Recently, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D. C., threatened to suspend adoption, homeless-shelter, and health-care related services to some 68,000 beneficiaries, including about a third of the metro area’s homeless population. Why all the drama? A local same-sex marriage law partway through the process of enactment would compel Catholic Charities to extend benefits to partners of gay and lesbian employees.
We’ve heard this tune before. In 2006, the Boston Archdiocese’s Catholic Charities operation – which had been founded in 1903 as an adoption agency – announced that it would unilaterally shutter adoption services throughout Massachusetts rather than comply with a state law allowing adoptions by gays and lesbians.
Is this the beginning of a trend? Consider three facts. First, over the next five to ten years, towns, cities, and states across the nation will adopt new laws regarding same-sex adoption, employee benefits for same-sex partners, same-sex marriage, and the like. Going GLBT-friendly is the “steamroller” social reform of our time. Second, governments at all levels depend on church-affiliated charities whose parent churches embrace an antigay agenda – most conspicuously, Catholic Charities – to deliver (in some regions) a quarter, a third, or more of certain essential social services. Third, the chances that the Vatican and America’s Catholic bishops will rethink their stance on homosexuality seems, at best, remote.Across the country, state and local governments are about to learn an object lesson. Never mind, for the moment, more recent controversies about public funding for faith-based charities. The first “faith-based initiative” took place during the Great Society years, and it may be about to blow up in our faces.
Just eight months ago, I wrote: “I hope to see an end to those old-line secularized social service agencies like Catholic Charities, Lutheran Services in America, and their counterparts” (“Secularization Renewed,” Free Inquiry June/July 2009). In that op-ed, I got two things wrong. First, I suggested that Catholic Charities and its analogues were already so deeply secularized that maintaining the fiction of their denominational links no longer made sense. As the situations is Boston and Washington demonstrate, Catholic Charities is way less secular than I’d given it credit for.* Second, I speculated that state and local governments might begin distancing themselves from quasi-sectarian providers a few years from now, perhaps during the presidency that follows a second Obama term. Such is the momentum of GLBT-friendly legislation that governments at every level may have to start rethinking their reliance on groups like Catholic Charities far, far sooner than that.
*Read the complete editorial in the upcoming February/March 2009 issue of Free Inquiry magazine.
On November 30 the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision rejecting a high school student's challenge to the school's limits on her valedictory remarks.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Corder v. Lewis Palmer School District No. 38 in May of this year. The 10th Circuit Court rejected claims brought by high school valedictorian Erica Corder, whose graduation ceremony address encouraged students to accept Jesus Christ. Corder had presented a different version of the speech in advance to the school's principal, but later added her religious remarks without telling school officials. The school forced her to apologize in order to receive her diploma. The 10th Circuit court rejected Corder's free speech, free exercise, equal protection, and state statutory challenges, finding that her remarks were school-sponsored, not private speech.
The Supreme Court declined to hear Corder's appeal, but this does not mean that the Supreme Court endorsed the 10th Circuit's decision in the case; rather, it means that the Court is allowing the decision to stand without comment.
Derek C. Araujo is Vice President and General Counsel of the Center for Inquiry and director of CFI's legal programs.
As part of its contribution to the Center for Inquiry’s Campaign for Free Expression, the Council for Secular Humanism is sponsoring a Free Expression Cartoon Contest. The Council—publisher of Free Inquiry, the first major U. S. publication to republish a selection of the Danish cartoons—invites professional and amateur artists to submit their sharpest, cleverest, and most ingenious creations touching on that most sensitive subject: religion. (Though secular humanism is not a religion, cartoons about secular humanists and other activists who live without religion are welcome, too.)
The Campaign for Free Expression is a CFI initiative to focus efforts and attention on one of the most crucial components of freethought: the right of individuals to express their viewpoints, opinions, and beliefs about all subjects—especially religion. As the great Danish cartoon controversy of 2005 and 2006 showed, few media can speak so eloquently—or so pointedly—on sensitive topics as a cartoon.
Learn more here about contest rules and how to enter...and Win!
Last October we announced that we were planning to rekindle the Council for Secular Humanism’s Affiliated Local Groups Program. Responses from around the country were positive and we now have an updated list of those groups participating in the Council’s newly revamped local affiliates program.
