Here’s the latest recording of the Secular Policy Institute’s international coordinating call.
I ÔÇô┬áSPI International Hot Spot of the Month – Bloggers Killed in Bangladesh
June 29, 2015
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Prime Minister’s Office
Old Sangsad Bhaban, Tejgaon,
Ambassador Mohammad Ziauddin
3510 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008, USA
Dear Prime Minister Hasina and Ambassador Ziauddin:
We at the Secular Policy Institute, together with the below signed member organizations, are deeply saddened by the recent wave of violence in your country toward those who have written blogs critical of religion. The world has taken notice of these murders and as a leading voice in the global secular community, we would like to arrange a meeting with Ambassador Ziauddin to establish a constructive dialogue regarding the pursuit of fair prosecution for those involved in the attacks against people placed on the kill list of terrorist Ansarullah Bangla.
As an advocacy organization in support of a more rational world, we find Sheikh MujiburÔÇÖs implementation of a secular Bangladesh, its 2010 reestablishment by the High Court, and further development by the Awami League as led by the Honorable Sheikh Hasina, to be beacons of light for those in the process of secularization. Despite these advances, however, new challenges encumber these pursuits. Democracy requires the protection of political speech and discussion. This includes the right to question the role of religion in public policy and decision-making. The Honorable Prime Minister has carried her fatherÔÇÖs torch in advancing secularism and human rights. Both BangladeshÔÇÖs bold ÔÇ£Vision 2021ÔÇØ and ÔÇ£Digital BangladeshÔÇØ represent progressive steps in this direction. But the realization of these visions will require ongoing efforts to promote a more reason-minded society.
In support of this goal, we seek justice for those non-violent writers who were murdered for expressing their beliefs, and to assist in addressing those policies and processes that constrain Bangladesh in its efforts to become a flourishing secular democracy by its Golden Jubilee Deadline.
II ÔÇô┬áSPI Overview (Edwina Rogers, CEO)
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 from religion and religious preferences.
ÔùÅWorld Future Forum & International Secular Leaders Summit
The Secular Policy Institute convenes some of the worldÔÇÖs most prestigious scholars and scientists to develop and disseminate compelling resources to influence the worldÔÇÖs decision-makers. Open to policymakers and the public alike, the inaugural World Future Forum provides an unparalleled opportunity for an informed discussion of authoritative perspectives on the critical issues facing contemporary societies across the globe.
ÔùÅRegistration opened Friday, May 8, 2015 at┬áwww.secularpolicyinstitute.net
ÔùïCost: $295 per person.
ÔùÅThe World Future Forum will take place at the Phoenix Park Hotel, at 520 North Capitol St NW, Washington, DC 20001
ÔùïHotel Room Blocks available at the Phoenix Park Hotel:
ÔùïSingle/Double Occupancy, 1 Bedrooms are $249 a night (tax additional)
ÔùÅAdditional $30 per person / per day for triple/quadruple occupancy.
ÔùïReservations can be made at┬áphoenixparkhotel.com, using the Group Code┬á19849┬áin order to obtain the GroupÔÇÖs rate.
ÔùÅSunday, October 25, 2015, @ Phoenix Park Hotel
Ôùï2 ÔÇô 5 PM: International Secular Leaders Summit and Training
Ôùï6 ÔÇô 7 PM: Cocktail Reception
Ôùï7 ÔÇô 9 PM: VIP Dinner ÔÇô Keynote Speaker on the Future of Nations and Humanity
ÔùÅMonday, October 26, 2015, @ Phoenix Park Hotel
ÔùïWorld Future Forum ÔÇô Emcee Lawrence Krauss
Ôùï9 ÔÇô 10:30 AM: Future of EarthÔÇÖs Climate
Ôùï10:45 ÔÇô 12:15 PM: Future of Violence and Terrorism
Ôùï2 ÔÇô 3:30 PM: Future of Space Exploration
Ôùï3:30 ÔÇô 4 PM: Conclusion
Ôùï7 ÔÇô 9 PM: World Future Forum Great Debate, @ GWU Lisner Auditorium
ÔùÅSeparately ticketed event: $30 ÔÇô $100; students $20.
ÔùÅCommunity Action Network (www.CommunityActionNetwork.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.
