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 Post subject: Center For Inquiry stuff
PostPosted: 28 Oct 2008, 21:32 
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Paul Kurtz Speaks on Secularism, Science, and Humanism to India

A Report from the Chairman:

I have just returned from a whirlwind tour of India—my seventh trip to that country—where I delivered eight talks. Despite the much-reported impressive growth of India's middle class, poverty remains a massive phenomenon.

CFI has established four Centers for Inquiry in India. The headquarters of CFI/India is in Hyderabad, under the chairmanship of Dr. Innaiah Narisetti, with branches at the University of Pune (near Mumbai); the Moulana Azad Medical College at the University of New Delhi; and at Periyar Maniammai University in Thanjavur (near Chennai), under the direction of Dr. K. Veeramani. The Indian Rationalist Association has also become an affiliate of the Center for Inquiry/Transnational.

India is one of the few countries in the world to include a provision encouraging in its constitution "the scientific temper" and "humanism." Interestingly, the constitution was drafted by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (chairman of the drafting committee), a colleague of Jawahartal Nehru, first head of India. It was adopted in 1949, though many amendments were later added. Ambedkar studied with John Dewey at Columbia University.

May I offer a brief report of my trip to India, which was most gratifying? I am very fond of India and its people. I have many friends and colleagues in India. Several of my books have been translated into Hindi and other Indian dialects.

I spent the first week meeting with the key officials associated with Periyar Maniammai University, including Dr. Veeramani, chancellor of the university and head of the Dravidar Kazhagam movement. I am told that they have about one million supporters throughout India. I delivered the commencement address at the university, and was awarded an Honorary Degree. I was asked to bestow the Veeramani award for Social Justice to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi, in Chennai, where about 6,000 people attended in an overflow audience. I also spoke at their beautiful campus in Trichy, where some 4,000 students from secondary schools and colleges greeted me with cheers—much to my embarrassment and surprise. They also put on a special program about humanism. All told, they have four campuses (including a new one at New Delhi). I was overwhelmed by the reception that I received and by the dedication of the people in the movement, founded by Periyar about 70 years ago and now carried on by Dr. Veerimani. They are committed to social justice, especially the need to develop self-respect, their criticism of the caste system and religion, including Hinduism and all gods. Dr. Veeramani commented that the agenda of the Center for Inquiry and the Dravidar Kazhagam movement are compatible, and I concur wholeheartedly.

They have asked to establish a branch of the Center for Inquiry/India in Chennai. Dr. Innaiah Narisetti, head of the Indian Center, has agreed to proceed with this.

Dr. Narisetti's son is Editor of Mint, a new business newspaper published throughout India in cooperation with the Wall Street Journal. Allow me to express my sincere appreciation to him for planning of my trip to India. My hosts in Chennai were Drs. Sam and Sara Ilangovan, both of whom practiced medicine in Chicago for many years. Sam is head of Periyar International (which has tens of thousands of members in the United States). Both are supporters of Free Inquiry and the Center for Inquiry.

My next visit was to the University of Pune just south of Mumbai, one of the top five universities of India. A new Center for Inquiry has been established in Pune under the leadership of Dr. Santishree Pandit, of the Department of Politics and Public Administration. I gave a talk to members of the faculty and graduate students. Professor Santishree is a dynamic woman dedicated to the ideals of secular humanism and scientific rationalism.

From there, I went on to New Delhi, where a Delhi branch of CFI was established at the Maulana Azad Medical College, one of the top medical schools in India, under the directorship of Dr. J Kishore, a vigorous critic of superstition in the medical field. The college is affiliated with the University of New Delhi. They wish to establish a databank comprised of the 30-year index of Skeptical Inquirer, so that many critiques of folk and paranormal medicine could be made available to the public. We are also sending them the 10-year file of Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. I read a paper at a conference on the topic, "Evidence Based Medicine." Faculty from three medical schools attended.

My last talk was sponsored by the Indian Rationalist Association, under the leadership of its President Sanal Edamaruku. There I delivered a talk on Planetary Humanism. The Rationalists recently purchased their own building. The meeting room was packed with rationalists and humanists. We had a vigorous discussion with much give and take.

We discussed with Dr. Innaiah Narisetti a new program of action in India. They are establishing a Hinduism Criticism Committee, which will assemble critiques of the Hindu religion. Dr. Santishree Pandit, Sanal Edamaruku, and others will assemble the extensive literature critical of Hinduism and will sponsor continued research.

There was good coverage of many of these meetings in the Indian press. Many of the key heads of the Centers have been invited to take part in Center for Inquiry’s 12th World Congress, “Science, Public Policy, and the Planetary Community,” to be held April 9 through April 12, 2009 in Washington, D.C.

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PostPosted: 08 Dec 2008, 23:50 
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The Supreme Court: Safe For A While
By Eddie Tabash

The difference between Barack Obama and John McCain is exceedingly stark when it comes to the types of justices each one would appoint to the Supreme Court. There is no question that McCain was seeking those potential nominees who could be relied upon by the Religious Right to nullify the separation church and state--meaning the type of jurist who would vote to overturn all the precedents of the Court, dating back to 1947, which require all branches of government to treat the believer and nonbeliever equally.

President-elect Obama talked about the type of Supreme Court appointees who could be expected to vote to preserve the separation of church and state, that is, to preserve government neutrality in matters of religion. However, now that the election is over, we are not out of the woods. Even if President Obama is in office for eight years, we will likely emerge with no greater a majority on the Supreme Court, in favor of church/state separation, than we have today. We currently have a five-to-four majority in our favor. Even if the new president is able to replace Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter, we will still have only a five to four majority. In order to expand our margin of safety on the Court, a president would have to replace at least one of the following four antiseparationist justices: Scalia, who is 72; Thomas, who is 60; Alito, who is 58; and Roberts, who is 53. It is doubtful that President Obama, even after eight years, will have the opportunity to replace any of them. Surely, he will not have any chance, in all likelihood, to replace one of these four during his first term in office. Considering that one of the finest church/state separationist justices, John Paul Stevens, is still on the Court at the age of 88, we could have a long wait before any of the four who currently support the views of the Religious Right will retire.

