Beyond Blasphemy to Rights

International Blasphemy Day has always been intended to highlight the fact that religions are sometimes afforded more rights than people. The traditional observation of the day–public blasphemy–can be a good way to do that. It isn’t hard to blaspheme. Depending on your background, it can feel freeing and fun. And yet it is sobering to realize that those small, silly blasphemies can be punishable by fines, imprisonment, and even death in many parts of the world.

International Blasphemy Day has drawn eyes to the cause of religious freedom, but it hasn’t always done more. This year, it can.

For the past several months, the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy has been lobbying members of the U.S. House of Representatives to co-sponsor or support a new resolution that calls for the repeal of blasphemy laws around the world. We’ve also been lobbying members of the Senate to introduce a companion resolution. So far, the resolution has gained only one additional co-sponsor in the House, and has still not been proposed in the Senate.

Today, on International Blasphemy Rights Day, you have a chance to make the critical difference, and help us get this resolution through. 

H. Res 290, which was proposed by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) and currently has nine co-sponsors, would promote the right to free expression in several important ways.

  • It reaffirms U.S. support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion;
  • It outlines that the solutions to blasphemy-related violence are increased education, outreach, and counter-speech; and
  • It calls upon the President and the State Department to make the repeal of blasphemy laws a key component in U.S. relations with countries that have them.

The passage of H. Res 290 would send a strong signal to the more than 50 countries with blasphemy laws that the U.S. rejects such law s and that they must be repealed.

That’s where you come in. You can stand up for the rights of all people, religious and nonreligious, to express their views on religion by using our pre-written form to contact your members of Congress today and tell them to co-sponsor, sponsor, or support H. Res 290!

If you’re in the U.S., CFI is making it easy for you to go beyond International Blasphemy Day to defend international blasphemy rights. If you click through to their post, they’ll make it very easy for you to contact your Representative and both your Senators to urge them to support this bill or a companion bill in the Senate. They make it about as easy as blasphemy itself, in fact.

This year, let’s step our celebrations up a little so we have more to celebrate next year.

Who Is an Activist?

The Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota held their National Day of Reason event at the state capitol yesterday. Most years, they’re in the rotunda. This year, with the capitol under construction, they were moved to the capitol steps.

This was my first year attending. I’m usually working and in the wrong city to make it just an extended lunch. This year, though, I spoke to promote our conference.

I had planned to provide some straightforward information in the brief time I had allotted to me, but I changed my mind. My inspiration was the theme for the event–Atheists and Humanists at the Capitol–and the fact that it was raining. Yes, the two were connected.

As I stood at the podium with rain dripping down my nose (the canopy protecting the electronics had blown up in the wind as I waited to speak and dumped a good few tablespoons of water straight onto the top of my head; the pictures will be glorious), I asked people to put up their hands if they considered themselves activists. [Read more…]

Research, Advocacy, and Services

As he did last year, my husband is participating in the MS 150 this year to raise funds for–here, I’ll let him tell you:

Why I joined the movement

Having multiple sclerosis means you can wake up with blurred vision. Or your memory may fail you for no apparent reason. Or that you may not always be able to walk. The symptoms of MS are different for everyone — the only certainty is that it will affect another person every hour of every day.

Why I ride

I’ve registered for the MS 150 because I love to bicycle and I believe that the National MS Society performs valuable services that deserve to be supported.

Why you should sponsor me

The money I raise for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society by riding in the MS 150 will be used to fund cutting-edge research, drive change through advocacy, facilitate professional education and provide programs and services that help people with MS and their families move their lives forward.

In a perfect world, medical research and assistance wouldn’t need to be funded by unpredictable donations from the public, fueled by showy spectacles of bike riding events, but as long as it is I’ll be here to give my support to people in need.

He takes the fundraising part of this as seriously as he takes his riding. He raised $1,000 last year and is looking to do the same this year. He’s nearly 75% funded, with a fair number of those donations coming from our local atheist community. If this is your sort of thing, please consider helping him meet his goal.

