Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 91
October 18, 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 Top Stories
Jason Lemieux Joins CFI as Director of Government Relations
The principles for which the Center for Inquiry stands—reason, science, humanist values, and the freedom of inquiry—are vital for a free and thriving society. It seems obvious to us that these values should be guiding leaders and officials at all levels of government in the formulation of public policy, but much too often it seems that many of them are averse to reality.
It’s serious business. On a wide range of important issues such as climate change, women’s autonomy, science education, LGTBQ rights, church-state separation, alternative medicine, and even so-called “fake news,” policy must be based on evidence and facts, not dogma and magical thinking.
Luckily, last month CFI welcomed a new leader to represent the reality-based community and reason-based policy, our new Director of Government Affairs, Jason Lemieux.
Jason’s background is one in which critical thinking fueled dedicated advocacy and problem solving, as the leader of a U.S. Marines intelligence team in Iraq, as a staffer for Members of the U.S. House and Senate, and as an advocate for the interests of veterans. He’ll be bringing that experience and those skills to fight for reason and science on Capitol Hill and at the grassroots level.
“We humans are connected to each other and to the cosmos by our relationship to the evidence revealed by a scientific worldview,” said Jason in our official announcement. “To be truly representative, governments must be guided by this evidence, and I look forward to advancing CFI’s work at this critical moment in history.” We’re looking forward to it, too. Welcome, Jason!
Time is Running Out to See Richard Dawkins This Fall!
Time is running out for you to see and hear Richard Dawkins this fall, along with some very special guests, for unscripted conversations live on stage for “An Evening with Richard Dawkins.”
October 29: Hosted by CFI Los Angeles at the Alex Theatre, Richard will be joined on stage by renowned author Michael Lewis, whose highly acclaimed books include Moneyball, Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, Flash Boys, Boomerang, Losers, and many others, spanning the worlds of Wall Street, professional baseball, and presidential campaigns. You surely will not want to miss this chance to see the sparks and ideas fly between these two sharp, quick-witted, brilliant fellows. Get your tickets before they’re all gone!
November 4: Richard comes to the Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut, for a conversation with the New York Times’s science journalist Carl Zimmer, whose upcoming book is a fresh new perspective on the history and science of heredity, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: What Heredity Is, Is Not, and May Become. Dawkins and Zimmer are a perfect pairing, so buy your tickets now.
November 7: Richard hosts a special V.I.P. reception at the 2017 Carl Sagan Fest at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. These tickets are going particularly fast.
An Avalanche of Issues: Religious Exemptions, Discrimination, and More
In the four weeks since the last edition of Cause & Effect, there has been a great deal of activity on many of the issues we care about. At both the national and the local levels, CFI has been tracking developments and working toward solutions on several cases.
Hobbling Health Care:
The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) was already very generous with religiously based exceptions to the Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate, and CFI worked to make sure that simply having a religious belief does not exempt one from the law, though the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case made those loopholes rather vast.
Last week, those loopholes became chasms as Trump’s Health and Human Services department issued new rules stating that any employer, regardless of the nature of their business, can claim an exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious or even “moral” reasons.
“Giving employers the ability to dictate [health] benefits on religious grounds draws employees into their employer’s religion as a condition of employment,” said CFI President and CEO Robyn Blumner in our official statement. “This is bad for women and a pluralistic society.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo last week granting sweeping exemptions to antidiscrimination laws for religious organizations, even if those organizations receive federal tax dollars. This directive from the Department of Justice aims to broaden the definition of religious freedom from the right to belief and worship to a right to refuse compliance with laws that apply to everyone else.
By making a “religious freedom” claim, government officials can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, business owners can refuse to provide services to any group they feel does not comport with their faith, and so on, no matter whether taxpayer funds are involved. Robyn accurately described this as “a recipe for social discord,” setting up people of differing beliefs against each other.
Right alongside prohibitions against blasphemy are bans on protests of national symbols, and we’re seeing that crop up in two Louisiana high schools, where students are being subjected to punishment for refusing to partake in displays of patriotism. At Bossier Parish Schools, students are being informed that they will be disciplined if they protest during the National Anthem at school football games.
CFI joined a coalition of groups demanding that this rule be rescinded, as it is a clear violation of the students’ First Amendment rights, spelled out by the Supreme Court case of West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, which held that students are under no obligation to take part in patriotic displays. “Students don’t shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “Nor do they abandon those rights by putting on a football helmet.”
Finally, we have a small but important victory for church-state separation. A teacher at Westmar Middle School in Allegany County, Maryland, had displayed two large Christian crosses at the entrance to her classroom, a blatant act of proselytization by a government employee in a position of authority over children. After being informed of the crosses, CFI reached out to the Allegany County Board of Education, asking them to see to it that the crosses came down. They did so, and now the crosses are gone.