This is not meant to douse the enthusiasm that many feel about the new president’s commitment to the separation of church and state. It is only a sober reminder that even at the end of eight years, our margin of safety may not be increased in terms of how the numbers line up on the Court. We have four, possibly eight, years in which to attempt to educate the nation about the importance of keeping God and government separate. Secular humanists must join with fair-minded religious believers in a joint effort to preserve government neutrality in matters of religion so that both believers and nonbelievers can flourish in a climate of legal equality.

So, while we can rejoice in the reprieve that we have been given, for at least four years, from an otherwise bleak virtual certainty of a reconstituted Supreme Court that would have nullified church/state separation, we cannot be lulled into a false sense of security. I understand how hard it is for many people to grasp that a bare majority of five justices on the Court can completely revise our legal landscape and overturn precedents that have provided us with comforting protection for our civil liberties, yet this is the reality of how our system works.

The breathing space that we have just achieved must be used to educate and to organize. An America in which five justices on the Court hold that government bodies, at all levels, may now favor belief over nonbelief would be a drastic departure from the country in which we live today. Our nation was not founded to be a pure democracy. It is a constitutional democracy in which the Constitution’s Bill of Rights prevents the majority from imposing tyranny on the minority, particularly when it comes to matters of religion.

Edward Tabash is a lawyer in the Los Angeles area and a member of the Board of Directors of the Council for Secular Humanism and chair of the Council’s First Amendment Task Force.



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Religious Fundamentalism Runs Amok in Texas as it Holds Science Curricula and Textbooks Hostage
By Sheldon F. Gottlieb

The time has come to reverse the words of “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You” to reflect a coming reality: “The Eyes of The World are Upon Texas,” as Texas strives to become the new Kansas. Once again, Texas’ education system is undergoing a religiously inspired civil war concerning the wording of its science standards. Those standards influence the presentation of evolution in the new science textbooks for its 4.5 million students and the questions that are asked on standardized tests. Once the standards are approved by the State Board of Education (SBOE), they remain in place for a decade. Texas greatly influences what textbooks are purchased by smaller school districts throughout the country since it is one of about twenty-two states that has a textbook approval process and is the second largest purchaser of textbooks in the United States. Publishers prefer to publish only one version of a textbook, not fifty, and are primarily interested in what sells; only peripherally are they interested in scientific validity and accuracy.

On November 19, 2008, the Texas SBOE—whose chairman and some board members are supporters of Creationism—began hearings on the wording of its science standards. One would have thought that the legal decisions rendered by various courts in the United States, including the Supreme Court and the latest devastating, no holds barred, decision of Judge John Jones III in the Dover case, would have put an end to any attempts of fundamental religionists to sneak Creationism into public-school science curricula. But such enlightenment in Texas, as in other states, is only a dream. Texas was the home of the late Mel and Norma Gabler, who for years held Texas’ science and other textbooks hostage, and by extension the texts of the rest of the country, to their Christian religious fundamentalism.

Once again Texans are being inundated with nonscientific religious arguments that tend to foster ignorance and misunderstanding on part of the public. The SBOE is not involved in a scientific controversy over evolution. It is involved in a religiously inspired controversy based on belief and not empirical evidence. It is a controversy in which religionists are in essence claiming that any scientific evidence that contradicts the Bible is in error.

The current science standards theoretically require students to learn both the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories. In September, those working on the new guidelines removed that requirement. It reappeared in November along with suggestions that it be replaced by watered-down statements such as “strengths and limitations” and for students to “discuss possible alternative explanations” for scientific concepts. Removing the word weaknesses along with other potential wording changes provides opportunities for sneaking in supernatural explanations such as Creationism in textbooks and classrooms. The arguments against Creationism and the supernatural have been dealt with by the courts and are too well known to be reviewed here.

The seemingly new twist in this year’s arguments supporting change in the wording of the science standards is not really new: it is academic freedom. One board member, Ken Mercer from San Antonio, is reported to have said: “We’re not putting religion in books; we’re talking about academic freedom,” whereas Terri Leo, from Houston, reportedly claimed that part of scientific learning should involve critical analysis of various theories. It appears that academic terminology is being bandied about without the individuals being aware of the deeper meaning of those terms. Philosophically, what do academic freedom and critical analysis really mean? And, for whom were they meant?

The American Association of University Professors’s 1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure (1) and the 1970 Interpretive Comments (2) state: (1) “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject” (emphasis mine). (2) “The intent of this statement is not to discourage what is ‘controversial.’ Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry which the entire statement is designed to foster. The passage serves to underscore the need for teachers to avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject” (emphasis mine).
Critical analysis, especially in the sciences, presupposes a certain degree of scientific knowledge and sophistication; a state of knowledge which elementary, middle, and high school students are striving for but have not yet attained.

Academic freedom—which is closely tied to tenure—is a highly specialized form of freedom of speech which is limited primarily to scholars. It promotes the public good by protecting scholars in their teaching and research and students in their learning from political blackmail and recrimination. Academic freedom is associated with duties and responsibilities that protect scholars while they are speaking in their area(s) of expertise and not on any subject they decide to promote. Academic freedom was originally intended for college and university faculty but was expanded, rightfully, to include all members of the teaching profession irrespective of the level they teach, even if they are not engaged in research. Introducing Creationism or any other aspect of religious dogma into a science class that would meet with the approval of Creationists and religious proponents inevitably puts teachers in untenable situations: teachers would be required to include in formal classroom presentations an array of unverified and unverifiable claims as coequal to empirically derived information.