Where’s My Group? Visit online at http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=alg to view the newly-updated list.
November was another busy month for the Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy. (The Center is a supporting organization of the Council for Secular Humanism.) The OPP set a date for our third annual Civic Days, an exciting event in which we invite CFI members from throughout the country to explore the nation’s capitol and lobby their congressional members to represent CFI and our values. The event will run from April 24th – April 27th 2010, and we hope to see many people attend. If you are interested in attending, please feel free to contact Matt Separa at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Additionally, look for updates on the OPP website, in upcoming editions of this newsletter, and on our Facebook page.
The OPP has also begun plans to host a congressional briefing on global warming, including the results of our Credibility Project around January of 2010. We hope to use this opportunity to put to rest the claim that science is divided over the issue of climate change by presenting the results of The Credibility Project to members of Congress and their staff. The Credibility Project was an unprecedented effort undertaken by the OPP this year to show that the vast majority of “scientists” listed as global warming skeptics by the Senate Minority Report on Global Warming were not, in fact, scientists, or did not have training in the relevant fields of climate science. Furthermore, we hope to use this opportunity to provide members of Congress with a better understanding of the threat that global climate change presents to us and our planet.
In addition to planning this event, representatives of the OPP attended briefings on climate change and its effects, such as eroding coastlines. On November 18th, the Congressional Hazards Caucus presented a briefing on the effect that eroding coastlines have on coastal residents, cities, and natural resources. Although not directly related to global warming, erosion along America’s coastal areas is largely tied to storm strength, and climate change is increasingly seen as the driving force behind the increasing strength of major storms such as hurricanes and nor’easters.
November was also a month of fairly intense lobbying efforts. The OPP worked with our coalition partners to lobby for the expedient confirmation of judicial nominees to uphold the rule of law. We focused particularly on Judge David Hamilton, who was finally confirmed by the Senate to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on November 19th. In addition to this, the OPP also sent a number of action alerts to CFI members, urging them to contact their congressional members on important issues. One action alert was sent in efforts to defeat the passage of the Stupak Amendment, which severely limits women’s access to abortions. While we were unsuccessful in that endeavor due to the short time frame in which House considered the amendment, we have continued fighting to ensure that a woman’s reproductive rights are protected by healthcare reform through efforts to prevent similar provisions to be written into the Senate version of the bill. To this end the OPP is also working with coalition members to organize a rally that will take place in Washington on Wednesday December 2nd, 2009.
Finally, we also sent out an action alert urging our members to discuss with their Congressional members the importance of increased Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and science funding in the 2011 budget. We hope that this grassroots effort will help to ensure that science is protected when Congress considers which budgets to cut in order to reduce the deficit
If you missed any of our action alerts and would like to participate or take a closer look at them, they are all available on the OPP website at http://www.centerforinquiry.net/opp/opp_work/category/campaigns/.
With all of this serious work, there was little time for anything else, but OPP Director Toni Van Pelt did manage to sneak onboard for CFI’s annual Travel Club Cruise. This year, the travel club went to the Caribbean, where they spent a week enjoying the weather and the company of freethinking like-minded individuals. All onboard had a great time, with participants remarking, “The trip was fabulous in every regard,” and, “Congratulations on a job well done!”
CFI is pleased to announce that Ken Peters of California is the Grand Prize winner of its Blasphemy Contest, part of its larger Campaign for Free Expression. Contestants were asked to submit statements critical of religious beliefs using fewer than twenty words. Mr. Peter's winning entry was: "Faith is no reason." Regarding the entry, CFI president and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay observed, "This entry, using only four words, summarizes nicely one of the key principles of post-Enlightenment thought. Beliefs should be based on evidence and reason. Faith is not a basis for logically sound belief."
In addition to the Grand Prize winner, there were four other winners.
Two more competitions are in the works: a Free Expression Essay contest (entry deadline January 5, 2010) and a Cartoon contest sponsored by the Council for Secular Humanism (entry deadline January 15, 2010). Click the links for details and contest rules, and stay tuned for the results!
