Monday, December 5, 2011

The Manufactured "Holiday Tree" Controversy

From the Providence Journal, December 3, 2011:

Chafee right to ignore loud majority

Governor Chafee has wisely chosen to refer to the trees being lit at the State House on Tuesday as “holiday trees” rather than “Christmas trees,” referring to Rhode Island’s proud tradition of freedom of, and freedom from, religion. Of course, critics took issue with the governor’s word choice.

Poor Rep. Doreen Costa (R.-North Kingstown). Her very first priority, upon being elected to the House of Representatives as a Tea Party candidate, was to push through a House resolution “Respecting Christmas Trees.” The resolution read, “RESOLVED, That it is the policy of the state that state officials and departments refer to the tree customarily erected or displayed in celebration of the period from Thanksgiving of each year to January of the following year as a ‘Christmas tree’ and not as a ‘holiday tree’ or other non-traditional terms.”

Of course, such resolutions do not have the force of law, which is fortunate, because this particular resolution would be in direct violation of the First Amendment. As First Amendment scholar David L. Hudson Jr. pointed out, “The First Amendment allows people to believe as they wish. It also says the government cannot compel us to speak or compel us to believe anything. State employees should be able to call a tree in their workplace a ‘Christmas tree,’ a ‘holiday tree,’ or just ‘a tree.’ ”

Costa’s poor understanding of simple constitutional issues notwithstanding, more troublesome is that the resolution passed at all. According to The Providence Journal (“Controversy over ‘holiday’ takes root,” news, Nov. 30), the resolution “was approved by the House within moments of introduction, without any of the lawmakers getting copies of the measure on which they were being asked to vote.” Is it traditional to blindly pass resolutions without reading them?

To make matters worse, buyer’s remorse set in immediately, with Speaker Gordon Fox’s chief legal counsel, John Flynn, pointing out that the resolution was “not properly before the body,” and therefore, presumably, in dispute.

So when Representative Costa claims that Governor Chafee is “disrespecting” the legislature by not following the resolution’s directive, the immediate question that comes to mind might be: “Is the legislature acting in a way that deserves such respect?”

While people in this state struggle to find jobs, and as families are losing their homes, Representative Costa put her efforts toward passing a useless resolution that seeks to limit the First Amendment rights of free Americans. Costa, who identifies strongly as a Catholic, introduced the resolution, in her own words, “on a whim,” but was “excited” when it passed.

Whimsy and excitement may be found in holiday themed amusement parks, but are not appropriate in the state legislature.

Of course, it is not just Doreen Costa complaining. Bishop To-bin, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, chimed in: “Governor Chafee’s decision to avoid the word Christmas at the State House ceremony is most disheartening and divisive. It is sad that such a secular spirit has swept over our state. The governor’s decision ignores long-held American traditions and is an affront to the faith of many citizens. For the sake of peace and harmony in our state at this special time of the year, I respectfully encourage the governor to reconsider his decision [and] to use the word Christmas in the state observance.”

The bishop must surely realize that the “secular spirit” that “swept over this state” did so in 1663, when the state’s founder, Roger Williams, was granted a royal charter that guaranteed complete religious liberty. It is this secular liberty that let those of many faiths, including Catholics, Baptists, Jews, Quakers and even those with no faith, such as Humanists, prosper in this country.

Bishop Tobin’s position as the highest-ranking Catholic cleric in Rhode Island, the most Catholic state in America, is possible only because of Rhode Island’s secular history of religious freedom. Rhode Island is made up of people with a wide variety of traditions regarding the “holiday season.” Many of these traditions are religious, but many are simply secular observations of traditions long divorced from any spiritual message.

Governor Chafee’s decision, rather than being divisive, as the bishop claims, is in fact an attempt at being inclusive. It is a small step toward respecting the beliefs of all Rhode Islanders, not just those of the loud and whimsical religious majority.

Steve Ahlquist is a founding member of the eight-month-old Humanists of Rhode Island, which does volunteer work while promoting “a godless philosophy based on reason and compassion.” His brother, Mark Ahlquist, is suing Cranston over a “prayer banner” hanging in Cranston High School West.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rhode Island, Humanism and the Death Penalty

John Gordon
Recently, Humanist and philosopher John Shook said it very simply, and I have to agree with him: Humanism cannot support the death penalty. His full article is linked and I would suggest that everybody with an interest in justice read it, but one part bears repeating here:
Humanism stands for valuing the lives of all, individual human rights, justice for everyone, and governments that defend all of their people. These grounds alone are sufficient for abolishing the death penalty.
As a member of Humanists of Rhode Island, I am proud to live in a state that saw this simple truth over a century and a half ago, when, in 1852, Rhode Island became the second state (after Michigan) to abolish the death penalty. Though proponents, to our shame, re-established the death penalty in 1872 and later in 1973, in 1984 the death penalty was once more off the books. Since then proponents have made several attempts to reintroduce this penalty, but so far to no effect.

