About the International Coalition Calls

Conference-Call1Every 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 June 2, 2016

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


SPI International Hot Spot of the Month – Iran and Pakistan
Sign-on Letter content:

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

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

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

The Honorable León Rodríguez
U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services
Washington, D.C. 20529

Dear Commissioner Grandi, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Jonson, and Director Rodriguez:

The Secular Policy Institute and Atheist Alliance International call on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United States to intervene and begin asylum proceedings for two individuals who face imminent risk to life and limb. An Iranian and a Pakistani expatriate whose countries of origin employ capital punishment for apostasy have been denied asylum in India and Malaysia. An overarching first principle of asylum and refugee policy is designed to protect those who face a fear of persecution for reasons for race, religion, nationality, participation in a social group, or political opinion. Where the network of international agreements and treaties is neither comprehensive nor consistent, the clear commitment from the majority of states, NGO’s and Civil Society Actors is to aid the most vulnerable and those in the most imminent of danger.

The United Nations expresses a global consensus and sets global standards for human rights and refugee and asylum procedures. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights lay a clear standard for the inviolable freedoms of conscience and political agency. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and its 1967 follow-up protocol establish a framework from which those unable to achieve the full recognitions and dignity of equal-personhood can receive the relief of temporary settlement or permanent repatriation. According to protocol, those seeking asylum must present a well-founded fear of persecution. There are known and reported incidents in both Iran and Pakistan of those put to death for expressing doubt in religious doctrine or text.

Article 259(c) of Pakistan’s Penal Code states that “[W]hoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.” The vagaries of what could be construed as “innuendo” give license to persecution. Such strictures have listed Pakistan as a Tier 1 Country of Particular Concern for the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) (a designation carrying automatic calls for executive remedy). Iran is similarly listed as a USCIRF Tier 1-recommended state. In “Prisoners of Belief” (2014) the USCIRF has detailed specific incidents where individuals have been imprisoned or executed for the reasons why said expatriates have sought asylum. The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain have published further reports of greater specificity of the persecution of Atheists and Humanists in these states.

We call on the High Commissioner of Refugees and the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security to help find safe harbor for those refugees of conscience who face extended imprisonment or death itself.


Edwina Rogers
Secular Policy Institute
401 Ninth St., NW, Suite 640
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 430-1888

I – Project and Member Spotlight

  • Véronique Pluviose-Fenton
    • Last week, Representatives Bobby Scott (D-Va) and Joe Kennedy (D-Ma) introduced the Do No Harm Act, a bill that would amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to ensure that RFRA is no longer used to undermine the civil rights, liberties, and health of third parties. Civil rights counsel for the House Education and the Workforce Committee will provide a briefing.
  • Jason Frye (dimanso@hotmail.com)
    • Frye will discuss recently distributed sign-on letters, which address issues such as controversial legislations in Tennessee and Louisiana.

II – SPI Overview
●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 (www.CommunityActionNetwork.org)
●Parent 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.
PTCAN Mission Statement
PTCAN Bylaws
PTCAN Charter
PTCAN Gives to Get School Support

World 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.  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.

Secular Resource Guide
US Policy Guide
●Recruit National and Regional Leaders
●International Hotspots in Need

III – Fellows’ Corner
(Madeline Schussel, Policy Director, madeline@secularpolicyinstitute.net)

SPI would like to welcome Peter Karl (PK) Jonason as our newest Fellow. Jonason is a faculty member at Western Sydney University in the greater metropolitan area of Sydney, Australia. He is a social-personality psychologist who uses evolutionary, primatological, and behavioral economic models to conduct research on (1) sex differences, (2) the dark side of human nature, (3) sexual and romantic relationships, and (4) sexuality. Please read more about his background and research interests here.

Elizabeth F. Loftus, Professor of Law, Psychology and Social Behavior at UC Irvine, will receive the 2016 Isaac Asimov Science Award from the American Humanist Association.

In the study “Increased Affluence Explains the Emergence of Ascetic wisdoms and Moralizing Religions”, Ian Morris and three other researchers explore the correlation between the rise of moralizing religions, with economic development and political complexities.

Michael Semple wrote an opinion piece about the challenges facing the newly appointed Afghan Taliban leader, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada.

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

IV – 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.

World Future Guide
Abuse in American Faith Based Initiative System
US Secular Policy Guide
Secular Resource Guide
Religiousness by Country
Religiousness by US State
●Back Office Support
●Help secure Volunteers and Interns
●Help Draft Press Releases
●Access to Press Database
●Website Design
●Secular Directory

V – Public Policy Update

  • Tennessee’s Unethical Barriers in Seeking Mental Healthcare
  • Tennessee’s recent passing of legislation that allows mental health counselors and therapists to refuse to treat patients based on religious objection or personal beliefs has garnered strong reactions from the public. Critics say it could result in discrimination against individuals seeking counseling, such as LGBT people. For what the ACLU calls unethical barriers to accessing care for almost unlimited reasons, the law would also permit those with “sincerely held religious beliefs” against warfare the ability to refuse service to PTSD-suffering veterans. The American Counseling Association also called the legislation an “unprecedented attack on the counseling profession”.
  • Louisiana’s Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination Order
  • In April, Louisiana Governor Edwards issued the Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination Order, effectively terminating former Governor Jindal’s discriminatory “Religious Freedom” order. The order takes a memorable step toward inclusivity, requiring everyone, including LGBT individuals, to receive equal access to state services and benefits.

Recent Letters:

●      Sign-on Letter: In Support of Transgender Rights

  • Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina has received much attention for his recently passed HB2 bill, which prevents transgender people from using public bathrooms designated for the gender with which the user identifies. His explanation for the bill, however, displays a fundamental misunderstanding of and prejudice towards the issue at hand. This law is oppressive to a marginalized group of people and stems from an antiquated and hurtful perspective. The United Kingdom has rebuked this action by issuing a travel advisory to the state of North Carolina.

●      Sign-on Letter: Texas Reproductive Rights

  • As the United States Supreme Court deliberates two cases involving reproductive freedom in Texas, the Secular Policy Institute regards this current term all the more important to remain committed to opposing faith-based resistance to reproductive rights. Texas, in particular, has been at the center of the intersection between religion and women’s reproductive rights. A growing public health concern, we continue to advocate for female empowerment by means of providing sex and birth control education.

Checking in on the UN:

Upcoming Events:
Reason Rally June 4, Washington, DC
Atheist Pride Day June 6, All Over
British Humanist Association Annual Conference June 10-12, Birmingham, UK
Reason for Change June 11-15, Buffalo, NY
World Humanist Day June 21, All Over
Unitarian Universalist General Assembly June 22-26, Columbus, OH
Secular Student Alliance Annual Conference July 8-10, Columbus, OH
International Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform July 25-29, CA

Monthly Conference Call Schedule:
First Thursday of Every Month at Noon Eastern Standard Time (GMT -4)July 7September 1October 6November 3 (No conference call in August and December)

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