ÔùÅWorld Future Guide
ÔùÅSecular Demographic Guide
ÔùÅRecruit National and Regional Leaders
ÔùÅInternational Hotspots in Need
III ÔÇô┬áFellowsÔÇÖ Corner (Madeline Schussel, Director of Policy)
ÔùÅWe would like to highlight these new SPI Fellows:
ÔùïDonald Prothero┬á- Natural History Museum, CA
Donald is an American geologist and mammalian┬ápaleontologist who was one of the first to conduct research┬áin┬ámagnetostratigraphy, a technique to date rock layers that is┬áused to examine┬áhistorical┬áclimate changes. ┬áStephen Jay Gould┬ácited his research, which noted the lack of response to climate change in mammals, in support of the┬ápunctuated equilibrium┬ámodel of evolution.
Donald attended the┬áUniversity of California, Riverside,┬áwhere he studied paleontology, and went on to┬áreceive┬áhis Ph.D. in geological sciences from┬áColumbia University. ┬áHe taught and┬áled undergraduate paleontological and geological field trips at Columbia, CIT, Knox College, and Vassar. ┬áThen, for 27 years, he was a member of the faculty at┬áOccidental College. ┬áDonald is currently a research associate in vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.
Prothero has┬áauthored or edited more than 30 books and over 250 scientific papers, including 5┬ágeology textbooks. ┬áHe has appeared on┬áJeopardy, and he has also┬ádefeated┬áBen Stein on the show┬áWin Ben SteinÔÇÖs Money.
ÔùïIan Morris – Stanford University, CA
Morris grew up in the United Kingdom. He attended Alleyne’s comprehensive school in Stone, Staffordshire, and studied ancient history and archaeology at the University of Birmingham. He gained his PhD at Cambridge University. From 1987 through 1995. he taught at the University of Chicago, and since 1995 he has been at Stanford.
Since joining Stanford in 1995, he has served as Associate Dean of Humanities and Sciences, Chair of the Classics Department, and Director of the Social Science History Institute. He was one of the founders of the Stanford Archaeology Center and has served two terms as its director. He has published extensively on the history and archaeology of the ancient Mediterranean and on world history. He has also won a Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
ÔùïJohn McWhorter – Columbia University, NY
Since 2008, he has taught linguistics, American Studies, and in the Core Curriculum program at Columbia University. After graduation McWhorter was an associate professor of linguistics at Cornell University from 1993 to 1995 before taking up a position as associate professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1995 until 2003. He left that position to become a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a libertarian think tank. He is Contributing Editor at┬áThe New Republic┬áand weekly columnist for┬áThe Daily Beast. From 2006 to 2008 he was a columnist for the┬áNew York Sun┬áand he has written columns regularly for┬áThe Root,┬áThe New York Daily News┬áRupert Murdoch’s┬áThe Daily┬áand Time Ideas.
McWhorter has published a number of books on linguistics and on race relations, of which the better known are┬áPower of Babel: A Natural History of Language,┬áOur Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English,┬áDoing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why You Should, Like, Care, and┬áLosing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America. He has spoken at TED (2013), has appeared on┬áThe Colbert Report┬áand┬áReal Time with Bill Maher, and appeared regularly on MSNBC’s┬áUp with Chris Hayes.
ÔùïGreg Benford – University of California
American science fiction author and astrophysicist who is on the faculty of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Irvine.
He is a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, a Fellow of the American Physical Society and was Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University and the Universities of Turin and Bologna. In 1995 he received the Lord Prize for contributions to science. With more than 200 scientific publications, his research encompasses both theory and experiments in the fields of astrophysics and plasma physics. His research has been supported by NSF, NASA, AFOSR, DOE and other agencies. He is an ongoing advisor to NASA, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and the CIA.
ÔùïDaily News Clip Now Available -┬áHow to sign up
Checking In On The United Nations United Nations Invitation Consultation – How to create and maintain civil society space? What works? A Report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Deadline June 30, 2015 Read more
United Nations Treaty Bodies
Regularly updated news about what committees are meeting, documentation, jurisprudence, etc.