The Rhode Island Secretary of State has a great little article on the history of the death penalty in Rhode Island. Rhode Island took such a forward looking because of a tragic mistake. The state executed John Gordon, an innocent man.

Though there is no way to undo such a wrong, on June 6, 2011, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed a pardon that officially admitted that Rhode Island had not given John Gordon a fair trial, and probably executed an innocent man. Upon signing the pardon, Chafee said:
John Gordon was put to death after a highly questionable judicial process and based on no concrete evidence. There is no question he was not given a fair trial. Today we are trying to right that injustice. John Gordon’s wrongful execution was a major factor in Rhode Island’s abolition of and longstanding opposition to the death penalty. Today, as we pardon John Gordon, we also recognize and uphold that commitment.
In addition to Rhode Island's proud tradition of religious and philosophical tolerance, which guarantees a persons right to freedom of and from religion, there is another Humanist current we can take justifiable pride in: Our commitment to the value of human rights.

Be proud of this tradition and feel free boldly proclaim your opposition to the death penalty as both a Humanist espousing reason and compassion, and as a Rhode Islander, valuing a tradition steeped in human rights and fairness.
Veteran's Square Conservation Area
On November 19th, six members of the Humanists of Rhode Island, specifically Adam, Mark, Dan Julia, Zack and Steve, joined about eight other people at the brand new Veteran's Square Conservation Area at the intersection of Rte 117 (Centerville Rd.) and Main Street in West Warwick to actually help build the park. To the best of my knowledge, the park is owned by the citizens of West Warwick, but under the care of the Pawtuxet River Authority.

When complete the area will have a boat launch and it ill be stocked with trout for fishing. Even though it's right on a main road, the area is beautiful, and we saw Canadian Geese on the river the entire time we were there.

Our members started showing up around 8:30 AM, and met Rita, who was in charge of the planting project. She was such a gracious person, and provided us all with coffee, hot cocoa, donuts and pizza for lunch. Also present was a representative of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, who was a real great guy. 

We started prepping the soil and digging holes for the line of plants that would provide a fence between the street and the park. Zach, the youngest person there (and a member of our group) was a powerhouse. He never stopped working, whether it was digging a hole, picking up the trash at the water's edge, or planting bulbs. He was an inspiration.

Cleaning up the trash at the rivers edge meant pulling a shopping cart, a car tire, various pieces of lumber and a computer monitor out of the river. I was told that the area is now much cleaner than it was a few years ago. When the DEM first took over the site, they pulled over three hundred ties out of the river. I'm sure the mallards and the Canadian geese are glad to be rid of them.

When we left at about 2 PM the park looked much improved, though there's still work to be done of course. Not used to digging holes, I was pretty exhausted, as I'm sure the rest of the volunteers were, but I also couldn't think of a better way to spend my day.

Photos from the day can be found here and here, on our FaceBook page.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Humanists of Rhode Island Support Occupy Providence

Click to read in full size
Today marks a milestone of sorts for Humanists of Rhode Island, because we have just gone public in a big way. Page two of today's Providence Journal used a press release from our group to help put together a story in conjunction with a piece they did on Occupy Providence. I especially like the equal billing our group got with the Sierra Club. On the reformatted ProJo website our group was mentioned alone in the "breaking news" section.

The unedited text of our press release runs below:
The Humanists of Rhode Island have come together under a progressive philosophy of life that affirms, without an appeal to supernaturalism, our ability and responsibility to live ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity. For this reason we have decided to publicly support the goals and aims of Occupy Providence.

Humanism's strong commitment to human rights and the value of individual human beings compels us to stand with the Occupy movement for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most fundamental is our commitment to the rights of all people to live without fear from government, corporations, poverty and economic uncertainty.

The Humanists of Rhode Island make no claims as to speak for the Occupy movement in general or Occupy Providence in particular, but in so far as we understand the movement, we are in agreement with its goals and stated positions. Occupy is leveraging the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, including, but not limited to the rights of free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government. They are doing this to make a bold statement about where we are as a country, and where we, as a country, would like to be.

