Religious privilege is nothing new. As atheists, humanists, and the religiously unaffiliated, we witness it every day in ways large and small. A core part of our mission at the Center for Inquiry is to push back against that kind of privilege, to maintain the secular character of American democracy and to advance secular ideals around the world.
At this point in history, however, this is a very steep uphill climb. In the United States, all three branches of the federal government are controlled by a party and an ideology that subscribes or pays obeisance to conservative Christian dogma, and in many countries around the world, fundamentalist regimes and movements are on the rise.
This past week, President Donald Trump signed a “religious liberty” executive order that, while weak in substance, was a gift to American theocrats. Ostensibly aimed at the weakening of the Johnson Amendment (which bars tax-exempt institutions such as churches from endorsing political candidates), the order primarily served as a declaration of principle---that this White House stood not with equal treatment under the law but with the privileging of religious belief over all else.
Meanwhile, the brilliant and insightful Stephen Fry, an actor and writer who has been an eloquent champion of secular values and free expression, was under investigation for blasphemy . . . not in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia but in Ireland! The investigation has since been dropped, but the law remains, and our own Richard Dawkins has made clear that he intends to challenge this law. Lest you think this is unheard of in a Western democracy, you might recall that Denmark also recently began procedures in a blasphemy prosecution against one of its citizens.
Unfounded beliefs are also poisoning health care, as the new bill passed the House of Representatives troublingly jibes with Christian prosperity gospel, and misinformation about vaccines and autism are causing a major measles outbreak in Minnesota.
We must do better, and we will. Be sure to take the time to get inspired about science and skepticism, with this week’s video of Richard Dawkins in conversation with Jamy Ian Swiss at CSICon 2016 (and register now for CSICon 2017!) and astounding new images from Cassini’s final voyage around Saturn.
Robyn E. Blumner President & CEO, Center for Inquiry and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science