Wednesday, August 25, 2010

International: "In Good We Trust": American Humanist Assn's latest billboard

Arkansas settles with Freethinkers on solstice display

Posted: 24 Aug 2010 11:41 AM PDT

In 2008, the Arkansas Freethinkers requested space at the State Capitol for a solstice display, alongside religious displays. They were refused. They sued; now a settlement is proposed.

Wall 1 of the solstice display. Click for larger version.

The Freethinkers designed an eight foot tall, four foot by four foot square kiosk, each side providing a different panel of information on the solstice, freethought, and science. They requested a permit from the Secretary of State’s office, and were rejected.

The group has dedicated a website to the proposed display and the ongoing legal saga. They’ve included all four wall designs, scans of their exchanges with the Secretary of State, and news reports.

The first wall is shown at left; visit their site to see the others.

In 2009, the ACLU took on the Freethinkers’ case. They reviewed the state’s policy on displays at the Capitol, and asked to see the records of permit applications for all displays installed during the 16 years of the current policy. Even though religious displays had been installed annually, the only permit applications on file were the 2008 and 2009 Freethinker applications. The ACLU sued, as it was clear that the Freethinkers’ display was being denied on grounds of its message.

The display was placed on the Capitol grounds in 2009 following a Federal judge’s injunction, and a proposed settlement over the 2008 and 2009 refusal was announced Monday. Under the proposal, the state will pay the Freethinkers’ $28,500 in legal fees, and allow the group to set up its display annually.

The court has yet to review and approve the proposed settlement.

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American Humanist Association Decries Stem Cell Research Ruling

Posted: 24 Aug 2010 10:19 AM PDT

An injunction by a federal judge has put federally funded stem cell research on hold, compromising the progress of vital medical breakthroughs, the American Humanist Association (AHA) said today. U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled on Monday that funding of stem cell research violates a federal ban on taxpayer dollars going towards the destruction of embryos.

“The ruling is a step backwards for science, a likely disruption to important research, and this will cause real harm to many in need of medical innovation,” said David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association, who pointed out that the case was brought by a Christian adoption agency whose executive director is on record as seeking to impose a conservative Christian view on national stem cell policy. “The injunction appeases religious conservatives who seek to have their theological opinions define public policy. Thus, this is just another example of how the obstructionist agenda of the religious right has real social consequences.”

Lamberth cited language of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, the ban on tax-funded destruction of embryos, as “ambiguous,” declaring projects involving any means of destroyed embryos illegal. This injunction compromises Obama’s 2009 executive order to lift the stem cell research ban implemented by the Bush Administration. Stem cell research has been on the forefront of treating diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, spinal cord injuries and other debilitating afflictions. Lamberth’s ruling leaves the future of many such federally funded research endeavors uncertain.

“Obama’s decision to expand stem cell funding had the potential to make a positive impact on medical research,” said Niose. “Halting these efforts is to essentially deny suffering patients an opportunity to recover.”

The AHA is in support of any bill that seeks to strip the Dickey-Wicker Amendment of its prohibition against the use of stem cells for scientific research. As stated in an AHA Resolution in 2006, “The American Humanist Association supports research employing embryonic stem cells and federal funding for such research commensurate with its potential to advance scientific knowledge and lead to the development of novel therapies. Further, we encourage the development of ethical guidelines for such applications through the use of reason rather than religious or political doctrine.”

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Humanists announce formation of new institute dedicated to ethics

Posted: 23 Aug 2010 10:53 PM PDT

Brandishing a statement of “Neo-Humanist” values, a group of leaders in the humanist movement has established a new non-profit aiming to re-humanize secularism.

“We aim to be inclusive and to work with religious and non-religious groups to help solve common problems facing the Planetary community,” Paul Kurtz, chairman of the new Institute for Science and Human Values (ISHV), said.

Kurtz also said the group will promote scientific inquiry and critical thinking in evaluating claims and “develop values that are naturalistic and humanistic in character and appropriate to the 21st century.” He said religion is often at the root of society’s ethical values, and that ISHV wants to reevaluate them on rational grounds.

“We’re going to enlist the brightest scientists and scholars, and not just in the United States but everywhere there are humanists,” Kurtz said. “We want to find out how to better develop the common moral virtues that we share as human beings.”

Kurtz is an emeritus professor of philosophy and has been involved in humanist, skeptical, and secularist movements for more than 30 years. In 1991 he brought together two organizations, one focused on skepticism and the other on humanism, to form the Center for Inquiry (CFI). Kurtz resigned from CFI’s board in May of this year.

