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.

In One City Alone

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.

A Mental Health Musical

Nontheist Chaplains Coming to a Vote

From the Secular Coalition for America:

Tell the House: Respect Nontheistic
Military Service Members

We just learned that an amendment crucial to our nontheistic service men and women is getting a second chance. We need your help once more!

Thursday morning, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on an amendment that would allow nontheistic chaplains in the Chaplain Corps of the Armed Forces. The amendment to H.R. 1960—which would fund the military for fiscal year 2014—is crucial to the roughly 23 percent of men and women in the armed services who are religiously unaffiliated “nones” or atheists.

Although it fell short of the votes needed to pass the House Armed Services Committee, your overwhelming response was heard throughout Congress’ halls. With more co-sponsors and more support, the amendment will be introduced once more, this time for consideration by the full House.

Why are chaplains so important to nontheistic service members? Why don’t they just talk to a psychiatrist or counselor? The answers may surprise you:

  • Military psychiatrists and counselors are an inadequate substitution for chaplains because information discussed in sessions with a counselor or a psychiatrist can be shared with military personnel and possibly harm a service member’s future military career.
  • The chaplain-patient relationship enjoys more confidentiality then the psychiatrist or counselor relationship does.
  • Studies indicate that service men and women fail to seek the needed help from psychiatrists and counselors because of the stigma that doing so makes them weak.

Our nontheistic service members sacrifice for all of us daily—now they need you to sacrifice just a minute of your time to write your representative and urge them to support this amendment.

The vote is THURSDAY morning – write your representative NOW!


Edwina Rogers,
Executive Director

The SCA is making this one easy. Click here to contact your representative.

Nontheist Chaplains Coming to a Vote

Atheists in the News

At yesterday’s event with David Niose, he spoke about a Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit in Massachusetts, and someone from the audience asked him about press coverage. Niose noted that the Boston press is quite liberal, and they don’t seem to have any particular problem with atheism, but that big atheist stories are still rarely covered.

He used Jessica Ahlquist’s lawsuit and harassment as an example. Despite covering a lot of Rhode Island news, the Boston press didn’t find it newsworthy when someone received torrents of hate and abuse for standing up to their community. More impressively, they didn’t find it newsworthy when a lawmaker called a young activist an  “evil little thing”.

As an identity movement (as Niose explicitly identified the secular movement), we need visibility. We are easier to demonize and easier to abuse when no one is looking at us. That means we need a friendlier, more knowledgeable press.

The good news is that there is work underway to make this happen. From Teresa MacBain:

I have a great opportunity to be a part of the “Meet the Freethinkers” panel at the upcoming Religion Newswriters Conference in Austin, TX. Representatives from the movement will present the broad range of freethought to a large number of reporters who cover religion. This is a first of it’s kind event and I’m honored to participate.

I’m asking for your assistance in funding my trip. Your donations will be used to secure the following:

  • Airfare
  • Hotel
  • Transportation
  • Meals

Thank you for supporting me in this adventure.

Teresa is an excellent choice to represent freethinkers at this event. Onstage, she speaks eloquently to what our community looks like at its best. Offstage, she is warm, charming, and accustomed to answering even the most ridiculous questions gracefully.

Of course, she does it all on a nonprofit salary. So if we want someone like Teresa representing us to the religion press and sharing with them the kind of newsworthy stories we have to tell, we need to help her. I’ve given some. She’s almost halfway to her goal. Let’s get her the rest of the way there.

Atheists in the News

The Long Ride

A note from my husband.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading up to Proctor High School in Duluth, MN on a bus with a bunch of strangers and some people I work with. Then, on Saturday, I’ll be riding my bicycle 75 miles to Hinckley, MN where I’ll spend a glamorous evening at Hinckley High School waiting for Sunday and 75 more miles of cycling to White Bear Lake, MN.

Why would I do this? Sometimes it feels like an unachievable goal. On Friday and Saturday night, I’ll be trying to find a place to hang a hammock on an athletic field. Maybe between the goal posts? There will be thousands of people I don’t know, which will grant me both a certain level of anonymity as well as a feeling of being out of place. I have a lot of sunblock packed, but I’ll be spending 6-8 hours in sunlight both days and it will probably all wash off in the rain on Sunday. And I’ve probably biked less than 200 miles so far this year, so I’ll nearly double my distance over a single weekend and easily double any distance I’ve biked in a day this year.

But the fundamental reason I’m doing this is that it benefits the National MS Society. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society uses money collected from this MS150 event 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.

For one small example of surprising MS research, check out this interview on Science Friday with Larry Steinman who found that amyloid plaque, normally associated with Alzheimer’s disease actually improved MS-like symptoms in mice.

LARRY STEINMAN: [W]e decided to ask when we administered these amyloid molecules, would it make the mouse model of multiple sclerosis worse. That was our hypothesis because we knew that the molecules are supposed to be villains.