Should claims that cannot be subjected to critical testing and independent verification be introduced into the classroom, teachers, according to the dictates of critical thinking, would be obligated to point out to students that such religious claims do not even meet the elementary standards required by science and therefore cannot be considered as valid evidence. Therefore, that would be the extent of the critical thinking devoted to those subjects and there could be no further scientific discussion. Should such a situation arise, the fundamentalist religionists would immediately object and claim that religion is being disrespected. Therefore, the common good demands that religion and the wide area of pseudoscience be kept out public-school science classes. The courts have ruled that Creationism in all of its forms is religion. The Texas SBOE is expected to take their first vote on the new standards in January. Once again, Texas and the citizens of the U.S. are going to be embarrassed by religiously based foolishness and become the objects of world-wide derision because some members of the Texas SBOE are trying to force antiscientific and anti-evolution language into the science standards.

In an age in which science and technology are the basis of economic and political survival, the citizens of Texas and the United States are being held hostage to the deadly influence of religious ideology as the religionists unpatriotically attempt to weaken the United States against the best interests of the country and transport the country back to the pre-scientific age. Welcome to the Land of Oz.

Sheldon F. Gottlieb, PhD is the author of The Naked Mind. He can be e-mailed at shellyeda@gmail.com.



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October Barnstorming

Toni Van Pelt, the government director of the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy spent three weeks in October touring the state of Florida with stops in Pittsburgh, PA, and Cleveland, and Youngstown, Ohio. Van Pelt offered a selection of two talks: “The Dangers of Free Thinking Women” and “How do we do it? Promoting Science and Reason in Public Policy Today.”

In “Free Thinking Women,” Van Pelt discussed the history of one of the most blood-soaked publications of the Catholic Inquisition—the Malleus Maleficarum, or “Witches' Hammer.” Written in 1486, it laid the groundwork and dictum for the persecution of women and the men that supported them. It was used by the clergy to identify, sentence, torture, and kill thousands of women as “witches.” Those deemed witches by the Church, including all female scholars, priestesses, gypsies, mystics, nature lovers, herb gatherers, midwives, and any women “suspiciously attuned to the natural world,” were killed along with those who supported and defended them. Van Pelt’s focus then moved to the free-thinking feminist women from the mid 1800s in Europe and the U.S. who found each other through writing and publishing. They formed the core of the first Western world women’s movement, or the first wave of feminism. The discussion led to the struggle for suffrage for women in the U.S. to the call for equal rights in the U.S. Constitution to the present-day urgency of enshrining women’s autonomy in our nation’s premier document.

“How do we do it? Promoting Science and Reason in Public Policy today” explored the first two years of the Office of Public Policy’s work. With the important help of CFI members, the OPP established the necessary credentials to earn a seat at the table of conversation and action in our government’s halls. OPP’s important work includes opposing charitable choice and faith-based initiatives and programs meant to render holes in the wall of state-church separation; working to restore integrity of science in public policy and law; advocating for funding for scientific research and for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in secondary schools and undergraduate and graduate studies; remaining at the forefront of women’s reproductive health care both at home and abroad; standing for human rights worldwide; and working hand-in-hand with CFI’s United Nations Mission. Van Pelt’s audiences learned first hand the ways the Center is standing up, speaking out, and demonstrating the responsibility and privilege necessary to urge and maintain a civil society.

Van Pelt reported that traveling the states in October was a delight. Meetings were augmented with long walks along the beach of Florida’s coasts, engaging meal companions, and very lively conversation. CFI Friends and members of the audience were alert and engaged. Most meetings lasted two hours, with conversation overflowing with shared ideas and questions. The work of the Center touches and informs many areas of campus education. Most exciting was the support of many departments, such as philosophy, the sciences, women’s studies, and psychology.

Asked if she was willing to do another tour, Van Pelt responded, “This is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. Explaining the inner workings of how our government functions and how important our Friends’ participation in civic duty is to law and policy is the icing on the cake of government affairs.” Van Pelt presented at twenty-one meetings in twenty days. Starting on the southern leg of the Florida tour, she meet with and spoke to community and college audiences in Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, and Naples. She traveled the I4 corridor in Central Florida, stopping at Daytona Beach, Rollins College, University of Central Florida, and the Tampa Community. The northern swing included Tallahassee, the University of Florida and the University of South Florida. Flying north she appeared on campus at Carnegie Mellon, Youngstown State University and Case Western. Along the way she did five radio interviews.

Look for Van Pelt at the Amnesty International confab on January 5. For details, check http://www.centerforinquiry.net/opp, and for current Capitol Hill happenings, go to http://www.cfidc.wordpress.com.



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Belief in God Essential for Moral Virtue?
By Paul Kurtz, CSH Chairman and Founder

A growing sector of world civilization is secular; that is, it emphasizes worldly rather than religious values. This is especially true of Europe, which is widely considered post-religious and post-Christian (with a small Islamic minority). Secularist winds are also blowing strong in Asia, notably in Japan and China. The United States has been an anomaly in this regard, for it has suffered a long dark night in which evangelical fundamentalism has overshadowed the public square, with its insistence that belief in God is essential for moral virtue. This is now changing and secularism is gaining ground.

Read the entire piece in The Washington Post Web feature On Faith.



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Join us for Camp Inquiry
July 6-12, 2009

Camp Inquiry, located at picturesque Camp Seven Hills in Holland, NY, is a place for children (ages 7-16) to confront the challenges of living a non-theistic/secular lifestyle in a world dominated by religious belief and pseudoscience. Grounded on the conviction that children can begin establishing habits of the good and ethical life early on, Camp Inquiry focuses on the arts and sciences, the skeptical perspective, and ethical character development. Campers and teacher-counselors address key issues around individual identity, forging trusting relationships, establishing a sense of local and global community, and living with respect for the natural world.