Occupy Providence is a movement dedicated to non-violence and has also taken a strong position against property destruction and defacement. Occupy Providence have taken a strong stand against discrimination, harassment and bullying.These goals are in keeping with the Humanists of Rhode Island's values.

Occupy Providence wants to "challenge corporate greed, which places profits over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality." The Humanists of Rhode Island agree with this mission. It is a cornerstone of Humanism that all people have a basic human right to to be free from want. All people are entitled to clean air and water, adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education and access to the fruits of our culture, regardless of their economic status. Included in this is the right to work, the right to collectively bargain, and the right to adequate leisure time and relaxation.

Anything less is literally inhuman.

We see the Occupy movement as being formed in the spirit of true Democracy, a process that is instructive to watch first hand, because it is almost painfully slow, but also beautiful in the way it reaches consensus with respect and inclusion. The Humanists of Rhode Island also embraced Democracy as a cornerstone of our beliefs, and we support the Democratic principles of Occupy Providence.

All of us want a better, more fair world. Whether the Occupy movement will get us there or not is besides the point. Occupy Providence is a noble effort, marshaling the best of our human values to open discussion about the larger issues of economic inequality and unfairness. It deserves and compels our support, and points the way towards building a more inclusive Democracy in which the voices of all people can be heard, regardless of economic access.

For this reason, the Humanists of Rhode Island publicly support Occupy Providence.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

34th Annual 2011 National FFRF Convention

Weekend of October 7-9, 2011
Marriott Hartford Downtown
200 Columbus Blvd
Hartford, Connecticut

Many of our members are heading down for one or more days. 

Check it out.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Skeptics in the Pub with David Niose: Secularity as a Movement - Humanists of Rhode Island (Providence, RI) - Meetup

Skeptics in the Pub with David Niose: Secularity as a Movement - Humanists of Rhode Island (Providence, RI) - Meetup

Humanists of Rhode Island respond to Hurricane Irene

When a community finds itself in the path of a storm the size of Hurricane Irene, there is little that any one person can do. That's why it is important to mobilize groups of people towards the aim of dealing with the hosts of logistical problems that will arise before, during and after the event. With the storm due to hit Rhode Island on Sunday, I contacted Serve Rhode Island. Established in 1994 to administer the AmeriCorps programs, the scope of the group expanded when, in 2009, The Volunteer Center of Rhode Island merged into Serve Rhode Island, creating "one statewide organization dedicated to meeting the volunteer service needs of the Rhode Island community."

I signed up to help with disaster relief, and was contacted almost immediately by Claudia Staniszewski to attend a "Just-In-Time" Training for New Disaster Volunteers class on Saturday morning. I also agreed to help with the phones at the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency in Cranston.

In all, three members of our Humanists of Rhode Island attended the Just in Time training, myself, my best friend Adam Miner, and the amazing Jenny Norris. We were served coffee and donuts (Dunkin', of course, this being Rhode Island) and we were treated to a PowerPoint about cleaning up after flood and wind damage, and about the safety and psychological issues we might be facing.
Adam Miner, Humanist
Jenny Norris, Humanist
When a person's home is flooded, and all their belongings are destroyed, it's not just trash removal and mold abatement that we volunteers will be called upon to deal with. The people we'll be helping will be facing trauma over the loss of their property and homes. The typical emotions associated with loss, grief and anger, may be on full display.

Though we are by no means counselors or psychologists, it's important that we listen, and let the person we are trying to help set the pace of of our intrusion into their lives. We were told to be understanding and nonjudgmental, which is good advice under all circumstances.

Special instructions were given to us for dealing with important papers and family photographs.

We were also given practical advice. Flood water can hide many dangers, like open manholes, sharp debris, frightened animals and downed electrical lines. The water is certainly contaminated not only with with silt, a slipping hazard, but also potentially with chemicals, fuel oil or sewage. After the water is gone the mold sets in, if the home isn't stripped to the beams and sanitized with bleach.

After the training I went to the Command Readiness Center in Cranston to help manage the phones. After being signed in by security and finding my way to the phone bank, I spent four hours with a group of great volunteers. One of the women, named Patience, I recognized from the Just in Time training. I learned she had a two month old baby at home, and she was volunteering for the chance to simply get out of the house as her husband stayed with the baby.

The calls ran the gamut that day from concerns about the closing of the bridges to Newport to concerns about the American Idol concert that was going on at the Civic Center downtown. Mostly we were there to assist people in finding out the information they needed, and to help those people with special medical needs to get on a list that would prioritize their care in the event of power outages.

