Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced this week that a core facet of the nation’s new constitution will recognize and respect secularism in government and beyond. This action marks a bold step forward for the nation, and will likely spur new progress in the country in days to come.
The move came in spite of bold opposition to the reform from groups all over the country. Needless to say, the PM’s decision was not the most popular in a nation frequently rife with religious and political controversy.
In a speech on Wednesday, Mr Davutoglu said: “Secularism will feature in the new constitution we draft as a principle that guarantees citizens’ freedom of religion and faith and that ensures the state is an equal distance from all faith groups.”
The PM’s leadership on this issue signals a shift in the geopolitical spectrum in Turkey – one that may very likely, in the years to come, have Turkey emerge as the leader in a new regional dialogue on the overlap between politics and religion.
Physician and Pastor Debate Science and Faith
This week, two unlikely collaborators came together to share and embrace each
other’s perspectives on two vastly different topics: science and faith. The event occurred this week in Curitiba, Brazil, with a high-ranking Vatican cardinal and a Dartmouth College professor.
Dr. Marcelo Gleiser, a theoretical physicist from Dartmouth College, and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, met for a discussion and debate. The work represents a Pope-initiated program called “The Court of the Gentiles”, where church leaders meet with world leaders and leading academics to discuss some of the most potent issues of the day.
While stem cell research and the dual role that morality and secularism can play alongside each other represent a few of the topics, the discussions can go so far as that of society’s rapid march towards transhumanism.
By the end of the night, as a result of their discussions the two agreed that from the philosophical underpinnings of the matter, faith and science were quite different matters, as faith could be reasonably asked to provide substantial proof of the existence of god or to provide religious texts which explain, scientifically, the explanations of natural phenomena.
Secular Injustice in Bangladesh
This week a postgraduate law student, Nazimuddin Samad ┬áwas killed in Bangladesh in a machete attack.
As the news broke, much work was done┬áto understand what had happened. Media contacts worked to establish Nazim’s connections to the Bangla secularist community and translate some of his social media posts, so that we could build a picture of the range of his interests.
These interests included human rights, secularism, the war crimes trials, he made atheist and feminist criticism of religion, and stood up for minority rights and victims of sexual and religious attacks. He was a humanist, an activist, a politically-engaged student in the prime of life.
He was not the first to be murdered under grisly circumstances recently in Bangladesh. At least seven others have perished at the hands of religious extremists, who view the atheists’ views as both blasphemous and insulting.
A banned group in Bangladesh linked to al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the murder.
Recording of the SPI International Call — April 7, 2016
Here’s the latest recording of the Secular Policy Institute’s international coordinating call.
International Hot Spot of the Month ÔÇô┬áItaly Sign-on Letter┬ácontent:
President of the Republic of Italy
Palazzo del Quirinale
00187 Roma, Italy
President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies
00186 Roma, Italy
Presidents Mattarella and Boldrini:
The Secular Policy Institute encourages ItalyÔÇÖs Chamber of Deputies to pass the Civil Union bill (131-71) recently passed by the Senate of the Republic to expedite at least a bare minimum of legal protection for same-sex couples. This bill is to recognize the spousal relationships of same-sex couples.
In Italy, same-sex spouses lack the rights that their heterosexual counterparts receive. Since 1986, there has been ongoing discussion about the development and implementation of some form of spousal recognition for gay and lesbian couples with certain municipal districts offering limited recognition. In 2012 the Court of Cassation determined that for marriage, same-sex couples were ÔÇ£non-configurable,ÔÇØ yet,┬áthree years later┬áthe Court determined that the inviolable rights provision of Article 2 of the Italian Constitution demanded legal protection for same-sex couples. This is further advanced by the Constitution. Under Article 3, all Italian citizens have equality and dignity before the law where, ÔÇ£It is the duty of the Republic to remove those obstacles of an economic or social nature which constrain the freedom and equality of citizens, thereby impeding the full development of the human personÔÇØ.
