Advocacy Update — October/November 2013: ENDA, Vaccinations, and Birth Control at the Supreme Court

December 1, 2013

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 two months (there was no update in October).

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FEDERAL

- On Oct. 24, we joined a coalition of 125 civil rights, religious, and community-based organizations to press the United States Department of Justice to investigate the New York Police Department for spying on Muslims without suspicion of wrongdoing.  

- On Nov. 6, we urged the Senate to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), which would prevent private employers from discriminating against LGBT individuals no matter what state they live in. The measure was approved, 64-32, though it includes some troubling religious exemption language. We will continue to track this measure as it moves to the House.

- On Nov. 7, our legal director, Nicholas Little, attended a daylong conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on the state of religious freedom in the United States. You can watch videos of the entire conference, which was split into three panel discussions, here.

- On Nov. 7, our policy analyst, Ed Beck, attended a Congressional briefing, sponsored by the office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), which featured several speakers critical of vaccinations. A follow-up Congressional hearing, which was scheduled to be held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Dec. 4, has since been canceled. We will continue to track this issue and keep your informed.  

- During the week of Nov. 18-22, we joined several groups in writing a letter to members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, urging them to reject a bill that would direct the Secretary of the Interior to install a prayer inscription or plaque in the area of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Committee approved the measure on a voice vote. However, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) noted our concerns and submitted our letter for inclusion in the official record. We will continue to track this bill and update you if and when it reaches the full Senate floor. 

- On Nov. 27, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments in two cases regarding the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which requires all employers, apart from houses of worship, to provide or arrange coverage for birth control without charging a co-payment. You can read our reaction and analysis here.

STATE

- On Oct. 3, CFI-Michigan issued an action alert urging its members to tell their state representatives to oppose bills that would legalize discrimination by adoption agencies — many funded with taxpayer dollars — based on religious views.

- On Oct. 13,  CFI-OPP Director Michael De Dora participated in an advocacy workshop in Washington, D.C. with Amanda Knief, author of the new book, The Citizen Lobbyist: A How-to Manual for Making Your Voice Heard in Government.

- On Oct. 21, we wrote a letter to several public officials on Long Island urging them to cancel a taxpayer-funded event at the Hauppauge Public Library featuring Adrienne DeSalvo, a self-proclaimed “Spiritual Counselor and Psychic Medium.” 

- On Nov. 3 and 8, Michael De Dora delivered lectures on church-state and science advocacy at events organized by CFI-West and CFI-Portland, respectively. On Nov. 5, he also visited with the University of California-Santa Cruz Secular Student Alliance group to discuss how students can get involved with OPP’s work. 

Note: to schedule Michael for a talk, please contact opp [at] centerforinquiry [dot] net.  

INTERNATIONAL

- On Nov. 25, the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief hosted a discussion with Ira Forman, the U.S. Department of State’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Michael De Dora attended and reports that the dialogue was informative and constructive.  

- 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

- In late October, several news outlets covered our letter protesting a taxpayer-funded psychic event at the Hauppauge Public Library, including NewsdayFIOS 1, and WCBS New York.

- On Nov. 24, Michael De Dora appeared on Ask an Atheist radio program to discuss OPP’s work. You can listen online here.    

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