Guest Post by Trevor Boeckmann: What’s at Stake in the Massachusetts Buffer Zone Case?

In the next week, the Supreme Court will release an opinion in what I believe to be one of the most difficult cases of the term. The case involves a law in Massachusetts that makes it illegal for speakers other than clinic “employees or agents . . . acting within the scope of their employment” to “enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk” within thirty-five feet of an entrance, exit, or driveway of “a reproductive health care facility.” A group of individuals challenged the law, seeking to approach women entering the facility to encourage them not to get an abortion.

Before I dig into the law underlying the case, I want to discuss what this case is not.

  • This is not a case about yelling and screaming protesters. Justice Scalia even admitted during oral arguments that a ban on yelling and screaming within 35 feet would be upheld.
  • This is not a case about harassment. If a woman told the protesters she did not wish to speak with them, and the protesters continued following the woman and wouldn’t leave her alone, police could intervene.
  • This is not a case about an individual incident of protesters blocking traffic. Police have the power to disperse crowds.
  • This is not a case just about abortion. If this law is upheld, governments will be able to stop labor unions, funeral protesters, and anyone else they want from speaking on public sidewalks.

This is a case about the prophylactic measures a state can take to protect women from violence and ensure unimpeded access to roads and sidewalks. The State’s power to do so is, of course, not absolute. As we learned last year in the Fred Phelps case, the State can’t stop controversial protestors at funerals even though these protests could easily lead to violence.

Massachusetts’s law raises two free speech issues. First, is the law a viewpoint-based restriction on speech? The First Amendment prohibits the State from taking sides when regulating speech. For instance, it would be legal for a government body to outlaw protests on city streets that block traffic. However, it would be illegal for that same government body to only outlaw anti-gay speech on those same city streets. The rule is a good one. Without it, a state would be free to discriminate against any politically unpopular group.

In this case, the protesters argue that allowing “employees or agents . . . acting within the scope of their employment” to enter the buffer zone is a viewpoint-based restriction. Imagine that one morning a woman comes to a Planned Parenthood. When she’s within 35 feet of the entrance, two people walk up to her—one’s an employee and one’s a protester. The employee, acting within the scope of her employment as a greeter, says: “good morning; this is a safe place.” The protester says: “good morning; this is not a safe place.” Under the law, only the protester could be arrested. That looks a lot like a viewpoint-based restriction.

The State responds that “acting within the scope of their employment” is much narrower than the protesters think. It only includes coming and going to work and no speech activities. Thus, it would be illegal for anyone to approach our hypothetical woman, making the restriction viewpoint-neutral.

It’s unlikely this issue will win the day for the protesters. Federal courts generally allow state actors to interpret their own laws (especially if it lets them avoid a difficult constitutional question). If the executive branch is going to enforce this law against everyone, it’s unlikely the Supreme Court will tell them to enforce it only against protesters just to strike the law down.

The second issue is whether the law is “narrowly tailored.” The First Amendment generally allows states to regulate the time (for instance, no protests after midnight), place (not outside of a classroom window), and manner (no loudspeakers) of speech provided that the regulation is “narrowly tailored” to serve a “significant governmental interest.” Additionally, the law must leave “ample alternative channels for communication.” This is known as intermediate scrutiny.

There’s no doubt here that safety and stopping sidewalks from being congested are significant governmental interests. The more difficult question is whether a 35 foot buffer that stops ALL speech, including protesters who silently hold signs or offer pamphlets to women, is narrowly tailored to those interests. In other words, is there a way to craft a law that would prohibit less speech while still protecting women? Options might include a smaller buffer zone, only prohibiting loud and disruptive speech, or bringing in more police officers.

The State argues that it has already tried these other options. For instance, it originally had a law that made it illegal for protesters to be within six feet of women coming to a clinic. However, the law turned out to be challenging to enforce. It was difficult to tell how far six feet was when everyone was moving around. But, moving from 6 feet to 35 feet is a big change. The court has to decide whether there was any in-between amount that would be effective.

Another issue is that the buffer zone lasts 24 hours a day. Massachusetts might be able to have a buffer zone on Saturdays and Sundays in Boston. But why do they need a buffer on Tuesday mornings in Worcester? The protesters testified that, many times, the only “crowd” was a single elderly woman. Is she really a threat for violence and congesting streets? The court might force Massachusetts to make a more fact-intensive determination in each city about when and where the buffer zone needs to exist.

It’s hard to predict exactly how the court will write its opinion, but it’s likely that the court will ultimately strike the law down. Nearly every justice expressed some concern about the law during oral arguments. While it’s likely that some abortion clinic buffer zone will remain legal, it’s hard to say what the limits will be. Also, keep in mind that the standard will continue to evolve and be fact-intensive. If Massachusetts is forced to move to a smaller or different buffer zone, but there continues to be congestion and violence, it may be justified in going back to a larger zone.

