CFI Advocacy Update — January 2017

February 1, 2017

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 reason, science, and humanist values at all levels of government — statehouses, Congress, the Administration, and the United Nations.

This newsletter will update you on some of our activity over the past month.

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FEDERAL 

- Throughout January, we worked, especially with partners in the National Coalition for Public Education, to raise questions and concerns with members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), which is handling the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, nominee for Secretary of Education. 

- On January 4 and 9, we issued action alerts urging individuals represented by senators who sit on the HELP committee to share your concerns regarding Betsy DeVos’ nomination and express your opposition to school voucher schemes and support for public education. 

- On January 9, we submitted a letter to the Senate HELP Committee requesting that, during its confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, members thoroughly question Ms. DeVos regarding her history of supporting efforts to privatize public education, her beliefs about the importance of the public education system, and her plans for improving that system. We also joined a National Coalition for Public Education letter detailing similar concerns.

- On January 6, we submitted a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee requesting that, during its confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, members inquire about Sessions’ long history of antipathy towards the role of the Department of Justice and the federal government in ensuring equal protection under the law for all Americans. 

- On January 11, we submitted a letter to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations urging that, during its confirmation hearing for Secetary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, members thoroughly question Mr. Tillerson regarding his close ties to the Russian government, including President Vladimir Putin, and his views regarding the role of advancing fundamental human rights in American foreign diplomacy.

- On January 18, we submitted a letter to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to raise important issues regarding the confirmation hearing for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.  

- On January 25, President Trump reinstanted the “global gag rule,” a policy established in 1984 by Ronald Reagan that bars any federally funded organization doing family planning work outside the United States from providing any abortion counseling or services—the very subject is forbidden topic under this rule. Earlier in the month, we joined more than 140 organizations in issuing a statement opposed to this policy. 

- On January 30, we issued a statement condemning President Trump’s executive order halting U.S. entry to refugees and recent immigrants from select Muslim-majority countries as an outrageous act of cruelty, and rebuked his explicit prioritization of Christians over all others as a violation of the Constitution and an appalling act of discrimination. 

- On January 31, we issued a statement on President Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, raising serious concerns on Judge Gorsuch’s willingness to prevent the entanglement of religion with government and to uphold the inviolable rights of nonreligious Americans.

STATE

- On January 17, the Center for Inquiry’s community in Ohio held its fifth annual civic day. Speakers included CFI’s Director of Government Affairs, Michael De Dora, and Legal Director and General Counsel Nick Little. Attendees spoke to 19 representatives and 16 senators.

- On January 21, CFI–Indiana Executive Director Reba Boyd Wooden spoke at the Women’s March in Indianapolis. CFI was an official sponsor of the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

- We are pleased to announce that, in a milestone victory for nonreligious Americans, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that certified Secular Celebrants are now authorized to solemnize marriages in the state of Illinois. In the suit brought by the Center for Inquiry, excluding Secular Celebrants from the list of those authorized to solemnize marriages was declared unconstitutional.

INTERNATIONAL 

- On January 24, we met with the State Department regarding the disappearances of several bloggers in Pakistan.  

- We are proud to announce that we are official co-sponsors of The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017.

- We are currently preparing for the ​​​​​​​​​​34th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, to be held February 27 to March 24 in Geneva, Switzerland. 

- We have continued to work with various advocacy organizations and government officials and agencies on behalf of non-religious individuals, secularists, and religious dissidents who face threats on their lives or else government charges in their home countries regarding freedom of religion, belief, and expression. You can support our efforts by donating to Secular Rescue.

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