Fwd:Secular Humanism Online News -- April 2008

05/apr/2008 01.10.00 SETI ITALIA Cocconi Contatta l'autore

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Dear Dr. Bruno Moretti Turri,

Vol.4 No.4

LEGAL DEVELOPMENTS
By Ronald A. Lindsay

Readers of this newsletter will be aware that the Council for
Secular Humanism (CSH) has filed a lawsuit under the Florida
Constitution challenging grants to two faith-based contractors.
Council for Secular Humanism v. McDonough (Leon County Circuit
Court).The ?No-Aid? provision of the Florida Constitution,
Article I, Section 3, expressly mandates that no revenue of the
state can be provided ?directly or indirectly in aid of any
church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any
sectarian institution.? In response to the initial petition, the
contractors in question, Prisoners of Christ, Inc. and Lamb of
God Ministries, Inc. had filed a motion to dismiss. At a hearing
in February, the contractors argued, among other things, that
the petition was insufficiently detailed to allow them to file a
responsive pleading. CSH and its co-plaintiffs (Richard and
Elaine Hull) filed an amended petition to address these
concerns. CSH has recently learned that the contractors will not
renew their motion to dismiss, but instead have decided to file
an answer. Accordingly, the case will be entering its next
phase.

In an important related development, just last week Florida?s
Taxation and Budget Reform Commission proposed a constitutional
amendment that would eliminate the ?No-Aid? provision from the
Florida Constitution. Instead of the current language in Article
I, Section 3, the proposed language would read: ?Individuals or
entities may not be barred from participating in public programs
because of religion.? No one knows exactly what consequences
this proposed language would have?other than leading to a wave
of litigation over its meaning?but it would almost certainly
have an adverse effect on CSH?s lawsuit and other efforts to
prevent religious institutions from feeding at the public trough
and religious indoctrination from being funded with public
money. In fact, the amendment was motivated, at least in part,
by CSH?s lawsuit. The amendment was proposed by Patricia
Levesque, a close associate of former Governor Jeb Bush.
According to newspaper accounts, at the meeting of the tax
commission that approved the proposal, Levesque argued that
CSH?s lawsuit threatened to place millions of dollars spent on
public programs at risk. CSH would agree that many millions of
dollars are at issue given the many religious institutions and
programs that receive public funding. However, preventing public
money from being spent improperly hardly puts that money ?at
risk?; to the contrary, CSH?s actions would preserve public
money for appropriate uses.

Floridians will vote on the proposed amendment this November; it
requires 60 percent approval to pass. Needless to say, CSH hopes
this attempt to curtail Florida?s support for church-state
separation will be defeated.

The legal team for the Center for Inquiry has been busy in other
areas as well. CFI recently joined an amicus brief that was
submitted to the Iowa Supreme Court in the case of Varnum v.
Brien, the case that will determine whether Iowa?s ban on
same-sex marriages will remain in place. The trial court had
ruled the ban was impermissible under the Iowa Constitution.
During the trial court proceedings, the judge had declined to
accept the so-called ?expert? testimony of some opponents of
same-sex marriage, who all claimed that same-sex marriage would,
in some way, harm children, families, or society. The judge
determined that their testimony should be excluded because the
testimony failed to meet basic social scientific standards of
reliability and validity. This ruling was not altogether
surprising because the self-styled experts lacked appropriate
experience or training to support their sweeping conclusions.
The amicus brief was authored by attorneys from the law firm of
Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton LLP, with input from CFI
attorneys Derek Araujo and Ronald A. Lindsay. CFI and CSH will
continue to intervene in legal cases where appropriate to
support same-sex marriage.

Ronald A. Lindsay is Vice President and General Counsel for CFI

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Center for Inquiry Indiana celebrates first anniversary
By Reba Boyd Wooden, Executive Director
Center for Inquiry Indiana

Center for Inquiry/Indiana celebrated the first anniversary of
the opening of their center on April 1, 2008 with an open house
featuring a birthday cake and a slide show of pictures taken at
the center.
Since the opening of the center on the beautiful pedestrian
Canal Walk in downtown Indianapolis, membership has more than
tripled. CFI Indiana offers 15-20 programs a month from which
people may choose.

Some programs are mostly social such as the popular Coffee and
Conversation which is offered every Sunday from 10:00 am to
noon, the monthly euchre night and Sci-Fi night. Others focus on
education such as book discussion groups and discussions on
religion, medicine, and science. The Secular Family Network play
groups and monthly pitch-in lunch are bringing young families to
the center.