First Amendment law is notoriously complicated, but I hope this helps to explain some of the issues the court is struggling with. If you have any questions, feel free to ask about it in the comments.

Lady Justice in Bruges

Drones, Secret Laws and Public Justice

For two centuries now, the West has held itself to be the center of liberty and justice. Indeed, the 20th Century was marked by the joint effort of the judiciary and the legislature to even the legal playing field for all. However, that progress was marred by the growth of executive power, and in particular, secret law and a burgeoning military and police. Since the civil rights era, Americans have idly watched the slow death of justice.

The extra-judicial killing of Americans is now part of our legal legacy. It is deeply concerning that the White House is keeping legal arguments to kill Americans abroad classified. Whatever one’s opinions of the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a free society can’t exist when the government can secretly justify an execution without trial or challenge. Now David Barron, who had a hand in those arguments, has been nominated to be a federal judge. This nomination is a message to the administration and to the administration’s lawyers: your arguments, however perverse, are safe, and secret. I had hoped Congress would not grant the author of these documents justifying killing Americans a permanent seat on the bench.

It has been remarked that Barron has an exceptional legal mind and is eminently qualified for the bench. Maybe that’s true, but anything less than public disclosure would send a signal to the president and his successors that they can maintain secret laws as long as they have the aid of brilliant lawyers. Now as a judge, he may find himself presiding over a case on privacy rights, or concerning the consequences of extra-judicial actions by the government. Can the public trust a Congress that okays a judiciary, assenting to private memos that curtail rights without giving us a chance to see how Barron might rule on such issues?

That Congress has not challenged the administration on these things already is disappointing, but understandable. Until the intelligence leaks of the past year, trust in the executive branch seems to have been unanimous. Earlier this year, Senator Bernie Sanders asked whether or not the National Security Agency was spying on Americans, the agency replied:

“NSA’s authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons.”

That provided little comfort to Congress in light of near daily revelations of unmitigated spying. Now the Central Intelligence Agency is under investigation for spying on the House Intelligence Committee. These agencies seemed to learn their craft from the idiom of the fox watching the hen house.

It is well past time for our Congress and the public to rein in the executive branch, and they should have made a stand here on these crucial legal documents. Any Senator would have been free to enter the documents into the Congressional Record during debate on the nomination, but they did not. Even Barron deserved a public trial.

Patriotism at Graduation

IMG_0082_0_1Last Saturday, I attended UNI’s Commencement Ceremony for CHAS’s and CSBS’s Class of 2014. I was glad to celebrate the academic accomplishments of UNI’s graduates who undoubtedly worked hard for their achievement.  Unfortunately, it seemed like the ceremony was as much a patriotic celebration as it was a ceremony to honor the academic successes of UNI students. I have no problem with patriotism and I am glad to have veterans who are willing to put their lives at risk to make the world better, but I do not think a graduation ceremony is the appropriate place to honor them.

The graduation ceremony included such patriotic ­­­­­affairs as a performance of the Star Spangled Banner, a speech about Lieutenant Robert J. Hibbs, a UNI graduate who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Vietnam War, a standing ovation for students in the military, and applause for all of the veterans in attendance, who were asked to stand and be honored. I, for one, did not attend that event to applaud America, I attended it to celebrate the graduation of UNI students, and while some patriotism is certainly reasonable—the Star Spangled Banner, for instance—I felt an entire speech for Hibbs was unnecessary, and I would have much rather seen a standing ovation for students with outstanding academic achievement than one for students in the military. Though it is commendable that students serve in the military, we were not there to celebrate American military service, we were there to celebrate scholarship.

Patriotism in public events is certainly acceptable. Celebrating one’s country comes with being a member of the public, therefore public events are an appropriate place for patriotism. For instance, the performance of of the Star Spangled Banner at sporting events, and the celebration of Independence Day are great ways for Americans to celebrate the luxury we have to live comfortably in the free, developed world, but it is only appropriate to an extent. I’m sure that there were foreign students and parents in attendance at the CHAS and CSBS Commencement who felt ostracized by the patriotism weaved into the program. It’s quite unfair that at an event meant to celebrate distinguishing accomplishments, military members receive a standing ovation, while the one winner of the Lux Service Award does not.

I know patriotism at commencement ceremonies is standard, and I’m sure UNI would have received endless complaints if they had done anything less, but adding so much national pride to the program watered down the significance of the academic accomplishments we were really there to celebrate. The academic success achieved by the graduates did not deserve to be diluted; the graduates all deserve appreciative and inclusive recognition, regardless of the county from which they come.

 

The Death Penalty: Vengeance or Justice?

lethal-injectionLast week in Oklahoma, Clayton Lockett, a convicted murderer, was strapped to a gurney and given an untested drug cocktail. This cocktail was supposed to end his life quickly and quietly—but instead it took over 40 minutes of writhing and screaming until he finally had a heart attack and died. Another death row inmate by the name of Michael Wilson was killed in the same Oklahoma chambers earlier this year with the final words: “I feel my whole body burning”. In Ohio, Dennis McGuire was given a lethal injection and spent 25 minutes writhing in pain and grabbing at the air. Cases like these raise a very important question—should the death penalty still be used?

