Advocacy Update—March, 2013: School Vouchers, Reproductive Rights, and Freedom of Religion

April 4, 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 highlights some of our recent activity for interested members and followers. We hope you enjoy.

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FEDERAL 

  • On March 4, we released a first-of-its-kind position paper that details the growth and entrenchment of religious fundamentalism in the United States Armed Forces. This drew news coverage by HuffPost Live and the podcast State of Belief.
  • In early March, we joined representatives from several groups to meet with aides to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). Our goal was to convince these senators to oppose the Senate introduction of H.R. 592, a bill that would allow taxpayer funding to go towards the rebuilding of damaged houses of worship. The measure remains unfiled. You can read more about our position on this bill here.
  • We also lobbied aides to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) to include in H.R. 301 explicit mention of discrimination against non-religious persons. Our efforts will continue now that the bill has been introduced in the Senate as S. 653.
  • On March 12, we attended the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee’s Spring Reception. CFI-OPP Director Michael De Dora met and spoke with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). 
  • During the week of March 18, we joined members groups of the National Coalition for Public Education in opposing several amendments to the 2014 Senate Budget Resolution that would have created a federal school voucher program. Fortunately, we were successful. You can read more about our efforts here
  • While we prepare final comments to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over the birth control rule, we released an action alert asking our members and followers to urge HHS to finalize the rule and provide no further exemptions or accommodations to religiously affiliated organizations.
  • CFI-OPP Director Michael De Dora and Policy Analyst Ed Beck attended the marriage equality rallies and protests at the United States Supreme Court on March 26. You can read more about that here.

STATE

  • In Indiana, CFI-Indiana Executive Director Reba Boyd Wooden attended a rally against school vouchers and testified against a bill to expand the state’s already problematic school voucher program. You can read Wooden’s testimony here.
  • Also in Indiana, Wooden also testified in opposition to a bill that would change the definition of abortion to include non-surgical procedures performed with drugs. Her testimony was covered by FOX 59, WISH-TV 8, and The Statehouse File.
  • In New York City, CFI’s local branch held an advocacy workshop. Led by Michael De Dora, the workshop taught local members how to arrange and conduct meetings with local city council members and state representatives.
  • Late last month, CFI-Northeast Ohio held its first held its first Secular Summit, designed to get more secularists and skeptics active in the state’s political process. Speakers included Gary Daniels, associate director of ACLU-Ohio, and Michael De Dora. 

INTERNATIONAL

  • CFI’s main representative in Geneva, Dr. Elizabeth O’Casey, lobbied the Human Rights Council to include non-religious persons in a resolution on freedom of belief. The European Union has rejected this attempt. You can read O’Casey’s report here.
  • We have been working 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.