The center has hosted authors Bruce Braden, Sheila Kennedy,
Jennifer Hecht, and Austin Dacey as well as sponsoring John
Shook as a participant in a panel on Naturalism at IUPUI. The
grand opening conference ?Promoting Science and Reason at the
Crossroads of America? brought Paul Kurtz, Toni Van Pelt, Joe
Nickell, and Eddie Tabash to town. IUPUI Freethinkers on the
college campus across the street from the center was a cosponsor
of the Third Annual Darwin Day Conference in March.

CFI Indiana has expanded its outreach throughout the state by
partnering with existing discussion groups in Fort Wayne,
Lafayette, and Richmond and by starting discussion groups in
Bloomington and Muncie.
CFI Indiana was visible as an activist in the state by tabling
at the Indiana State House and being a part of coalitions that
were active at the state legislature. ?Promote Science and
Reason? license plate frames were sold as a counter to the
state?s ?In God We Trust? license plate.

Hundreds of people pass the center as they walk their dogs, jog,
push strollers, rollerblade, or just go for a walk. Many stop in
to ask what the center is about and some become regular
attendees and members. Having the center in this prime location
has provided a very high level of visibility and prestige to the
cause of science and reason?a real candle in the dark.

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Doing the Right Thing
By David Koepsell

Everyone has an opinion on morality, but we cannot all be
right--unless the radical moral relativists are correct. God
help us if they are. Let's assume for the sake of sanity and
this brief diatribe that they are logically wrong and there are
classes of actions and intentions that are moral or ethical and
those that are not. I am personally very comfortable with this
position, and I assume that most people, other than sociopaths
or psychopaths, recognize right from wrong in most ordinary,
everyday circumstances. In these everyday decisions, our choices
of action are typically uncontroversial and not likely to
require any great philosophizing in order to reach acceptable
conclusions. The reasoning involved may differ, with some people
choosing to measure the effectiveness of the outcomes and others
to measure the intentions behind the actions, but I'd wager that
the choices and actions taken under either calculus tend to be
the same... again, in regard to most everyday ethical
situations.

But we philosophers like to come up with difficult problems
suited for ethics courses but not typical in the world. The
lifeboat scenario and its progeny have puzzled ethics students
and delighted philosophy professors for ages, but frankly, how
applicable are these scenarios to our lives? If you are stuck on
a lifeboat and have to choose which person to eat, then thank a
philosopher for encouraging your prior thinking about this
unlikely event, but otherwise how much use is this sort of
hypothetical in working out ordinary ethical problems faced by
real people in the real world?

So how are we to live ethically and make moral choices in the
real world out of lifeboats? I'd say that this isn't really that
complicated, and our ethical sense, cultural and historical
memories, myths, and common precepts of right and wrong will do
just fine. Look around you, and you'll note that despite our
different approaches, doing the right thing doesn't require too
much hand-wringing. If you're faced with a really puzzling
choice, I'd suggest the following: ask a priest, ask your
parent, ask your rabbi, and then ask your psychiatrist or
counselor and compare their responses. If they vary wildly, let
me know--I'd be very surprised. If they don't, then mark my
words: ethics isn't so difficult and doesn't require experts.
Follow your heart, and your mind, and your gut-- they'll
probably lead you to the same place when your moral sense is
tingling.

David R. Koepsell, JD/PhD, former executive director of CSH, is
a fellow of the Center for Inquiry

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To be, or not to be secular
Notes on Blasphemy, Secularism & Offensive Art
By Floris van den Berg

Just before the release of Geert Wilder?s movie Fitna, which
criticizes Islam and the Quran, the Dutch parliament requested
the abolishment of Dutch blasphemy laws. There is no connection
between these two events. Muslims, however, might refer to the
blasphemy laws when putting charges against Wilders. The sooner
we get rid of these laws, the better. Fortunately, these laws
haven?t been used for decennia. It is one of the many still
existing privileges of religion in law. The reaction of the
Minister of Justice is distressing: he wants to extend the
blasphemy laws to apply to nonbelievers as well. No, you are not
dreaming. That is what he has proposed. Yes, this is hilarious
and stupid. If he succeeds, it would lead to a complete media
silence. Atheists could submit complaints about being insulted
by sermons and holy books. Anyone whose religious and
nonreligious feelings have been insulted or hurt could file a
complaint. For many Christians, among them Dutch minister of
Justice Donner, it is beyond comprehension that humanists and
atheists do not give a damn if they are being insulted. Well, we
might (even angrily) reply to such insults, but we are not
filing a complaint at the police station. Freedom of expression
should be free. The only limits to the freedom of expression are
violence and incitement of violence. It is not the role of
government to protect people?s feelings from being hurt. The
response of the minister will probably be sufficient to postpone
the decision to abolish the blasphemy laws into the distant
future.

