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Getting to know Sotomayor May 29, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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We’re all trying to find out where President Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, stands on our favorite issues. We’re looking at her record on Church-state issues, on reproductive freedom, on LGBT concerns. But we shouldn’t be worried that her judicial opinions have been reversed more than is usual.
A Huffington Post blog by Sam Stein points out that her opinions haven’t been reversed more than is usual. And in two cases where the U.S. Supreme Court overruled her, her opinion was shared by Justice David Souter, the judge she will replace.
In an 11-year career as an appellate judge, Judge Sotomayor issued 380 opinions, of which five were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and three were reversed. That’s a lower rate of reversal than the Supreme Court usually hands down–75 percent of cases in 2008 were reversals.
So far it seems that Judge Sotomayor is pretty much in the mainstream of legal opinion. Stay tuned as we learn more.


“Largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American History” April 28, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary, Press Release.
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President Barack Obama yesterday gave a major speech on science to the National Academies of Science. He detailed what he calls “the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history,” consisting of funding basic research; developing technologies to produce new energy; reforming the U.S. health care system; and dramatically improving student achievement in math and science.

To read the whole speech, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-at-the-National-Academy-of-Sciences-Annual-Meeting/

Today is Equal Pay Day April 28, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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Today, April 28, is 180 days after the end of 2008. But for the average woman to receive the same pay as the average man in 2008,  she would have to work until today.
Working women are still paid only 78 cents on average for every dollar earned by the average man. Better than last year, when the average was just over 77 cents, and a lot better than the 59 cents earned by the average woman in the 1963 photo below.
But not good for any woman, and especially not for African American women, who earn on average 66 cents for every male dollar, and not for Hispanic women, who don’t do any better than women as a whole did in 1963–they still make only 59 cents for every male dollar.   On average a woman takes home $9,575 less than a man every year, about $434,000 over a lifetime.
What can we do about it?  Across the nation, protests and demonstrations are using the dramatic idea of a year extended 180 days to make pay equal across genders to increase awareness of the problem. There are demonstrations at state capitols,  hearings, speeches, newspaper editorials.
Here in Washington DC, the House and Senate Joint Economic Committee (JEC) will hold a hearing entitled “Equal Pay for Equal Work? New Evidence on the Persistence of the Gender Pay Gap.” Chaired by Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, the hearing will focus on a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the gender pay gap in the federal government.
Supporters are also using Equal Pay Day to stimulate support in the Senate for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which will close gaps in equal pay legislation that have permitted employers to find excuses not to pay women equally.  The House passed the Act at the same time as the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but the Senate  has not yet passed the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Equal Pay Day is not a holiday or a celebration. In fact, if we are successful in gaining gender pay equity, there will never be another year when women have to work into the next year to receive equal pay.
The photo shows President John F. Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act in 1963, surrounded by those who worked tirelessly to secure its passage.


Equal Pay Act Signing


Obama Urged to Focus on Poverty, Not Marriage March 3, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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The Obama administration should focus on reducing family poverty in federal programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), not on promoting marriage and fatherhood, say researchers and advocates from universities and national organizations who have jointly published a position paper, Reduce Poverty Using Proven Methods: Eliminate Federal Funding of “Marriage Promotion” and Staff HHS with Appointees Who Value All Families, “http://”>/www.unmarried.org/images.

The authors report that from 2006 to 2010, TANF was permitted to award $750 million in grants to support projects promoting healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood. But they point out that no research supports the idea that marriage and fatherhood help alleviate poverty.
The focus on family structure endorsed by the Bush administration and its appointees is misplaced. Family structure has become less important in economic status since the 1980s. Although many factors that affect family structure–single parenting, divorce, cohabitation, LGBT parenting–have increased in the last fifty years, the welfare of children has actually improved.
The focus should be directly on poverty, say the authors. This means that administrators of programs like TANF should be committed to serving the needs of children in all family structures. Alleviating poverty should prioritize proven methods, such as increasing cash benefits; providing childcare and job skills training; improving educational opportunities; raising the federal minimum wage; empowering unions; attacking discrimination of all kinds; and creating decent jobs.
They call for an immediate stop to allocating federal funds for the promotion of marriage and fatherhood and for the removal of all references to and allocations for it in future legislation. No more federal money should be diverted from the real needs of children and of families, no matter how they are constituted.

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“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.

