Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 84
June 28, 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
Supreme Court Reshapes the Church-State Landscape
American secularism suffered a painful blow on Monday, when the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer that the state of Missouri did not have the right to exclude a church from a state grant program to fund the purchase of recycled tires for resurfacing playgrounds. The Court split 7-2 in favor of the church, with Justices Kagan and Breyer joining the five conservatives.
Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, used particularly strong language to explain the decision, writing, “...the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution ... and cannot stand.”
Justice Sotomayor, who was joined by Justice Ginsburg in the minority, pointed out that the preschool playground was as much a part of the church’s religious mission as any other part of the property, and that this decision gives an unfair advantage to a belief system that happens to have the resources to compete for these kinds of public grants.
But the core message of her dissent was clear. “The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church,” she wrote. “Its decision slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.”
We agree. In our response to the news, CFI Legal Director Nicholas Little said, plainly, “The Supreme Court has detonated a massive breach in the wall of separation between church and state.” He went on to say, “We are deeply concerned about what happens next, as other sectarian organizations find new and novel ways to siphon taxpayer dollars into their churches, temples, and mosques.”
But the drama didn’t end there. The Court also announced it would take up the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a shop owner refused to provide service to a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs. We’ll be participating in a formal capacity with an amicus brief soon, but for now we urged the Court to see reason and remember when religious beliefs could be used to discriminate against many other groups of people. As Nick warned, “This so-called ‘right’ to discriminate based on religion cannot be cabined, and threatens to turn America back to the dark days of legally justifiable segregation.”
Turkey to Prohibit the Teaching of Evolution in Schools
Since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey almost a century ago, secularism has been a foundational component; there is no official state religion, and the Turkish constitution provides for freedom of religion. But the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has carried out an agenda of “Islamisation” and gone to great lengths to silence dissent and control information.
The Erdoğan government took another frightening step away from secularism last week with a move that will have implications for generations. Alpaslan Durmus, head of the curriculum board of Turkey’s Education Ministry, announced that students would no longer be taught the subject of evolution in schools, claiming this fundamental scientific concept to be “beyond [students’] comprehension” and “too controversial.”
In our official response, CFI President and CEO Robyn Blumner described this assertion as “absurd” and a denigration of the intelligence and capabilities of Turkey’s students and teachers. Referencing the Richard Dawkins Foundation’s TIES program (Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science), Robyn said, “We know from our work with middle school science teachers that students pretty easily grasp the basic principles of evolution. Moreover, learning about natural selection—the process that undergirds the diversity of all of life on Earth—fascinates and inspires students. How can the government even consider withholding that from students?”
Our own Richard Dawkins weighed in as well, pulling no punches. “As Turkish scientists will agree, evolution is an established fact, as firmly established as plate tectonic movements or the solar orbits of the planets,” he said. “I’d like to pay the Turkish framers of this ridiculous education policy the compliment of assuming that they are cynical political manipulators. But actually, I fear they are more likely to be just plain stupid.”
It may now be up to the students, teachers, and parents of Turkey to demand educational standards that will not leave a generation of young people behind the rest of the world.
News from the CFI Community
Raheel Raza Speaks Against FGM at UN Human Rights Council
At the UN Human Rights Council’s meeting in Geneva last week, the Center for Inquiry was ably represented by activist Raheel Raza. Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, delivered a powerful statement on the horrific practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), and how this practice is not merely a phenomenon of parts of Africa and the Middle East:
More than half a million women and girls are at risk of undergoing FGM in the U.S. or abroad, or have already undergone the procedure, including 166,173 under the age of 18. It is unacceptable that today in the 21st century women have to undergo such an inhuman and painful procedure, especially if they are too young to protest. … The human rights of those who are unable to protest must be protected by those of us who can.
You can see the video of her address here.
Raza also took part in several meetings and events, noting that religious freedom was a prime topic of discussion, though not everyone agreed about what “religious freedom” means, particularly the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that seek heavy restrictions on blasphemy.
Our thanks to Raheel for raising important issues and representing CFI before the international community.
CFI Poland Promotes Humanist Values in Meetings with EU Officials
Last Monday in Brussels, Andrzej Dominiczak of CFI Poland took part in a high-level meeting with vice president of the European Commission Frans Timmermans and vice president of the European Parliament Mairead McGuinness. Dominiczak was among three other European humanists (from Germany, Denmark, and Italy), and joined representatives of other similar non-governmental organizations.
They had come to discuss the general topic of “The Future of Europe: A Values-Based and Effective Union,” and many specific issues were raised and discussed. Dominiczak spoke about the social and psychological conditions that can foster constructive values and emphasized the role of education and direct communication between the European Union and its citizens.
