreligious), and respect for science and facts, just to name a few.
That’s why we’ll be joining many of our friends in the secular movement as we take part in the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump. The Secular Coalition for America (of which CFI is a member organization) will be coordinating the freethought community’s show of solidarity, as we send a clear, strong message that our movement stands alongside other great movements on behalf of the bedrock values that unite us.
It is crucial that our community of nonbelievers, skeptics, and critical thinkers are recognized and respected, and to do that, we need to show up. Similar marches will be held in cities throughout the country, so check in your own communities.
For the Washington march, click here for details and to RSVP. We’ll see you there.
A New Home in the Works for CFI–L.A.
CFI has accepted a favorable offer on the property where the Center for Inquiry–Los Angeles now resides, and this vibrant and active branch is expected to have a great new location by the fall. This is a positive development for CFI–L.A., which will mean a brand new home for the community, and the resources to keep it thriving.
Of course many members will miss their old stomping grounds. It will always be a source of wonderful memories, and the CFI community is very excited to begin the next chapter of CFI–Los Angeles in a fresh new setting. Stay tuned as we share more news on this development as things unfold.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
- Special to Free Inquiry, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein explains “the mattering instinct,” that compulsion that drives us not only to feel that our lives have some meaning, but to demonstrate that we matter.
- Is there something a little Nixonian about Donald Trump? Rick Perlstein says it’s more than a little, and discusses the similarities with Lindsay Beyerstein on Point of Inquiry.
- Benjamin Radford teases out the various manifestations of “fake news,” and urges us to look to ourselves as culprits for the spread of misinformation.
- Daniel Dennett, writing in Skeptical Inquirer’s 40th Anniversary issue, discusses the “tightrope walk” between constructive skepticism and “knee-jerk” cynicism.
- Stuart Vyse writes about the tenacious hold that belief in fate or some cosmic purpose to events has on the human psyche, and the obstacle it poses to clear critical thinking.
- Tom Flynn in Free Inquiry lays out a grim list of broad issue areas that are now in danger of reversing their progress under a Trump presidency, including the Supreme Court, public education, and “secularism generally.”
- Carrie Poppy recounts her experience giving a TEDx talk on the dawning of her skeptical worldview, and interviews a fellow TED-talker from the same event, mentalist Harry Lucas.
- CFI’s Director of Libraries, Tim Binga, catches us up on what 2016 had in store for CFI’s physical and digital collections.
- Joe Nickell shows his love for quirky, handcrafted curiosities in two posts about samples of “tramp art,” folk-art items handcrafted from discarded materials: a picture frame (likely made from crates and boxes) and a crucifix (made of matchsticks).
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
- CFI–Tampa Bay takes part in SkeptiCamp2, presented by the Atheists of Florida.
- Computational biologist and author Jack Wathey discusses his new book The Illusion of God’s Presence at CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Orange County.
- University of Texas–Austin biology chair Claus Wilke talks to CFI–Austin about the evolution of viruses.
- CFI–Northeast Ohio’s Secular Summit 5.0 with CFI’s own Michael De Dora and Nick Little, and Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio.
- Anthropologist and geneticist Omer Gokcumen comes to CFI–Transnational to discuss modern homo sapiens’ shared genetic history with early human species.
- Center for Inquiry President and CEO Robyn Blumner comes to CFI–Los Angeles to discuss “Atheist Stigma and Science Denial in the United States - and What Can Be Done About It.”
- Gregory Forbes, a professor of biological sciences, discusses Charles Darwin with CFI–Michigan.
- CFI–Austin’s Darwin Day Celebration, with a day full of talks and activities.
- CFI–Michigan celebrates Darwin Day at “Charlie’s Evolution Emporium.”
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 the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, 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. Visit CFI on the web at www.centerforinquiry.net.