Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 74
February 9, 2017
Cause & Effect is the biweekly newsletter of the Center for Inquiry community, covering the wide range of work that you help make possible. Become a member today!
The Main Events
Religious Privilege Running Rampant
Before he ran for office, “conservative Christian extremist” was not a label one could ever pin on Donald Trump. Since his inauguration, however, President Trump has enacted or set in motion a number of policies, initiatives, and nominations that the Religious Right could once only have dreamed of, each enshrining Christian privilege and eroding the wall of separation between church and state. The Center for Inquiry is responding to each new move, working with allies to shore up America’s secular foundations.
Last week, President Trump signed an executive order barring people from select Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The order resulted in chaos, confusion, and massive protests across the country. CFI forcefully denounced the order, calling it “an act of cruelty,” particularly as it denied an opportunity for war refugees and those fleeing persecution from coming to the U.S. for help. Our General Counsel, Nick Little, wrote at CFI’s Free Thinking blog that this order is a troubling example of Trump’s efforts to undermine the Judicial Branch as a defender of fundamental rights.
President Trump also made explicit his desire that the U.S. prioritize Christians over non-Christians for entry into the U.S., an unprecedented example of Christian privilege, and all this while insisting that the prohibition was not a “Muslim ban”—which Rudy Giuliani, perhaps accidentally, admitted was indeed a Muslim ban. And so beyond the callousness and the confusion, the ban also violated a basic tenet of the Constitution by creating a religious test for those who seek to come to our country.
This week, President Trump announced his choice to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia last year (and the Republican Senate’s refusal to hold a vote on Merrick Garland), and it turned out to be another gift to the Christian Right. Judge Neil Gorsuch, an intelligent and charismatic jurist now serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, has established a record of antipathy toward American secular principles, reliably favoring special rights for Christians over church-state separation. As CFI’s CEO Robyn Blumner said in our statement, “Now more than ever we need a Supreme Court that will courageously uphold our foundational rights, not return us to a time of greater Christian privilege. There is little evidence that Judge Gorsuch is up to this crucial task.”
And coming down the pike, we expect that the president will soon sign an executive order giving religious individuals and organizations exemptions from a wide array of laws involving discrimination, health care, and even child care and adoption. It is, as CFI describes it in an action alert, a “blank check to the Religious Right,” a free pass that privileges conservative Christianity over the rule of law. It is crucial that the White House hear the full scope of our opposition to this order. Take action right now.
All of this doesn’t even include the narrow Senate confirmations of Betsy DeVos, who would like to “advance God’s kingdom at the Education Department; Jeff Sessions, who isn’t sure that secular Americans are fit for government service; and others ready to implement a conservative Christian agenda throughout the federal government.
It’s no time to be silent. Even after nominations have been confirmed, orders signed, and legislation passed, our community—the secular, reality-based community of CFI and its allies— must continue to make ourselves heard, loud and clear, every single day.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
New Online: Free Speech Tested, Science Obstructed, and Crimes Covered Up
Last month, CFI–Portland hosted a discussion on free speech on college campuses featuring three outspoken personalities: Philosophy professor Peter Boghossian (who also lead the development of the Atheos app, sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science), American Enterprise Institute fellow Christina Hoff Sommers, and moderator Dave Rubin of the Rubin Report. The conversation focused on the hot-button issues of safe spaces, trigger warnings, and attempts to cancel events with controversial campus speakers. The full video of the event is now available online.
In the immediate aftermath of the travel ban executive order, Josh Zepps spoke to computer scientist Jen Golbeck on the Point of Inquiry podcast about the impact this policy is already having on American scientific advancement and the damage it could do well into the future. They also discuss the fears of scientists in the federal government who are scrambling to protect their data from the new administration before anything can happen to it.
Finally, Lindsay Beyerstein welcomed to the show Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Ronnie Greene to talk about a truly dark chapter in recent American history: the massacre of an innocent family in Katrina-devastated New Orleans by police. Beyond the horror of this needless death, Greene unravels the cover-up that quickly wound itself around the officers and the pain it caused so many in an already unbearable situation.
