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 March 3, 2016
Here’s the latest recording of the Secular Policy Institute’s international coordinating call.
International Hot Spot of the Month – Zika Virus
Sign-on Letter content to be sent to South American countries:
The 2015 Zika virus outbreak that started in Brazil has quickly spread to over 30 countries. A congenital brain deformity has been associated with this virus and the fear of which has led to the declaration of a global health crisis by the World Health Organization (WHO). Where this disproportionately affects the poor and those in rural communities where access to medical services and information may be limited; averting a greater public health threat from complications with unsafe and medically unsupervised contraceptive and abortion services is of critical and utmost importance. This is the intersection of the dignity and health of women, medical science, and culture and religion. There is a time and place for a sober discussion theological or other philosophical concerns, and this is not that time. This is the time for action to protect the health and dignity of women in the midst of a brewing crisis. The Secular Policy Institute calls on the governments of the Zika virus affected states to adopt and implement contraception and abortion policy commensurate with this situation and to start the path to recognizing reproductive agency as a human right.
Though absolute causality has yet to be confirmed, including a spike in incidents in a previous outbreak in French Polynesia, Zika outbreaks have been associated with a fetal brain deformity, microcephaly (reduced brain volume and skull size). While Brazil had a reported 147 cases of infant microcephaly in 2014, reports have neared 4,000 post-outbreak. Zika is known to be spread by the aedes mosquito and has been found active in human saliva, blood, urine, and potentially semen. While 80 percent of Zika infections are asymptomatic, the Zika virus’ rapid proliferation and fears over pregnant women and microcephaly have led the Director-General of the WHO has declared Zika a “Public health emergency of international concern.”
Fear is the operative problem with the Zika virus. Where increased incidents of Zika infection occur, there are concerns that laws regarding and access to contraceptive services may lead many women to pursue dangerous methods to prevent or terminate pregnancy. One solution offered by multiple governments is for women and couples to delay insemination even until 2018. This recommendation is undermined by the fact that half of pregnancies in the region are unintentional. Because the availability in the region of contraception and abortions ranges from difficult to criminalization, clandestine services are sought. These can include drinking bleach, the vaginal insertion of sharp objects (e.g., coat hangers), or physical assault (e.g., throwing oneself down the stairs or punches to the stomach). Women are also receiving misoprostol (miso) or Cytotec pills that present an abortion like a miscarriage.
Often, these measures are not conducted under medical supervision. This can lead to hemorrhaging, sepsis from the incomplete removal of fetal tissue and other infections, and other traumas that may otherwise endanger the mother’s life in the immediacy or impair her ability to have children in the future. According to the WHO, 68,000 women die annually from complications due to unsafe abortions. The Brazilian Federal Council of Medicine has stated that these abortions are the fifth leading cause of maternal mortality in that country (with more than 200,000 hospitalizations annually). These deaths and complications also disproportionate affect those in poverty or rural areas.
The Zika virus outbreak has confronted many countries, and the Western Hemisphere, with the compatibility of current laws concerning abortion and contraception access and availability and the dignity and agency of women. When family planning and reproductive agency are disparate, women are the ones who are most often burdened. The lack of autonomy and liberty of women in states lacking sufficient reproductive legal protections is compounded by times of crisis such as this. This is not a promotion of eugenics against those who may be born with certain challenges, but to ascend to doing right by the women in our countries.
The Secular Policy Institute calls upon the governments of the countries affected by the Zika virus to adopt and implement reproductive agency and health legislation in order to ensure that when contraceptive or abortion services are sought, they are administered and supervised by qualified medical professionals. And, that these laws ensure the dignity, privacy, liberty, and autonomy to the greatest extent of the law for the women and their families who pursue said medical services. This is a human right, and must be recognized as one in order to avoid the inevitable tragedy that a fear-induced panic rush on clandestine abortion services would set before us.
