Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 9
June 27, 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
Saudi Arabia Tries to Silence CFI at UN Human Rights Council
It seems that we have touched a nerve: As one of our UN representatives to the Human Rights Council, Josephine Macintosh, tried to deliver a statement about Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on human rights, including the imprisonment of dissidents Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair, the Saudi representative on three occasions attempted to silence her, demanding that the council president shut down discussion. Macintosh persisted and was supported by the representatives from the U.S., Canada, Ireland, and France.
As our main UN representative, Michael De Dora, told news outlet Middle East Eye, “It doesn’t look good for Saudi Arabia. By trying to silence us, and looking a bit desperate in doing so, they have actually caused more attention to be given to the statement we were delivering.” CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo has a full write-up of the event itself and the surrounding context at Friendly Atheist, and you can watch the whole episode as it transpired in this video.
Atheist Invocation Coming to Greece, NY July 15
The town of Greece, NY—not too far from CFI’s headquarters in Amherst—was at the center of the recent Supreme Court case of Greece v. Galloway, where the court ruled in favor of allowing sectarian prayers at public meetings such as legislative sessions and city council meetings. The lesson for the victors here may be “be careful what you wish for,” for on July 15, atheist Dan Courtney will deliver the invocation at a meeting of the Town Board of Greece. CFI will be there, with our president and CEO Ron Lindsay speaking at the press conference immediately following the invocation. The Associated Press picked up on the story, and Religion News Service’s Kimberly Winston interviewed Dan.
Calling all New Yorkers: Join us at the press conference! Let us know you’re coming by signing up at the Facebook event page.
CFI Files Amicus Brief against “Parsonage Exemption”
We think that using taxpayer money to subsidize houses for clergy is an unconstitutional use of public funds. That’s why CFI has submitted an amicus brief in the case the Freedom from Religion Foundation is waging against the tax code’s “Parsonage Exemption,” in which members of the clergy, and only members of the clergy, can receive a cash allowance designated for housing free of taxes, and, if they use this cash to pay a mortgage, they can still claim a mortgage tax deduction. This means that not only do small churches get to provide their pastors with untaxed homes, but super-rich megachurches can supply their employees with lavish palaces, all without paying a cent in taxes. Check out our full explanation of why we think this is wrong.
Get Away from It All with a Secular Summer Retreat in Michigan
CFI–Michigan has a great way to blow off some steam this summer, and you don’t have to be from Michigan to take part! Enjoy fun activities, great food, and the great outdoors with a lot of great people with the CFI–Michigan Secular Summer Retreat, July 11–13! A ton of fun activities will include games like capture the flag, bonfires by the lake, a Giant Slip-n-Slide, hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, and lots more, all at the beautiful Long Lake Outdoor Center near Hastings. Registration ends July 1, so sign up now!
News from HQ
SAVE THE DATE for CFI’s 2015 National Conference!
Mark June 11–14, 2015, on your calendars, because that’s when it’s time to come home. Join us in Amherst, NY, next summer for our biggest conference of the year, a reunion of skeptics, seculars, humanists, and atheists, all coming together where it all began—at the headquarters of the CFI family of organizations, where Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer were launched thirty-five and (almost) forty years ago. Stay tuned for more details.
Welcome Stef McGraw to the Outreach Team!
We have a new Campus and Community Organizer on staff, and she’s no stranger to CFI. Stef McGraw was one of CFI’s outreach interns in 2012 and has stayed connected through her truly remarkable leadership at the CFI On Campus affiliate group, the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers (UNIFI). We’re excited to welcome her back as a full member of the CFI outreach team. With UNIFI, she led the organizing of Darwin Week, and she helped to increase the participation of women in the organization. Stef has also advocated for LGBT rights through the organization One Iowa, and served as the Speaker of the Senate for the Northern Iowa Student Government. She’s going to make a great addition to the CFI team. Welcome back, Stef!
Skeptical Inquirer on the Tension Between Science and Religion
One of the big questions that skeptics and humanists alike grapple with is whether science and religion can really coexist, as well as whether they should. The latest edition of Skeptical Inquirer tackles this issue from all angles, with an analysis from Scott O. Lilienfeld and Rachel Ammirati on whether religion makes us better people (now available on the web!), Harriet Hall’s warning about the deadly consequences of faith-healing for children, Ryan Shaffer’s report on the crisis of witch hunting in India, and much more. The July/August issue is on newsstands and in app stores now!
Partisan Politics and Paleofantasies on Point of Inquiry
On Point of Inquiry, Josh Zepps scores an interview with veteran political analyst and reporter Howard Fineman, now at Huffington Post and formerly of Newsweek (also perhaps the most frequent guest on MSNBC’s Hardball). Beginning with the unexpected primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his district primary by David Brat, Fineman explores the waning, yet potent, influence of religious conservatism on American politics.
Lindsay Beyerstein welcomes Marlene Zuk, author of Paleofantasies: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live, to dispel some of the myths around the “Paleo” craze and to find out whether our tree-dwelling ancestors are really a good model for modern humans.
A Summer of Mind-Expanding Opportunities
The 2014 Leadership Conference (with a fresh new website) will be held July 24–27 at CFI headquarters in Amherst, NY, with some of the best leadership and activism training available in the freethought movement. Student and community activists from across the continent will gather for four days filled with workshops, networking, educational presentations, entertainment, and more. So sign up now!