Camp Inquiry integrates the elements of a fun and memorable camp experience for children—roasted marshmallows, outdoor exploration, and new friendships—with the tenets of secular humanism, including ethical choice-making, taking naturalistic approaches to garnering knowledge, tapping into their boundless imaginations, and applying science and reason to human quests and dilemmas. It’s a place for children to think, question, and grow.

Angie McQuaig, PhD, is the Director of Camp Inquiry. She can be e-mailed at Angie@AngieMcQuaig.com.

For an inside look at camp life, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikl_4fFi ... re=channel .

For more information about Camp Inquiry 2009, please visit http://www.CampInquiry.org.



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CFI's "Jesus Project" featured on WBFO 88.7, Buffalo's NPR affiliate

The existence of the historical Jesus will be debated this weekend in Amherst. The Center for Inquiry on Sweet Home Road is hosting the inaugural meeting of the "Jesus Project," featuring scholars from around the world. Robert Price is a research fellow at the Center for Inquiry and is co-chair of the event. He joined WBFO's Mark Scott on the phone to talk more about it.

Listen to "The Jesus Project Explores the Existence of the Historical Jesus."



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CFI/CSH In the Media:

MI Biz: "Science, dogma don't mix," 11/10/08
Slate.com: "So When Will a Muslim Be President?" 11/12/08
Culture Shocks with Barry Lynn: "Future Bioethics: Overcoming Taboos, Myths, and Dogma," 11/13/08 (podcast)
USA Today: 'Playing Gods' satirizes religious violence 11/17/08
Fox News Austin: "Evolution Debate Could Decide Children's Future," 11/19/08 (Video)
KUT-FM 90.5 (NPR affiliate, Austin): "SBOE Blasted Over Evolution Controversy," 11/19/08(Audio file)
"On Faith," Newsweek-Washington Post: "Belief in God Essential for Moral Virtue?," 11/24/08
"On Faith," Newsweek-Washington Post: Welcome To The Unchurched, President And Mrs. Obama 11/25/08
Los Angeles Times: "Review: Lukas Ligeti at the Steve Allen Theater," 11/25/08
The Buffalo News: "Scholars to explore existence of Jesus," 11/30/08




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Secular Humanism Online News is edited by Nathan Bupp, Vice President of Communications for the Council for Secular Humanism and the Center for Inquiry. nbupp@centerforinquiry.net












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PostPosted: 09 Jan 2009, 18:35 
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Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Passes House

Dear CFI Friends:

We are happy to report to our supporters that this afternoon in the 111th Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives passed two bills essential to bringing an end to pay discrimination—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Center for Inquiry (CFI) would like to extend a hearty thanks to Chairman George Miller (D-Ca.) for championing these two bills in the committee and on the floor, and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct.) for being a tireless advocate for the issues at stake. Special thanks must also go to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) who spoke on the House floor today in support of these two bills, stating:

“In this very first week of this new Congress, the change that we want to make is in the lives of America's families. This legislation hits home. It helps America's working women meet the challenges that their families face economically and it is about ending discrimination. So I thank all of our colleagues who have worked so hard over the years to put this forward. We passed it in the House in the last Congress. We passed the Lilly Ledbetter bill, a real tribute to a heroine. She took her story and she is making change for all working women in America. That the Supreme Court would have ruled against her after she had won one court challenge speaks to the need of this legislation.”

CFI Chairman Paul Kurtz commented that “We are committed to human rights. A fundamental principle of a democratic society is that all women and men should receive equal pay for equal work. Therefore we are pleased that the House has enacted legislation to implement this basic ethical principle.”

Your voice played a major role in helping to bring about the passage of these vital two bills. We at CFI would especially like to thank all of our supporters who took the time yesterday to respond to our action alert by calling or e-mailing your local representatives and urging them to vote in support of this legislation.

We are especially delighted to say that Toni Van Pelt, vice president and Government Affairs Director for CFI’s Office of Public Policy, was invited to and attended a special meeting of coalition partners at the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi prior to the vote for a “meet and greet” with Congress members supporting the bill and then to be her guest in the gallery during the debate and vote on the pay equity bills.

CFI's Office of Public Policy continues to play an important role in the nation’s capital and is proud to say that today, we can share together in this great victory for human rights and the dignity of every individual.

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PostPosted: 26 Mar 2009, 19:07 
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Center For Inquiry Condemns United Nations Resolution on "Defamation of Religions"

UN Human Rights Council statement prepares the way for international criminalization of religiously offensive speech

March 26, 2009 (New York)—The United Nations Human Rights Council has handed another victory to Islamic states in their decade-long push to limit freedom of expression out of “respect” for religious beliefs.

A new Council resolution decries a “campaign of defamation of religions” in which “the media” and “extremist organizations” are “perpetuating stereotypes about certain religions and sacred persons,” and urges UN member states to provide redress “within their respective legal and constitutional systems.” Capitalizing on concerns about racial profiling and discrimination in the era of the war on terror, the language conflates criticism of Islam with anti-Muslim bigotry and seeks to stifle peaceful speech in the name of “dialogue” and “diversity.”

Similar resolutions have been passed at the Council since 1999 and by the General Assembly since 2005. The resolution passed with 23 in favor, 11 against, and 13 abstentions, gaining one additional no vote since the last time it was adopted by the Council.

“The concept of ‘defamation of religions’ is both absurd and dangerous.” said Ronald A. Lindsay, CFI’s president and chief executive officer. “Legally speaking, it’s gibberish, and any ban on so-called ‘defamation’ would effectively prevent any critique of religious beliefs or practices.”

