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Vol.6 No.6, June, 2010

In This Issue:

A Message from the Executive Director
Tom Flynn


As many readers know, the Council for Secular Humanism has suffered a hammer blow following the apparent decision of an extremely private anonymous donor to discontinue his giving. In recent years this individual has given about $800,000 annually, roughly 25 percent of the public support received by all Center for Inquiry affiliate organizations from all sources. The apparent loss of this support compelled us to conduct an economic layoff in which the jobs of five full- and part-time Center for Inquiry employees were unavoidably eliminated. One of these employees was Norm R. Allen, Jr., director of African Americans for Humanism and an associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine.

Norm and I joined the organization within a few months of each other in 1989, so I think it’s incumbent on me to say something about Norm’s time at what we now call CFI. Norm’s story began when he attended a Free Inquiry conference in Bethesda, Maryland. At one point he asked Paul Kurtz why there weren’t more African Americans in attendance and Paul said, “You’re hired, make it happen.” (I’m oversimplifying, though not by much.)

Norm came to work in Buffalo and launched African Americans for Humanism (AAH). After some early victories placing op-eds in minority-owned newspapers around the country, the challenges inherent in doing humanist outreach in what is probably America’s most deeply religious minority community became apparent. In later years, Norm grew philosophical about AAH’s failure to spark a true mass movement. But he would make his mark in other ways. He launched a newsletter, AAH Examiner, now in its nineteenth year. While its circulation was always modest, in its middle years the Examiner was breaking stories about developments in Africa – violence between Muslims and Christians, black-on-black slavery in countries like the Sudan – that American mainstream media were ignoring. I was frequently surprised by the stature of individuals, among them FREE INQUIRY celebrity columnists, who would mention to me some religious scandal in Africa and tell me they’d heard of it first in the Examiner.

As it turned out, Africa would be an area where Norm was relatively successful in his outreach. On several trips to the continent he made numerous appearances in national media and sparked the formation of secular humanist groups – later Center for Inquiry branches – in African countries including Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Senegal, and Cameroon. In recent years he served alongside Derek Araujo as co-director of international outreach for the Center for Inquiry.

Over time he wore other hats as well, serving for some years as letters and reviews editor of Free Inquiry.

Outside of his CFI employment, Norm edited two anthologies of African American humanism for Prometheus Books, the first of which, titled African American Humanism, was the first title in the field and used in many Black Studies departments.

It is only appropriate to recognize Norm Allen for his years of service to the Council and CFI. I regret all of the cutbacks that our financial situation has made necessary, most of all the economic layoffs. Of those affected, Norm is the one who was closest to me personally. In whatever lies ahead for him, I wish him well.


AAH Breaks New Ground at Washington, D.C., Conference
By Nathan Bupp

On May 16, 2010, African American humanists, rationalists, freethinkers, agnostics, atheists, and others from all over the country gathered at the Center for Inquiry in Washington, D.C., for a special African Americans for Humanism (AAH) conference. Such conferences have been held regularly over the past several years throughout Africa. This, however, was the first major gathering of African American nontheists in the United States. Special acknowledgement should go to conference organizer and host Melody Hensley, executive director of the CFI/D.C. 

A major theme during the question-and-answer periods was a feeling of isolation and the need for community. In recent years, large numbers of African American nontheists have made their presence felt online. Now, however, more of them are interested in becoming involved with organized humanism in a concrete way, including attending conferences and becoming proponents and activists.

Norm R. Allen Jr., former executive director of AAH, began the conference by focusing on the need for African American nontheists to come out of the closet and to let the world know that they exist. He noted that nontheists continue to organize in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and other parts of the world. Yet non-White humanists, rationalists, freethinkers, agnostics, and atheists in the Western world have not united among themselves, nor have they joined predominantly White groups of nontheists.