The European Court of Human Rights found that the human rights as Europeans of several┬áItalian┬ásame-sex couples were violated by lacking the legal protection that spousal recognition provides (Oliari and Others v.┬áItaly┬á). The ECHR found that by not extending legal relationship-recognition eligibility to same-sex couples, Italy had committed a human rights violation, and awarded financial damages to its victims. While recognizing the ÔÇ£hesitationÔÇØ of a handful of EU member states, the┬áOliari┬áCourt wrote: ÔÇ£Since there is no explicit reference to ÔÇÿmen and womenÔÇÖ as the case is in other human rights instruments, it may be argued that there is no obstacle to recognize same-sex relationships in the context of marriage.ÔÇØ
Article 7 of the Italian Constitution declares an official separation of Church and State. In its call to ÔÇ£establish civil unions between persons of the same-sex mutual obligation of fidelity and moral and material association,ÔÇØ and its alteration of the language of Italian marriage laws referring to spouses to include ÔÇ£or civil union between persons of the same sex;ÔÇØ this bill is the closest attempt Italy has made to rectifying these detrimental human rights violations.
The Secular Policy Institute is committed to protecting the equality and dignity of persons through a global standard of gender neutrality in marriage. We call on the Chamber of Deputies to expedite the ratification of civil unions for same-sex couples, thus establishing this act as an important first step toward full civil and social equality for gay and lesbian citizens and persons within the Republic.
Frye speaks about current and upcoming advocacy campaign letters:
Humanism in UK schools, CanadaÔÇÖs Office of Religious Freedom,
North CarolinaÔÇÖs HB2 (ÔÇ£bathroom billÔÇØ), MississippiÔÇÖs HB 1523 (ÔÇ£religious freedom billÔÇØ), and ongoing issues in Texas, and Uganda.
He also┬ádiscusses Atheist Alliance International, which has written letters to the UNHCR on behalf of non-believers and secularists who, facing persecution in their home country for their beliefs, apply for asylum.
An ethnographer and cultural specialist, Kirbow updates us about his ongoing research and fieldwork in the Middle East. He is the founding member of Human Empowerment Network, which seeks to provide a platform for veterans in low-income communities.
Edwina Rogers on SOCH (email@example.com)
Emily Young and Uttam Niraula, Team Member and Executive Director respectively, work with the┬áSociety for Humanism (SOCH) Nepal, which was established in 2005 to promote humanism in Nepali society.
It recently established a volunteer program for international people to work in Nepal and become a direct part of creating progressive changes.
II ÔÇô┬áSPI Overview
The Secular Policy Institute (SPI) is a think tank organization of thought leaders, writers, scholars, and speakers with a shared mission to influence public opinion and promote a secular society. We believe governmental decisions and public policies should be based on available science and reason, and free of religion or religious preferences.
ÔùÅCommunity Action Network (www.CommunityActionNetwork.org)
ÔùÅParent Teacher Community Action Network (www.PTCan.org)
Community Action Network (CAN) promotes the development and application of science and reason in an ongoing quest for secular solutions to local problems. As an inclusive, affirming, and action-oriented initiative, CAN seeks to promote rational relationships and effective community building in support of collective problem solving and the ongoing advancement and enjoyment of a more just and reasoned world.
ÔùÅPTCAN Mission Statement
ÔùÅPTCAN Gives to Get School Support
ÔùÅWorld Future Guide 2016
The World Future Guide collects the public policy recommendations and findings on demographic trends from the foremost fellows at the Secular Policy Institute. Leading thinkers give research and opinion on law, education, and healthcare, practical advice on defense and surveillance technology, the big picture trends on the interplay between secular government and religion, and more. And we give you the scoop: even a peek into the finances of the Islamic State!
Our ten articles are written by fellows from seven countries representing diverse points of view.┬á Yet each is committed to a rational, evidence-based analysis of a timely topic that can inform effective public policy.┬á The first in a series of Guides, the┬áWorld Future Guide 2016┬áprovides critical secular insights into timely topics of international import in the hopes of guiding more informed public opinion and policy-making in our┬áincreasingly secular world.