According to a recent CNN poll, 50% of Americans still support the death penalty. At a base level, it’s easy enough for Americans to simply say yes to killing these random “deserving” murderers—but we must realize that these are still people, with beating hearts and blinking eyes. What kind of society has America become where we allow our government to murder our own people? It’s truly a question of morality—on whether or not murderers and rapists should be treated with the same fairness as everyone else in the world. Death sentences are imposed in a criminal justice system that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent.

When it comes to innocence, a recent study done by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that 4% of those executed are actually innocent. One might be thinking that 4% is a relatively low number, or that a 95% rate is a good success rate. But when you look at the whole of it, 4 out of every 100 people are being murdered by the state for something they never did. Innocence is hard to prove in such cases because of several reasons. Eyewitness accounts have been proven to be more and more unreliable, as discussed in a Darwin Week talk this past year, and lawyers are not always capable of handling these high profile cases. More often than not, the defendants are represented by lawyers who are neither prepared nor capable to handle death-penalty cases. And on top of that, in cases where the defendant does not have adequate representation, the courts are often unwilling to re-examine the cases and outcomes until years after the defendant has been executed. Even forms of forensic science are unproven and lacking standards for being correct. DNA testing does not always prove something to be 100% true.

It is also more expensive to enact the death penalty than it is to serve a life sentence in prison. The cost of a trial court alone for a death penalty case is thousands more than a normal trial. This is due to attorneys handling more intricate and expansive appeals, longer jury selections and trials, more trial preparations and longer timeframes to get to trial. Perhaps the death penalty was once more cost efficient than life in prison, but with the way that the system runs now that is not the case at all. In addition, there is currently no evidence showing that the death penalty would be more favorable than life in prison. States with death penalty laws do not have lower crime rates or murder rates than states with no death penalty laws.  A recent study published the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology found that 88% of leading criminologists do not believe that the death penalty is a proven deterrent to homicide. That is, whether or not executing convicts will stop there from being more convicts. There appears to be no real benefit to the death penalty in the long run.

At the bottom line, there really is a difference between revenge and punishment- no matter how much we try to dress up capital punishment to make it look like anything except revenge. Like the old proverb goes, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. In cases of rape, you do not rape the rapist as punishment. So why then in cases of someone killing another, why do we kill the killer as punishment? By murdering those that murder others we are stooping to their very level. Yes, the people on death row may be murderers, rapists, kidnappers, etc., but that does not justify slaughtering them. And even if we were to kill them, that would not bring the victims of their crimes back to life. A life sentence in prison could give a convict time to reflect and maybe even repent on what they have done. When looking at the facts and turning a critical eye to the logic of it all, I believe that the death penalty is an inhumane way for people to exact revenge on those believed to have wronged them. I personally think that the death penalty should be done away with once and for all.

Guest Post by Trevor Boeckmann: Response to Legislative Prayers and Free Expression

Yesterday, Aaron Friel wrote an article in defense of Town of Greece v. Galloway. The critique—while well-written and researched—misstates precedent, misconstrues the Constitution, and cannot stand as a defense of this misguided opinion. From our founding, the Establishment Clause has stood as a limitation on the free speech rights of government actors. This was not by mistake, but by design as a protection against a tyrannical, majority religious view. Even after the Court’s erroneous plurality decision, the Clause still stops government bodies from posting the 10 Commandments outside of a legislative meeting, from leading prayer in school and at public football games, and from espousing Christianity as the governmental religion of choice.

The basic premise of the Establishment Clause has always been one of inclusion. The government may not “send a message to non-adherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.”[1] Yet, that is exactly what the Galloway decision opens the door to. Non-religious constituents coming to local legislative bodies now have a decision to make: acquiesce in government-sponsored prayers proclaiming Jesus to be Lord or be marked an outsider; a heathen whose opinion should matter less than those of Christians. Rather than following precedent, as Friel implies, it was the Galloway court who was tossing out decades of precedent.

Mr. Friel attempts to make legal arguments in defense of his position. First, he argues, the opinion follows the long-standing Marsh opinion. The merits of that case aside, Friel ignores the holding’s limits in its own terms. Marsh only found Nebraska’s actions constitutional because there was “no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.” [2] Let’s look, in contrast, at one of the prayers given in the City of Greece:

The beauties of spring … are an expressive symbol of the new life of the risen Christ. The Holy Spirit was sent to the apostles at Pentecost so that they would be courageous witnesses of the Good News to different regions of the Mediterranean world and beyond. The Holy Spirit continues to be the inspiration and the source of strength and virtue, which we all need in the world of today. And so … [w]e pray this evening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the Greece Town Board meets. [3]

One would be hard-pressed to say this isn’t proselytizing or advancing the Christian faith. Marsh stands only for the proposition that secular prayers invoking general ideas of “god” are constitutional, much like the language on our money and in our pledge. A dollar bill sharing the “Good News” of Christ would be blatantly unconstitutional. Its use in a legislative prayer should be treated no differently.