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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Plea for End to the Hyde Amendment January 16, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements, Commentary.
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On December 12, 2008, our OPP director, Toni Van Pelt, was among a group who met with Melody Barnes of the Obama transition team to urge an end to the Hyde Amendment, which restricts access to abortions for women enrolled in Medicaid. After the meeting, the 119 organizations, including the Center for Inquiry,  in the National Network of Abortion funds sent this letter to Ms.Barnes.

Fund abortion. Protect dignity and justice for all women.

January 8, 2009
Melody Barnes
Dear Director Barnes:
Thank you for taking the time to meet with members of the reproductive health and rights community on Friday, December 12, 2008. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the Obama-Biden Transition Project’s information-gathering process. We look forward to working with you and the new Administration to ensure real reproductive choices for all women.
We wish to underscore the importance of our request that President Obama strike language in his first budget that blocks women’s access to abortion care, including restrictions on abortion funding for Medicaid-eligible women and Native American women (the Hyde Amendment), disabled women covered under Medicare, federal employees and their dependents (FEHB), residents of the District of Columbia, Peace Corps volunteers, and women in federal prisons. Women in the military and military families are also negatively affected by abortion funding bans. Though attached to different funding streams, we consider these restrictions to be a single issue requiring consistent and equal treatment by President Obama.
For more than thirty years, the Hyde Amendment and other funding restrictions have affected the poorest and most vulnerable of low-income Americans, with a disproportionate impact on women of color and immigrant women. The Hyde Amendment denies abortion access to the seven million women of reproductive age who are currently enrolled in Medicaid. These funding restrictions are the most detrimental of all attacks on safe, legal abortion care, and represent a clear violation of low-income women’s human rights.
In addition, abortion funding restrictions marginalize abortion care and disregard the fact that it is an integral part of the continuum of women’s reproductive health care.
By striking funding restrictions, President Obama can place abortion back in the context of health care, thereby setting a new tone and signaling to Congress his commitment to comprehensive women’s health care.
Further, this early commitment will bolster the efforts of our diverse and growing grassroots advocacy campaign as we continue educating the public and Members of Congress about the urgent need for a full repeal of these restrictions. There is precedent for a President who supports reproductive freedom to take this action, and we look forward to working with and supporting President Obama as he takes this step.
Today, more than ever, low-income women in the United States must have access to the resources that allow them to determine the size and timing of their families. Many of these women are already balancing the demands of jobs, children, school, diminishing paychecks, and the disproportionate burden of an economic downturn. Funding restrictions are often insurmountable obstacles for women with limited resources. Removing them is the first step to true health care reform, to abolishing class- and race-based discrimination, and to placing control, dignity, and self-determination back in the hands of the women to whom it belongs.
The signatories of this letter are members of a diverse and growing coalition of organizations who have come together to fight restrictions on abortion funding in order to ensure true access to abortion for the most marginalized women in our society. The Hyde – 30 Years is Enough! Campaign is coordinated by the National Network of Abortion Funds and was formed to mark the 30th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment in October, 2006. Since that time, the seventy organizations and more than 100 abortion Funds of the Network have worked to educate the public about the impact of funding restrictions and build public support for their repeal. These organizing efforts are successfully laying the groundwork for public support for an end to these damaging and discriminatory restrictions.
We look forward to continuing this conversation with the new Administration and encourage you to contact us with any questions. In the meantime, we thank you again for your commitment to women’s health and well-being.
National Network of Abortion Funds

Praise for Obama’s Science choices December 31, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements, Commentary.
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The Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy is devoted to science and reason as the basis of public policy. We were delighted by President-Elect Obama’s choice of a science team, both in his cabinet and the higher reaches of his administration.The Office of Public Policy sent this letter to the Obama transition team congratulating the president-elect on his choices.

Dear President-elect Obama:

The Center for Inquiry/Office of Public Policy, which was created to further the application of science and reasoned dialogue to science-based public policies, commends you on your excellent choices for high-level executive positions in science-based areas. Drs. Steven Chu, John P. Holdren, and Jane Lubchenco will form a powerful team to face the combined challenges of providing adequate energy for the nation and minimizing the clear threat of global warming to the world’s climate.

Dr. Steven Chu, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997, is dedicated to your stated policy of addressing the global warming problem. Dr Chu’s current position as Director of the Berkeley Lawrence National Laboratory, where he supervised eleven other Nobel laureates, has led to an aggressive program to both improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases. Dr. Chu is the ideal person to counter the questionable arguments of the carefully assembled group of global warming skeptics, a large number of whom are not climate scientists and many of whom exhibit little understanding of the problem.