Sikivu Hutchinson, a feminist activist and atheist writer from Los Angeles, discussed the harm that religion has done to women and lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered persons (LGBTs). She bemoaned the “calculated amnesia” of the revisionist historians of the Tea Party movement and drew upon Black atheist role models such as the Harlem Renaissance author Nella Larsen who could lead the way to a new consciousness among nonreligious African American women.

Jamila Bey, a journalist and comedienne from Washington, D.C., talked about the negative impact that the religious idea of “spare the rod, spoil the child” has had on the Black community. She spoke out against the use of corporal punishment and advocated teaching children critical thinking skills and a love for science.

Dr. Christopher Bell, author of The Black Clergy's Misguided Worship Leadership, explored how the glorification of Jesus Christ in Christianity reinforces “white male worship”, and how this worship has had a detrimental effect, especially on black American men.

Debbie Goddard, a campus organizer for the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York, talked about why diversity is important in the humanist movement. She noted that humanism does not always resonate with certain populations and that it is time for humanists to reconsider how to increase their numbers.

The conference received significant press attention, including a feature story from Religion News Service, carried by, among others, "The Huffington Post," “BeliefNet” and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and a feature interview with Jamila Bey and Norm Allen aired May 28, 2010, on National Public Radio’s popular “Tell Me More” program. Additionally, Ms. Bey’s essay “Black Women Who Use the ‘A’ Word” was published by The Root on May 19, 2010.

It is highly likely that this conference will influence many more African American nontheists to come out and get involved in organized activism. Indeed, plans are now underway to make the AAH conference a yearly event. There appears to be a new day dawning for a group that has for far too long been ignored and avoided by scholars and the mainstream media. Read more about this below in the article featuring Debbie Goddard, the newly appointed director of AAH.    

Nathan Bupp is Vice President of Communications for the Center for Inquiry  


A View from the Inside
By Jamila Bey

After months of planning and buildup, the first ever African Americans for Humanism (AAH) Conference took place at CFI DC on Sunday, May 16. The conference entitled “New Directions for African American Humanists” was an historic gathering. More than fifty African American nontheists joined in what was the largest gathering of African Americans to advance the case for science and reason. 

The event was the brainchild of CFI DC Executive Director Melody Hensley. She says she appreciated that the need was obvious. “I realized that such an event had never been done, and I felt that having a conference that was dedicated to African American Humanists, specifically, was long overdue!”

The evening before the conference took place, some two dozen folks broke bread (and beer) at a happy hour near the center. One new Friend of the Center, Ronnelle Adams, lives in Washington, DC. He said the conference was the first time he knowingly met other African American Atheists. “When I walked into that bar and saw all these people who looked just like me, and who thought just like me … words don’t express what a joyous experience that was. I knew I wasn’t the only one, but just seeing such proof of that was awesome!”

One complaint before the main event even began was that there was hardly enough time to mingle and hang out, particularly since the quiet and cozy space the watering hole provided for conversation and socializing closed down for the night, forcing discussions onto the sidewalk. Not content to wait until the next morning to rejoin, a third of the happy hour attendees retreated to my home where we kept the conversation going for another six hours. Lovingly dubbed “The Happier Hour Heathens,” these participants hailed from areas including Miami, Boston, Houston, and Columbus, Ohio.

Hutchinson, Goddard, Bey, Allen, Hensley, Bell

Hutchinson, Goddard, Bey, Allen, Hensley, Bell

The Sunday afternoon conference commenced with a talk by Norm Allen on “Why it is Time for African American Humanists to Come Out of the Closet.”

CFI/On Campus leader Debbie Goddard talked about next steps for the secular movement and how the movement might embrace and encourage more diversity.

The desire and need to be recognized as part of the nontheistic community was a recurrent theme throughout the conference. There was much consensus amongst the participants that as a “minority within a minority,” African American nontheists haven’t been invited to the table, and the time is long overdue. Naima Washington, a District of Columbia resident and Friend of the Center, said waiting to be recognized isn’t acceptable. She says that she believes black secularists are overlooked and underutilized but offers her take on how to rectify the situation:

"To build a strong movement we will need to develop strong membership as well as strong leadership. The role of leadership cannot be seen as a sacred cow to be embraced by only a select few. The movement needs to recruit, identify, train and mentor the next wave of leadership. It must act in a deliberate manner in order to create an effective leadership. Just as important is the fact that the membership of the secular movement must be made up of thinkers not just "followers" and by helping all members to develop strong leadership qualities we strengthen the movement that much more."

