CFI Advocacy Update — June 2014

July 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 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

- On June 2, we launched a new campaign called Keep Health Care Safe and Secular, which is focused on responding to religious and pseudoscientific attacks on science-based health care. Learn more about the campaign at SafeandSecular.org

- On June 11, we were among 90 organizations to sign a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder calling for the end to a legal loophole that allows faith-based groups to accept taxpayer funding to provide social services, yet still discriminate on religious grounds when hiring staff. 

- On June 23, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would add a prayer plaque to the National World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. The bill unanimously passed the Senate on June 5. CFI had joined eight leading religious and secularist groups in writing members of both the House and Senate to reject this bill. If your Representative is one of the 12 who voted "no" on this measure, we urge you to contact their office and say "thank you."

- On June 23, we joined dozens of groups in writing to the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government to voice opposition to funding for the District of Columbia private school voucher program in the FY2015 Financial Services Appropriations bill.

- On June 24, CFI's Legal Department filed a brief arguing that the Federal Court of Appeals should uphold a ruling that the Parsonage Exemption is unconstitutional and violates the Establishment Clause.  

- On June 25, in an effort led by CFI, 10 religious and secularist human rights organizations and leaders wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to request that the State Department take an active role in securing the immediate and unconditional release of two detained human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, Waleed Abu al-Khair and Raif Badawi.

STATE

- On June 9, we issued an action alert urging Ohio residents to tell their state representative to oppose a bill that would ban public and private health plans across the state from providing insurance coverage for abortion. 

- On June 19, we issued an action alert urging District of Columbia residents to tell their Councilmembers to support the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014, which would make it illegal for employers in D.C. to fire or otherwise discriminate against their employees over reproductive health care decisions, such as using birth control or in vitro fertilization.  

INTERNATIONAL

- On June 10, a coalition of secularist organizations launched a campaign, #TwitterTheocracy, urging Pakistan to end its censorship of social media, and encouraging Twitter to reject censorship requests from Pakistan. As part of the campaign, CFI's Michael De Dora wrote a letter to Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Masood Khan, which was signed by 14 organizations. 

- On June 16, CFI's director of public policy and main representative to the United Nations, Michael De Dora, was elected President of the United Nations NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief. You can learn more about the Committee here

- On June 23, at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Saudi Arabia tried three times to stop CFI from delivering a statement, criticizing the country for its human rights violations. You can read more about this episode here, and watch video here. We will post all of our statements from this session of the HRC in the coming weeks. 

-  Last month, we wrote a letter to Sudan's UN ambassador, H.E. Hassan Hamid Hassan, to demand the immediate release of Meriam Yeyha Ibrahim Ishag, a 27-year-old Christian woman who was sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging for marrying a Christian man. Meriam was released on June 23, but was quickly re-arrested. We continue to work for her freedom in concert with various other organizations, including co-sponsoring two protests in D.C.

- 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 June 5, ThinkProgress wrote an article on CFI's new campaign, Keep Health Care Safe and Secular. The campaign was also covered by Public Health Watch, which called it "a much needed counterforce to anti-choice organizations."

- On June 6, Religion News Service reported on the Senate's passage of a bill that would add a prayer plaque to the National World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., including quotes from CFI's Michael De Dora.

- On June 13, Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches discussed the coalition letter (mentioned above) to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder calling for the end to a legal loophole that allows faith-based groups to accept taxpayer funding to provide social services, yet still discriminate on religious grounds when hiring staff. 

- On June 17, CFI's Michael De Dora contributed to a collection of suggested books for atheists put together by Chris Stedman. 

- On June 24, the website Middle East Eye covered Saudi Arabia's efforts to try to silence CFI at the UN Human Rights Council, including quotes from CFI's Michael De Dora.

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