Friel next argues that, if we were to ban these sorts of prayers, it would force the government to parse the language of religious speakers. This idea is admittedly unsettling, but it ignores the fact that even now there are limits to the content of these prayers. The Galloway court found that prayers would still be unconstitutional if they “denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion.”[4] The government, then, is still forced to parse the prayers looking for unconstitutional language. If Friel wants to take the extreme view that ALL prayers are constitutional, he’s welcome to do so, but he would be disagreeing with the Galloway decision.

Friel’s argument then progresses by looking to the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution. This is where his argument is most seriously flawed. The Clause, by its own terms, only applies to Congress, not to any local legislature. It’s completely irrelevant to this discussion. Friel may argue that states have similar protections (and some do), but a state constitution cannot protect a legislator from the United States Constitution. These prayer cases have been argued in the circuit courts for years now. Not a single lawyer has ever brought up the Speech or Debate Clause in briefing.

Friel concludes by finding loopholes in a pro-Establishment Clause decision. And, undoubtedly, there will be some. But a legislator or constituent speaking on her own behalf is significantly different from government-imposed prayer time. An atheist would be free to respond during that same open-comment period, for example. And, more importantly, such a prayer would not have the stamp of approval of the entire legislative body. We have already established a similar rule in schools. Children and teachers can pray on their own, but our Constitution does not permit them to lead a classroom.

I understand and share Friel’s concern of protecting free speech and religious liberty, but his support of the Galloway decision is misguided. Local legislatures now have the freedom to declare their body Christian and to make the “others” into outcasts. Two years ago, I worked at the American Humanist Association litigating these exact sorts of cases. The legislatures he defends are not the free-speech lovers he sympathizes with. They are assholes. Making atheists into outsiders is not a means for them; it is the end. They conduct these prayers solely to shove them in the face of non-believers. And now, with Friel’s and the Supreme Court’s support, they have a constitutional right to.

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The Supreme Court

Legislative Prayers and Free Expression

On May 5th, the Supreme Court decided on the establishment clause case Town of Greece v. Galloway in favor of the town and in support of legislative prayer. Reactions in the secular community range from from mild disappointment to harshly critical rebuttals. I respectfully disagree with many of my friends in the secular community. My argument is simple: I do not want the government to be in the business of regulating speech at legislative sessions.

The majority opinion of the court is supported primarily by Marsh v. Chambers, which held that the Nebraska state legislature did not violate the establishment clause in holding a prayer before the session. The supreme court there found in favor of the state based on the long history of legislative prayer by the United States Congress. This fact is substantive because the framers wrote the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Therein lies the basis of my disagreement with much of the secular community. Ignoring precedent has never served any social movement, and this is no different. As in the case of our coinage saying “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance’s “Under God”, the community needs to be mindful of the past. Voices calling for the court to apply the Lemon test must understand why the framers did not end legislative prayer in their time. In Greece v. Galloway, the court wrote:

To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts deciding these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, thus involving government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town’s current practice of neither editing nor approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact.

This is the key aspect of the decision that makes legislative prayer defensible. It is not the government speaking but legislators or their guests. The court suggests that the government remain out of the business of regulating speech, particularly in this setting. To do so at the legislature, the heart of a democratic republic, would be to violate our basic principles of free expression. If nowhere else, we must privilege free expression in our legislatures. In support of this, I offer a passage from the Constitution. The Speech or Debate Clause holds that any senator or representative may speak freely, and even more so than the public, may do so without fear of arrest or interruption. The framers viewed the legislative process as sacrosanct, and sought to defend it from abuse by the other branches. Article I, Section 6, Clause 1 states:

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

This privilege is far-reaching and has been expanded by the Supreme Court. It was used in the case of the Pentagon Papers to enter classified, possibly treasonous material in the Congressional Record so that all might be able to read it. Those classified documents showed that four Presidents, their administrations, and the military had lied about the Vietnam War. The papers revealed that the conflict was larger in scope and exposed potentially illegal military action. Senator Mike Gravel entered these papers into the Congressional Record, a constitutionally protected act of speech¹ that permitted anyone to view the document.

From this privilege so-granted to legislatures, I argue that the framers knew well that legislative prayer was protected. The legislature cannot be subject to censoring, and no speech or debate or testimony granted in the legislature should be subject to question. When a legislator argues for a bill based on religious grounds, they are not acting as the government, but as a representative of private individuals.