In the opinion of a broad range of civil society organizations, these pronouncements do nothing but lend legitimacy to the repression of political and religious dissent around the world, particularly in Islamic countries. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, for example, which carry mandatory sentences of death or life imprisonment, are frequently used against members of the Ahmaddiya community, a peaceful minority Muslim sect.

Through its UN representative, Dr. Austin Dacey, CFI participated in the negotiations over the resolution during the March session of the Council in Geneva, and delivered an oral statement before the plenary meeting on March 24. Most worrisome, according to CFI, is that the present language equates religiously insulting speech with “advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence,” a category of speech that is prohibited by existing treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which have the force of law.

“Now the argument becomes very awkward for Europe,” said Dacey, “since many European states have laws against hate speech, Holocaust denial, and even blasphemy (for example, in Austria) that have been upheld by their regional human rights courts. The Islamic states will say they simply want to extend the same protection to all beliefs.”

The Center for Inquiry has submitted a written briefing to the Tenth Session of the Human Rights Council detailing a reading of the case law that separates criticism, satire, and insult from incitement.

The Center for Inquiry/Transnational is a nonprofit, educational, advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New York. Their research and educational projects focus on three broad areas: religion, ethics, and society; paranormal and fringe-science claims; and medicine and health. The Center's Web site is www.centerforinquiry.net .

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PostPosted: 04 Apr 2009, 21:59 
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Iowa Supreme Court Overturns Gay Marriage Ban; Junk Science Opposed by CFI Proves Uncompelling
By Derek C. Araujo

On Friday, April 3, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion that a 1998 Iowa state law banning gay marriage violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa constitution. This makes Iowa one of three states that currently allow same-sex marriages. (Connecticut and Massachusetts currently allow gay marriage; California allowed gay marriage until a voter referendum last November.) The opinion in Varnum v. Brien is an important victory for all who value equality under the law, as well as for those who oppose efforts to enshrine religious prejudice into law.

Last year the Center for Inquiry’s legal department filed a joint amicus brief in Iowa Supreme Court defending the lower court’s exclusion of junk-science, in the form of purported "expert" opinions by conservative religionists and other pseudo-scientists. These so-called "experts" claimed to have scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge about alleged dangers of same-sex marriage. In reality, the "experts" included religious studies scholars, a historian with ties to a conservative religious advocacy group, and a self-described expert in "technoscience" who admitted to relying in her "moral intuitions" and "examined emotions" to reach her conclusions. The district court found that the state’s proffered "experts" lacked the appropriate experience or training in the relevant fields of social science, child development, psychology, or psychiatry to support their opinions. CFI and other friends-of-the-court argued that the district court properly excluded the junk science, which amounted to mere personal opinion disguised as scientific evidence. The state opposed CFI’s arguments, with assistance from attorneys at the Alliance Defense Fund, an anti-gay Religious Right organization based in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Astonishingly, the Iowa Supreme Court found that the district court should have admitted the disputed testimony as relevant opinion on "legislative" and "constitutional" facts, to which the formal rules of evidence do not apply. Happily, however, the junk science appears to have had little influence on the Iowa Supreme Court’s ultimate decision. Considering all evidence before it, the Court unanimously rejected the purported experts’ opinions:

"Much of the testimony presented by the County was in the form of opinions by various individuals that same-sex marriage would harm the institution of marriage and also harm children raised in same-sex marriages. . . . Almost every professional group that has studied the issue indicates children are not harmed when raised by same-sex couples, but to the contrary, benefit from them. In Iowa, agencies that license foster parents have found same-sex couples to be good and acceptable parents."

The Court declared that in light of the total evidence, the district court’s exclusion of the purported expert testimony "is of no consequence" under the Court’s standard of review.

Derek C. Araujo is Vice President and General Counsel of the Center for Inquiry and the director of CFI's legal department

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Council for Secular Humanism Files Brief in Critical Case

On Friday, March 13, the Council for Secular Humanism filed its initial brief on appeal in the case of Council for Secular Humanism v. McNeil. This case originated in a lawsuit filed by the Council and two individual plaintiffs and Florida taxpayers, Richard and Elaine Hull, in the Circuit Court of Leon County, Florida. The lawsuit challenges the validity under the Florida Constitution of statutes authorizing grants to two faith-based contractors, Prisoners of Christ, Inc. and Lamb of God Ministries, Inc. The contractors provide what is known in Florida as “substance abuse transitional housing” services, effectively a program for assisting ex-offenders who have had substance abuse problems.

The Council and the Hulls challenged the appropriations of state funds to the contractors both on the ground that the Florida Constitution expressly forbids any aid to churches or sectarian institutions, even if the money given to the churches or sectarian institutions is not primarily used for a religious purposes, and on the grounds that the money given to these two contractors was being used to promote religion.

Defendants initially moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of standing and failure to state a claim. In February, 2008, the court ruled against defendants on the motion, although it did require the Council to file an amended complaint with more specificity about the funding of the contractors. After the amended complaint was filed, the defendant submitted answers and provided some discovery. However, shortly thereafter, the defendants filed motions for judgment on the pleadings.

In August, 2008, Judge John C. Cooper of the Leon County Circuit Court granted the defendants’ motions for judgment on the pleadings. The court concluded that because the authorizing statutes prohibited the use of state money for purposes of religious conversion and participation in the programs was voluntary, the legislatively mandated appropriations did not represent a violation of Florida’s “no-aid” provision. The court also found that the Council did not have standing to challenge how the appropriated funds were actually used by the contractors, since this would represent a challenge to contract “performance” instead of a challenge to legislative action.