At the end of the event, participants promised to return home and join with their local skeptical organizations and ensure that the event’s momentum is carried forward.

There are already plans for another meeting of African American humanists in Indianapolis in July. And the CFI DC planning committee is putting together an AAH discussion group. Inquiries about the 2011 AAH Conference have already begun.

Jamila Bey is a freelance journalist and CFI DC Friend of the Center.

Meet Debbie Goddard:

New Director, African Americans for Humanism (AAH)

Debbie GoddardDebbie Goddard’s first experience with organized freethought was in 2000, when she traveled to Amherst, New York, for a Center for Inquiry (CFI) Student Leadership Conference. Inspired by the experience, she began attending freethought, humanist, atheist, and skeptic group meetings in the greater Philadelphia region, including in New York City, New Jersey, and central Pennsylvania. She also started a CFI-affiliated campus group at her college.

Over time, her involvement increased: she joined the CFI Metro New York Advisory Board in 2002 and volunteered with CFI’s campus outreach program as publications director from 2001 to 2002 and as student president from 2002 to 2003. She also held a work-study position at the CFI New York City office in Rockefeller Center while a full-time student at Temple University.

In 2002, she was profiled in a Beliefnet article, “Godless Who’s Who,” as a student activist. She was also interviewed by the Washington Blade, formerly one of the nation’s largest circulation LGBT newspapers, as an “out” nonbeliever. In early 2006, Jamila Bey interviewed Debbie for an article about African-American female atheists for the Skepchick blog.

In June 2006, CFI/Transnational hired Debbie as a field organizer, allowing her to utilize her grassroots organizing experience working with campus and community groups. As CFI’s campus outreach coordinator, she helps connect CFI resources to campus affiliates around the world and provides volunteer and leadership training opportunities to the next generation of student activists.


Q: Debbie, what do you see for AAH in the future?

A: Many at the DC conference said that it is rare to meet other Black humanists and freethinkers. I think that it is important to build community, both in person and online, as a mechanism to effect social change.

The DC conference was successful due to the hard work and creative ideas of a dedicated committee of volunteers and staff. I have already spoken with several individuals who are interested in joining a new advisory committee to help carry forward the momentum from the DC event.

We’re discussing expanding our online presence, which includes offering more robust educational and organizing resources as well as a space for relationship-building. Some new ideas include creating an AAH blog and forum as well as an AAH e-mail list; collecting relevant news articles and press; adding organizing resources for humanist groups who want to reach out to historically underrepresented demographics, as well as for those looking for ways to increase the impact of humanist ideas in the Black community; and creating an AAH speakers bureau.  There are also ideas for developing new online educational resources.

We’re already making plans for an AAH conference to take place next year, potentially in Los Angeles or Chicago. Besides hosting regular conferences in the future, we hope to help organize and promote regional events across the country at CFI branches or in conjunction with local Council for Secular Humanism affiliates. CFI/Indiana, for example, is holding an event on July 10 called “Making Humanism Relevant to African Americans,” which will feature Jamila Bey and other speakers. I also look forward to AAH increasing its support of humanist and freethought groups like the CFI/Harlem group and the Black Skeptics group in Los Angeles.

CFI Publishes Position Paper Criticizing Government Funding of Acupuncture
By Derek C. Araujo

CFI's Office of Public Policy today published a position paper examining the evidence for and against acupuncture therapy and the effects of government funding of acupuncture treatment through "integrative medical clinics."