Most importantly, Dominiczak held direct conversations with both high officials about the possibility for the adoption of a new binding EU directive to prevent and combat violence against women. Both officials agreed on the importance of such a measure and that it would be politically possible, citing the 2011 Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
Dominiczak told us how important this issue is from the Polish point of view, explaining that Poland’s current regime has threatened to revoke the convention. Working with the Women’s Rights Center about three years ago, he conducted a large study showing that the number of women in Poland who die as a result of domestic violence is triple what had been previously believed.
Dominiczak and the EU Parliament’s McGuinness agreed to continue discussions about a directive to address this, and we look forward to hearing about the developments.
CSICon 2017: It’s Coming Right For Us!!! (Plus Two New Videos)
CSICon 2017, the biggest skeptics’ event of the year, is hurtling like an asteroid toward the City of Illusions, Las Vegas, and it’s set to collide for an impact event lasting October 26–29, threatening to eradicate all pseudoscience in its blast radius. Or so it’s been prophesied.
To give you a fresh idea of the brilliant and engaging talks you can expect, CFI’s Reasonable Talk web series has posted two new presentations from CSICon 2016:
- First, “SkepDoc” Harriet Hall clears up the murkiness surrounding the world of “functional medicine,” a practice with little to no evidence of efficacy and no solid definition of what it actually means.
- Then, astronomer and science communicator David Helfand, author of A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age, explains how bad information on the Internet scrambles our thinking and beliefs, turning some of us into “Google-fed zombies.” (Helfand also authored the cover feature for the June/July 2017 issue of Skeptical Inquirer.)
As for CSICon 2017, the lineup of speakers is once again earth-shaking, including such cosmic personalities as the amazing James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, Cara Santa Maria, Michael Mann, Richard Wiseman, Lawrence Krauss, Massimo Polidoro, Carrie Poppy, and once again serving as master of ceremonies, the great George Hrab.
Set your coordinates for the Excalibur Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where you’ll also experience a Tournament of Kings Joust Dinner, a magic show by Banachek, special lunch events with skeptic stars, a Halloween 70’s Disco Party (we’re still debating the wisdom of that one), a Sunday Papers session, and so much more.
Don’t wait for the world to end. Get registered now.
CFI Highlights on the Web
- In a special report, Benjamin Radford looks at the context for the controversy surrounding NBC’s Megyn Kelly and her primetime interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars. “Ideally, the best way to treat these people [like Jones] would be to ignore them,” writes Ben, “but in practice that’s often counterproductive.”
- The Christian Post and Inquisitr both report on Ben Radford’s exploration of the “Blue Whale suicide game” hoax, and the Santa Fe New Mexican looks to Ben for a skeptical perspective on Forrest Fenn and his claims of hidden treasure to be found in New Mexico.
- CFI Research Fellow and former CEO Ronald Lindsay is the guest on the New Books Network podcast, discussing his 2014 book The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do.
- Bertha Vazquez announces three new TIES workshops: First at Birmingham Zoo in Alabama with Kathy Fournier on October 13; at the Illinois Science Teachers Association’s Annual Conference at Northern Illinois University with Kathy von Hoeck on October 28; and at the Mississippi Science Teachers Association Annual Conference in Biloxi on October 30 with Blake Touchet.
- Tara Isabella Burton at Vox cites CFI’s lawsuit in Florida to stop public funds from being used for sectarian purposes in a piece analyzing the implications of the Trinity Lutheran decision. Deseret News also cited our statement in their piece.
- Nishat Amber at Feminism in India looks at the ways organized religion has served to oppress women and begins by citing CFI’s Free Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism.
- From the classic snake oil collection of Joe Nickell, we have Barker’s Nerve and Bone Liniment from 1859, which was purported to have the power to “heal up” wounded horses, among other things.
- Susan Gerbic interviews the folks behind the European Skeptics Podcast for CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
- Philosophy professor Mark Pestana discusses the evolutionary origins of consciousness with CFI Michigan.
- CFI Tampa Bay welcomes a “contrarian point of view” on global warming with a presentation by Howard Gray.
- Human rights activist Jane Roberts (right) discusses religion’s war against reproductive healthcare for CFI Los Angeles.
- The Foundation Beyond Belief’s Noelle George speaks to CFI Austin.
- CFI Michigan’s holds its annual Secular Summer Retreat at the Long Lake Outdoor Center.
- CFI Los Angeles holds a “massive moving sale” where folks can buy books, furniture, magazines, and more for everything-must-go prices.
- CFI member Heather Davis discusses the costs and benefits of healthcare spending in the U.S. with CFI Austin.
- CFI Michigan hosts a presentation on environmental health after the Flint water crisis by Paul Hann (right) executive director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan.
- CFI Austin holds a Secular Summer Splash: “a poolside evening of BBQ, lounging, and of course, great conversation!”
- CFI Indiana hosts a Robert Green Ingersoll Birthday Celebration.
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 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.