The Council and the Hulls decided to appeal this adverse ruling because of the significance of this case. Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s current interpretation of the Establishment Clause, public revenues can flow to religious institutions under many circumstances. Accordingly, if taxpayers do not want to have public funds support religious institutions, state constitutions, many of which contain language more restrictive than the Establishment Clause on the use of public funds, may provide the only avenue for relief. This appeal will likely result in a definitive interpretation of Florida’s Constitution and a court ruling on whether it means what it says, namely that no tax dollars should be used in aid of any religious institutions. The stakes could not be higher.

The Council and the Hulls are represented by Christine Davis Graves, an appellate attorney with the law firm of Carlton Fields. A decision from the First District Court of Appeal is expected later this year.

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PostPosted: 04 Apr 2009, 22:00 
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CFI Condemns United Nations Resolution on “Defamation of Religions”

The United Nations Human Rights Council has handed another victory to Islamic states in their decade-long push to limit freedom of expression out of “respect” for religious beliefs.

A new Council resolution decries a “campaign of defamation of religions” in which “the media” and “extremist organizations” are “perpetuating stereotypes about certain religions and sacred persons,” and urges UN member states to provide redress “within their respective legal and constitutional systems.” Capitalizing on concerns about racial profiling and discrimination in the era of the war on terror, the language conflates criticism of Islam with anti-Muslim bigotry and seeks to stifle peaceful speech in the name of “dialogue” and “diversity.”

Similar resolutions have been passed at the Council since 1999 and by the General Assembly since 2005. The resolution passed with 23 in favor, 11 against, and 13 abstentions, gaining two votes since the last time it was adopted by the Council.

“The concept of ‘defamation of religions’ is both absurd and dangerous.” said Ronald A. Lindsay, CFI’s president and chief executive officer. “Legally speaking, it’s gibberish, and any ban on so-called ‘defamation’ would effectively prevent any critique of religious beliefs or practices.”

In the opinion of a broad range of civil society organizations, these pronouncements do nothing but lend legitimacy to the repression of political and religious dissent around the world, particularly in Islamic countries. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, for example, which carry mandatory sentences of death or life imprisonment, are frequently used against members of the Ahmaddiya community, a peaceful minority Muslim sect.

CFI, through its UN representative, Dr. Austin Dacey (see his article below), participated in the negotiations over the resolution during the March session of the Council in Geneva, and delivered an oral statement before the plenary meeting on March 24. Most worrisome, according to CFI, is that the present language equates religiously insulting speech with “advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence,” a category of speech that is prohibited by existing treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which have the force of law.

The Center for Inquiry has submitted a written briefing to the Tenth Session of the Human Rights Council detailing a reading of the case law that separates criticism, satire, and insult from incitement.

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PostPosted: 04 Apr 2009, 22:00 
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Religious Persecution Wolf in Anti-Defamation Sheep’s Clothing
By Austin Dacey

The Inquisition is back, and this time it has set up shop at the United Nations. Consider the resolution “Combating the Defamation of Religions” passed by a comfortable margin last week at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (and passed by the General Assembly every year since 2005).

The resolution decries a “campaign of defamation of religions,” intensifying since 2001, in which “the media” and “extremist organizations” are “perpetuating stereotypes about certain religions” (read: Islam) and “sacred persons” (read: Muhammad). It urges UN member states to provide redress “within their respective legal and constitutional systems.” Capitalizing on cartoon riots and Western anxieties over the excesses of the war on terror, the language conflates peaceful criticism of Islam with anti-Muslim bigotry and seeks to stifle speech in the name of “respect for religions and beliefs.”

Read the full article at Religion Dispatches.

Austin Dacey serves as representative to the United Nations for the Center for Inquiry

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Do Religions Have Rights? Further Pages from The Victim’s Handbook
By R. Joseph Hoffmann

The passage of the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s “anti-defamation” resolution by the UNHRC is a completely non-momentous event, the kind therefore that will evoke cries of anguish from outraged friends of liberty everywhere. It is another installment in the non-luminous history of an increasingly irrelevant organization that seems only to be in the business of brokering perks, passing unenforceable resolutions, and offering obnoxious pedants a chance to grouse about America and Europe.

Crafted by the Pakistani delegation, the resolution urges states to provide "protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general." Essentially, its force is diminished by the simple fact that the twenty-three nation majority voting in favor of the resolution were Muslim nations. Eleven nations, mostly Western, opposed the resolution, and 13 countries, including India, abstained. The United States did not vote on the resolution because it is not a member of the council.

Read the full article at Butterflies and Wheels.

R. Joseph Hoffmann is Chair of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER) at the Center for Inquiry and Editor of CAESAR: A Journal of Religion and Human Values.

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PostPosted: 04 Apr 2009, 22:01 
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CFI Office of Public Policy Update

The last week of March seemed like the madness of the March hare for the Office of Public Policy (OPP). In addition to the regular ongoing hearings, briefings, and lobbying sessions, we helped to staff the annual Congressional Science Exhibition of the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) of which we are members. Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited and galvanized the crowd with her now-familiar battle cry, "Science, science, science!"

The next day Toni Van Pelt, public policy director, presented the CFI Science and Reason Awards for the Advancement of Science and Reason in the 110th Congress. Among the recipients were:

* Representative Brian Baird of Vancouver, Washington, who is promoting science as vital international cooperation;
* Representative Diana DeGette of Denver, Colorado, who tried over and over again in the 110th Congress to obtain federal funding for embryonic stem cell research;
* Representative Michael Honda of San Jose, California, who supports education in science and eloquently speaks for the rights of Muslim Americans;
* and Representative Henry Waxman of Los Angeles, who held committee hearings that exposed attempts to muzzle climate scientists during the Bush years.