Robyn said in our press statement, “CFI will continue to act as a watchdog to ensure our public schools serve their true purpose, whether that means challenging sectarian religious displays like these crosses, or defending the teaching of scientific fact such as evolution in the face of religious dogma.”
News from the CFI Community
Openly Secular Day: It’s Time to Be Counted!
Openly Secular Day is this Friday, October 20! It’s a call to action for those with a secular identity to encourage openness and dialogue about one’s identity and beliefs.
Here are a couple of great ways for you to get involved this year:
Tell Your Lawmakers That You Are Openly Secular
This is a great opportunity to let your elected representatives know that you are a Secular Values Voter who believes in freedom, inclusion, equality, and knowledge, and who asks that all Americans be represented equally regardless of their faith or lack thereof. To have an impact, we need as many of our supporters as possible to contact their representatives. Look for a new Action Alert this week asking you to contact your representatives. But if you want to make sure you don’t miss this as well as future important Action Alerts, you should definitely subscribe to them via text message.
These exclusive alerts, delivered straight to your phone, are a convenient, easy, and effective way to stay informed and engaged. You can subscribe by texting the word “secular” to 52886.
Put Your Secular Values Into Action
The Center for Inquiry has been a proud member of the interfaith Know Your Neighbor coalition since it launched in 2015 at the White House, and this year we’re using Openly Secular Day as an opportunity to help others understand what secular humanists and other secular people believe through community education and dialogue. This Openly Secular Day, we encourage you to take part in an interfaith activity so you can be a part of helping to foster a better understanding of your secular identity—and to better understand the religious identity of others.
To learn more about Openly Secular Day and see other ways you can get involved, check out the Openly Secular Day page.
Point of Inquiry is Not Saying it’s Aliens
Where are the aliens? Why won’t they talk to us? Would we even know what they were if we found them? Would they be a guest on Point of Inquiry?
The prospect of discovering life on another world is, depending on your perspective, either extremely exciting or utterly terrifying, particularly if it’s intelligent life. But for all of our species’ attempts to scan the universe with our best and most far-reaching technology, we have yet to detect a definitive sign that there is anyone out there. If any extraterrestrials have become aware of us through our own communications, both intentional and not, they haven’t confirmed receipt.
With so much effort being directed at questions of alien intelligence, sending messages across the galaxy, and what we’ll do if we ever make first contact, it can be a little frustrating that we haven’t heard or seen anything yet. To better understand what is and is not happening, the latest episode of Point of Inquiry, CFI’s flagship podcast, features Scientific American journalist Lee Billings. Author of the 2013 book Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars, Billings talks to host Paul Fidalgo about this noble and quixotic quest to connect with our interstellar neighbors.
Also be sure to check out the previous episode, also on the theme of space exploration, with Loren Grush of The Verge.
CSICon 2017: It’s the Fiiiiinal Count-Dowwwwwn!!!
This is it! CSICon Las Vegas 2017, the biggest and most exciting skeptics’ event of the year, is just days away! If you haven’t registered and arranged your travel, it’s go time! It all happens Thursday, October 26 to Sunday, October 29 in the city of illusions itself, with an amazing lineup of speakers and events that will open your mind and sharpen your wits.
And what kind of CSICon promo would this be without speaker interviews by Susan Gerbic? Here’s three fresh new conversations with great skeptical minds:
- How many Novellas can you fit into a skeptics’ conference? Well, at least three. Bob Novella, cofounder of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast (which will record an episode before a live CSICon audience), talks to Susan about his favorite interview subjects, living in a world of infinite iPhones, and something about Star Trek zombies.
- Experimental psychologist Sheldon W. Helms talks about conferences past, including SkeptiCals, Amaz!ng Meetings, and of course CSICons. He also touches on the subject of his presentation, the insidious phenomenon of “gay conversion” therapy, as well as why people fall for psychics.
- Finally, we have New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova, who will receive the Balles Prize in Critical Thinking at the conference this year for her book The Confidence Game. She discusses the topic of her next book, which is the game of poker, and how it relates to her previous work on biases, con artistry, and mindfulness.
Also in person at CSICon will be luminaries such as James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Cara Santa Maria, Michael Mann, Richard Saunders, Eugenie Scott, many more. It all happens at the Excalibur Hotel and Casino, where there will also be spectacular entertainment events, magic shows, and even a Halloween disco party.
(Oh, and the band Europe will not be performing at CSICon, as far as we know.)