I wore my Humanists of Rhode Island tee shirt, and answered questions for a woman with a name tag that identified her as a representative of FEMA about Humanism and volunteering during a short break from the phones. She was unaware of Humanism before our conversation, intrigued afterwards.

As I write this Irene is raging outside my window. The tree in front of my house snapped in half and fell into the street, fortunately doing no real damage to anyone or anything, even missing the wires to our house, somehow. The tree was young when we moved in thirteen years ago, and now it's essentially dead. But this small tragedy pales in comparison to the deaths and property damage being faced by people up and down the east coast, and I'm okay with the loss of the tree. My wife and I are already planning to plant a new one as soon as possible.
My poor, dead tree...
So far I've been called upon to do very little in the face of this storm. I may get a chance to assist in clean-up efforts, I may not. But I'm ready to help if needed, and what little I've done so far has helped, if even a little, to alleviate some of the problems an event like this creates.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Forces of Geek: Celebrate Your Pop Culture Obsessions!: Star Trek: The First Thirty Seconds

Forces of Geek: Celebrate Your Pop Culture Obsessions!: Star Trek: The First Thirty Seconds

Our Second Habitat Build

Mark and Anad (Photo by Sarah)
On Saturday, August 20, seven members of Humanists of Rhode Island converged on a construction site located at 38 Burnside St in Providence to help Habitat for Humanity build a house for a family in our community. In addition to myself (Steve) there was Sarah, Dan, Mark, Anad, Julia and Jess. We worked all day in both the hot sun and the drizzling rain, New England weather being what it is. By the end of a day of hard work we were all sweaty, tired messes, but we were also energized because we had done something great. We had worked to improve the lives of others.

Arriving at the site I surprised to see a group of fifteen or so candles and one or two empty vodka bottles arranged outside the construction site. Upon meeting Bob, one of the other volunteers at the site, I was informed that there had been a murder at that location one year ago. Building a house on that site took on added import to me at that point: we were reclaiming a place of tragedy as a place for hope.

I was pleased to meet Anad, a wonderful person who said that she wasn't sure that she was a Humanist, but was intrigued by the good work we were doing. What a compliment to our efforts, because being a Humanist is about helping our fellow humans and Anad realized that.

It was wonderful to work with Sarah, who took great photos of the event, and my brother Mark, who is fearless on the scaffolding and ladders. My nieces, Julia and Jessica helped out as well, showing that they are not little girls, but young women strong enough to do anything I could do, and better as well. There was also my friend Dan, a lawyer with a theater background in set construction. I never realized how adept he was with tools before this day.

It made me realize that we all have hidden strengths and talents, and that if we can just figure out ways to tap into them, we'll truly be able to transform the world.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Habitat for Humanity

On Saturday Sarah and I showed up at 20 Newcomb St to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. There were students volunteering from Brown University and the Wheeler School, as well as people from the community. I worked side by side with another Steve, a hand surgeon, as we cut boards with a rotary saw. Safety first means that we never risked our fingers, right? We worked on building the fourth exterior wall of the second floor, and lifted it into place. There was a real feeling of accomplishment by the end of the day, as well as exhaustion.

The day started with the site manager, Andre, saying something to the effect of "It's been said that every Habitat build starts with a prayer. That said, I'd like to have a moment of silence, to reflect on why we're doing this."

I don't know if that was for the benefit of us Humanists or not, but it was very appreciated.

We're setting up a second Humanists of Rhode Island Habitat volunteer effort for August 20, which will once more be at 20 Newcomb St, from 8:30 AM and 2 PM-ish. Interested parties should get in touch either here, or through the Meet Up and Facebook pages.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Rhode Island’s Future - DARE- Solidarity with Prisoners on Hunger Strike!

Rhode Island’s Future - DARE- Solidarity with Prisoners on Hunger Strike!

The July 13th Meeting

It was an excellent meeting, with many new people showing up. We welcomed Tangie, David, Dave, Mark, Jess and Julia, as well as our regulars Steve (me), Sarah, Dan, Derek and Beth. Also, a big shout out who all who couldn't make it this time, Walter, Cindy and Jim, plus all those who haven't made it to a meeting yet, especially Mary Jane and the other Sarah.

We've changed our meeting nights to Monday, at the request of almost all members of the group, and I've chosen August 22 for our next meeting. We'll meet at the same Panera Bread (5 New London Ave in Cranston) but we might be reaching capacity there, so this might be our last time in that space. I'm pretty sure I can secure us a free room at the First Unitarian Church, but we can discuss this at the next meeting.