But there are people who care about secularism. On May 3rd there
will be the Grand Opening Symposium of the Center for Inquiry
Low Countries in Utrecht, Netherlands, on moral and political
secularism. To be or not to be secular is one of the most
pressing questions of our time. In multi-religious societies, if
people want to live peacefully together, religion and politics
should be separated. Will religious believers agree to leave
their religion at home? If people are to communicate with each
other it is necessary that they speak the same language and
argue within the same language game?they should understand each
other. In other words they should learn to speak, as Dutch
philosopher Paul Cliteur calls it, a moral Esperanto. People
should try to persuade each other using nonreligious arguments,
because religious arguments only appeal to believers. The
problem is that fundamentalists claim they do not understand
secular arguments at all, because they cannot and will not think
outside their narrow frame of mind. Secularism is not atheism.
Atheism claims god does not exist; secularisms claims that
religious arguments should not be used in politics, ethics or
science. In the eyes of secularists religion should be a private
and matter. How should a secular society be organized? How can
secularism be promoted? What kind of education is the best fit
for secularism? Is secularism a political framework or can there
be secular ethics? These questions and more will be discussed in
the opening conference of the secular humanist think tank at the
Center for Inquiry Low Countries (Netherlands and Belgium).

Part of the symposium will be the official opening of the
Virtual Museum for Offensive Art. This museum, which displays
?the art to offend,? is a collection of computer-displayed
thumbnail images depicting art of different times and places
featuring primarily contemporary western art. If one selects an
artwork, the piece is enlarged and a short description of the
work appears along with an explanation of what happened: why is
or was this work of art offensive and to whom? Presently, the
collection consists of about 200 pieces. Browsing through the
collection one often ponders: ?why is this offensive??. Social
reaction toward ?scandalous? art has been and still is a call
for censorship and self-censorship. In an open society people
enjoy the freedom to create their own lives as much as possible
without being in bondage or held (mentally) hostage by other
people. In a free and open society it is possible that you can
be offended of even insulted by artistic creations by other
people.

For more information about the Grand Opening of CFI Low
Countries: www.cfilowcountries .
You can visit the Virtual Museum for Offensive Art at:
http://verlichtingshumanisten.web-log.nl/museum_kwetsende_kunst/

Floris van den Berg is a philosopher and Co-Executive Director
of CFI Low Countries. florisvandenberg@dds.nl

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Paul Kurtz Interviewed in the Buffalo News

Paul Kurtz's philosophy? Live life to the fullest
By Jane Kwiatkowski

Paul Kurtz does much more than debunk. His publishing house ?
Prometheus Books ? launches more than 100 publications each
year. And in the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, Kurtz has
established an international think tank. Kurtz and his wife have
enjoyed life in Western New York since 1966, when he joined the
philosophy department at the University at Buffalo.

Read the entire interview.

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UPCOMING CFI/TRANSNATIONAL EVENTS!

Please note the following events and courses and spread the news
within your communities:

Summer Session 2008: From Religion to Science,
Information at:
http://www.centerforinquiry.net/education/summer_session/

Camp Inquiry '08, July 13-19 in Holland, New York
Information at: http://www.campinquiry.org/
or write: Courtney Hanny (channy@cehterforinquiry.net) for a
brochure

Upcoming Classes at the Institute:
April 22-25th, John Shook: "The Philosophy of Paul Kurtz"
May 19-23rd, R. Joseph Hoffmann, "Secularism and Unbelief"
Information at:
http://www.centerforinquiry.net/education/upcoming_classes/

CFI London Course, "The Sources of the Book"
May 5-9 at Conway Hall, London
Lectures by Ibn Warraq and R. Joseph Hoffmann
Information at:
http://www.centerforinquiry.net/london/events/the_sources_of_the_book/

CFI Low Countries Opening Conference, May 3rd, 2008 (Utrecht)
"A Statement of Moral and Political Secularism"
Information at:
http://www.centerforinquiry.net/news/cfi_low_countries_opening/

CFI/Amherst April Lecture Series, featuring Daphne Patai, Nicca
Lalli, Dale McGowan, others

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Secular Humanism Online News is edited by Nathan Bupp, Vice
President of communications for the Council for Secular Humanism
and the Center for Inquiry. nbupp@centerforinquiry.net

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