Conference-Call1

About the International Coalition Calls

Every first Thursday of the month, the Secular Policy Institute holds an international coordinating call for its 300 members to discuss the future of the secular movement.

Call for January 7, 2016

Here’s the latest recording of the Secular Policy Institute’s international coordinating call.

Agenda

SPI International Hot Spot of the Month – Saudi Arabia

December 14, 2015

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

President Obama and Secretary Kerry:

The Secular Policy Institute and the below signed coalition members call on your office to demand clemency for artist Ashraf Fayadh. Through a hearsay allegation and a crooked interpretation of one of his poems, Fayadh faces beheading come mid-December. After initially determining capital punishment unwarranted, upon prosecutorial appeal Saudi Arabia condemned Fayadh to death for the crime of blasphemy. The breadth of human rights conventions stands against such brutality and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) calls for action against “Tier 1 Countries of Particular Concern” for which Saudi Arabia is listed.

A well-known poet and artist both within Saudi Arabia and globally, Ashraf Fayadh (35) has helped cultivate Saudi Arabia’s contemporary arts movement, is a member of a Saudi-British Arts coalition (Edge of Arabia), and has curated exhibitions in Venice and Jeddah. Ethnically Palestinian, and living in Saudi Arabia, Fayadh is officially a stateless person. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is infamous for its persecution of those claiming their inherent rights of free speech. Free Saudi Liberal’s Raif Badawi sits during this the first few of his ten-year imprisonment, already experiencing many of the lashes laid upon him by a Saudi Court, and nearly half of the 2,200 executed since 1985 have not carried a Saudi passport.

Following and August 2013, post-soccer match argument in a café in Abha, claiming that Fayadh had blasphemed against God, Mohammed, and Saudi Arabia, his accuser contacted the Committee on the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (religious police) who then detained him. Fayadh’s father calls this matter the result of a personal vendetta. Fayadh’s friends allege that the policy berated him owing to his “smoking and having long hair.” Fayadh was released later to be tried from February until May 2014. Fayadh’s charges included blasphemy for his poetry (“Asylum” in his 2008 book Instructions Within) and for “illicit relationships” by pictures on his cellphone of him associating with women. On May 28th, 2014 a General Court judge determined that Fayadh’s repentance disqualified death as punishment opting for four years’ imprisonment and 800 lashes. The prosecution appealed, and in a November 17th, 2015 second trial’s verdict, Fayadh was sentenced to death.

A close associate of Fayadh (Mona Kareem of Kuwait) said that this was a message from the morality police against the arts community of Abha. Friends of Fayadh assert that this is retaliation for the poet posting videos of the religious police publicly flogging someone. According to Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson, “Regardless of what Fayadh said or didn’t say, Saudi Arabia should stop arresting people for their personal beliefs. The fact that Ashram Fayadh is facing the prospect of being beheaded only adds to the outrageousness of this court ruling.” These actions tend be less about protecting religion than intimidation and disposing of actors considered undesirable by repressive authoritarian regimes.

More than 150 people have already been executed this year in Saudi Arabia. To offer a reprieve from capital punishment only to apply it again is the height of cruelty, to do so upon hearsay for against what the global community would otherwise consider inviolable free expression is chilling. Ashraf Fayadh does not deserve what has been imposed upon him. There is a one-month window to save his life. According to sources close to him, Fayadh lacks legal counsel and visitation rights. As global human rights conventions were established to protect people like Ashraf and as the USCIRF mandates action to protect “prisoners of belief,” we call upon the Offices of the President of the United States and the U.S. Department of State to intervene on behalf of Ashraf Fayadh.

Sincerely,

Edwina Rogers

47 executed, not Ali al-Nimr, but his uncle Nimr al-Nimr (and 46 others).

http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2016/jan/02/middle-east-condemns-saudi-execution-of-shia-cleric-live

Signatories

ARP Sociedad para el Avance del Pensamiento Crítico – Spain
Association Française Transhumanistes – Technoprog – France
Atheist Foundation of Australia – Lane Cove, New South Wales, Australia
Central London Humanists – London, UK
Community Action Network – Washington, DC, USA
Humanist Association of San Diego – San Diego, California, USA
Humanist Chaplaincy at American University – Washington, DC, USA
Humanists of North Central Florida – Ocala, Florida, USA
The La Crosse Area Freethought Society – La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA
Mid-West Humanists – Ireland
Muslimish – Madison, WI
North London Humanist Group – London, UK
Omaha Metro Area Humanists Association – Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Red River Thinkers – Fargo, North Dakota, USA
Sidmennt – The Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association – Reykjavik, Iceland
United Coalition of Reason – Washington, DC, USA
Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic – Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Watford Area Humanists – Watford, UK

I – SPI Overview

(Edwina Rogers, CEO, edwina@secularpolicyinstitute.net, 202-674-7800)

  • SPI Mission

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.

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.