Suppose the Supreme Court ruled against Greece, NY. The Town Board there could simply choose to open up the body to public comment. No one in the secular community should oppose the free expression of a member of the public. It is a right we often fight for ourselves. Or a legislator themselves could use their time on the floor to pray aloud, which they may do by their privileged right to expression. Any ruling against legislative prayer would be deeply flawed, with many loopholes for legislative bodies to continue the practice. There was no way for the court to rule against the practice without harming the privileged speech of legislators and testimony at legislative sessions. Applying the Lemon test to this speech clearly fails when considering the inviolable right to protected speech in legislative bodies. Our democracy depends on unhindered debate, and that is surely what the framers would have considered about limiting legislative prayer.

The root of the problem is that the representatives elected by people in the US are overwhelmingly Evangelical Christian. Their faith demands that they witness to others, whether they like it or not. The solution is to stop electing individuals with these beliefs, not to support censorship of our legislatures. Who could take on that responsibility fairly, without compromising the process? Should we trust Christian legislators, Speakers and Presidents pro tempore, to decide what is or not religious speech? I can’t imagine that would end well for the many religious minorities in the United States that would see the doors shut on their ideas. What else could occur, when one’s religious beliefs may play a central role in the arguments one makes?

My opinion: the court ruled correctly, in favor of free speech, and consequently, religious freedom.


1.  Some legal complications arise with legislators privately publishing documents, as a matter of the privilege extending outside the legislature. These aren’t damaging to my argument, as the Town of Greece was not privately publishing these sermons.

UNIFI Class of 2014

After all of the brunches, Festivuses, Darwin Weeks, Flying Spaghetti Monster dinners and other events, it’s finally time to say good-bye and good luck to the graduating UNIFI members. Congratulations UNIFI Class of 2014! Here are some parting remarks for new and upcoming members and UNI students:

John Chesley, BS GeologyJohn Chelsey, BA Geology

Next year: I will be attending grad school at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Eventually I would like to work in the oil and gas industry.

UNIFI gave me a group of people to identify with, a way to build leadership skills and a close group of friends that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. And at the end of the day as a geology major, I’d really just have to say that UNIFI rocks.

The most valuable thing that I learned in college is that the world isn’t the way it appears.
And when it comes to college, make sure to get involved and stay active. After all, you only get 4-5 years so make it worthwhile.

Lauren Dietz, MA Public Policy538973_693039707802_13164897_n

Next year: I would really love to get a job in a state where I wouldn’t mind paying taxes to their government.

UNIFI is the first time I have been with like-minded individuals at home. When I was living in Madison, being an atheist seemed like the norm, but here it’s not. It’s nice to be with people that understand.

The advice I would give to students is to not be afraid to take advice, but also don’t let people push you into doing anything. Do what you need to do, whether it’s in a class, activity, or whatever. Take people’s advice,
but don’t take it as a directive.

Brandt Skilling, MA History 1463001_10201971448423663_2057548111_n

Next year: reapplying to PhD programs. Ultimately I want to be a professor of history.

I’ve always loved going to UNIFI brunch. It’s great to take part in community with friends where there isn’t really a goal in mind. You just go to brunch and talk about anything and everything for a few hours. That sense of community and engagement is what keeps me coming back to UNIFI.

Sometimes you just have to put yourself aside and let things be different.

Nate Schultz, MA Public Policy 64695_4708063258428_1133120666_n

Next year: Still living in Cedar Falls short-term. Eventually I would like to get a job doing something in the non-profit health sector, maybe working with something like the American Cancer Society.

I like the fact that people in UNIFI can voice their opinions about things other groups may consider taboo or “too progressive” without fear of judgment. UNIFI is a good soundboard for discussion.

I don’t really believe in free will anymore, I think that’s probably philosophy club’s fault.

Jesse Moeller, BA Mathematics541396_10151941348967238_1245286788_n

Next year: Coming back to the graduate program at UNI to pursue a master’s degree in mathematics. Eventually I would love to become an educator at the college level.

UNIFI has meant a lot to me during my time at UNI. When I came to UNI as a transfer student I knew that I wanted a community of people with whom I could discuss politics, ideas, and recent events. UNIFI provided just that and more. In my three years in UNIFI I have learned new things about myself and the world, I have refined my viewpoints on serious opinions, and perhaps most important of all, I have built important relationships with some of the greatest people I have ever met; relationships that I am confident will last a lifetime.

If you disagree with someone, do not silence yourself or resent them for it. Benefit the community by contributing to the greater dialogue. State your alternative position and explain yourself clearly without passion. Tactful presentation of your dissent will bring everyone closer to finding the truth.

Stef McGraw, BA Philosophy and Spanish

Next year: not really sure yet, eventually I would love to1902842_10154064212040503_2356363217331621744_n
work for a non-profit.

UNIFI has pretty much meant everything to me, I can’t imagine what my college experience would have been without it. UNIFI has given me an opportunity to form my own personal philosophy about how I want to live through secular humanism.  It has also allowed me to really speak my opinion and realize that even if my opinion is blasphemous or controversial, it has the potential to spark powerful and interesting conversations. I sincerely hope that UNIFI continues to thrive as a force for reasoning, skepticism, and secular values.

