CFI Advocacy Update — March 2015

April 1, 2015

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 policies 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 

- With the 114th Congress taking office, we have updated our Bills We're Tracking page with new bills being proposed in the first weeks of the session. In case you think we've missed something, please email us at opp@centerforinquiry.net! 

- On March 4, we were among 55 organizations to write a letter to President Barack Obama to press him to correct the unduly restrictive implementation of the Helms Amendment by issuing guidance to USAID and the State Department to support safe abortion services in the cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, and to do so without concessions.

- On March 16, we were among 58 organizations to write letters to members in the U.S. Senate and House of Represenatives to urge them to oppose any effort in Congress that would prevent two non-discrimination bills recently passed by the District of Columbia Council from taking effect. 

- Over the past several months, we have worked with allied organizations in the National Coalition for Public Education to oppose attempts by the new Congress to funnel billions in taxpayer funding from public to private and religious schools. Most recently, on March 26, we wrote a letter members in the Senate to express our strong opposition to any amendments to the Fiscal 2016 Senate Budget Resolution (S. Con Res. 11) that would support the creation of a private school voucher or tuition tax credit program.

- On March 26, we issued an action alert urging our members to tell their U.S. Representative to reject a proposal by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), that would effectively force cadets and servicemembers to swear an oath to God whether they believe in one or not.

STATE

- On March 9, we issued an action alert urging our members in Indiana to tell their state senator to reject the proposed Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which place religious beliefs and practices above the law. The bill would eventually pass and be signed into law. 

- On March 16 and 25, we issued action alerts urging our members in Michigan to tell their state representative and state senator, respectively, to reject a set of bills that would deny thousands of Michigan’s most vulnerable children homes by legalizing discrimination by adoption agencies — many funded with taxpayer dollars — based on religious dogma. The bills are currently under consideration in the Senate.

- On March 24, CFI-Michigan Assistant Director attended a meeting of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners and testified against the placing of a religious sign in a public park in the country. 

- Our community in Northeast Ohio has partnered with Ohio State Senator Michael J. Skindell to introduce a bill that will authorize secular celebrants to solemnize marriages in Ohio. If you live in Ohio, you can tell your senator to co-sponsor or support this bill here.

INTERNATIONAL

- In March, CFI's director of public policy, Michael De Dora, attended the 28th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, held in Geneva, Switzerland March 2-27. De Dora delivered two oral statements, on freedom of expression on the Internet, and violations of the rights to freedom of religion, belief, and expression Saudi Arabia. He also attended meetings and lobbied on two resolutions related to freedom of religion, belief, and expression, efforts which you can read about here.

- On March 4, sixty-seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to the new Saudi Arabian King Salman calling for the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience, including prominent dissidents Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair, and human rights reforms within the country. The Center for Inquiry was among 17 human rights groups to endorse the letter, which was organized and sent by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and James McGovern (D-MA).

- On March 26, Michael De Dora was among 39 leading human rights advocates to sign a letter urging the Inter-Parliamentary Union at its 132nd Assembly to reject a resolution by Jordan calling for "respect for religions and religious symbols."

- On March 30, we issued a statement regarding the murder of Bangladeshi atheist blogger Washiqur Raham. This attack follows the February 26 murder of Dr. Avijit Roy, founder of the website Mukto-mona, an online network of freethinkers of mainly Bengali and South Asian descent, as well as the author of several books, and a contributor to our own magazine Free Inquiry and our Free Thinking blog. 

- 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.

MEDIA

- On March 2, Michael De Dora was quoted in CNN.com's feature article on the murder of Avijit Roy.

- On March 24, CFI-Michigan Assistant Director Jennifer Beahan as quoted on MLive.com's story on the Ottawa County sign debate. 

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