Toni Van Pelt presented each representative with an engraved crystal tower embellished with a globe that represents the transnational nature of the Center for Inquiry. The Awards Committee consists of volunteers Stuart D. Jordan, OPP science consultant; Elizabeth Daerr, OPP development consultant; Brian Engler; and Beth Bernath; and staff members Toni Van Pelt and Ruth Mitchell. Margaret Brown, author and co-author of two OPP position papers, joined the group to present awards to Representatives Honda and Waxman. Citations detailing the achievements of the awardees are posted on the OPP website at www.centerforinquiry.net/opp.

To add to the week's excitement, on Thursday one of the awardees, Representative Diana DeGette of Denver, visited the CFI Center (on Pennsylvania Ave.) for a lunchtime speech. She signed copies of her book, Sex, Science, and Stem Cells, which describes her long fight to obtain federal funds for embryonic stem cell research: President Barack Obama signed an executive order on March 10 to "vigorously support" and fund stem cell research. Check out the OPP blog www.cfidc.wordpress.com "Happening Today" to see further information on Representative DeGette.

Photos and stories about the awards have been published in Denver and Malibu, California newspapers.

At the same time, excitement is building for the upcoming CFI 12th World Congress which takes place next week in Bethesda, Maryland, just a Metro ride away from the OPP’s Pennsylvania Ave. office. Toni Van Pelt will be greeting the attendees on Thursday evening, April 9.

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PostPosted: 04 Apr 2009, 22:01 
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Politicization of Atheists and Nonbelievers
By Sheldon Gottlieb

Based on my experiences in the Midwest and Deep South, I can confirm that Michele Goldberg’s analysis (America, one nation under no God? The Guardian) of the increasing political clout of atheists and nonbelievers in American society is right. I, too, noticed the increasing polarization in society between believers and nonbelievers. Nonbeliever ranks swell as members of the growing confused middle finally release their grip on their last attempt to cling to aspects of religion.

Goldberg may have conflated two aspects of the rise of secularism in the USA. I think she intertwined the intellectual and the political components to make them appear as one, i.e., political. She rightly acknowledges that because of the political situation in the USA, nonbelievers and secularists had to politicize their approach to life to gain civic respect.

Many people come to nonbelief and secularism primarily from an intellectual perspective, not for opposing religion. I found that the growth of science and technology, particularly the greater understanding of evolutionary biology, supplemented by the successful law suits against Creationists and Creationism in all its forms, the many published books denying god and affirming the deadly influence of religious ideology in society, along with talk radio, college campus symposia on evolution and religion, newspaper and
magazine articles, and letters to the editors and op-ed pieces have provided people with intellectual tools with which to counter unsubstantiated belief.

American secularism from a political, not intellectual, perspective may be defined by opposition to organized religion. Because of the powerful political clout that organized religion has, especially since the meteoric rise of evangelical Christianity in the 1980s, nonbelievers, as Goldberg writes, have had to become increasingly organized as political groups to demand “their share of civic respect.” Politics is the working reality of American society.

Unfortunately, religion-pandering politicians have exacerbated polarization. The office of the president cannot be depended upon to reduce the intertwining of church and state. During G.W. Bush’s
administration there was an overt indication that government might be undergoing a shift from secular-oriented to a religiously oriented when he developed his faith-based programs. President Obama, despite his efforts to restore science to its proper place in society, has retained and expanded Bush’s faith-based programs: he signed an executive order establishing the new and unprecedented White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which has a broader mission than the faith-based initiative program created by President Bush. President Obama, in contrast to the behavior of previous presidents, has been opening public rallies with prayers that have been commissioned and vetted by the White House.

Removing religion as a powerful political force is difficult. Religion is instilled in children long before they are exposed to science. Religion fills their minds with fear, fairy tales, unreason, cognitive dissonance, and hate based on a sense of superiority and separatism. It provides simplistic answers to life’s questions and claims to be the sole source of morality.

We live in a scientific and technologically oriented society on which the economic and political survival of a nation depends. It is imperative that the negative influences of religion be greatly reduced, if not eliminated, if science and reason are to prevail and America is to continue to grow and maintain its preeminent position in the world. For this to occur, there must be, inter alia, a complete overhaul of the education system involving all aspects of curricula. We need to develop a tiered, truly integrated K-12 and college curricula with science and technology at the core. Sanitized history and philosophy courses with their current inherent protection of religion and promulgation of subtle anti-Semitism will have to be revamped.

There is hope for the U.S. Hope centers on reaching children through modern electronic/computer technology. Pre-school aged children are now being exposed to technology at the same time that they are being exposed to religious influences. By so doing, children are being exposed to rational thought and, thereby, the ground work is being laid for future science education to counter unsubstantiated religious belief.

Sheldon F. Gottlieb, PhD is the author of THE NAKED MIND. He can be e-mailed at shellyeda at gmail.com

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PostPosted: 04 Apr 2009, 22:01 
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Council for Secular Humanism Unveils New Freethought History Projects in Video, Print, and Online

The Council for Secular Humanism has completed a series of media productions dealing with the history of 19th century American freethought. These include a new orientation video for the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, a new website offering a virtual tour of the Ingersoll Museum, and a redesigned website and educational brochure spotlighting radical reform history throughout west-central New York state, where the Ingersoll museum is located.

A new 14-1/2 minute orientation video has been completed for presentation at the Ingersoll Birthplace Museum in Dresden, New York. The new video was produced by the Center for Inquiry in high definition video, which has almost five times the image resolution of conventional television. Museum visitors will view it on a 47" LCD screen, the largest such installation presented by any historical attraction in the Finger Lakes region. The museum, operated by the Council since 1993, profiles the life and times of Robert Ingersoll, an agnostic orator who was one of the best-known of all Americans during the three decades following the Civil War. The video can be viewed online at http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.ph ... page=video . Posted to YouTube in high definition, the online version is considerably sharper than most online videos.