Inspiring Science Educators for Darwin Day
The phenomenal Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) is in full swing this February, helping middle school science teachers achieve new levels of proficiency and confidence as science educators. This week, TIES director Bertha Vazquez teamed up with Victoria Klahn, a fellow TIES teacher Corps Member, in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Over fifty-five teachers attended their session at the Georgia Science Teachers Association Annual Conference. They successfully shared valuable content and resources with teachers from all over the state.
This Saturday at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida, Bertha will help host a special TIES Darwin Day event. Presented as a collaboration between the museum and the Hillsborough County School District, this full-day event will feature a research presentation from Mandë Holford, PhD, of Hunter College. There will be content on evolution and phylogeny, as well as opportunities for teachers to try six different hands-on classroom activities for themselves. All of the resources are given to the teachers free of charge. Thanks to a grant written by the school district, participating teachers will be paid for attending and receive a free lunch as well.
On Monday, February 13, TIES Teacher Corps Member Amanda Clapp will hold a Darwin Day event at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, featuring food, continuing education units, mini-presentations, demonstrations, and great conversation.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
- In an interview specially translated for CFI, Moroccan atheist activist Kacem El Ghazzali talks to Stefano Bigliardi about his journey from Islam to nonbelief and the challenge of reforming Islam.
- Carrie Poppy goes into the belly of an alt-med beast to investigate the Cancer Control Society in Tijuana, where they assert, among other things, that cells have brains and talk to each other.
- Benjamin Radford examines how false reports of criminal activity often target Muslims and minorities as “the xenophobic archetype of the evil outsider,” which can be used as weapons against them.
- Ben also examines the phenomenon of “the 10% fail,” in which insightful skeptical content is spoiled by one small but important error or example of bias.
- Kylie Sturgess interviews Caroline Williams, author of Override: My Quest to Go Beyond Brain Training and Take Control of My Mind.
- Susan Gerbic reports back from the Monterey County SkeptiCamp in California, hoping to encourage additional SkeptiCamps across the country.
- CFI Director of Libraries Tim Binga highlights the nineteenth-century works of Helen Hamilton Gardener, whose powerful oratory and progressive politics had one reporter referring to her as “Ingersoll done in soprano.”
- Stuart Vyse offers his “unlearning report” with new thoughts on empathy, racial bias, and golf.
- The film Hidden Figures is receiving very positive reviews, and Joe Nickell’s review is no exception, calling it “endearing and enduring.”
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
- CFI–Indiana holds its 2017 Civic Day with guest speakers including CFI’s Nick Little, Americans United’s Erin Taylor, former Indiana Assembly member Christina Hale, Jesse Kharbanda of the Hoosier Environmental Council, Julia Vaughn of Common Cause, The Midwest Eagle Editor Rick Sutton, NOW’s Emily O’Brien, and Tim Skinner of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education.
- CFI–Austin’s hosts a Darwin Day Celebration with a day full of talks and activities.
- CFI–Michigan celebrates Darwin Day at “Charlie’s Evolution Emporium.”
- Biological anthropologist Amy Parish speaks to CFI–L.A. about what primate societies can teach us about our own with “Sex, Bonding & Dominance in Bonobos.”
- CFI–Tampa Bay hosts a Darwin Day social event.
- CFI-Tampa Bay cohosts its annual Darwin Day at the UU Congregation of Clearwater, with a presentation on “Human Evolution: Where We’ve Been—Where Are We Going?” by Professor Jeff Lipkes.
- Matt Dillahunty discusses magic and skepticism with CFI–Austin.
- Greta Christina presents “Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life” for CFI–Michigan in Grand Rapids.
- CFI Outreach Director Debbie Goddard gives a presentation on evidence-based methods for effective activism at CFI Transnational headquarters in Amherst, NY.
- Astrobiologist David Grinspoon comes to CFI–DC to discuss his new book Earth in Human Hands.
- Greta Christina brings her presentation “Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life” to CFI–Michigan in Farmington Hills.
- Author Judith Freeman comes to CFI–Los Angeles to discuss the subject of her memoir The Latter Days and the influence of Mormonism on America.
- Secular Celebrant training in Bloomington, IL.
- Secular Celebrant training in Michigan.
Everything we do at CFI is made possible by you and your support. Let’s keep working together for science, reason, and secular values. Donate today!
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Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter is edited by Paul Fidalgo, Center for Inquiry communications director.
The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and will soon be home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at www.centerforinquiry.net.