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.  Yet each is committed to a rational, evidence-based analysis of a timely topic that can inform effective public policy.  The first in a series of Guides, the World Future Guide 2016 provides critical secular insights into timely topics of international import in the hopes of guiding more informed public opinion and policy-making in our increasingly secular world.

First Thursday of Every Month at Noon Eastern Standard Time (GMT -4): January 7; February 4; March 3; April 7; May 5; June 2; July 7; September 1; October 6; November 3 (No conference call in August and December)

  • Recruit National and Regional Leaders
  • International Hotspots in Need

II – Fellows’ Corner

(Madeline Schussel, Policy Director, madeline@secularpolicyinstitute.net)

We would like to highlight the accomplishments of these SPI Fellows in 2015:

Amatzia Baram gave a report on the state of Lebanon in his article Lebanon’s fragile balance holds amid political paralysis, and contributed to the World Future Guide.

Gregory Benford is a multiply award-winning science fiction author whose blog contains poetry about bout life, the universe, and everything. He is faculty of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Irvine.  He is also a contributing editor of Reason magazine, wrote an article about Pluto for Air and Space Magazine, and published an adventure novel, Against Infinity.

Elliot D. Cohen is a philosopher who has written a whopping twenty-five books, including What Would Aristotle Do?: Self-Control Through the Power of Reason and The Theory and Practice of Logic-Based Therapy. He also contributed to the World Future Guide.

A.C. Grayling spoke to the BBC on The Meaning of Life According to AJ Ayer, wrote abouthow religion seems to be growing when it isn’t, was interviewed by the Atheist Debates Patreon Project, gave a speech urging students to have more courage, and contributed to the World Future Guide. He wrote about the Middle East immigration crisis in The irony of migrancy.

Marty Klein recently wrote an article about an aspect of Norway’s cultural re-education (Norway, Immigrants, and Sex Education) of its Syrian immigrant population.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi contributed to the World Future Guide and gave Middle East policy advice in Why America Should Aim to Contain- Rather Than Destroy – ISIS.

Mark Juergensmeyer wrote about how cooperating with Iran might help the US defeat ISIS, and offered a poignant perspective on the attacks in Paris in his newly published article, Why ISIS Attacked Paris. He also analyzed the religion of ISIS in What Kind of Islam is That? Talking with Refugees from ISIS. In an interview he spoke about how religion fuels conflict in the Middle East.

Patrik Lindenfors wrote about Europe’s immigration emergency in Refugees Crisis: Humanists call for a strong and humane EU response.

Elizabeth Loftus was interviewed by NPR about false memories, gave a TED Talk called How Reliable is Your Memory?, and contributed to the World Future Guide. She was the focus for a Washington Post article on the failing memory of US Presidential candidate Donald Trump. She appeared in an interview that explored the “Religious Experience” from a neurologist’s perspective.

Kevin Perrott is a leader in the movement to extend the natural healthspan of humans so that people could feel as healthy as 40 years old in their 80s. We interviewed him at length for a newsletter.

Michael Semple, Visiting Research Professor in the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast, has written an article for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Making Peace with the Taliban.

Daily News Clips Now Available (Follow this link to register) 

III – Coalitions & Resources

(Johnny Monsarrat, Alliance Director, johnny@secularpolicyinstitute.net)

  • World SPI Calendar – Upcoming Major Conferences
  • Volunteers & Interns – SPI Volunteers/Interns Recruitment
  • Coalition Update
  • Newsletter – weekly, please sign up (Subscribe to newsletter)
  • Secular Leaders League

You do a lot through the SPI coalition in 2015. See our report! (2015 report)

Now we’ve launched two Secular Leaders email chat lists: the US Secular Leaders League (secular-leaders-usa@googlegroups.com) and the Global Secular Leaders League (secular-leaders@googlegroups.com). The purpose of these groups is to:

  • Trade group emails on the secular movement’s future;
  • Plan a global “business plan competition” to coach secular leaders;
  • Host a donor conference where plans get presented judged, and funded, and;
  • Fund winners through a “Secular Donor Advice Fund” for investment firms like Fidelity.

Coordinating makes us stronger. Please contribute your needs and ideas! Please join via the Google group email invitation you received. You may leave at any time.

Thank you! With you, we’re going to change the world in 2016.

Resources:

IV – Public Policy Update

(Hugo Estrella, Latin America Regional Director, hstar@argentina.com)

  • Latin America Update
    • SPI is seeking UN Special Consultative Status. Edwina will be representative in NY and Hugo in Geneva. We are looking to build coalitions and join networks. SPI will seek UNESCO consultative NGO status. Then we have the EU, there, they have an office which would be more than appropriate for us to lobby, which is the European Commission for Fundamental Rights.
    • Our fellows from the Italian Union of Atheists Rationalists, Agnostics and Freethinkers (it) to which Hugo belongs and who publish news from US matters and internationally as well (they are members of the European Humanist Federation) have office space in the city (Circolo UAAR di Pisa). SPI will share the office thanks to Hugo.