Marty Klein recently wrote an article in Psychology Today analyzing the debate of whether pornography demeans women, and the division of power in sexual relationships.
Elham Manea, of Yemeni and Swiss dual nationalities, is a political scientist, a writer, and a human rights activist. She works as an associate professor of politics in Zurich University and as a consultant for Swiss government agencies and international human rights organizations. Along with other Middle Eastern activists, she was a signatory to a recent letter written to President Obama to ÔÇ£put human rights firstÔÇØ during his upcoming visit to the Middle East.
John McWhorter contributed to an article about free speech on college campuses, especially the recent rise in debates about racism and marginalized groups.
Representative Mike HondaÔÇÖs (D-CA) resolution ÔÇ£Expressing Support for Supporting Transgender AcceptanceÔÇØ brings awareness of the millions of fellow Americans who are marginalized and endangered living under a system that does not recognize the full range of human identities. Awareness such as this and support for our fellow Americans can help to end generations of pain and suffering one day.
Georgia Religious Freedom Bill Veto
On Monday, March 28, Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia announced that he will veto the stateÔÇÖs controversial ÔÇ£religious libertyÔÇØ bill that would have allowed faith-based organizations to deny services to those who violate their ÔÇ£sincerely held religious beliefsÔÇØ, as well as fire employees who did not comply with these beliefs. The bill had garnered much criticism from gay rights groups, pressure to not become law from major businesses, and support from religious conservatives. Governor DealÔÇÖs commitment to acknowledging the inequality and discrimination that GeorgiaÔÇÖs LGBT community faces is laudable.
Texas Reproductive Freedom
TexasÔÇÖs HB2, a law which imposes medically unnecessary requirements on abortion providers and clinics, could shut down more than 75 percent of all womenÔÇÖs health clinics providing abortion services in the second-most populous state in the country. This would be a grave threat to womenÔÇÖs right to choice for the well-being of their own bodies.
Monthly Conference Call Schedule: First Thursday of Every Month┬áat┬áNoon Eastern Standard Time (GMT -4):┬áMay 5;┬áJune 2;┬áJuly 7;┬áSeptember 1;┬áOctober 6;┬áNovember 3┬á(No conference call in August and December)
Louisiana’s Senate Bill 156, which would have repealed the state’s┬áBalanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act, was┬árejected on a 4-2 vote in the Senate Education Committee on March 29,┬á2016. The failure of the bill’s repeal marks a downturn in secular rights in Louisiana.
Despite having been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the bill is still on the books. The bill was first passed in 1981.
It’s not the only one. The Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008 was passed by Governor Bobby Jindal. The governor was quoted as saying that it allows teachers to “teach our kids about creationism”.
For the latter law, there have been 5 separate attempts to repeal it over the last few years, and all have been unsuccessful. This year, no one has put forward an initiative to challenge the bill.
The Mission For Transgender Rights in North Carolina
Three members of the LGBT community, with the help of the ACLU and a state advocacy group, are suing North Carolina over the state’s new law that prohibits transgender people from using public bathrooms that match their gender identity.┬áMost (66 percent) North Carolina residents favor laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing.
Republican leaders pushed the law in opposition to a recent law passed in Charleston, which favored LGBT rights in bathrooms.
ÔÇ£The basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room, for each gender was violated by government overreach and intrusion by the mayor and city council of Charlotte.ÔÇØ
Meanwhile, in Georgia, it is a different story.
Under increasing pressure from major corporations that do business in Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal announced he will veto a bill that critics say would have curtailed the rights of Georgia’s LGBT community.
The bill — HB 757 — would have given faith-based organizations in Georgia the option to deny services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Supporters said the measure would have protected religious freedom, while opponents have described it as “anti-LGBT” and “appalling.”