Here's the meeting agenda we followed:

Introductions, nametags, collect canned goods, collect emails, handout contact information, distribute AHA goodies.

1. News: We are affiliated with the AHA
2. Upcoming events
            a.  Habitat for Humanity - This will be a repeatable event
                  20 Newcomb St, Providence
            b. CPR Certification
                  105 Gano St. Providence
            c. The 2012 Reason Rally National Mall, DC Saturday, Mar 24.
3. Other events of interest? Ideas for further events?
            a. FFRF Hartford CT Oct 7-9, 2011
            b. Participation in future PRIDE events and parades?
            c. Cook-out/picnic
            d. State House protest in favor of Marriage Equality and against Civil Unions
4. Working with "established service organizations"
            a. Habitat for Humanity
            b. Red Cross RI
            c. Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America
            d. Ocean State Action
            e. Move
            f. MERI
            g. ACLU
            h. Planned Parenthood
            i. Jobs with Justice
5. Foundation Beyond Belief, Volunteering Beyond Belief
6. My trip to the CFI Leadership Conference
7. Discuss formalizing the group with By-Laws, possible 501 (3)c status, and a treasurer. I think we should get people interested in this idea working on it.

Notes on the meeting:

Unfortunately, the CPR training looks like a no go, because the $90 fee is pretty steep. I haven't abandoned this idea though. I'm looking into getting myself trained as a CPR instructor, and at that point I will be able to give my own, virtually free classes to all members of the group.
Tangie suggested we help a local woman's shelter around the holidays by giving gift baskets not to the children, but to the women. The group really latched onto this idea, and this is something we want to make our own in a big way. So Tangie will pull together the details, and we'll focus our holiday efforts on this.

Beth and Derek are looking into scheduling a meet and greet picnic (probably at Lincoln Woods) on a weekend in September. This will be open to everyone in our group, as well a anyone else interested in learning about our group. This will be both a social event and a public outreach. We hope to do something like this four times a year, seasonally.

The Reason Rally is going to be held on March 24th of next year, and there was some interest in arranging a Humanists of RI delegation to attend. Dan and I are going, and we'd like as many from our group as possible to join us. (Derek? Julia? Beth? Mark? Dave?)

Also, the FFRF (Freedom from Religion Foundation) is having an event in Hartford CT on Oct 7-9, which I'm hoping to attend. Maybe we could get a Humanist of RI contingent there as well? Also, there's no reason we can't affiliate with the FFRF as well, if we decide to.

If anyone has anything to add to this, anything I forgot to mention, feel free to FaceBook, MeetUp, eMail or blog it. This is an open forum. If you can't get in, email me at [email protected] and I'll get you in.

Also, by request, here's the link to Free Thought RI, the atheist radio show done right here in RI.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Big Meeting Wednesday Night! Be There!

Lots of stuff to talk about Wednesday night at our third and biggest meeting. Our group is really taking off, and I want as many people as possible to show up. Remember to bring a non-perishable canned good for donation to Project Outreach.

We'll be talking about upcoming projects, and figure out what directions we want to take our group in. Honestly, we could plan enough stuff to take care of ten Humanist groups.

Rhode Island’s Future - Voter Fraud: Where's the Science?

Rhode Island’s Future - Voter Fraud: Where's the Science?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Project Outreach at Washington Park

I first became aware of Pastor Duane Clinker of the Open Table of Christ church on 1520 Broad St in Providence RI due to a YouTube video in which the Pastor patiently testified before the House Judiciary Committee in favor of marriage equality. In the video, Pastor Clinker presents his view that being a follower of Christ, and a believer in the Bible does not mean that one has to see homosexuality as sinful. He patiently lectures those in attendance about his interpretation of those passages in the Bible that seem to condemn homosexuality. This, I thought, is an interesting dude.

I don't believe that dueling interpretations of the meaning of ancient texts really leads us anywhere. The very fact that two people can read the same sentences in the Bible and come away with two opposing views shows me quite clearly that we cannot use the Bible to help us make moral judgements. But though I can't agree with Pastor Clinker theologically, we definitely have common cause when it comes to issues of Social Justice.

Intrigued by the Pastor's video, I contacted him to conduct my own, more in depth interview for a series I occasionally work on entitled Philosophy on the Ground. My meeting with the Pastor before, during and after the interview was very enlightening. This was a man committed to Social Justice and Service.

