Weekly Policy Report
by Edwina Rogers
Today is the 228th Anniversary of the US Constitution
Does the US Constitution interest you? If you’re an American activist, you may attend a Constitution Day parade or celebration this week. Perhaps you carry a pocket Constitution with you now. Perhaps you reflect on the wisdom of the Framers and the founding of this nation often. No matter where you live, if you fervently hope that future generations live in freedom, the US Constitution is a document worth reading and remembering.
President Obama’s Religion
Seven years into President Obama’s presidency, Americans still question his religion, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. Nearly three in ten (29 percent) report believing Obama is a Muslim. A 2011 PRRI poll found that 40 percent of Americans didn’t know what religion President Obama follows, while 18 percent said he was a Muslim.
Behavioral Science Comes To The U.S. Government
President Obama announced a new executive order on Tuesday which authorizes federal agencies to conduct behavioral experiments on U.S. citizens in order to advance government initiatives. The object is to understand human behavior in relation to policy. To see citizens as people instead of numbers. Taking a more humanistic approach may yield substantial benefits on our society.
“A growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights — research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them — can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people,” reads the executive order, released on Tuesday.
The new program is the end result of a policy proposal the White House floated in 2013 entitled “Strengthening Federal Capacity for Behavioral Insights.” According to a document released by the White House at that time, the program was modeled on one implemented in the U.K. in 2010. That initiative created a Behavioral Insights Teams, which used “iterative experimentation” to test “interventions that will further advance priorities of the British government.”
New Sex Ed Controversy Report
SIECUS is pleased to release its newest annual report on recent sexuality education controversies from around the nation, Sexuality Education in the Age of Digital Media.
Covering major controversies that took place over the 2014–2015 school year, the report highlights controversy trends such as the impact that social and digital media are having in the field of sexuality education, including new and alternative forms of sexuality education that are accessible to students. The role of traditional media and parent engagement, either supporting or opposing comprehensive sexuality education, also remain common in sexuality education controversies across the country.
The stories behind the headlines of local sexuality education battles can inform community-level stakeholders in each one of the nation’s 13,000-plus school districts. We hope that educators and advocates alike will be on the alert for similar challenges and opportunities in their own backyard. Review the past school year through the lens of this new report.
Eye-catching Things In SPI’s Orbit
New photos of Pluto from New Horizons show that the dwarf planet has land forms as complex as anything found yet in the solar system. Mashable has the pictures from the historic flyby. “Seeing dunes on Pluto — if that is what they are — would be completely wild, because Pluto’s atmosphere today is so thin,” William McKinnon, a New Horizons team member, said in a statement. “Either Pluto had a thicker atmosphere in the past, or some process we haven’t figured out is at work. It’s a head-scratcher.”
Religion and Presidential Politics
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders spoke Monday at Liberty University, a private, conservative Christian university. In his speech, Sanders quoted the Bible and Pope Francis, while also reinforcing his support for the legality of abortion. He did state that, “I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse…”
Science Update: Take A Hike
Feeling stressed, depressed, or generally unwell? Go take a hike. Emerging research shows that there is more to gain than just the fresh air and vitamin D producing sunshine of the outdoors. You’ll have to get your hands dirty in order to enjoy these benefits. Enter the new profession of Ecotherapy. Ecotherapy is a fledgling profession, still unrestrained by such things as “standards of practice” and “licensing requirements.” It can mean regular outdoor sessions with a therapist or simple exercises undertaken on one’s own, and can be part of a general approach to well-being or a supplement to treatment for a medical condition. Read on to discover how bacteria in soil have impacted serotonin levels in the brains of mice.
Opinion: Pope Francis in a Race Against the Unaffiliated
Research is giving the religious right a run for its money this year.
As it turns out, a majority of Americans (45%) no longer believe that America is a “Christian nation”, despite the Manifest Destiny of our formative years. This is an 8% rise since 2010, when a majority of Americans still believed that “America has always been and is currently a Christian nation”.
In 2014, PRRI determined that, while Catholicism still rules in 15 major American cities, the religiously unaffiliated come in at a close second, dominating in 10 U.S. metropolises. In fact, in every urban area where Catholics come in at number one, the religiously unaffiliated fall right behind them. Among all of the major metropolitan areas studied, only Nashville, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Atlanta don’t have Catholics among the top three. However, Nashville has the largest percentage of one singular religious group: nearly four in ten (38 percent) residents identify as white evangelical Protestant.
It’s no surprise, then, that Pope Francis is choosing now for a big push (i.e. comeback) around the world.
In Argentina, after several clandestine meetings with the Pope, President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner agreed to put an end to a secular education law that’s been around since 1884. The law had guaranteed that religious teachings would be an extracurricular affair, protecting all affiliations in the classroom. That century-old protection has been eradicated. View SPI and joining coalitions’ letter to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina, requesting a discussion of these urgent matters.
In Guatemala, a similar measure will force all schools to teach the Bible as the source of human values. A local humanist Indiegogo page currently begs for $8,000 to help restore the proverbially level field that’s somehow being barreled over. View SPI and joining coalitions’ letter to Otto Pérez Molina, President of Guatemala and Ambassador Julio Ligorria Carballido requesting support that this bill proceed no further.
And in parts of Canada, the pushy precedent is already set. Ontario’s tax dollars fund all—and only—Catholic schools. These schools have barred LGBT groups from forming, only hire Catholic teachers, and have consistently silenced religiously unaffiliated students. 30% of all teaching jobs in the Province are held up in this singularly-funded Catholic school system.
Clearly, the Pope still covers a lot of ground.
Next month, he’s headed to Philadelphia, after which, he’ll address a joint session of Congress. Surely, won’t he call for the same backwards action across the U.S.?
Our demographic image has already flipped. But our global story is slow—and resistant—to change.
Only his appointment of a new personal physician suggests Pope Francis might be getting tired of competing with an inevitable trend.
Edwina Rogers is a 20-year expert in public policy
and current CEO of the Secular Policy Institute.