Advocacy Update — May 2014: Human Rights in the Sudan, Access to Abortion, and Government Prayer

June 2, 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

- On May 14, we issued an action alert urging the defeat of Senate Bill 1670, which would outlaw all abortions in the United States after 20 weeks — with exceptions only for the mother’s life, and officially reported instances of rape and incest.

- On May 16, we joined more than 60 organizations in writing six letters to various members of Congress urging them to oppose any attempts to include abortion restrictions in the Appropriations process. You can view our letters hereherehereherehere, and here

- On May 20, we joined eight leading religious and secularist groups in writing members of the U.S. House of Representatives to reject a problematic bill that would add a prayer plaque to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. The bill has made it out committee and we will be tracking its movement. 

- We continue to lobby 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. CFI has 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.

STATE

- On May 6, we sent a letter to members of the Ohio House Committee on Health and Aging urging them to drop a resolution that would recognize the deeply problematic work of ideologically driven Crisis Pregnancy Centers. The measure was approved and we will be tracking its movement. 

- On May 12, our legal department asked a county supervisor in Roanoke County, Virginia to rescind his proposal to allow only Christian prayers at public board meetings, calling such a policy discriminatory and in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, and warned of legal action if the policy is enacted.

INTERNATIONAL

- On May 15, we wrote 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 has been sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging for marrying a Christian man. Meriam was eight months pregnant at the time of her sentencing, and now is caring for her two young children while imprisoned.

- On May 15, CFI’s representative to the United Nations attended an event highlghting the bravery of people who have acted on behalf of freedom of religion or relief. The event—which featured speakers such as H.E. Mr. Ferit Hoxha, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Albania to the United Nations—was co-sponsored by the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief, of which CFI is a member organization. You can watch video of the event here, and read news coverage here

- On May 30, we issued an action alert urging the passage of House Resolution, which urges Sudan to immediately release Meriam and drop all charges against her.

- 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 May 16, Fox News cited our reaction in its report on Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman sentenced to death for apostasy. 

- On May 21, the Washington Post featured an article on efforts to fight a bill that would add a prayer plaque to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., including quotes from CFI Office of Public Policy Director Michael De Dora.

- Michael De Dora is also featured in Catholics for Choice’s magazine Conscience (page 15 in this PDF), which highlights his participation in the group’s recent symposium on religious liberty. The article quotes Michael talking about the misuse of religion as an excuse to avoid following the law: “Whether it is seeking an exemption from a law, such as with the contraception mandate, or a proactive law like an anti-blasphemy law, the result of both is the same. Demanding a religious exemption from following a generally applicable law can be as harmful as actively seeking to dictate the laws via religious belief.”

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