Much to our surprise, we found that when we administered them to mice who were paralyzed, they were able to walk around. And as long as we continued to administer these molecules on a daily basis, intravenously, we found that they were perfectly fine. When we stopped giving it, the paralysis recurred.

Now that you’re impressed by science, join many other atheists and freethinkers by donating to my ride and helping the MS society work toward ridding the world of MS. For the first $500 in donations made today, Stephanie and I will match your donation 50%. Even if you can’t give much, this is a way to give more.

The Long Ride

Federal Abortion Bill Advances

Last week, I received this action alert from CFI’s Office of Public Policy:

Help Defeat Proposals That Would Ban All Abortions in U.S. After 20 Weeks

Rep. Trent Franks is at it again. Last month, the Republican Congressman from Arizona introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would outlaw all abortions in Washington, D.C. after 20 weeks — with saving the mother from death being the only exception.

Now, Franks has announced his intention to amend the bill and expand its reach nationwide. That’s right: Rep. Franks wants a nationwide ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The bill has quickly racked up 133 co-sponsors in the House, and has a companion in the Senate, S. 886.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) considers these proposals an outrage and urges members to contact their elected officials in Congress to oppose them.

As you might imagine, I agree with the OPP on this. I’m passing this on now because the Republican majority of the House Judiciary subcommittee assigned to evaluate the bill disagree with me. Continue reading “Federal Abortion Bill Advances”

Federal Abortion Bill Advances

#FBRape (Update)

Many of us came home from the Women in Secularism conference and worked to settle back into real life. Soraya Chemaly went home and launched an anti-rape, anti-domestic violence campaign with Women, Action & the Media (WAM). What are they working on?

Facebook has long allowed content endorsing violence against women. They claim that these pages fall under the “humor” part of their guidelines, or are expressions of “free speech.” But Facebook has proven willing to crack down on other forms of hate speech, including anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and homophobic speech, without claiming such exemptions.

When these pages are reported to Facebook as hate speech, Facebook says, “Oh, no. Those are humor pages. They stay up.” Facebook doesn’t do the same thing with pages that laugh about violence toward other demographics, but it does with those that laugh about beating, raping, and killing women.* Pages that put up content like this. (Don’t click through unless you’re sure you want to see that.) It leaves that while taking down pictures of babies breastfeeding and calling an ad highlighting the lack of link between abortion and breast cancer unacceptable “adult services” advertising.

Complaints about these uneven policies and processes made to Facebook have been ignored or the responses unhelpful. So what can be done short of closing your Facebook account and walking away from it? You can take action by talking to the advertisers whose products and services appear on those pages in support of WAM’s open letter calling for changes.

WAM have made this manageable. They’ve highlighted a few large advertisers, provided pictures of their ads in places they won’t want them, given one-click links for contacting those advertisers by Twitter, email, and Facebook. They are also tracking the status of various companies’ responses so you know, for example, whether to simply ask them to keep pressure on Facebook to change or whether you need to remind them that reporting isn’t enough when Facebook’s policy is to shrug off these complaints. All you have to do is click and go.

*Standard disclaimer about focusing on violence that targets women: Yes, men experience higher rates of violence in the U.S. than women do. Yes, I’d like to see that end too. However, men are not targeted for violence specifically because of their sex (for cissexual males), meaning that other factors than their sex have to be addressed to reduce that violence. Yes, I spend time and energy on those issues too.

Update: Hooray!

#FBRape (Update)

Make All the Policy!

Do you want to make all the policy? Or to put it another way, are you a public policy person with a dedication to secularism who is looking for a job?

This has been posted elsewhere, on blogs with a much larger readership. However, this is a specialized role, so the more people who see it the better.

American Atheists, Inc., a non-profit and nonpartisan educational and advocacy organization dedicated to the separation of religion and government and the equality of atheists, is seeking a qualified individual to take a leadership role in the development and implementation of its public policy activities. Responsibilities may include:

  • Arranging and taking meetings with Congressional and Administration officials.
  • Drafting action alerts for mass emails to American Atheists members.
  • Collaborating with coalitions of national nontheistic and secular organizations to create
    better outcomes for the nontheistic community in everyday life.
  • Monitoring federal legislative and administrative policies.
  • Monitoring state actions for bills and laws that violate the separation of religion and
  • Developing policy proposals related to secularizing the tax code
  • Preparing comments and other position statements.
  • Other tasks as assigned.

Candidates should have at least 3 years of professional experience in public policy and legislative affairs and have a degree in law or related to public policy as well as knowledge of the Constitution, federal government, and the tax code; excellent analytic and problem solving skills; creativity and leadership; knowledge of the legislative process; ability to work independently; and excellent written and verbal skills.

Well-qualified candidates will have Capitol Hill experience and a demonstrated commitment to the nontheistic community or separation of religion and government issues.

American Atheists’ headquarters is in New Jersey; this position will be based at a satellite office in Washington, D.C.

Salary will be commensurate with experience. Additional benefits include paid sick, holiday, and vacation days; health insurance and dental insurance.