“The secularist garden doesn’t necessarily produce humanist blooms,” Kurtz said. “The questions we want to answer are, how do you develop among secularists a personal morality? How does one develop empathy? How can we motivate morality? It’s a common belief that morality can only come from religion. Well, I have known scores of excellent human beings who behave very morally and yet do not subscribe to religious belief systems.”

Kurtz, with input from other prominent humanists, has composed a “Neo-Humanist Statement of Secular Principles and Values” that will help guide the new organization’s activities. It is the latest public declaration of a humanist movement that has been punctuated by similar documents in 1933, 1973, and 2003. The Statement is signed by more than 100 prominent Humanists including Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, and writer Ann Druyan, wife of the late Carl Sagan.

The Statement lays out 16 “recommendations” that emphasize the development of a positive ethical system in order to help the humanist movement better understand and express what it is for.

“We’ve never had a problem expressing what we’re against,” Kurtz said. “Humanists have always been critical of theism. But as our movement matures politically and socially, it will be beneficial to express our positive values, like ethical values based on reason and support for critical thinking as a way to solve public problems.”

The Statement also includes some decidedly liberal ideas, including support for the rights of “women, racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities,” and for “education, health care, gainful employment, and other social benefits.”

Other recommendations support democracy, a “green economy,” population restraint, and “progressive positions on the economy.”

Toni Van Pelt, former director of CFI’s lobbying arm the Office of Public Policy, said that humanism had significant accomplishments petitioning Congress over the last several years.

“We had great success, to the point where several members accepted our Science and Reason award and even spoke in our D.C. office, which was just a short walk from the Capitol,” Van Pelt said.

Van Pelt, who signed the new Statement, said part of ISHV’s mission would be to fill the lobbying gap left by the effective closure of CFI’s Office of Public Policy.

Retired NASA astrophysicist Stuart Jordan is also among ISHV’s organizers. He said ethics would take priority in ISHV’s activities. “Science and reason are the means to achieving the ethical goals, which were and are the ultimate goals of the Enlightenment that helped jump start our country,” he said. “The overriding goal was and still is a better world for all humanity.”

Kurtz said what he sees as a crisis in secularism prompted him to form the ISHV. “It is becoming obvious to an increasing number of secularists that to be disaffected from religion doesn’t bestow moral or ethical superiority,” he said. “For example, Ayn Rand and her ideological heirs promote freedom, but don’t consider the virtue in selflessness and cooperation. We want to investigate whether there is a moral framework reinforced by reason that non-theists can embrace.”

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Retribution attack costs father of human rights defender his eye

Posted: 23 Aug 2010 10:51 PM PDT

Two men physically attacked the family of a prominent humanist and human rights defender in Mbaise, Nigeria on August 4, apparently in retribution for his work.

“They shot twice in the air and my [m]other fainted,” Leo Igwe, founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement, said. “They later descended on my aging father and started beating him. They blindfolded him with a piece of cloth and hit him several times with stones.

“[My father passed out] and the hoodlums ransacked the whole house and made away with whatever they found valuable. My father bled from the right eye, nose and mouth. He had bruises on his head, hands, legs and chest,” Igwe said.

Igwe said he took his father to a specialty hospital but the eye could not be saved.

Igwe said police did not immediately respond when he reported the attack, and told him that he must send a written request if he wished for an investigation. Igwe said he believes the attack is a result of his advocacy for a child rape survivor. He said the child’s alleged attacker has influence with local courts, soldiers, and police.

Igwe is well known in Nigeria and the international human rights community for promoting the rights of women, children, and LGBTs, and the separation of church and state. He said private parties and the government have harassed and attacked him and his family because of his work. He said he was arrested in January on false charges and his brothers were detained and beaten by police in 2008.

Igwe needs money for security measures to prevent further attacks and to pay his father’s medical bills. You can send tax-deductible contributions (please mention Leo Igwe’s name) to the Institute for Science and Human Values (ISHV), which has donated $1,000. 5201 West Kennedy Blvd. Tampa, FL 33609.

ISHV requests that letters condemning the attacks and harassment, and asking police to investigate and protect the Igwe family, be sent directly to authorities in Nigeria at the addresses below, or e-mailed to jchristopherson@ishv.net with the subject heading “Leo Igwe.” The e-mails will be printed and mailed to authorities each week:

1. Mr Ogbonna Onovo
Inspector General of Police
Police Command Headquarters
Area 11, Garki
Abuja, FCT
PMB 24
Nigeria

(1 of 2)

2. Mr Aloysius Okorie
Commissioner of Police
State Headquarters
Owerri, Imo
Nigeria

3. Prince Ken C.O. Njemanze
Commissioner for Justice
Block 10, New Secretariat Complex
Port Harcourt Road, PMB 1145
Owerri, Imo
Nigeria
Telephone from the United States:
011 234 083-230851
or 011 234 083-230041

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