Consultation – Human Rights Committee – General Discussion on Right to Life – 14 July 2015 – Rm. XIX, Palais des Nations.┬áRead more
Consultation of treaty body Chairpersons with civil society – 25 June 2015, 10.30am, San Jos├®, Costa Rica.┬áEnglish┬á-┬áSpanish
United Nations Special Procedures
Regularly updated calendar about which Special Procedures expert is travelling where? Read more
Latest report of cases of human rights violations taken up by Special Procedures.┬áRead more
Advance unedited version of the report of the Human Rights Council on its 28th session (2-27 March 2015) – Deadline for comments 23 June 2015 to email@example.com.┬áGet report
One to Watch
Jihad – The One To Watch
Deeyah Khan (@Deeyah_Khan) is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker who spent two years with some of the leading figures in the British jihadi movement from previous generations to try to understand the draw of ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalist movements. Her new film about it,┬áJihad, makes her one to watch.
U.S. Secular Policy Guide
In December 2013 Edwina Rogers released the Secular Policy Guide for the U.S. secular Movement while the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America.┬á All secular groups in the United States were requested then as now to adopt it and use it as their own and put their logo and information on the cover.┬á┬á Ms. Rogers announced that the document was open source and that every secular group was encouraged to label and promote it at the national and state level.┬á The document was labeled to be available in whole or part to all with no need for permission to repurpose or quote.┬á Policy Guides are released this way to encourage legislative and executive branch staff to take any policy discussions or recommendations without concern of copyright matters and use when briefing their members before votes.┬á Ms. Rogers has produced over ten such guides on a variety of topics and was an avid user of these policy guides while White House Staff and while working for four U.S. Senators.
SPI encourages at this time, as Ms. Rogers did while at SCA, that all US secular groups adopt the guide and tailor it to their needs.┬á Please let us know if your group needs assistance with any graphics or editing. The document can even be used in a specific state only with editing. These policy guides are not evergreen and the basic document will need to be updated very soon via a movement wide working group as before.
SPI will work with member organizations in other regions to develop policy guides that can be used by all regional groups and offered to legislators and other decision-makers.
Ms. Rogers notes that she has seen much higher rates of adoption of policy guides in other movements (health care for one) when pharmaceutical companies would adopt and print 20k or 30k copies and distribute to healthcare facilities and legislators.┬á This gave the guide a tremendous boost through secondary distributions.┬á Please consider doing your part.
VI ÔÇô┬áInternational Public Policy Update
ÔùÅLatin America Update
SPI is seeking UN Special Consultative Status.┬á Edwina will be representative in NY and Hugo in Geneva.┬á We are looking to build coalitions and join networks.┬á SPI will seek UNESCO consultative NGO status.┬á 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 (UAAR.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).┬á SPI will share the office thanks to Hugo.
ÔùÅAtheism in Zambia
Like other countries in Africa, Zambia is a very religious nation and has the dubious of distinction of being officially declared a Christian nation by President Federick Chiluba in 1996.
One need not look far to see where Chiluba got the political will to establish this Christian nation. Eighty seven percent of the population is Christian and only twelve percent profess other faiths. The number of non-believers is too low to measure. Apparently, Zambia is 100 percent religious and theistic.
But recently, the countryÔÇÖs religious demography has begun to change. Atheists are leaving their closets and are starting to organise. Atheists in Zambia are becoming assertive and are making their voices heard. They are standing up and identifying as atheists in public. An atheist group has just been formed in Zambia and a Facebook page has been created. It is called the Atheists in Zambia. This group is the first of its kind in the country and signals a bright and promising future for freethought in this Southern African country.
It is not clear why the members of this group chose to identify as atheist, rather than sceptics, freethinkers, humanists or rationalists. Why didnÔÇÖt they choose other labels which engender less stigma?
Their eagerness to state unambiguously that they are people without God speaks volumes for the groupÔÇÖs vision, passion and conviction. Members want to tell the world that there are godless people in the ÔÇÿChristian stateÔÇÖ of Zambia. The situation in Zambia is not too different from that found in Nigeria or Ghana where almost the entire population self-identify as God believers yet atheist groups exist and are active.
Atheism is not really a recent development in Zambia. What is new is organised atheism. There have been non-religious and non-theistic people in the country for years. Atheism in Zambia may actually be as old as the country itself.
