Advocacy Update—April 2013: Birth Control, Civil Liberties, and Freedom of Expression

May 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 ethics in policymaking, and basic civil and human rights.

This newsletter will update you on some of our recent activity. We hope you enjoy.

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FEDERAL 

- On April 8, CFI submitted formal comments urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to enact a final rule that requires all employers, apart from houses of worship, to provide or else arrange coverage for birth control without charging a co-payment. You can read our nine-page letter here, and some news coverage of our comments here.

- On April 11, CFI wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook regarding Bangladesh’s recent crackdown on freedom of expression, specifically its persecution of atheist bloggers arrested under the current blasphemy law. We urged them to raise public awareness of the situation and to pressure the Bangladeshi government to honor its obligations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right, which guarantees every individual the rights to freedom of belief, religion, and expression. You can read our letter and join us in writing the State Department here

 - On April 19, CFI submitted formal comments to the United States Commission for Civil Rights (USCCR) regarding the Commission’s recent briefing on “reconciling non-discrimination principles with civil liberties.” Our comments took the form of an amicus brief we submitted in the United States Supreme Court case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. You can read that brief here.

STATE

- CFI-Indiana Executive Director Reba Boyd Wooden worked with local members to fight a bill that would expand the state’s already problematic school voucher program. You can read more about the bill and CFI’s position here.

- CFI-Michigan issued an action alert opposing a measure in the statehouse that would broaden the state’s religious conscience protections to allow employers to deny coverage for any type of care they object to, including birth control. If you are a Michigan resident, you can contact your state senator here

INTERNATIONAL

- In response to Bangladesh’s crackdown on freedom of expression, an international coalition of atheist and humanist organizations — led by CFI and our partners the International Humanist and Ethical Union and CFI-Canada — has spent the past several weeks organizing protests in Washington, D.C., London, Canada, and Bangladesh, to be held May 2. You can find information on the protests here.

- On April 22, CFI’s representative to the United Nations, Michael De Dora, met with a representative from Canada’s permanent mission to the UN in New York City to discuss developments regarding freedom of belief and expression at the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council, which took place in March. The meeting was positive 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.