CFI Branches Give and Receive Honors for Great Humanist Work
For the dedicated people of CFI Michigan, volunteer service is a priority, an example of humanists living out their values in the real world. In August, CFI Michigan teamed up with the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan for the Get the Lead Out Initiative, canvassing homes in sections of Grand Rapids where lead contamination is a threat to residents. Volunteers received some training and then went door to door to educate residents about the lead in paint dust, which is particularly dangerous to kids and infants and to let them know what federal funds are available to have the lead safely removed from their homes. For this “secular service” work, the Foundation Beyond Belief named CFI Michigan its August Team of the Month.
Plus, CFI Michigan got the attention of ABC affiliate WZZM 13 last week for their National Coming Out Day event, with a screening of the documentary The Sunday Sessions and a panel discussion with Larry DeShane of the Grand Rapids Pride Center, psychologist Matthew Clark, a specialist in helping LGBTQ kids coming from Christian families, and of course CFI Michigan Program Director Jennifer Beahan.
This weekend, CFI Michigan will celebrate its 20th anniversary with actress and playwright Julia Sweeney!
Last month, CFI Northeast Ohio held its biennial Humanism Awards Banquet, where the award for 2017 was given to native Ohioan Frank Zindler for his lifetime of advocacy for secular, atheist, and humanist cause. Zindler has long been an outspoken nontheist, even back when very few dared to be, and since the 1970s he has also been active in supporting social causes such as women’s reproductive rights. In addition to hearing Zindler’s reflections on his life as a secular activist, attendees were treated to a recording of a piece of classical music that he composed for piano and cello.
The featured guest speaker for the banquet was Ali Rizvi, author of the much talked-about book The Atheist Muslim, which recently won the Forkosch Award from CFI’s Council for Secular Humanism. In Rizvi’s presentation, “The Journey of an Ex-Muslim Atheist,” he described the unique set of problems that Ex-Muslim nonbelievers face, both in the west and in countries far more hostile to freethought.
Congratulations on a great event, CFI Northeast Ohio!
CFI Highlights on the Web
CFI Board Chair Eddie Tabash, a veteran attorney and world-class debater, took the stage at Calvary Chapel in Anaheim, California, last month, going into the lion’s den to debate Calvary Chapel University theology professor Nick Keehus over the existence of God. And now, the full debate is available to view online. (You will not be surprised to know that the consensus is that Eddie won handily, but do see for yourself.)
Nick Little, CFI’s Legal Director, talks to Ashley Feinberg at Wired in an important exposé of President Trump’s nominee for the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, Jon Adler, and his record of pushing the Church of Scientology’s pseudoscientific detox treatments.
Richard Dawkins has a new video up at Big Think, discussing the possible evolutionary roots of religious belief, explaining why a human’s tendency to believe in the supernatural may not be too different from a moth’s inclination to flutter its way into a blazing fire.
Despite their expressions of awe, TV Bigfoot hunters don’t actually have anything to get excited about when they see “glowing eyes” they assume to be from the Sasquatch, of course. Joe Nickell explains how they’ve mistaken many animals’ eyeshine for “red glowing,” and the basic biological facts behind it.
At CSICOP.org, Stuart Vyse looks at the casual armchair diagnoses of the man who shot and killed dozens of people from a hotel window this month, and observes, “More interesting than the shooter’s motive is our need to find a motive for him.” Also, Stuart looks at the superstitions about the number 13, and notes that the location of CSICon 2017, the Excalibur, does indeed boast a 13th floor.
Ben Radford recounts an especially blatant attempt to use the scary clown trope to conceal a murder in 1990, a crime that had not resulted in an arrest until just last month. Plus, Ben picks apart the marketing claims of what is clearly a pseudoscience book about “overturning Darwin” on evolution, or as Ben puts it, “creationist bullshit.” His words!
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
- October 26–29: CSICon 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
- October 29: An Evening with Richard Dawkins, with special guest Michael Lewis, at the Alex Theatre.
- November 4: An Evening with Richard Dawkins in Hartford, Connecticut.
- November 7: Richard Dawkins hosts a reception for the 2017 Sagan Fest in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
- November 12: A multimedia presentation at Austin History Center on “The New Tree of Life.”
- November 27: Cristine Legare of UT Austin presents her talk, “Evolution & Ontogeny of Cultural Learning.”
- December 10: UT Austin psychology professor Chris Robison gives a presentation on the brain’s structures and functions.
- November 12: A celebration of the birthday of Carl Sagan.
CFI Los Angeles
- November 3: European Parliament member Teresa Giménez Barbat will discuss her efforts to combat pseudoscience and promote policy based on critical thinking.
- October 21: 20th Anniversary Celebration with Julia Sweeney.
- October 20: A celebration of Openly Secular Day with a concert by Shelley Segal.
CFI Tampa Bay
- October 20–22: 2017 FREEFLO conference, featuring speakers from and associated with CFI.
CFI Western New York
- October 20: Dave Hahn, a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Buffalo, delivers a presentation on conspiracy theories, how to define them, and the harms they can cause.
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.