Please send a cover letter, resume, and a writing sample related to public policy or a public policy issue to [email protected]. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis until June 3, 2013.

Make All the Policy!

Keep Religion Out of Health Care

Passing this along from CFI’s Office of Public Policy:

Tell the Obama Administration to Protect Women’s Access to Birth Control, Finalize Rule

On February 1, 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed yet another set of changes to the birth control rule, which mandates that employers or health insurance companies provide free coverage for preventive health services, such as contraception. We think these changes are both unnecessary and unwise. At the same time, we are pleased that HHS has resisted pressure from religious organizations to eliminate the rule.

The proposed changes would, among other things, further accommodate employers that object to contraception on religious grounds by expanding the definition of “religious employer,” and simplifying the manner in which objecting organizations can opt out of coverage.

We at the Center for Inquiry (CFI) applauded the Obama administration for issuing the birth control rule in August 2011, as we considered it an important step forward for reproductive rights and health care. And we are pleased the administration has held relatively steady on its commitment to provide women with free access to safe, preventative health care despite intense opposition from organized religion.

However, the proposed changes needlessly complicate what was already a scientifically sound policy, and they will force women to face additional challenges in accessing contraceptive coverage. Furthermore, the changes were a futile attempt at placating religious critics such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Yet both groups reject the changes and, as they have stated in their own comments on this issue, will be satisfied with nothing less than the rule being completely rescinded.

This is where you come in. Do you believe women should have full control over their reproductive systems regardless of the religious beliefs of their employer? Do you feel HHS has gone far enough in trying to please far-right religious critics of the birth control rule? Do you think it’s time to finalize the rule and move on?

HHS will accept public comments on the proposed changes until April 8, 2013. While CFI is completing the draft of its formal comments and will not release them until next week, we urge you to write HHS as soon as possible and tell them that:

  • Whatever accommodations might be adopted, nothing should prevent women from having straightforward, free access to birth control.
  • The expansion of the definition of “religious employer” is wrong, and it gives organizations that claim to have a religious identity more control over the health care decisions of their employees.
  • It is deeply troubling that the religious lobby has had so much influence over a major health and public policy decision, which should be based on reason, science, and the common good, rather than sectarian dogma.
  • At the very least, employers should be responsible for notifying insurance providers that they will need to arrange coverage, and notifying employees that they will still receive coverage, at no additional cost, from their insurance provider.
  • Coverage for health care benefits such as contraception should be seamless and any additional burdens created by HHS accommodations should be placed on the employer or else the insurance company—not the employee.

Hundreds of thousands of people who work at religiously affiliated organizations are depending on you to speak out on their behalf. Make your voice heard! Take action now!

Here’s how:

1.  Visit

2.  In the search field, type the following: CMS-2012-0031-63161.

3.  Scroll to the result and click on “Comment Now!”

4. On the following page, submit your comment either by typing or pasting your message in the open box, or by uploading a file.

Thank you!

Even if you simply send those bullet points verbatim, comment. Allowing employers to meddle in their employee’s health this way is an appalling invasion of privacy. If employers are going to remain the access portal for our health care, they must be required to take their personal preferences out of the process.

Keep Religion Out of Health Care

Money for Nothing

In case you’ve missed it, Crommunist is leading the drive to swell the ranks of Kiva lenders, and Kiva is making it very, very easy to join, even for those who can’t afford to lend right now. They like their number one lending group, and they want to see us get bigger.

A lending team you’re a member of, “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious” is super close to hitting a big milestone: 25,000 members. You’re less than 500 people away from hitting that goal, and we’d love to help you get there.

Kiva has $10,000 for matching loans of your team’s choice–but only if you can reach the goal of 25,000 team members by midnight on March 31st, 2013

Thanks largely to Crommunist and to people who have been spreading the word, we’re now just over 100 members from the goal. We can do this, especially since they make it so easy, but we don’t have much time left.

You see, you can sign up right now for a trial loan. You don’t have to add any of your own money, and Kiva will give you $25 to lend to…well, you get to decide that. Most of my loans go to women in less politically stable areas because the research I’ve seen says that does the most good, but you can decide on your own loan priorities.

On top of that, if you use that link, Crommunist will also get a gift loan for $25 to direct. He’s raised some ridiculous (but wonderful) amount in gift loans, and his readers direct where that money goes. (This is also how the money he gets from blogging at FtB is used.)

On top of that, this qualifies you to join the Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious lending group, swelling our numbers not just to help demonstrate that we’re not the callous, uncaring infidels we’re sometimes painted as, but also to release those matching funds for use. All told, between that matching money and the dual gift loans, that’s about $30,000 in Kiva-supplied loans without any of the money any of us put in.

And if that’s not incentive enough, you’ll never be caught flat-footed again when someone asks what you want for your birthday. Just ask them to add to your lending portfolio and save yourself from receiving another Cosby sweater.

Go on. Sign up.

Money for Nothing