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The House Gets It Right February 28, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements.
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Yesterday the House of Representatives passed the omnibus funding bill–not the budget that the President is sending to Congress today, but a bill appropriating money for federal agencies to keep operating until September 30, the end of fiscal year 2009. The bill now goes to the Senate and could be swiftly signed by the President if there are no amendments to debate.
The omnibus funding bill includes an increase in funds for family planning programs, such as Title X at home, and the United Nations Population Fund abroad. It fixes a problem with the price of birth control for family-planning clinics and student health centers, a problem that meant increased prices for contraception just when we didn’t need increases.
Perhaps most encouraging to CFI supporters of real sex education for adolescents, the omnibus spending bill cuts funds for so-called “abstinence-only sex education” by $14 million.
The bill increases spending on domestic programs by eight percent for the current fiscal year. For reproductive health, they got it right!

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Obama gets it right! February 5, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements.
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Although President Obama intends to continue faith-based social service programs, his administration is quite clear about separating religion from public schools.

The so-called stimulus package intended to promote economic recovery passed by the Democrats in the House of Representatives last week bans money for school renovation from being spent on facilities that allow religious worship.Funds may not be used for the “modernization, renovation, or repair” of facilities that allow “sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity.”

The package passed by the House includes $20 billion for public school infrastructure renovations, of which $6 billion would go to institutions of higher education where the restrictions against divinity schools or departments would apply.

Conservatives groups are expressing outrage at what they see as curbs on religious liberty in higher learning, but constitutional law experts say conservatives don’t have much legal basis for complaint.After all, President Obama himself formerly taught constitutional law.

“In the year of our Lord” unnecessary relic, says CFI Task Force chair February 4, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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The Center for Inquiry is looking forward to how President Obama will strengthen the separation of church and state with his judicial appointments.  In the realm of keeping government neutral in matters of religion, it is important that all branches of government convey a message to nonbelievers and minority religions that they are no less a part of the community than are the majority Christians in our nation.

Thus, while the practice of issuing presidential proclamations designating the year of the proclamation as the “in the year of Our Lord” is not as grave a threat to government neutrality in matters of religion as would be the restoration of official prayers in public schools or exempting religious books from sales tax but imposing those taxes on secular books, it is still a practice that should now be retired.  The phrase “in the year of Our Lord” is the English translation of the Latin “anno domini.”  This is an unambiguous reference to Jesus.

Government is supposed to be neutral as between believer and nonbeliever and as between one religion and another religion.  This phrase shows a predisposition to belief over nonbelief and to Christianity over Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, and all the other minority religions.

Again, this is not the most pressing issue on which the future of secular government versus theocracy balances.  However it is an unnecessary relic of the Christian tradition that, ultimately, should not find expression in official government proclamations.

Edward Tabash

Chair, First Amendment Task Force, Center for Inquiry, Council for Secular Humanism.

Beware these bills! February 2, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements, Commentary.
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Bills by the hundred are introduced daily in Congress. Many of them concern trivial and local matters like recognition of local heroes and support for specific individuals, but some malicious bills are slipped in, hoping that no-one will notice.

Recent examples are the House and Senate bills S.270 and H.R. 605, mentioned in the following post “When Two Bills Look Alike.”  S.270 and H.R. 605 are two versions of a bill purporting to help pregnant women. Don’t be deceived–these bills are sponsored by Democrats for Life and supported  by the U.S.Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  They don’t provide funds for contraception and real sex education, but refer throughout to “unborn children,” an common anti-abortion tactic to promote an emotional response to pregnancy.  The bills are intended to coerce women into bearing children, whether they want to or not.

Last week another no-good, very bad bill was introduced in the Senate–S.346, sponsored by Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. This bill would extend the protection of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution to what are called “preborn persons.”  They mean fetuses, but deliberately don’t use the correct scientific term.  If  by any chance this bill were to become law, it would change the constitution so that a fetus would be a person and abortion would become murder.

We’ll keep you posted on the progress of these bills. At the moment they are all three in committee, a common graveyard for unpopular bills. Let’s hope they stay there.

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When two bills look alike February 2, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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When you see two bills whose titles look almost the same, you think they must be the same bill. There’s a bill that’s just been introduced in the House of Representatives, H.R. 605, that says it is intended to “provide for programs that reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents.” Looks good—why would anyone oppose such a bill?

But then you find that newspaper editorials and bloggers are praising another bill, which claims to “provide for programs that reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents.” That looks good too. Are they the same bill?

No, they are essentially different. It’s important for secular humanists to know that the first bill is sponsored by Democrats for Life, an anti-abortion group sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church. Its shorter title is “The Pregnant Women Support Act.”

The second bill, known for short as “The Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act,” is a significant attempt to seek middle ground between the anti-abortion and pro-choice forces. It is supported by a group called Third Way, which like the Center for Inquiry, brings reason to bear on divisive social problems.

The similar naming of the bills is tactically intended. You’re supposed to be confused and not recognize the differences between them. The first bill (which has a companion in the Senate, S.270) has just been introduced in the 111th Congress (the one that started January 3, 2009) and is now in committee. The other bill was introduced in 2007 during the 110th Congress by Representatives Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Tim Ryan of Ohio and will shortly be introduced again.

We’ll focus on the Ryan-DeLauro bill—remember it’s called “The Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act.” Its first and major emphasis is on the reduction of unintended pregnancies by education of vulnerable women, involvement of parents, and extending coverage of contraception through Medicaid and Title X of the Public Health Service Act. These provisions follow the logic of contraception: if you want to reduce the number of abortions, prevent pregnancy in the first place.

The Democrats for Life bill doesn’t do that. Although research shows that contraception reduces the probability of abortion by 85%, religious doctrine forces anti-abortion activists to oppose contraception as well as abortion. They also support abstinence-only sex education, which is now widely rejected as a failure.

The language of the Democrats for Life bill betrays its intent: it replaces scientific words such as fetus with “unborn child,” so that pregnant women will have an emotional reaction to their situation. It provides grants for the purchase of ultrasound equipment, widely used in Crisis Pregnancy Centers in coercive attempts to persuade women against abortion.

The Ryan-DeLauro bill is not all about preventing pregnancy or offering abortion services. It embraces a compromise (the Third Way, remember?) by also offering support to women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term, especially students in institutions of higher education. It increases support for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and the food stamp program, and funds free home visits for teenage and first-time mothers which includes contraceptive counseling.

Watch for the Ryan-DeLauro bill when it is introduced in Congress. Don’t be deceived by similarities in title with the other bill—the Ryan-DeLauro bill combines prevention and support in a positive package that affirms the value of women and children alike.

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