Secularists Launch New Group to Support Students and Parents in Public Schools
Washington, DC–Secular Policy Institute is happy to announce the debut of Community Action Network, a new group focusing on helping local public school communities work together to achieve high quality education and near universal graduation rates.Community Action Network (CAN) recognizes that, in our pluralistic society, the public school exerts the greatest societal influence after parents. Secular parents and their neighbors, joining with local secular educators, can effectively improve the quality of life for teachers, students, and the whole school community. Toward this goal, CAN works to establish effective and generous parent-teacher organizations to make teaching and learning more enjoyable and effective.
Dr. Stephen Uhl, a retired psychologist, is one of CAN’s Founders. “It is important to realize that high school graduation is a gateway to success,” he commented, “while failure to graduate is too often the gateway to prison.” While encouraging CAN members to appreciate and join national and international secular organizations for their great educational and philosophical value, CAN is local and very much action oriented.
The local CAN engages and challenges its members toward a wide variety of practical, “dirty-fingernail” contributions such as: good teacher recognition, assisting with school security, backing the home team, sponsoring a school play, sponsoring various school contests, providing supplementary supplies for needy teachers, chaperoning field trips, sponsoring anti-bullying efforts, helping deal with truancy problems, student mentoring, tutoring, emergency transportation, organizing pot-lucks, and responding creatively to the needs and desires of students, staff, administrators, families and community.
“By organizing neighborhood secular groups, we focus on celebrating hometown joys and accomplishments and on finding reasoned solutions to local problems; besides, as a bonus, we know that, long term, our efforts will form the foundation of an ever-evolving global commitment to the advancement of critical thinking and science.”
Getting a new group started is often the hardest part; with the continued sponsorship of SPI, CAN National is ready, willing, and able to help with the many questions and details of establishing local, autonomous CAN chapters. In existing Parent Teacher Organizations, CAN members also work to inspire secular student inclusion and contribute generously to their programming.
For more details: communityactionnetwor
I – Project and Member Spotlight
- Christine M. Shellska (firstname.lastname@example.org)
■Kris, the President of AAI, will discuss the possibility of producing a position paper on the potential dismantling of the Canadian “Office of Religious Freedom” by the new Liberal government, and other opportunities in Canada.
- Bart Campolo (bartcampolo@
■Campolo is the son of Tony Campolo, a well-known speaker and pastor, and a former pastor himself who eventually transitioned from Christianity to secular humanism. He currently serves as the Humanist Chaplain of the University of Southern California. He will discuss his role with the University’s Office of Religious Life.
- Jason Frye (email@example.com)
■Frye will speak about upcoming advocacy campaign letters regarding civil unions in Italy, the Zika Virus, child marriages in Pakistan, and the bill “Expressing Support for Supporting Transgender Acceptance”.
■In Uganda, Kasese Freethinker Sports Academy seeks to promote athletic skills among youths with secular and humanistic values. Jason will speak with Masereka Solomon further.
- Brandy Coomer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- BetteRose Ryan (email@example.com)
■As the Convention Oversight Committee Chair of the Libertarian Party, Ryan will discuss the national Libertarian Convention from May 27-30, as well as options for convention sponsorship. (Flyer with LSLA vendor table prices.)
II – SPI 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.
●Community Action Network (www.CommunityActionNetwork.
●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 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.
III – Fellows’ Corner
(Madeline Schussel, Policy Director, madeline@
- David Sloan Wilson spoke at George Mason University on February 11th about cultural group selection. Wilson is president of the Evolution Institute, which applies the science of evolution to social and political issues and promotes acceptance of evolution and its applications to the public. We all struggle to keep our baser, more primal urges at bay in the formation and collaboration necessary for our secular groups – after all, we are only primates! One tool the Evolution Institute introduced to help ensure that organizations coincide with the tried and true principles that result in higher levels of cooperative participation between all members is called PROSOCIAL.