Recent Letters

All letters can be found on our “Coalitions” tab under “Advocacy Campaigns”.

●      Comment Letter: Healthcare Discrimination

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of Civil Rights (OR) issued the proposed regulations that take critical steps toward realizing the promise of Section 1557 in ending sex discrimination in health care. Sex discrimination in health are results in women paying more for health care, receiving improper diagnoses more frequently, being provided less effective treatments, and sometimes being denied care altogether. Further, numerous surveys, studies, and reports have documented the widespread discrimination experienced by LGBT individuals and their families in the health system. In response, the ACA included broad protections against sex discrimination in health programs and activities, with Section 1557, which prohibits discrimination in federally funded and operated health programs and activities, as the cornerstone of this protection. Strong regulations implementing Section 1557, paired with robust enforcement, are necessary to ensure that all women can access affordable, quality health care.

●      Sign-on Letter: Saudi Arabia’s Seat on the UN Human Rights Council

  • Does your secular group want to help SPI in a charge to maintain the integrity of the United Nations Human Rights Council? The UNHRC’s website prominently features a 2007 quote by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “All victims of human rights abuse should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action.” The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a UN-member state and therefore now eligible for a seat on the UNHRC. The Consultative Group is tasked with reviewing and assigning applicants to serve as “Special Rapporteurs” and other “Independent Investigators” for human rights abuses around the planet. Beyond the high profile cases of condemning a teenager (Ali Mohammed al-Nimr) to death for participating in protesting for democracy, and sentencing a blogger (Raif Badawi) to degrading physical abuse and a lengthy prison sentence for expressing critique; the Kingdom sentenced Saudi rights lawyer Walid al-Khair to 15 years for “breaking allegiance” to the monarchy by founding and directing the organization “Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.”

●      Letter: Sending Sympathies to France

  • View the letter that the Secular Policy Institute sent to President François Hollande regarding the terrorist attacks in Paris. We at the Secular Policy Institute express our deepest sympathies and sorrow for the actions of those few who permanently impacted the lives of so many. Vive la Ville Lumière, vive laïcité, vive la France!

●      Sign-on Letter: Inclusive Police Vehicle Decals

  • We are asking the National Association of Police Organizations to highly consider advising and educating police officers regarding the use of religious decals on secular government vehicles. These actions can be divisive and threatening toward over thirty percent non-religious in the U.S. The United States has two national mottos, of these “In God We Trust” was chosen to be placed as a decal upon police and sheriff cars. Unlike “In God We Trust” (which was adopted as a national motto in 1956 – mainly to counter communism), E Pluribus Unum has been with us since 1776. E Pluribus Unum is a far more accurate representation about what is best of America: “out of the many, one.”

●      Sign-on Letter: A Child’s Right to Medical Care

  • Should a child be denied access to healthcare because of the religion they happened to be born into? The Secular Policy Institute and our coalition partners remain steadfast supporters of science-based medicine. We expect to find no better ally in advocating for medical science than the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Thus we ask the Secretary to lobby the President and Congress to introduce Federal requirements to provide medical care for children against religious and philosophical objections from their parents. The Secretary’s office has the leverage to educate lawmakers about science, and the importance of proper medical care.

●      Update: Sign-on Letter: UN Asylum for Bangladeshi Authors

  • We have recently received correspondence from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

V – Project and Member Spotlight

  • Margaret Downey
    • The former President of Atheist Alliance International and founder and president of the Freethought Society
    • Visit the Freethought Society website on January 29 to learn how you can support efforts to honor Thomas Paine
    • Currently working on a statue project, a music compilation of Thomas Paine songs, and a coloring book for children
  • Bob Churchill
    • Director of Communications of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
    • The Freedom of Thought Report 2015 provides timely insight on the rights of and discrimination against humanists, atheists, and non-theists
  • John A. Wagner
    • Representative of the IHEU to the United Nations; Member of the Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Member of the Committee on Children’s Rights
    • Advises gaining consultative status through the Economic and Social Council (Civil Society, A Practical Guide for Civil Society)
  • Doug Thomas
    • President of Secular Connexion Séculière
    • Calls to attention the new political scene in Canada brought on by the new majority Liberal government and its effect on non-believers
  • John Kirbow
    • Founder, “Reason Revival”, (347) 738-3245
    • Collaborating with ex-Muslims and other Islam reformers on specific ways in which science and freethought movements can help Islamic societies, including:
      • Several ideas for a greater presence in NYC, and
      • Prospects for how a leading human rights crowd-sourcing platform, “Movements.org”, can be a hub for much of our common causes, in mutually beneficial ways

VI – Upcoming Events

SPI Staff:

Edwina Rogers – edwina@secularpolicyinstitute.net
Madeline Schussel – madeline@secularpolicyinstitute.net
Johnny Monsarrat – johnny@secularpolicyinstitute.net