The Open Table of Christ Church that Pastor Clinker leads is intimately connected with Project Outreach at Washington Park. From Project Outreach's website:
Project Outreach continues to be the major provider of food, clothing, services, and other programs to the Washington Park community (02905 area code) of Providence and Cranston. We serve some 400 families and individuals each week, providing not only physical support but also much needed emotional support and guidance.
In a previous post entitled Saving the World I talked about a talk given by philosopher James croft in which he made several suggestions for improving the Service component of Humanist groups. Second on James list is "Connect with established service organizations." The trick here is to find organizations that already do good work but are in need of volunteers or donations, and help them.

Project Outreach is that kind of organization.

It's important that we present ourselves as committed Humanists when we work with these organizations. We don't want our philosophy to become confused with liberal Christianity. But as long as the groups we work with share common goals and are respectful and accommodating to our philosophy, we should not hesitate to work with them.

Project Outreach needs food and clothing donations. At the next meeting of Humanists of Rhode Island, which is July 13, 2011 at the Panera Bread in Cranston, I hope that everyone can bring along some non-perishable canned good for this worthy cause.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Civil Union Bill, The Corvese Amendment, and Why Humanists of Rhode Island Opposes this Bill

Here is the full text of the poisonous Corvese Amendment, which made it into the final version of the Civil Unions Bill H 6103, signed into law by Governor Chafee. The Corvese Amendment is named for North Providence Representative Arthur J Corvese (234 Lexington Avenue North Providence, RI 02904  (401) 353-8695).

This amendment not only undermines the bill completely, it goes against the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and against the ideals of the founder of our state, Roger Williams.
15-3.1-5. Conscience and religious organizations protected.

(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no religious or denominational organization, no organization operated for charitable or educational purpose which is supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, and no individual employed by any of the foregoing organizations, while acting in the scope of that employment, shall be required:

(1) To provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for a
purpose related to the solemnization, certification, or celebration of any civil union; or

(2) To solemnize or certify any civil union; or

(3) To treat as valid any civil union;

if such providing, solemnizing, certifying, or treating as valid would cause such organizations or individuals to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

(b) No organization or individual as described in subsection (a) above who fails or
refuses to provide, solemnize, certify, or treat as valid, as described in subdivision (a)(1), (a)(2) or (a)(3) above, persons in a civil union, shall be subject to a fine, penalty, or other cause of action for such failure or refusal.
As you can see, if the idea of a civil union violates your sincerely held religious beliefs, you don't have to treat civil unions as valid. This is clearly favoring religion, a violation of the establishment Clause.
Humanists of Rhode Island oppose this bill, and are calling for the State of Rhode Island General Assembly to quickly rectify this grievous error in its next legislative session. Meanwhile, we will support any and all legal challenges to this terrible, anti-American, and anti-human legislation.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Chafee signs civil-unions legislation into law - Projo 7 to 7 News Blog | Rhode Island news | The Providence Journal

Chafee signs civil-unions legislation into law

Here's the email I wrote to Chafee, at [email protected]:
I have never been more disappointed in a public official, and lived in Providence when Cianci went to jail. But I knew he was a crook and never voted for him. You, on the other hand, I voted for.

You signed a bill that actually makes life worse for our LGBT community, and you did it quickly, on a weekend when you hoped people would be too busy to notice and unable to raise the proper amount of ire to oppose you.

You signed a bill that you admit in your signing statement goes against the First Amendment, and the valuable principle of separation of church and state that our state's founder, Roger Williams, pioneered. You signed thousands of people into second class citizenship. You made married couples from outside of our state have to apply to our government to have their marriage downgraded to a civil union when they move here.

The bill is a disgrace, you knew that and you signed it. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Make this right, governor.
I urge everyone to write the Governor and let him know how you feel about this.

Rhode Island’s Future - Chafee signs Civil Unions into law...on the Saturday of July 4 weekend.

I am outraged. I commented after the story.

Rhode Island’s Future - Chafee signs Civil Unions into law...on the Saturday of July 4 weekend.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wear Your Humanist Pin on July 4!

Message from Maggie Ardiente: Wear Your Humanist Pin on July 4!

Saving the World

This last weekend I attended the CSI Leadership Conference where my niece, Jessica Ahlquist, gave a talk about High School student activists fighting church/state issues across the country. Along with Jessica's fine talk there were also a flurry of interesting sessions on Humanism, activism, and organization. The presentations fit in quite nicely with everything I hope to accomplish with HoRI. I wish everyone reading this could have attended. Maybe next year.

One of the best talks came from my friend James Croft (whose website is quite excellent) entitled Good (Without God), the Humanist Responsibility to Serve. For this post I'm making extensive use of Ellen Lundgren's excellent notes.