Camp Inquiry 2014 takes place August 3–9 with the theme “CI is DIY”! Held in Holland, NY, Camp Inquiry gives curious kids hands-on learning experiences and guidance from some of today’s brightest minds, helping them learn the skills they’ll need to apply creativity and critical thinking to the world they’ll one day be leading. Find out more at CampInquiry.org.
Grownups get to sharpen their wits with expert workshops at the 2014 Skeptic’s Toolbox, August 7–10 in Eugene, Oregon. This year’s Toolbox will focus on using model cases to better deal with dubious claims, and it’ll do that with hands-on training alongside experts like Ray Hyman, James Alcock, Harriet Hall, Lindsay Beyerstein, and Loren Pankratz. Register now and reserve your spot in the toolbox!
CFI Community News
CFI-DC hosted Linda LaScola, co-founder of the Clergy Project, who brought along with her project alumnus Jerry DeWitt, a former Pentecostal preacher who now leads the “atheist church” Community Mission Chapel in Lake Charles, Louisiana. LaScola and DeWitt reenacted their first interviews for the initial studies that led to the Clergy Project, and in a recap on her blog she writes, “It was especially interesting for me to see how much of what Jerry talked about in the interviews has since come to pass. … Jerry’s honesty actually improved after coming out. Like so many of the pastors I’ve spoken with, he hated being disingenuous about his religious beliefs and is incredibly relieved to be out of that situation.”
CFI–Michigan hosted a lecture in honor of Pride Month with leading transgender spokesperson Julie Nemecek on “The Rapid Rise of Transgender Awareness in Society (And What That Means).” Nemecek was an associate professor at Spring Arbor College for thirteen years before being fired for expressing her gender identity and becoming public about her gender transition. Nemecek explored the rapid increase in awareness of transgender issues in society over the past decade, and how this impacts our ability to understand and accept the struggles that these individuals go through. She shared her experience about the difficulties of transitioning as a transgender individual and the struggles that she and her wife faced as they worked through that process publicly and privately. News of the event was reported by Michigan’s MLive.com.
Skeptical activist Bob Blaskiewicz, who wrote a cover story for Skeptical Inquirer about activist efforts to shine a critical light on Stanislaw Burzynski’s clinic and his claims about cancer cures for his patients, drew a nearly full house of 75 in Hollywood with CFI–Los Angeles, and more for the Costa Mesa talk. Blaskiewicz methodically exposed the lack of science used by the doctor and the current efforts by skeptics to expose Burzynski’s unproven therapies. Much to our dismay, it was revealed this week that the FDA had given Burzynski the green light to continue his trials, and you can count on CFI to have something to say about that soon.
CFI in the Media
● Ron Lindsay writes at Huffington Post on the explosion of violence in Iraq and how it exposes religion’s role at the root of the crisis: “All holy texts, and the doctrines derived from such texts, are infinitely malleable. Which is another way of saying that, in themselves, they are useless as ethical guides.”
● Schadenfreude rippled through the skeptic community as Dr. Mehmet Oz was called to answer to a U.S. Senate committee for his claims about “miracle” weight loss pills and other snake oil before a relentless Sen. Claire McCaskill. CFI’s Paul Fidalgo told The Hill, “Too often celebrity gurus lure consumers into wasting their money and pinning their hopes on pseudoscientific concoctions that are at best useless, and at worst dangerous.” Sen. McCaskill had our thanks.
● Sikivu Hutchinson in the Washington Post raises the alarm of the secular movement’s failure to address the concerns of racial minorities but highlights the good work CFI’s African Americans for Humanism and CFI–Los Angeles.
● Chris Stedman asks prominent atheists to recommend must-read books at Religion News Service, and CFI’s Michael De Dora chooses Freethinkers by Susan Jacoby, saying, “I submit that it should be required reading for all Americans.”
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● In the aftermath of the #TwitterTheocracy campaign to address the censorship of tweets deemed blasphemous by Pakistan, Paul Fidalgo explains why CFI chose Pakistan as its target as opposed to Twitter itself, which reversed its position after the campaign.
● Ben Radford explores what factors make someone a conspiracy theorist, generously writing, “The conspiracy theory is at its heart a profoundly populist notion. It’s the common man demanding a peek behind the curtains of power—power in the form of information.”
● CFI’s director of libraries Tim Binga highlights a first edition of Ethan Allen’s Reason: The Only Oracle of Man, a volume that is at the same time Christian, deist, and freethinking.
● Animal rights advocates at PETA lost points with the skeptic community when it trumpeted the false notion that dairy consumption has an impact on autism. At Skeptical Inquirer Carrie Poppy takes them to task, comparing them to anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy.
● Joe Nickell shows off another part of his old-school snake oil collection, a consumption cure. I mean remedy. Oh wait cure, but not for consumption. Don’t worry, Joe explains it all.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
• Screening of the documentary Particle Fever about the scientists hunting the Higgs boson, at CFI–Los Angeles.
• Greta Christina joins CFI–DC for a special fundraising event, discussing her book Coming Out Atheist.
• International humanist activist Leo Igwe will speak to CFI–Indiana.
• CFI–Western New York will host an in-person CFI Institute Seminar: “Continental Humanism: An Introduction – Existentialism, Phenomenology, and Humanism in the 20th Century.”
• Wesley M. Johnson gives a presentation on “Science, Philosophy and Three ‘isms’ (Atheism, Agnosticism, Humanism)” for CFI–Tampa
• CFI–Orange County hosts author Jennifer Ouellette for a presentation on “the science of self.”
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 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 www.centerforinquiry.net.