Two related historical websites went live in March. At www.rgimuseum.org, visitors unable to visit the actual Ingersoll Museum can take a "virtual tour" instead. Visitors "move" from room to room to view displays; clicking on an object or artifact brings up detailed information on that item, often including detailed studio photographs. Hundreds of photos were taken of items in the Museum's collection to form the basis of this website. At www.Freethought-Trail.org, visitors can discover the rich "hidden heritage" of radical reform history that occurred within an 80-mile radius of the Ingersoll museum during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The region between Rochester and Syracuse, New York was a hotbed of social and cultural innovation in those years, a center for abolitionists, early feminists, sex radicals, and freethinkers. The informal Freethought Trail includes almost 50 locations ranging from museums and marked sites to unmarked locations whose stories may be known only to Trail visitors. The site includes interactive mapping that lets users locate sites on satellite photographs or plan their route between attractions in any sequence they prefer. A companion print brochure will be distributed in tourism information brochure racks throughout the region during summer and fall of 2009.

These projects were coordinated by Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, and funded by a grant from the James Hervey Johnson Charitable Educational Trust.

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PostPosted: 04 Apr 2009, 22:01 
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Life Under the Taliban
By Ophelia Benson

In February the Pakistani army signed a truce with the Taliban in Swat, the once popular tourist region an hour's drive from Islamabad. The Pakistani government claimed that the truce in Swat would free up the army, reduce civilian suffering, and appease popular dissatisfaction with the local judiciary, but the result has been a strengthening of the Taliban's theocratic rule.

Last December the Taliban in Swat issued an "official" ban on education for female students, which is to say they issued orders backed up by threats. They said girls must cease going to school no later than January 15, after which any schools still educating girls would be blown up. The Taliban had already destroyed more than a hundred schools in Swat.

Sher Afzal Khan, the district head of the education department, told the BBC in late January that in the last twenty months 187 schools had been destroyed by bombs; 121 of them were girls' schools. The principle of a private school in Mingora told the Pakistan Times, "This is the question of the future of our children. The Taliban decision will throw more than 40,000 girls out of schools." Other sources put the figure at more than 125,000 girls denied education.

Agence France Press spoke to one ninth grade girl by phone. Her dreams of becoming a doctor are over, despite her parents' support. "My mother told me I can do anything, but my inner soul is shattered," she said. One 42-year-old woman with two children now risks her life to teach girls at a private school in Mingora. "We are not safe even at home. We fear the Taliban all the time. Life is becoming worse and worse for women in Swat," she told AFP.

In late March the Taliban told all NGOs to leave Swat because their activities are un-Islamic. Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told a UN-run news network, "NGO is another name for vulgarity and obscenity. They don't want us to remain Muslims and want to take away the veil from our women." He added that "NGOs hire women who work alongside men in the fields and in offices. That is totally un-Islamic and unacceptable."

Now, in a further turn of the screw, the Taliban is refusing to allow health officials to vaccinate more than 300,000 children against polio. Clerics have used mosque loudspeakers and illegal radio stations to claim that the vaccinations cause infertility and are part of a US-sponsored anti-Muslim plot. Muslim Khan told the Telegraph "It's a US tool to cut the population of the Muslims. It is against Islam that you take a medicine before the disease."

Ophelia Benson is the editor of Butterflies and Wheels and co-author of Does God Hate Women?

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PostPosted: 05 Apr 2009, 06:07 
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Ignorant mother-fuckers.

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PostPosted: 24 Apr 2009, 14:44 
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Join our fight against taxpayer-funded
religious discrimination!

For years, well-funded religious organizations have gained access to the White House, successfully promoting public funding for faith-based human service initiatives. We hoped that things would change with a new administration. Unfortunately, they have not.

Yesterday, Toni Van Pelt, Director of the Center for Inquiry's Office of Public Policy, joined other members of a broad-based coalition of church-state separation advocates for a meeting with senior staff at the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Joshua DuBois, the Office’s executive director, took part in this important meeting. (Mr. DuBois was a Pentecostalist pastor who served as director of religious affairs during Obama's campaign.)

During the meeting, Ms. Van Pelt expressed CFI's serious concerns and disappointment over the new president's failure to repeal five Bush administration executive orders and numerous agency regulations and rulings that apply to the faith-based office. Those executive orders, regulations, and rulings permit faith-based programs to engage in religious discrimination -- using your tax dollars.

In February, we were dismayed when President Obama announced his plan to expand George Bush’s Faith-based Initiatives. CFI's Office of Public Policy immediately released a position paper criticizing the president’s initial plan and calling for the immediate implementation of legal safeguards to protect religious freedom and church-state separation.

Why are these actions such a grave concern to us? President Obama's plan fails to adequately address harmful discrimination by religious organizations that benefit from your tax dollars. Also, his initial plan fails to prevent the use of public money for construction and renovation of buildings used for religious worship. It does not bar religious organizations from proselytizing in publicly-funded programs.

If this discrimination is allowed to continue,
which rights will we lose next?

President Obama has said repeatedly that he believes in the separation of church and state. We believe him, and we hope to work hard to keep him to his word. Without your financial assistance, however, we cannot effectively maintain the Office of Public Policy. We may not be able to keep our hard-won foothold in Washington.

Your donation today will help CFI to hold the president to his unfulfilled promise to correct the Bush administration's abuse of the Constitution. Your gift today will help to ensure that we can continue to fight for science and secularism in the Nation’s capital and to continue to uphold your rights.

Please join us by making the most generous gift possible today!

Sincerely,

Sherry Rook
Director of Development, the Center for Inquiry

P.S.: Do you have questions about supporting CFI?
Contact Sherry at srook@centerforinquiry.net or call (716) 636-4869 ext. 427.

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