Humanism on the Move


Oct. 14, 2009

The American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America are organizing against an amendment to the Baucus heath care reform bill that authorized $50 million each year through 2014 for abstinence-only-until marriage programs. The amendment also barred those funds from being used for education about other sex-ed subjects, such as contraception.

The amendment, offered by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would effectively reinstate the controversial Title V abstinence-only program that had expired on June 30 of this year.

Atheist groups have criticized abstinence-only programs for being ineffective at delaying sexual initiation and reducing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. The program also raises concerns due to poor protections for the separation of church and state-many abstinence only programs improperly mix religion in the curriculum and have religiously-tinged mission statements.

Groups are asking the Senate to strip the Hatch Amendment from the final Health Care Reform bill.

Hundreds of atheists and agnostics in Poland staged a March of Atheists and Agnostics (MAiA) on Oct.10 to show that there are non-believers living in the country. The march represents the first of its kind in Europe and is notable for taking place in a country that is majority Catholic.

The organizing groups include Mlodzi Wolnomysliciele (roughly translated as "Young Freethinkers") and the Polish Society of Rationalists (Polskie Stowarzyszenie Racjonalistów). The march started at the Collegium Novum and finished at the statue of Tadeusz Boy-Zelenski, who was a famous atheist Polish writer and critic.

Ewelina Podsiad, the chief organizer of the march, told the Krakow Post that, "in a situation when a minority is not visible, it is easy to discriminate against it, to exclude its interests and rights, especially in the crucial area of legislation." The March was organized in order to garner recognition for the non-theist minority.

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Salazar v. Buono on Wednesday, October 7. The case will determine whether a Christian cross may remain atop Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve in California and may have far reaching implications for the way the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is interpreted.

The American Humanist Association filed a friend of the court brief in the case in support of Respondent Frank Buono, who is challenging the placement of the cross on federal land, and argues that the cross in the middle of the Preserve gives the appearance of government endorsement of Christianity and thus should be removed.

Bob Ritter, legal coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, a division of the American Humanist Association, attended the oral arguments and offered his analysis of the proceedings: "It looks like it will be a very close vote, with Justice Kennedy issuing the deciding vote. It was surprising that few of the questions asked by the justices revolved around the question of standing–whether or not Respondent Frank Buono has the ability to sue the federal government for violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Rather, most questions were about the nature of the land transfer."

After a district court ordered the removal of the cross on federal property in the California desert, Congress authorized the exchange of the land the cross sits on to the Veterans of Foreign Wars for other land privately held in the Preserve. They also designated the cross as a war memorial. As the 9th circuit observed, Congress left "a little donut hole of land with a cross in the midst of a vast federal preserve."