Why I Stay

I get a bunch of comments from people who tell me this ugly event or that bit of harassment is the last straw for them. They’re done with organized atheism or skepticism. Sometimes people tell me that if they had to put up with what I put up with, they’d quit. Sometimes people ask me how I stick around.

This is how.

At 11:27 a.m. CST today, Karen Stollznow tweeted that she’d set up an Indiegogo campaign for money to hire a lawyer to fight Ben Radford’s defamation suit against her relating to her accusation of sexual harassment against him. The goal was $30,000, with two weeks given to reach that goal. At 5:19 p.m. CST, that goal was passed. More than 500 people contributed in less than six hours.

When I tell people there is will to fix the problems in these communities, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Those 500+ people (myself included with a small donation) weren’t willing to sit back and let this be settled based solely on who could afford to take things to court. So the moment they could do something about that, they did. That’s the kind of thing that keeps me around.

By the way, don’t let reaching the initial goal for hiring an attorney stop you from donating. If Radford is still willing to take this to court, Karen’s attorney fees are going to be much higher than $30,000. Go ahead and donate. The “worst case” scenario in terms of what happens with your money is that Radford drops the suit, and it goes to sexual assault victim advocacy instead.

For the record, you people are awesome.

You Don’t Want to See Me Gaming

No, not even for charity. I don’t do twitch. Watching me game would be remarkably soporific.

Jason, however, is running a gameathon to benefit Skeptech, which is mere weeks away at this point and still raising funds to cover the last of their expenses. And I will show up. What I’ll be doing during that time is up to the people who donate. Skeptech itself has some forfeits for donations listed:

Here are some initial incentives (more will be added):

  • $5 to be a member of our Organ Trail team.

  • At $200, we’ll buy Super Meat Boy and fail horribly.

  • At $1000, we’ll buy Amnesia, and play it at full-volume in the dark. You’ll be able to watch our horror on the hangout.

Jason has others, including one that raised my eyebrows. He’s brave, that one. I’ll just highlight this one instead:

For $20, you can jump into the Hangouts for 15 mins and try to go all debate-club on us, while we try to multitask and out-debate you while also staying on the course on Rainbow Road in Mario Kart or some other such outlandish gaming stunt.

As I said, you don’t want to see me game. There do seem to be people out there, however, who think I should debate. This is their chance. It’s cheap at $20. Somebody really ought to take me up on that.

Who’s Going Bowling?

For those of you who’ve never heard of the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon, this is an April event put together by the National Network of Abortion Funds that raises money to…here, they can explain:

The Bowl-a-Thon is a nationwide series of local events that allow community members (you!) to captain your own bowling team, participate in a kickass national event – and raise money to help women and girls pay for abortions they couldn’t otherwise afford.

Abortion funds are local, grassroots groups that work tirelessly to help low-income and disadvantaged women who want an abortion and do not have enough money to pay for it. Abortion funds help pay forabortions, help buy bus or plane tickets, and even offer a place to stay for those who have to travel for an abortion. Abortion funds make a real difference…and you can join them!

If you want to donate, they have a list of organizations with Bowl-a-Thon events. However, they don’t list every agency there, and, well, it’s often more fun to support someone you know. So I’d like to find people who have some connection to this community and highlight them.

I already know of a few. Brianne Bilyeu of Biodork is bowling, and Niki M., who participated in FtBCon last month, is on her team. Sarah Moglia of Skepchick is team Coup de Twat for the event. Who else out there is part of this great event?

Toward an Independent Freethought Media

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a big fan of independent, non-profit news media. I contribute free arts coverage to the Twin Cities Daily Planet. I host Atheists Talk. I love MinnPost and The UpTake.

So why is independent news media so important? There are two big reasons in my book. The first is that there isn’t the same pressure to conform to the political agenda of corporate owners. In a de facto oligarchy like ours, this is critical. The other reason is that, without the pressure for profit, these organizations can focus on smaller audiences and stories. Rather than being all things to all people, they can cater to their niche…assuming that niche can support their work.

