Advocacy Update—June 2013: School Vouchers, Climate Change, and International Religious Freedom

July 2, 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 recent activity.

We hope you enjoy.

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FEDERAL

- Throughout the month, we worked with dozens of organizations to oppose any amendments to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the Senate and House that would create a federal school voucher program. Such a program would use taxpayer dollars intended for the public school system to fund private and religious schools. Fortunately, the bills escaped markup in their respective chambers without a voucher amendment.

- On June 13, OPP Director Michael De Dora joined the representatives of several secularist groups for an introductory meeting with Melissa Rogers, the new director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. 

- On June 20, we issued an action alert in opposition to proposals in Congress to create a nationwide ban on abortions after 20 weeks, and urged members to contact their U.S. representatives and senators to reject any such measure.

- On June 25, we released a statement from scientists and policy experts expressing cautious optimism about measures to combat climate change announced by President Obama in his address at Georgetown University. 

- On June 26, we heralded the Supreme Court’s decisions to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and effectively nullify California’s Proposition 8 as historic and tremendous advances in civil equality that honor the just, secular character of the U.S. Constitution. 

STATE

- In Michigan, we continued to oppose 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

- In Ohio, some of our local members urged state lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich not to pass into law a budget bill that restricts access to reproductive health services. 

INTERNATIONAL

- On June 17, OPP Director Michael De Dora attended a meeting with Dr. Andrew P.W. Bennett, the Ambassador for Canada’s new Office of Religious Freedom. During this meeting, Dr. Bennett made it clear that this office is dedicated to defending and protecting the rights to freedom of belief and expression for all persons who face persecution, including the nonreligious. 

- On June 26, OPP Director Michael De Dora met with the Moroccan ambassador to the United States, Rachad Bouhlal, to discuss freedom of belief and expression. This meeting was off the record, but we can report that it was constructive.

- On June 27, we attended the International Religious Freedom Roundtable’s annual event, which featured speakers such as Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), Rep. Ed Joyce (R-CA), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), and Suzan Johnson Cook, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. 

- 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 update you if and when anything happens.