James began (if memory serves) with a slide that said "good WITHOUT GOD" and said that it would be much better for the Humanist movement and the world if we could turn that around to read "GOOD with god." He suggested the way to be good is to do good, and mentioned the concept of service. James' talk was geared to campus groups but they can almost all be applied to our group here in Rhode Island.
9 Ideas to Make Service Work Easy for your Campus Group:
1 - Build service into your regular events
2 - Connect with established service organizations
3 - Do social justice work
4 - Work with your local community "Green without God"
5 - Support national service days (National Secular Service Day)
6 - Link your service to the time of year or other big events/holidays
7 - Reach out to other campus groups
8 - Give Humanist Service Awards
9 - Fundraising for secular charities (Foundation Beyond Belief)
This list is of course just the beginning. I'm taking these ideas to heart, beginning with our volunteer effort with Habitat for Humanity and our CPR training with the American Red Cross. This is present under number 2, Connect with established service organizations.

But more than that, learning CPR with the Red Cross introduces a possible 10th item: Self-improvement with an eye towards service. As the days and weeks pass I will be looking to explore more of these ideas, and how they will help our group grow, and serve the community. I am always looking for more ideas and comments.

Don't be shy. The Meet Up page (there's a link to the right there) is for anyone and everyone. If you have an idea, go for it. If your city park is having a clean up, post it, and your fellow Humanists will come to help if possible. I know that I will do everything I can to make the time. If you have an idea to discuss, throw it up on our FaceBook page. There are people there who want to do things.

Friday, June 17, 2011

We are now officially affiliated with the American Humanist Association

Here's the official email:
Hi Steve:

After looking over your application, we happily approve the Humanists of Rhode Island as an affiliate of the American Humanist Association!

We are now adding you to our local groups directory; do you have a website/Facebook page/Twitter account that you would like to link to? Additionally, I will be sending you some AHA materials in the next couple of days.

Congratulations! Welcome to the American Humanist Association's Grassroots Network! I look forward to working with you.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Next Meet Up at Panera Bread 5 New london Ave, Cranston RI

I have all the forms needed to officially affiliate with the American Humanist Association. When we next get together I'd like us to go over the materials and make it all official.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Secular humanism: the fastest-growing demographic - Northumberland Today - Ontario, CA

This is Cananda, but still exciting news.

Secular humanism: the fastest-growing demographic - Northumberland Today - Ontario, CA

The Failure of Gay Marriage in Rhode Island

A while back I made a film in which i interviewed Christopher Plante, of NOM RI, the group that, along with the Archdiocese of Providence under the leadership of Bishop Tobin, shares the bulk of responsibility for defeating the same-sex marriage bill in the Rhode Island House this legislative session. I've placed the film at the end of this post, along with a much longer version, which is the complete interview.

The film opens with the following words:
In 2010, with the election of Lincoln Chafee to the position of Governor of Rhode Island, the way seemed clear for the passage of a same-sex marriage bill, which the previous governor had promised to veto.

In response, NOM, the National Organization for Marriage, a group opposed to same-sex marriage, redoubled their efforts...
and ends with the following analysis:
Due to the efforts of NOM RI, under the leadership of Chris Plante and the grassroots coalition he has formed with religious groups such as the Catholic Church, the passing of a same-sex marriage bill in Rhode Island is in serious doubt.
I have to admit, I faced some criticism for interviewing Plante, because he is a out and out homophobic bigot. There is a sense out there that I needed to be harder on him, and more confrontational, but I was more interested in letting him talk, so as to get at the root of his views and beliefs. Watching either film below would be a shock to the average person. Chris Plante is as slick an operator as they come, with ready made arguments for any question I tossed at him, but his central ideas, enshrouded as they are in a blather of incoherent religiosity given the patina of faux rationality, are bankrupt.

MERI, (Marriage Equality Rhode Island) the group at the forefront of the battle for same-sex marriage rights, was outclassed and outmaneuvered by a guy with all the scruples and morality as the smarmiest imaginable door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.The Providence Phoenix did a great job of making sense of the reasons MERI lost and NOM RI won.  In "The stunning demise of gay marriage" David Scharfenberg writes:
Much of the critique has focused on Kathy Kushnir, the former executive director [of MERI], who resigned last week.