Colorado Allows Atheist, Satanic Groups To Distribute Literature at Public Schools
In a move placed in reaction to the recent distribution of bibles to hundreds of students by the Gideons, a Colorado public school district has been forced, by their own actions, to allow atheist and satanic groups to do the same.┬áDue to the Delta County school district’s distribution policy, which favored the Gideons, assistant superintendent Kurt Clay allowed the groups to distribute pamphlets in local area middle and high schools.
The groups, which include the┬áFreedom from Religion Foundation, Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers┬áand the Satanic Temple have all been given permission. The school’s policy only prohibits groups that promote harmful, obscene, pornographic, or otherwise hate-promoting materials from entering the schools.
With any luck, maybe a few other groups might find a similar opportunity in school districts of their own all across the nation!
The Other Side’s Take On A Legend
A Christian apologist and close friend of the late Christopher Hitchens has authored a new book examining the conflicts facing the legend around issues of faith and secularism. Regarded as a seminal work on both sides of the playing field, Michael Shermer, publisher of “Skeptic” magazine, has gone so far as to say that “This book should be read by every atheist and theist passionate about the truth.ÔÇØ
Larry Alex Taunton represents one of a handful of voices from the religious right that extends a breath of fresh air into the hearts and minds of secularists everywhere. Perhaps the best possible clarity about his willingness to stretch across the aisle and meet with the “opposition” can be found in the following quote:
ÔÇ£I wanted to see a Christianity that engaged the world, that had intellectual teeth, and do so in a way that was fair, open, thoughtful,ÔÇØ Taunton said. ÔÇ£I didnÔÇÖt really know if that would resonate, but IÔÇÖve been pretty busy for the last decade.ÔÇØ
┬áHis close working relationship with Hitchens, both on the road, on the debate stage, and beyond, can be best punctuated by yet another gem:
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.ÔÇØ
With that kind of mentality, there may be hope for stronger connections between the secular and religious communities yet.
Retaking Religious Holidays
With the decline in religion throughout the U.S. and around the world, a new question is arising: should we keep up the holidays that we hold so dear? In this piece of original content, we’ll discuss the reasoning behind retaking the practice of one of the most nominal religious holidays – Lent – and why you should consider your festive expression as a representation of your own non-religious belief.
As pointed out by the author Vlad Chituk, there is little reason to disregard the cultural and historic importance of religious holidays – even as we disregard the religious structures that themselves support those festive traditions. Despite being one of the less popular religions, Lent represents a dose of healthy discipline into the sometimes overly consumption-driven lives of the general public.
A Catholic practice, Lent is “celebrated” for a handful of weeks, and is punctuated by a strict adherence to “Fish Fridays”, where practitioners avoid eating meat at least once a week, and are encouraged to suspend other habits they no longer want in their lives.
Discipline is a powerful force in a person’s life, and it goes without saying that we can all do with a little more of it. Top on the joyful celebration of Easter and Mardi Gras at the end of the Lent period – two religious holidays that have no doubt lost all former religious significance whatsoever – and we have a pudding that can be enjoyed by the world for the sheer non-religious benefits alone.
Partying Is Its Own Religion
Atheists: Stand Up For What You Believe In!
A new branch of secular ethics is touting a fact that all members of the secular community should take to heart: when we speak our minds about what we truly believe in, we can emerge victorious over the so-called “true believers” of the world.
At a recent presentation in Tennessee,┬á”Secular Ethics: The power of saying what you DO believe!” was the highlight of several work-sessions presented at the Nashville Nones Convention. Patrick Horst, the presenter of the workshop, used the arena as a platform to address a problem that many in our community have faced: Christians and other believers continually question the validity of atheist arguments, since they are not rooted in religious belief.
Mr. Horst brings a clear point to the issue, explaining that we have the great power and opportunity as a community to have our voice heard in an even louder way by expressing our views consistently, clearly, and with our own authority. Standing up for your beliefs, regardless of having the backing of so-called religious “authority”, is always the most valid option for making new progress in our political and cultural systems of thought and action.