Daily News Clips Now Available (Follow this link to register)
IV – Coalitions & Resources
(Johnny Monsarrat, Alliance Director, johnny@secularpolicyinstitute.
●World SPI Calendar – Upcoming Major Conferences
●Volunteers & Interns – SPI Volunteers/Interns Recruitment
●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@
- 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
V – Public Policy Update
(Hugo Estrella, Latin America Regional Director, hugo.estrella@
- Hugo will discuss an upcoming atheist conference in Warsaw (http://en.lyszczynski.com.pl/
index.php/category/atheist_ days-2016/). He will speak at the conference on behalf of SPI about the state of politics in Poland.
- It is crucial to actively support candidates for office who share our goals of protecting the separation of church and state and defending the civil liberties of secular Americans. Support our campaign and the leaders who are actively fighting on our behalf and moving the needle forward on a more secular American government.
●Morocco’s Muslim clerics
- A large conference, sponsored by Moroccan King Mohammed VI and the United Arab Emirates-based Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, was held to encourage clerics and judges to provide peace and protection to religious minorities in Muslim communities
●Blasphemy Bill in Georgia
- Ranked among the world’s most religious nations, Georgia is planning a “blasphemy bill” that could potentially threaten freedom of expression, as it would impose fines for “insults to religious feelings”.
●Uganda Blocks Facebook and Twitter on Election Day
- Access to real time updates via social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook were blocked in Uganda on its recent election day. However, some people circumvented the blockade by using virtual private networks (VPN), announcing their presence to the global network with the hashtag “#UgandaDecides”.
●Senators Support Affordable Access to Birth Control
- On February 17, Senators Al Franken and Patty Murray led a group of more than 30 Democratic senators in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on the need to protect women’s access to affordable birth control.
- “When we passed health care reform our goal was to expand access to affordable health care for all—and a fundamental part of that was making sure that in the 21st century, a woman’s insurance would cover her birth control without a copay,” said Senator Murray.
●Kenya Refuses to Register Atheist Group
- The 60-member Atheists in Kenya was turned down after applying for official recognition (According to Pew Research, more than 97% of Kenyans identify with a religion)
- Leader Harrison Mumia stated that he will take the issue to court for violation of the constitutional right to freedom of association
●Checking in on the UN
- Turkey: Zeid concerned by actions of security forces and clampdown on media
- Video: Stop Forced Evictions
- More allegations of sexual abuse of children by foreign soldiers in the Central African Republic
- Canada must address root causes of extreme violence and discrimination against indigenous women
●HuJews Conclave March 4-6, Chicago, IL
●SashaCon March 19-20, Columbia, MO
●The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies Convention March 11-13, London, UK
●Budapesti Szkeptikus Konferencia March 28, Budapest, Hungary
●Days of Atheism March 27-29, Warsaw, Poland
●LogiCon April 2-3, Fayetteville, AR
●Freethought Festival April 8-9, Madison, WI
●National Ask an Atheist Day April 16, All Over
●Rationalist Conference April 23-24, Tallinn, Estonia
●RavenCon Skeptic Track April 29-May 1, Williamsburg, VA
●Foundation Beyond Belief: Week of Action April 30-May 6, All Over
●SkepKon May 5-7, Hamburg, Germany
●Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism May 12-15, New York, NY
●A Conference Called Wonder May 19-22, Utrecht, Netherlands
●European Humanist Federation’s General Assembly May 20, Valletta, Malta
●2016 IHEU General Assembly May 22, Valletta, Malta
●American Humanist Association Annual Conference May 26-29, Chicago, IL
●Balticon 50 May 27-30, Baltimore, MD
●Future of Ethical Societies Conference May 27-30, Brooklyn, NY
●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
Monthly Conference Call Schedule:
First Thursday of Every Month at Noon Eastern Standard Time (GMT -4): April 7; May 5; June 2; July 7; September 1; October 6; November 3 (No conference call in August and December)