Some insiders maintain she was in an impossible position — destined to be blamed, no matter what she did, for MERI's frustrated progress. But there was broad concern that Kushnir, who did not respond to a call for comment, lacked the campaign experience required for the final legislative push.
Among [Bill Fischer, MERI's former spokesman]'s biggest critiques of MERI: a hesitance to engage, directly, with Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, which joined with the National Organization for Marriage-Rhode Island (NOM-RI), the local chapter of the leading anti-gay nuptials group in the country, to mount an aggressive lobbying effort from the start of the legislative session.

Tobin penned editorials and made direct contact with several legislators. The Reverend Bernard Healey, the church's chief lobbyist, was relentless. And NOM-RI launched a $100,000 television campaign and delivered an early barrage of phone calls and postcards that proved difficult to overcome.

"We let NOM get the jump on us in a way that's tragic, because we know public opinion is on our side," says Segal, the former state representative, who has advised MERI on its lobbying effort.

When I originally conceived the idea for NOM-inated, I thought it would be interesting to interview both Plante and Kushnir, and set up their views in opposition to one another. Repeated calls to Kushnir went unanswered. The best she would do for me was set me up with some Rhode Island College students, both excellent interviewees, but it was impossible to cut their interviews into the Plante piece because they were student activists, and Plante was a full-time lobbyist for the cause. The only person who commanded equal and opposite gravitas was the head of MERI, Kathy Kushnir, and she refused to be interviewed.

Too bad to, because NOM-inated has gone national, posted on and reposted on many blogs, and has over 1700 viewings. Her voice would have been a welcome counterweight, but the film serves the purpose it set out to fill: Christopher Plante hangs himself with his own words.

In the weeks to come I will be anxious to see what becomes of MERI. The new leader, Ray Sullivan, has been given kudos for turning the organization around, but it is too late for the present legislative session. Gordon Fox, the head of the House, has put Civil Unions on the table, a compromise that satisfies no one. The GBLT community knows it establishes their relationships as "separate but equal" and Bishop Tobin has already said he opposes them as well. Chris Plante and NOM also oppose Civil Unions.

There is no secular reason to oppose same-sex marriage. The only reason to do so is because of antiquated and cruel religious views. It is bigotry, pure and simple, that motivates the opponents, despite their cries to the contrary.

MERI, GLAD, and every other group and individual committed to same-sex marriage needs to refocus their efforts, and not give up the fight. Two local groups I belong to, the Rhode Island Atheist Society and Humanists of Rhode Island are both committed to this cause as well. In the months and perhaps even years ahead, we will continue to oppose NOM, the Catholic Church, and every other person who cannot see that a country that denies rights to a few of us denies them to all of us.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Introducing: Humanists of Rhode Island

To mark today's very important National Day of Reason, I am happy to report the relaunch of Humanists of Rhode Island, a group dedicated to a godless philosophy based on reason and compassion. It is my hope that this group will grow over the next several months and years into a charter group of the American Humanist Association, and will gain enough influence to have a positive impact on Rhode Island politics.

Did you know that the Providence Archdiocese of the Catholic Church maintains a lobbyist to promote the concerns of the Catholic Church in regards to issues such as marriage equality and reproductive rights? Where are the lobbyists who are fighting for us? Is it any coincidence that gay marriage is suddenly off the table this legislative session?

Humanists need to take the lead on human issues, but to do this we also need to demonstrate our own humanity. This means getting out into the community, identifying ourselves as humanists and atheists, and doing good works.

Humanists of Rhode Island maintains a Humanists of Rhode Island Meet Up page, where all members can organize meetings and events. We also have a blog, RI Humanists, where our members can write on those issues that concern them. Finally, there is our Humanists of Rhode Island FaceBook page, which will be linked with our other sites over the next few days.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Humanists of Rhode Island

Roger Williams
Starting tomorrow there will be a new group in Rhode Island that will be working to promote Humanist causes and the doing of good work for everyone.

Humanism is a godless philosophy based on reason and compassion. Humanists believe that our morality is based on the well being of conscious creatures, and that no higher power needs to be appeased.

Here in Rhode Island, where the Catholic Church holds such sway and power that we can't pass a marriage equality bill or even remove a prayer from our schools without going to court, it's important to remember our founder Roger Williams, the man who first established a part of this world where church and state were firmly separated.

Rhode Island in many ways is the place of birth for secular humanism in the western hemisphere, yet where is that tradition today? We need to bring the greatness of the past back, even as we retool ourselves for the future. We need to let the citizens of this state know that they do not have to fear and kowtow to the decrepit institutions of the past, but that they can raise their heads and live truly free.

Free of dogma, free of prejudice, and free of the shackles of religion.

You can be good without God.

Let's prove it.