Over a decade ago I worked to establish an African Humanist Alliance and in the course of building the network I corresponded with a Zambian atheist and activist, Wilfred Makayi. He was based in Solwezi and later relocated to the capital, Lusaka.
Makayi worked and campaigned to promote humanism and freethought in the country. He organised events to discuss humanist and freethought issues. In one of his mails, he told me it was difficult for him to get his humanist articles published in the local media. Makayi made little progress in terms of building an organisation and in bringing a humanist and sceptical perspective to issues. But this was before the Internet was introduced.
Today the Internet has brought a lot of changes and opportunities for atheism. It provides atheists with an alternative space for meeting, community building and finding an audience. Hence I am optimistic about the future of this new group of atheists in Zambia. The Internet has made organisation and mobilisation very much easier. If atheists in Zambia cannot meet physically, they can meet online and they can remain in touch via their Facebook page and other digital services.
The main problem is that many atheists in Africa have remained in the closet because of the social and political pressures on people to identify as religious even when they do not believe in God. Africans born into Muslim families cannot renounce their faith because there are penalties for apostasy up to and including death. Consequently, they are forced to pay lip service to Allah. Of course, this is no longer religion or exercising religious freedom. It is more akin to forced mental slavery.
In most parts of Africa, atheism is taboo and being identified as an atheist is a form of stigma. The public perception of atheism is strongly negativeÔÇöa prejudice that is deeply embedded by the indoctrination and brainwashing which most Africans receive from cradle to grave. Atheists are perceived as people without morals and who cannot be trusted. Many atheists are forced to conceal their atheism when they are in relationship or running for political office. Many atheists find it difficult to come out to their family and friends because they fear persecution and discrimination. Some atheists do not come out to their employers because they could be sacked if they did so.
So there are few atheists out there who are prepared to withstand the pressures and weather the religious storms from theistic family members, friends, employers and state and non-state actors.
This concern has held back atheism in Africa and contributed to the bloated religious demography in many African countries. Fortunately, the situation is beginning to change. Atheism is becoming increasingly visible in many African countries, including those countries once categorised as religious strongholds. People are beginning to realise the positive and enlightening possibilities of atheism, particularly as a resource in combating superstition and religious extremism.
The wind of atheist emancipation is blowing across Africa.
Atheists in Zambia have their job cut out for them in terms of changing attitudes towards atheists and atheism. But more importantly, they need to tackle superstition and religious fanaticism that is destroying lives in Southern Africa. Zambia is a very superstitious society. Atheists need to start a conversation with other Zambians on the existence of God, Satan, witches, demons, the potency of ritual sacrifice etc. Many people in Zambia believe witchcraft is real. Recently there have been reports of witch killing, the killing of Satanists, of albinos and the murder and mutilation of persons for ritual purposes. While atheists in Zambia fight to de-stigmatise atheism, they need as a matter of urgency, to put in place programs and activities that can help reason Zambians out of superstition, encourage critical thinking and eradicate religious and cultural practices that darken and destroy the lives of people in the country.
VII ÔÇô┬áProject and Member Spotlight
ÔùÅMuslimish ÔùïWissam Charafeddine
Muslimish is a group of Ex-Muslims of varying degrees of religiosity who want to create a safe place for people to exchange thoughts and ideas that we were taught not to talk about.
ÔùÅFoundation for Critical Thinking ÔùïDr. Linda Elder┬áis an educational psychologist and a prominent authority on critical thinking. She is President of the Foundation for Critical Thinking and Executive Director of the Center for Critical Thinking. Dr. Elder has taught psychology and critical thinking at the college level and has given presentations to more than 20,000 educators at all levels. She has co-authored four books, eighteen thinkerÔÇÖs guides on critical thinking, and co-authors a quarterly column on critical thinking in the Journal of Developmental Education.
The work of the Foundation is to integrate the Center For Critical ThinkingÔÇÖs research and theoretical developments, and to create events and resources designed to help educators improve their instruction. The FoundationÔÇÖs materials include books, thinker’s guides, and videos. The Foundation sponsors the National Academy: Training for Trainers, the International Academy on Critical Thinking and various workshops on critical thinking.┬á The Foundation also works with institutions in designing critical thinking professional development programs.┬á The Foundation is a recognized 501C3 Non-Profit organization.