One of the most important things I have learned is how to reason. I don’t mean to say that my conclusions are always correct, but I’ve learned how to think more effectively. I’m better able to focus on the actual subject at hand rather than focusing too much on details.

Sarah Wood, BA Psychology1462971_10151802781258364_103939279_n

Next year: starting a full-time job with Lutheran services in
Iowa working with youth with mental illness.

UNIFI has been a great place to discuss views that are generally looked down on. I believe that discussion leads to understanding, and talking with peers in UNIFI has allowed me to solidify my own views as well as understand the views of others.

Don’t be afraid to get involved with a lot of things when you come to college. Once you decide what you actually like and what you really want to be involved with, you can narrow it down.
Everyone should be involved, but not in everything.

Introducing the 2014-2015 Officer Team

I am pleased to announce this year’s officers of the UNI Freethinkers & Inquirers! I’m honored to work with this group of individuals, fellow students who have put forth their very best to lead in UNIFI. This is a team that I have the greatest respect for, and I trust this group to represent our community and the University of Northern Iowa. Without further ado, our team:

Abbie Shew, Director of Finance

Abbie Shew, Director of FinanceAbbie is a returning UNIFI officer, last year she served as the Director of Public Relations, and she is ecstatic about stepping into her new role as Director of Finance. Abbie is currently a sophomore double major in biology and philosophy with a minor in chemistry. In addition to UNIFI, Abbie is heavily involved with the UNI debate team as a varsity policy debater and team captain. She can’t wait to get to know the new officers and see what they can accomplish this year.

Ryan Lode, Director of Activities

Ryan Lode, Director of ActivitiesRyan is an active member of Tri-Beta Biological Honor Society, Northern Iowa Democrats, and the UNI Fencing Club. Prior to attending UNI, he served as Event Coordinator for SSA at the University of Alabama Birmingham in which he helped organize several debates between marquee speakers-one of which included former president of American Atheists, Ed Buckner. At the conclusion of this semester, he will have completed his third year of his biology major, and will be attending the virology summer research program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before returning to UNI in the fall.

Laurelin Berkley, Director of Membership

Laurelin Berkley, Director of MembershipLaurelin is finishing up her first year at UNI and loves it here so far. She is a Choral Music Education Major and sings in UNI Singers and has participated in Opera the year. She is currently Director our Outreach for UNISTARR and is a founding member of Bedsider UNI, the UNI chapter of a national campaign to provide resources and information about birth control. She is really looking forward to being Director of Membership for UNIFI!

Natalie Kaufman, Director of Public Relations

Natalie Kaufman, Director of Public RelationsNatalie is a freshman double majoring in Psychology and Philosophy with a Women and Gender Studies minor. She will be serving as the Director of Public Relations and cannot wait to start working to enhance the vision of UNIFI! She is incredibly passionate about the advancement of human rights and equality and outside of UNIFI is involved with Feminist Action League, UNISTARR, Bedsider UNI, and is a senator in Northern Iowa Student Government representing CHAS. She is really looking forward to being a part of the officer team this year!

Margaret Nervig, Alumni Program Coordinator

Margaret Nervig, Alumni Program CoordinatorMargaret is currently finishing her first year in the Public History M.A. program. This past year she has been involved with UNIFI as Director of Membership, as well as One Iowa at UNI, and she looks forward to continuing involvement this next year.

Cassie Beadle, Graphic Design Coordinator

Cassie Beadle, Graphic Design CoordinatorCassie is a freshman Graphic Design major and actively involved in other campus groups along with UNIFI, including the Feminist Action League. You’ve probably already seen her work in posters and graphic design done for Women’s History Month events, cosponsored by the Feminist Action League and UNI’s Women’s and Gender Studies program.

Neill Goltz, Activism Coordinator

Neill Goltz, Activism CoordinatorNeill is wrapping up his third year as a student, double majoring in the Study of World Religions and Anthropology. This year he will be acting as your one and only Activism Coordinator. When he isn’t actively participating in UNIFI, he enjoys reading, writing, cooking, and going camping or hiking. Neill hopes we can make this next year great together and looks forward to hearing any suggestions you might have.

Alex Prinsen, Chief Editor

Alex Prinsen, Chief EditorAlex is a senior double majoring in Modern Language and Computer Science. Over the next year he will channel his passion for words and grammar into the UNIFI blog as Chief Editor. As a long time member, Alex is excited for a chance to give back to the organization. Outside UNIFI, he DJs at KULT, UNI’s student radio station, and writes music for his band.