Jamila Bey is hoping her niche–us–can support her ambitious project. She also has the best project description I’ve seen. [Read more…]

In One City Alone

The first reports out of the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan said that somewhere over 100 people had died. It was one of those statements that was obviously true but absurd to make with a storm this big. The problem was that the storm had also knocked out communications. Now that news reports are making it out, the picture is very ugly.

Haiyan raced across the eastern and central Philippines, inflicting serious damage to at least six of the archipelago’s more than 7,000 islands, with Leyte, neighboring Samar Island, and the northern part of Cebu appearing to take the hardest hits. It weakened as it crossed the South China Sea before approaching northern Vietnam, where it was forecast to hit land either late Sunday night or early Monday morning.

On Leyte, regional police chief Elmer Soria said the provincial governor had told him there were about 10,000 deaths there, primarily from drowning and collapsed buildings. Most of the deaths were in Tacloban, a city of about 200,000 that is the biggest on Leyte Island.

On Samar, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 were missing, while some towns have yet to be reached by rescuers. He pleaded for food and water and said power was out and there was no cellphone signal, making communication possible only by radio.

Reports from the other affected islands indicated dozens, perhaps hundreds more deaths.

The Foundation Beyond Belief has identified a relief organization already in place and with low overhead costs, Citizens Disaster Response Center. While the number of dead is mind-boggling, for every death there are hundreds without clean water, food, or shelter. If you can, donate here. All the money will go straight to Citizens Disaster Response Center.

A Mental Health Musical

A friend of my husband, the best man at our wedding, is a dancer and choreographer. For the last several years, he’s been working on a project for the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health that I think many readers here can appreciate.

Once upon a time, familiar fairy tales were re-imagined to show positive portrayals of children with mental health disorders to raise awareness and reduce stigma! These original hour-long musical theatre productions are performed by a talented cast of actors ages 9 – 18 both with and without mental health disorders.

Original Fidgety Fairy Tales – includes Little Red Riding Hood (AD/HD), Sleeping Handsome (depression), and Rapunzel (anxiety)  Check us out in the Minneapolis Star Tribune – “A New Take on Fairy Tales”

More Fidgety Fairy Tales – includes The Prince and the Pea (autism), Hansel and Gretel (post-traumatic stress), and The Frog Prince (collaborative problem solving)

Further Fidgety Fairy Tales – includes Goldilocks (obsessive-compulsive disorder), Boyd, Who Cried Wolf (Tourette Syndrome), and CinderEdward (bipolar disorder)  Check us out on Kare 11 – “Fairy Tales Helping Reduce Mental Illness Stigma”

Beyond Fidgety Fairy Tales – includes Jack and the Beanstalk (brain damage), Snow White (schizophrenia), and Little Mermaid (eating disorders)  Check out this video taken during one of our rehearsals:  The Real You

The group completed a fifth show this spring. These are all traveling productions, staged mostly at schools and for other children’s and community organizations. Now they want to do more.

That’s why we want lots and lots of people to get a chance to see the show. We have been booked for several performances in outstate Minnesota, but currently don’t have the funding to be able to offer public performances in the Twin Cities.

We are committed to keeping the tickets to our performances free because families of children with mental health disorders often find their resources stretched to the max.

That’s why we need YOU! For every $700, we will be able to offer a performance that is free and open to the public. Our funding goal is set at $1400, which means we would be able to do two performances. If you all pledge more than that, we will just keep scheduling performances around the Twin Cities!

The majority of the funding pays for the talent, since the group already has existing relationships with venues that will host the shows as a community service.

With just under two weeks left, the project is nearly half funded. If you’re outside of Minnesota, the rewards on offer are mostly thanks and knowing that kids will get some early, useful, destigmatizing information about mental health. If you think that’s worthwhile and have a little something to throw their way, check out the Kickstarter.