On November 6-7, 2009, under the direction of branch coordinator Jeanette Madea, CFI Ft. Lauderdale joined CFI-On Campus at Broward College, FLASH (Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists), the James Randi Educational Foundation, and Broward College to launch the first annual Carl Sagan Day. November 9 was the 75th anniversary of Sagan’s birth, so organizers scheduled a host of activities and lectures to honor his vast contributions to astronomy and the public’s understanding and love of science.
The celebration began Friday night, November 6, with a reception and dinner, and continued Saturday morning with a series of teacher workshops, including one by “The Rocket Man” which culminated in a group rocket launch in the middle of Broward College’s Central Campus!
Activities for the public included displays, door prizes, episodes of COSMOS, star-gazing (including our closest star through a solar telescope), planetarium shows, and science activities for kids.
Headline speakers included Barry Silver, CFI member and president of the Palm Beach Environmental Coalition. Russell Romanella, Director of the International Space Station, spoke about NASA’s space exploration mission and showed some incredible photos that the public rarely gets to see. Phil Plait, the “Bad Astronomer,” gave a riveting talk on asteroid impacts. David Morrison, senior scientist and astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Laboratory, joined the event from California via streaming video and talked about his professional relationship with Carl Sagan, beginning with his days as Sagan’s graduate student. D.J. Grothe, CFI vice-president of outreach, served as emcee and talked about Sagan’s contribution to the skeptical movement.
The final speaker was CFI’s South-Florida neighbor and long-time personal friend of Sagan, James “The Amazing” Randi. His comments were poignant and timely and drew two standing ovations.
The evening ended with the college’s observatory providing viewing opportunities of the night sky.
Carl Sagan Day was a huge success. In Ft. Lauderdale, over 450 people helped celebrate Sagan and science throughout the day and nearly 800 watched the main presentations streaming live via the Internet. Even more exciting, the media picked up the Ft. Lauderdale event and before long we were hearing of other Sagan-inspired celebrations all over the globe, from Australia to British Columbia, Brazil to Britain!
It just goes to show what months of hard work, planning, and collaboration can do to bring science to the public. Congratulations to Jeanette and CFI Ft. Lauderdale! We’re already looking forward to Carl Sagan Day 2010.
CFI, a supporting organization of the Council for Secular Humanism, has created a Secular Celebrant Program to train and certify secular celebrants to perform weddings, memorials, and other "milestones of life" ceremonies. The first training workshop will be held December 5 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Recent polls show that 16% of the U.S. population doesn't affiliate with any religion. Unfortunately, the choice of persons to conduct ceremonies for marriages, same sex commitments, memorials, and other rites of passage is usually between religious clergy and civil officials. For nonreligious people this can be a traumatic experience. They may be required to go through religious counseling and/or have religious references in their ceremony. They may be prevented from having their choice of music or readings as part of the ceremony. The local minister called on to conduct a funeral/memorial may preach a “come to Jesus” sermon or otherwise use religious references that are not in keeping with the worldview of the person being memorialized. Many of us have seen this done.
Wedding ceremonies, memorials, and other life passages are extremely important events – they are life’s milestones – and people should be able to have these ceremonies conducted in a manner and by a person of their choosing.
You can be that person! Become a secular celebrant!
For more information, please visit CFI's Education website.
Join CFI Indiana for three full-day Intensive Sessions of the CFI Institute!
January 16, 2010 -- February 20, 2010 -- April 17, 2010
After the resounding success of CFI-Indiana's September conference on comparing and criticizing the traditional views of both religious and nonreligious people, many attendees expressed an interest in learning more from each of the three experts who spoke. In response, we have scheduled three intensive full-day sessions to give those who want more in-depth knowledge on the subjects a chance to spend generous time with each of these learned scholars. Join us as we begin a fresh exploration of religion with Ibn Warraq, a scholar of the Koran and Islam; Robert Price, a biblical scholar; and John Shook, a philosopher of religion and naturalism. Institute participants will also interact with additional panelists in open-discussion sessions to develop an alternative interpretation of "religion as myth" that might serve as metaphor to life.
For more information or to register online, please visit CFI Indiana Institute
Secular Humanism Online News is edited by Nathan Bupp, Vice President of Communications for the Council for Secular Humanism and the Center for Inquiry. email@example.com