In recent decades, public interest in acupuncture has grown dramatically. Proponents of acupuncture repeatedly make the unjustified claim that acupuncture is an efficacious and cost effective complement to conventional medicine. These claims rely on dubious and discredited research data. During the past ten years, however, an increasingly robust body of research has accumulated showing that acupuncture has no intrinsic clinical value. Despite mounting empirical evidence against it, however, acupuncture has become increasingly embedded within the American healthcare system, in part through government funding of integrative medical clinics.

The Center for Inquiry's paper on acupuncture, written by Robert Slack, Jr., offers compelling evidence that the uncritical adoption of acupuncture adds significant costs to the United States' already overburdened healthcare system, lowers standards of medical training and treatment, and lends dangerous and undue authority to pseudoscience, ultimately degrading respect for science in the public realm.

CFI's paper was authored by Robert Slack, Jr. a writer living and working in Maryland. Mr. Slack was assisted by biophysicist Eugenie V. Mielczarek, emeritus professor of physics at George Mason University.

Click here to access a copy of CFI's paper in PDF format.

Derek C. Araujo is vice president and general counsel of the Center for Inquiry and director of its legal and public policy programs.

Humanism Conference Coat-of-Arms LogoDon't Miss the Council’s 30th Year L.A. Conference!

Los Angeles, CA

The Council for Secular Humanism's 30th Anniversary Conference “Setting the Agenda: Secular Humanism’s Next 30 Years” will feature some of the most impressive names in science promotion and secularism today, including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Robert Wright, James Randi, P.Z. Myers, Christopher diCarlo, Eugenie Scott, Paul Kurtz, Lawrence Krauss, Chris Mooney, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Victor Stenger, Shadia Drury, Mark Johnson, Barry Kosmin, Ibn Warraq, and many more.

Apart from the roster of distinguished speakers, the conference will also feature the 15th anniversary celebration banquet for Center for Inquiry/Los Angeles, chaired by CFI/LA director James Underdown, which will include a live restaging of one of Steve Allen’s classic Meeting of Minds PBS episodes, starring Entourage’s Gary Cole as Steve Allen, with Charles Shuaghnessy (The Nanny), Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me), Robert Forster (Oscar nominee for Jackie Brown) and Dan Lauria (the father in The Wonder Years), who will portray intriguing historical figures live on stage.

The conference will be held in the lavishly restored, exuberantly art-deco Millennium Biltmore Hotel—the site of the Academy Awards ceremonies during the 1930s and 1940s and the on-site movie set of numerous Hollywood films, including Vertigo, Cocoon, and Ghostbusters

Voices for Humanism

 Visit the Conference Website!



The CFI Institute is pleased to announce the Amherst, N.Y. 2010 Summer Institute:

"Toward a Secular Society"

 July 23—25, 2010
1310 Sweet Home Road
Amherst, N.Y. 14228

This three-day Institute in Amherst, N.Y. will consider how to grow a more secular society, addressing such questions as:

  • How can religious and paranormal notions be effectively refuted? 
  • What are the current battles for protecting the separation of church and state? 
  • Which is the best strategy for dealing with Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms?

With ample time for discussion, participants can explore their interests in skepticism, historical criticism of sacred texts, the scientific worldview, constitutional secularism, and the replacement of religion by humanist ethics, all with experts in the field.


Ronald A. Lindsay, chief executive officer of CFI
Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism
Ibn Warraq, CFI fellow
John Shook, director of the CFI Institute 
Joe Nickell, CFI fellow
Howard Radest, CFI fellow 

Don't miss out on this great opportunity for an intensive, close-up examination of some of the most relevant isues of our time! 

For more information on the institute schedule, speakers, and registration,
please visit our web site



Robert Ingersoll Museum Now Open!

The Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, America’s only freethought museum, opened on Saturday, May 29 for its 17th consecutive season. Located in Dresden, New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes wine district, the museum showcases Ingersoll's originality, his wit, his power as a persuader, and his role in history. Historical artifacts, displays, and a specially-produced high-definition video presentation bring Ingersoll and his times to life. The Museum is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5:00 pm from Memorial Day weekend through the end of October.

Visit the Website here.


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