Advocacy Update — March 2014: School Vouchers, Religious Exemptions, Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

April 1, 2014

Welcome to the Office of Public Policy's monthly Advocacy Update. The Office of Public Policy (OPP) is the Washington, D.C. political arm of the Center for Inquiry (CFI). Our mandate is to advocate for public policy based on reason, science, and secular values. This includes lobbying at all levels of government — Congress, the Administration, and the United Nations — to promote and defend separation of church and state, the role of scientific evidence and secular humanist ethics in policymaking, and basic civil and political rights.

This newsletter will update you on some of our activity over the past month.

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FEDERAL

- Throughout March, CFI Office of Public Policy Director Michael De Dora and representatives of several like-minded organizations lobbied against a bill in the Senate that, as written, would create a broad religious exemption from the health insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act. De Dora and his colleagues met with the offices of several co-sponsors, including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). CFI also issued an action alert urging people to contact their U.S. Senator to oppose this proposal, which has not yet been voted on, but could reach the Senate floor at any moment. You can take action here.

- Throughout March, CFI worked with coalition partners in the National Coalition for Public Education to lobby against a collection of bills in both the Senate and House that would turn nearly all federal funding for public education into school vouchers, sending taxpayer dollars to sectarian institutions that are not subject to state or federal education standards. CFI was involved in NCPE meetings with the offices of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH), Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY), Rep. Larry Buschon (R-IN), Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), and Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE). The bills remain in committee, but you can still press your members of Congress to oppose them here.

- On March 25, the day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the cases Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, CFI joined more than 40 member organizations of the Coalition for Liberty and Justice in releasing a public statement that urged the Supreme Court to reject the corporations' challenges to birth control coverage. Additionally, CFI's President and CEO, Ron Lindsay, was in the court for the oral arguments, and wrote about his reflections here. Lastly, you can learn more about these cases on CFI's Hobby Lobby Resources page.

STATE

- On March 25, CFI's legal department called upon the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office of Vero Beach, Florida to cease its sponsorship of a Christian prayer breakfast, an event the Sheriff’s Office endorsed and provided state-funded printing services at no charge, which clearly violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the religious freedom provisions of the Florida Constitution. 

- On March 26, CFI issued an action alert urging New York State residents to urge their elected officials to oppose a measure that would transfer taxpayer funds to religious schools through a tax scheme. 

- In case you missed it, CFI-Ohio recently issued an action alert opposing Ohio House Bill 376, which uses deliberately vague and broad wording to allow religious institutions and believers to avoid complying with general laws simply by claiming it "burdens" their religion in some way. 

- CFI-Michigan is beginning to make plans for a civic day this summer. We will let you know when details are finalized.

INTERNATIONAL

-  In the lead-up to President Obama's visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday, March 28, the Center for Inquiry was one of several non-governmental organizations to support a letter from 70 members of Congress urging Obama to raise human rights violations during his meeting with Saudi King Abdullah. You can read news coverage of the letter here.

- Between March 3-28, volunteer representatives delivered statements and advocated on CFI's behalf at the 25th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. We will issue a news alert on our work at the session soon. In the meantime, you can read more about our work at the HRC in our most recent news release.

- We have continued to work with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom on behalf of secularists and skeptics who face life-threatening blasphemy and similar charges in their home countries regarding freedom of belief or expression. We will keep you updated if and when anything happens.

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