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Declarations and Dissent

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July 5, 2018

Hi Blue

This week, we in the United States celebrate the founding 242 years ago of a nation that would embrace and enshrine the ideals of the Enlightenment, however imperfectly, and establish a secular government. The recent news of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court raises concerns about the shifts to come. What will a Supreme Court shaped by President Trump mean for church-state separation and other constitutional rights? This week’s newsletter examines that question.

As Independence Day inspires us to once again revisit the lives and contributions of the founders of the American republic, we can also take this opportunity to remember a founder of American freethought, Robert Green Ingersoll. As we mark the Ingersoll Birthplace Museum’s twenty-fifth year restoring the Great Agnostic to his place in the story of America.

Last week I traveled to Geneva to speak on behalf of the Center for Inquiry before the UN Human Rights Council and warned that secular values and freethought are under serious threat in countries around the world as atheists are targeted for persecution, prison, and death.

More of today’s champions of secularism recently gathered in a religious-Right stronghold, as the Texas Democratic Party’s Secular Caucus held its second convention, attracting candidates from across the state who share the values of our movement.

This week we’ll also go behind the scenes and “into the trenches” of evolution education, as Bertha Vazquez, director of our Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, speaks with Cara Santa Maria on her podcast. And evolution couldn’t have gotten started without organic compounds, and we’ll hear some tantalizing news about an alien world with some features that are remarkably familiar to carbon-based life forms such as ourselves.

Don’t forget: Richard Dawkins is coming to Dallas and Nashville this October with special guest Carolyn Porco! Get your tickets now.

Robyn E. Blumner

President & CEO, Center for Inquiry
Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science

Celebrating a Founder of American Freethought Secular Politics in Deep-Red Texas In the Trenches with TIES
Robert Green Ingersoll, the “Great Agnostic” of the nineteenth century, is finally being acknowledged for his crucial role in American history, thanks in large part to the efforts of CFI’s own Council for Secular Humanism and the Ingersoll Birthplace Museum in Dresden, New York. Celebrating its twenty-fifth year, the museum is the subject of a front-page story at the Finger Lakes Times, which reminds us that “Ingersoll defied the religious conservatives of his day” and that “Ingersoll the man comes to life” through the museum’s artifacts and multimedia displays. While it may not be obvious based on its statewide elected leaders (such as Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz), but the religiously unaffiliated are the fastest-growing belief group in Texas. And considering the state’s strong lean toward the religious right, it’s no wonder that David R. Brockman of the Texas Observer found such an energized and enthusiastic crowd at the latest meeting of the Texas Democratic Party’s Secular Caucus, the second ever for this group, and the first to feature several candidates who are embracing the caucus and its principles. The Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) is making incredible strides in 2018, adding new workshops all the time (more than ninety so far) and branching out into fantastic online workshops with special guest authors and experts. What better way to learn all about all this great work than in podcast form? Bertha Vazquez, the indefatigable director of TIES, is the guest on the Talk Nerdy podcast, where she talks about communicating evolution, as host Cara Santa Maria puts it, “in the trenches.”
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Video of the Week: CFI at the UN Human Rights Council: Atheists Under Attack

Though the Trump administration has turned its back on the UN Human Rights Council, the Center for Inquiry remains very much engaged. Last week, CFI president and CEO Robyn Blumner was in Geneva for the thirty-eighth session of the Human Rights Council, and there she delivered a forthright statement on the assault on atheists’ rights around the world, as nonbelievers find their lives threatened for questioning religion.

Plus, CFI is a signatory to this joint statement to the Council on Mauritania’s use of the death penalty to punish blasphemy and its imprisonment of activist and journalist Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkheitir.


Bracing for Reversals with a Post-Kennedy Court

The shockwave you may have felt reverberating throughout the country last week was in response to the announcement that Justice Anthony Kennedy was retiring from the Supreme Court, handing President Trump the opportunity to reshape the court for a generation or more. The announcement was made just after the Court upheld Trump’s travel ban, which Kennedy supported, in a decision the Center for Inquiry characterized as “willfully ignoring the obvious xenophobic, anti-Muslim hostility upon which the ban was based.” Dylan Matthews at Vox lays out what changes may be in store, including rulings “in favor of religious challenges to anti-discrimination law, and perhaps, in an extreme case, reverse some past Supreme Court rulings on gay rights.”

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Enceladus Shows Off its Plumage

Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, is already known to be ejecting plumes of ice and salt water that originate from an ocean beneath the moon’s surface. Now, data analyzed from the late Cassini spacecraft shows that these plumes contain complex organic compounds. While not an indication of life on Enceladus, life as we know it cannot exist without these compounds as building blocks. As planetary scientist Kate Craft of Johns Hopkins told the Washington Post, “We astrobiologists get excited about larger molecules and that sort of thing because it means that something is building upon itself and making itself more complex.”

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Question of the Week

We know that if you’re looking for a book to base a society upon, the Bible (which is full of violence and death and floods and plagues and whales swallowing people) is not a great choice. Plus, most of it is made up. But what if we had to choose one book of fiction upon which to found a new and prosperous human society? Could we flourish within a moral society if our civilization was founded upon something like Harry Potter, Great Expectations, or The Cat in the Hat?

Congratulations, Stephen! A copy of Brief Candle in the Dark is on its way.

Want to suggest a Question of the Week? Email submissions to us at (Questions only, please. All answers to bimonthly questions are made only in the comments section of the Question of the Week.)

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