In his efforts to provide the nation with a sensible program for providing relatively clean energy while reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Dr. Chu will be supported in the Obama administration by an excellent group of experienced professionals. You have selected Harvard physicist John Holdren for the position of presidential science advisor. As chairman of the Board of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, Holdren in 2007 oversaw the AAAS Board’s first statement on global warming, in which it is recommended that the nation “muster the political will for concerted action.” The science team includes marine biologist Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both Holdren and Lubchenco have encouraged scientists to play a more active role in science-related policy discussions. Lubchenco in particular founded the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program to teach scientists how to participate in public policy debates.

We would like to point out that addressing the combined energy-climate change issues will be further advanced by Representative Henry Waxman, designated to become the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. As current chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Waxman has already established his credentials as a strong supporter of action on global warming by taking to task the Bush administration appointees who tried to muzzle climate scientist James Hansen.

We look forward to active government under this administration, and stand ready to support the kind of strong science-based program we believe your chosen leadership will produce.


Paul Kurtz, CFI’s Inspiring Leader December 2, 2008

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Many of you who read this blog know that it ‘s about the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and especially about the Office of Public Policy (OPP).  But you may not know about Paul Kurtz, the founder and leader of CFI.  Recently, Derek Araujo, executive director of CFI/New York City, introduced Dr. Kurtz and in the course of his introduction, gave a brief summary of his life and work.  We present it here with pride.

Paul Kurtz: An Introduction*

by Derek Araujo,

Executive Director, CfI/New York City


All of us in this room, and most particularly those who know him well, have grown to admire and respect Paul Kurtz — for his towering intellect, for his inspiring leadership, and for his love of all that is good in humanity. But while none of us needs reminding that we are in the presence of a truly remarkable man, some of us might benefit from being reminded of the astonishing number of ways in which he is remarkable.

Before taking his doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University, Paul served among the brave young men who helped liberate Europe from the bonds of Nazi fascism. Having participated in the Battle of the Bulge, he disproved conclusively and for all time the old canard that there are no nonbelievers in foxholes. Paul witnessed the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps after they were liberated, and saw firsthand the evils of Communism when he encountered Russian slave laborers who had been taken to Nazi Germany by force, but refused to return to the Soviet Union at the end of the war. And as he himself has told us, these experiences had a formative influence on his worldview.

Upon returning to the United States, he took his doctorate, as I said earlier, at Columbia University. He then embarked on a brilliant career in the academy that yielded appointments at some of the finest institutions of higher learning in the country, and scores of books and countless articles that have touched lives and inspired minds across the entire globe. But in the course of his brilliant career, let us not forget that he made the conscious and deliberate choice to do what would be unthinkable to most of his fellow philosophers and academic peers. Paul Kurtz made the courageous decision to join the extraordinary company of the likes of John Dewey and Bertrand Russell, by forsaking technical philosophy in favor of by giving his fellow men and women practical advice about how to live better lives, and how to build a better future for our common humanity.

From then on, his life has been a constant and stirring example of standing courageously against the tides of superstition, anti-science, and religious dogma. Many of us remember a time when that struggle seemed hopeless, and when voices of reason sounded like cries in the wilderness. We all have Paul Kurtz to thank for helping to turn that tide.

When widespread paranormalism, psychic frauds, and the hucksters of so-called alternative medicine threatened our intellectual well being and our health and safety, he established CSICOP, now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, to seek truth and proclaim it loudly over the din some voices of irrationalism. When the Religious Right threatened to demolish the wall of separation between church and state and to overwhelm our politics and our public discourse, Paul Kurtz established the Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry magazine, the only publication in broad circulation that dares to question the malicious influence of religious dogma on public policy and human affairs. When traditional, profit-driven book publishers refused to publish authors that criticized religion or spoke for reason, he founded his own publishing house, Prometheus Press, still the only major publishing house of its kind. And when everyone said that growing an international movement to promote Enlightenment values and humanist communities just couldn’t be done, Paul Kurtz spearheaded the Center for Inquiry movement, which now counts representatives on five continents and in dozens of cities and communities, and continues to flourish and grow every year.

In brief, Paul Kurtz is a man of extraordinary talent and singular vision. We count ourselves lucky to know him, and hope for our sake that we will have the benefit of his wisdom, his courage, and his guidance for many years to come. Paul Kurtz, thank you.

* Delivered at the 10th Anniversary of CFI Community of Long Island on November 21, 2008

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