February 5, 2020


In the age of misinformation, it is increasingly difficult to sort genuine threats from manufactured crises. It is trivially easy, especially these days, to make unsubstantiated claims and propagate conspiracy theories that make the truth nearly impossible to discern or even find.

The contrast can be sobering. In the United States, we have an attorney general who falsely claims that “militant secularists are trying to impose their values on religious people,” while the White House employs the “spiritual services” of a televangelist calling for divine retribution against critics of the president and “satanic pregnancies.” Who is trying to impose what on whom?

Some countries punish anyone who speaks critically of state-approved religious beliefs, claiming that the “defamation of religion” threatens society. The Center for Inquiry was on Capitol Hill last week to address the real threat to fundamental human rights, in support of measures calling for the end to these laws against blasphemy and other forms of free inquiry.

Last month, the Trump administration complained that religious liberties in public schools were being curtailed and began a pressure campaign urging schools to make their facilities and resources available to religious groups and encourage student prayer.

But the real danger is the effort to funnel public funds into unaccountable, indoctrinating private religious schools. This week we’ll look at the revisions of history paving the way for a terrible U.S. Supreme Court decision on taxpayer funding of religious schools, as well as an investigation of how Florida taxpayers are footing a massive bill for anti-LGBTQ discrimination at religious schools.

One threat that is very real is the Wuhan coronavirus, now considered a global health emergency. But the reality is being obscured by a flurry of conspiracy theories and false claims about the virus’s origins and some dangerous pseudoscientific advice about how to prevent or treat the disease.

We all need to do better, so it’s a good thing that artists like John de Lancie, best known as the all-powerful Q from Star Trek, are bringing their passion for reason and science to their work. As you’ll see from de Lancie’s presentation at CSICon, he wants your help. And so do we.

Robyn E. Blumner,
CEO and President, Center for Inquiry
Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science

The Top Stories

White House Televangelist Prays for Miscarriages

If you’re not on board with President Trump, his “spiritual advisor” says you’re aligned with Satan. Televangelist Paula White, part of the White House Office of Public Liaison for the administration’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, preached for her congregation to “come against the marine kingdom” as well as the “animal kingdom” and any other “strange winds” that oppose the president. Odd as that sounds, she then bellowed, “In the name of Jesus, we command all satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now. We declare that anything that’s been conceived in Satanic wombs, that they will miscarry.” Suffice it to say, this went over poorly outside her flock, but she defiantly told the New York Times that she was taken out of context. Strange winds, indeed.

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Resolved: Global Blasphemy Laws Must End

Last week, two House committees held a hearing on religious persecution around the world, during which Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, added a statement from the Center for Inquiry into the Congressional Record. CFI bolstered the case for a resolution, sponsored by Raskin, calling for the global abolition of laws against blasphemy, apostasy, and heresy. “Any prohibition on criticizing or repudiating religion is a stain on our freedom—our freedom to inquire wherever our curiosity leads us, to express what we find there, and to openly worship any god or no god at all,” the Center for Inquiry told the committees. “Ideas don’t need rights. People do.”

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The Supreme Court and the Right Not to Fund Religious Schools

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the case of Espinoza v. Montana, in which private religious schools in Montana seek the reinstatement of a wisely scrapped state scholarship fund that had sent taxpayer dollars to private schools. Plaintiffs have argued that the crux of the case lies in the nineteenth-century “no-aid” clauses of several state constitutions that were passed in a time of rampant anti-Catholic bias and should therefore be undone. At The Atlantic, constitutional law professor Garrett Epps reveals the emptiness of this argument, including how the provision was amended and readopted in the 1970s and wonders, “should the Court really disallow a state’s choice not to fund religious activities?” They just might.

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NEWS: $129 Million in Discrimination

Taxpayer dollars should never be used to underwrite religious indoctrination, and a recent expose is a case in point. In a major investigation of Florida’s school voucher scheme, the Orlando Sentinel revealed that more than $129 million in public funds went to 156 private Christian schools with discirminatory anti-LGBTQ policies. Existing Florida law prohibits private schools that receive voucher funds to discriminate based on race, gender, or national origin, but no such protections exist for LGBTQ students. As a result of the investigation, at least three major banks have pulled their financial support of the voucher program. In a statement expressing its support of diversity and inclusion, one of the banks, Wells Fargo, explained, “We oppose discrimination of any kind.”

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SCIENCE: Coronavirus Misinformation Goes … Viral

The world is grappling with what may become a global pandemic, the Wuhan coronavirus. People are understandably frightened, and misinformation is already a major problem. Conspiracy theorists of all stripes are flooding social media with false claims meant to sow fear of vaccines, “Big Pharma,” covert government operations, immigrants, and foreigners, while promulgating fake cures and bogus preventative measures, such as bleach cocktails and homeopathic treatments. The major platforms say they are scrambling to deal with the misinformation, but it’s an uphill battle. As Timothy Caulfield told Bloomberg News, “Social media is a polarization machine where the loudest voices win. In an outbreak, where you want accurate, measured discourse, that’s kind of a worst-case scenario.”

Photo: CC-BY-SA-4.0

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VIDEO: John de Lancie on Promoting a Twenty-First Century Understanding of Science

At CSICon 2019, actor John de Lancie discusses how he hopes to play a part in advancing the mission he shares with our organization, sharing his passion for science and reason, as well as his determination to “live in a world where people are curious” and in which “knowing is more sought after than believing.”

Watch Now

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