Pam Creger: a Person of Excellence

UNIFI, as a student organization, does a great deal of events, big and small, throughout the year. Member and officer join together to make events happen, be it volunteering or planning. However, behind the scenes there is much more going on, especially when working with the university bureaucracy. In this one person stands out whose assistance was so vital to the execution of UNIFI events, that we decided to award this person for their invaluable assistance. Pam Creger, in the Student Involvement Center, is this person; she has been of vital importance to many of the behind the scenes planning, and in recognition of that, we have given her a Certificate of Excellence. Thank you Pam for everything you have done for us, and especially me. I could not have done many of the things I needed done without your help.

– Noah Hurley

UNIFI as a community for faith and worship at UNI

The Panther Caucus, an alumni organization for the University of Northern Iowa, recently published Creating a welcoming community for faith and worship. Until I read that, I had no idea UNIFI was such an organization for faith and worship. It was startlingly easy to rewrite their article to be more inclusive, or even exclude other groups, so I did. This is my response, and does not represent the views of any other individual or organization.

Creating a welcoming environment for reason and achievement at UNI

The University of Northern Iowa is home to more than 240 recognized secular student organizations. The groups offer community and activities for students, faculty, and staff. Some of the groups are oriented around majors and departments, like the Philosophy Students Club and the UNI Physics Club. Others are general, such as the Financial Literacy Club, a campus organization that promotes good habits and understanding personal finances.

There are groups for athletes and artists; groups that are for students interested the celebrating physical achievement and the performing arts.

“We want you to feel welcome. We want you to come and feel like you’re part of this community,” said Aaron Friel, president-elect of the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers, a group open to students wanting to ask questions about and challenge religious ideas.

UNIFI was founded more than seven years ago and has collaborated with a variety of progressive and secular student organizations on campus as well as local churches. One event UNIFI participates in is Darwin Week, which promotes scientific achievement and humanist ideas. Other events have included 24/7 Service Week in which students volunteered in non-profit organizations across the Cedar Valley, an event scheduled to coincide with another group’s 24/7 Prayer Week.

These organizations provide students with the opportunity to connect on a more personal level, offering programs for smaller groups and casual social events, and larger-scale events, such as camping trips, retreats and spring break trips.

Friel says the main goal for UNIFI to create a welcoming environment where students can grow and feel comfortable questioning religious ideas. “I think everyone should be able to find a group, a community for them at UNI.” Friel added. “For me, that means UNIFI, but there are groups here for everyone.”

Some of UNI’s secular organizations include:

  • AAF UNI
  • Actuarial Science Club
  • Alpha Delta Pi
  • Alpha Phi
  • Alpha Phi Omega
  • Alpha Psi Omega Theta Alpha Phi Chapter
  • Alpha Upsilon Alpha
  • Alpha Xi Delta
  • American Choral Directors Association
  • American Marketing Association
  • American Sign Language Club
  • Art for El Salvador
  • Association of Criminology Students
  • Association of Technology Management & Applied Engineering UNI Chapter
  • Autism Advocates
  • Baseball Sport Club
  • Bedsider UNI
  • Bender Hall Senate
  • Best Buddies
  • Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society
  • Black Male Leaders Union
  • Black Student Union
  • Camp Adventure Child & Youth Services
  • Campbell Hall Senate
  • Campus Activities Board
  • Cedar River Productions
  • Cedar Valley Linux Users Group
  • Cedar Valley Support A Student
  • Chi Sigma Iota
  • Chinese Students and Scholars Association
  • College Republicans
  • College of Business Administration Presidents Council
  • Colleges Against Cancer
  • Common Sense Action
  • Communication Student Association
  • Computer Club
  • Connecting Alumni To Students
  • Corey and Eric for UNI
  • Dancer Hall Senate
  • Daniel Webster Law Society
  • Digital Collective
  • Drug-Free Panthers
  • EXCEL
  • Economics Club
  • English Club
  • Ethnic Student Promoters
  • Explorers of Religion
  • Film Appreciation Club
  • Financial Management Association
  • Gamer Brigade
  • Gamma Phi Beta
  • George Walker Society of Music
  • Golden Key International Honour Society
  • Graduate Student Social Network
  • Greek Week Committee
  • Green Project UNI – The Panther Plot
  • Hagemann Hall Senate
  • Hispanic Latino Student Union
  • History Club
  • Honors Student Advisory Board
  • Humans vs. Zombies The UNI Chapter
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers UNI Chapter
  • Interfraternity Council
  • International Cultural Exchange
  • International Dance Theatre
  • International Student Association
  • International Student Promoters
  • Iowa High School Model United Nations
  • KULT Radio
  • Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society
  • Kappa Kappa Psi- Eta Pi Chapter
  • Kappa Sigma Fraternity
  • Kevin and Paul Students for Students
  • Korean Language and Culture Club
  • Lawther Hall Senate
  • Legacy PR
  • Management Information Systems Association
  • Middle Eastern Dance Club
  • Multicultural Teaching Alliance
  • National Residence Hall Honorary-UNI Chapter
  • National Society of Collegiate Scholars
  • National Student Speech Language Hearing Association University of Northern Iowa Chapter
  • Noehren Hall Senate
  • Nonprofit Leadership Alliance
  • Nontraditional Student Organization
  • Northern Iowa Anime Association
  • Northern Iowa Democrats
  • Northern Iowa Family Service Organization
  • Northern Iowa Potters and Sculpters
  • Northern Iowa Student Government
  • Northern Iowa Wishmakers
  • Northern Iowan
  • Omicron Delta Kappa-UNI Circle
  • One Iowa at UNI
  • Orchesis Dance Company
  • Order of Omega
  • Panhellenic Council
  • Panther Leadership Service Club
  • Panther Pacers Running Sport Club
  • Panther. Magazine
  • Panthers For Anesa
  • Panthers for Andrew Miller
  • Phi Alpha Theta Honor Society (Pi-Lambda Chapter)
  • Phi Beta Lambda
  • Phi Beta Sigma
  • Phi Eta Sigma
  • Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Beta Nu Chapter
  • Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity
  • Phi Upsilon Omicron
  • Philosophy Club
  • Physical Education Club
  • Physical Education Club
  • Pi Kappa Alpha
  • Pi Sigma Epsilon
  • Political Science Society
  • Pre-Dental Club
  • Pre-Medical Club
  • Pre-Optometry Club
  • Pre-Physician Assistant Club
  • Pre-Veterinary Club
  • Project Marrow
  • Public Policy Club
  • Public Relations Student Society of America
  • Relay For Life Committee
  • Residence Hall Association
  • Rho Epsilon
  • Rider Hall Senate
  • Saudi Students Club
  • Service and Leadership Council
  • Shull Hall Senate
  • Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity
  • Sigma Alpha Iota
  • Sigma Delta Pi
  • Sigma Gamma Epsilon
  • Sigma Iota
  • Sigma Phi Epsilon
  • Sigma Tau Delta
  • Society for Human Resource Management
  • Society of Manufacturing Engineers
  • Society of Professional Journalists
  • Student Admissions Ambassadors
  • Student Affairs Pre-Professional Association
  • Student Affliates of the American Chemical Society
  • Student Association of Middle Level Educators
  • Student Athlete Advisory Committee
  • Student Health Advisory Committee
  • Student Interior Designers Of Northern Iowa
  • Student Leadership Advisory Panel
  • Student Nature Society
  • Student Reading Association
  • Student Social Work Association
  • Students Today Leaders Forever-Pay It Forward Tour
  • Students for International Peace and Security Studies
  • TESOL/Linguistics Club
  • Tau Beta Sigma
  • Teaching Educators About Mathematics
  • Technology and Engineering Education Collegiate Association
  • Textiles & Apparel Association
  • The UNI Financial Literacy Club
  • The UNI Halo Covenant
  • The University of Northern Iowa Council of Teachers of English
  • The University of Northern Iowa Masters of Social Work Student Association
  • The University of Northern Iowa Supporters of the United States Army
  • To Write Love On Her Arms UNI
  • Turkish Students Association
  • UNI 4 Kids
  • UNI Accounting Club
  • UNI Advocates for Alzheimers
  • UNI African Union
  • UNI Archery Sports Club
  • UNI Badminton Club
  • UNI Ballroom/Swing
  • UNI Blackhawk Ever Enthusiastic Rooters
  • UNI Business Prelaw Club
  • UNI Capoeira Sports Club
  • UNI Chess Club
  • UNI Circle K Club
  • UNI Climate Movement
  • UNI Collegiate 4-H Club
  • UNI Construction Management Club
  • UNI Dance Marathon
  • UNI Disc Golf Club
  • UNI English Club
  • UNI Entrepreneurs
  • UNI Feminist Action League
  • UNI Fencing Club
  • UNI Forensics Speech and Debate Teams
  • UNI Habitat for Humanity
  • UNI Hardwoods
  • UNI Harry Potter Club
  • UNI Health Science Club
  • UNI Hockey Club
  • UNI Mandarin Chinese Club
  • UNI Mens Ultimate Frisbee Sport Club
  • UNI Mens Volleyball Sport Club
  • UNI Model United Nations Competition Team
  • UNI National Wild Turkey Federation
  • UNI Panthers Allied with Local Schools
  • UNI Percussive Arts Society
  • UNI Physics Club
  • UNI Pre-Chiropractic Club
  • UNI Pre-Occupational Therapy Club
  • UNI Pre-Pharmacy Club
  • UNI Printmaking Society
  • UNI Proud
  • UNI Quidditch Club
  • UNI Right to Life
  • UNI SAVE (Students Against a Violent Environment
  • UNI STAND
  • UNI Salsa Club
  • UNI Ski & Snowboard Sports Club
  • UNI Sociology Club
  • UNI Solar Panthers Club
  • UNI Student Theatre Association
  • UNI Supply Chain Management Association
  • UNI Tae Kwon-Do Club
  • UNI Tennis Sport Club
  • UNI Trap and Skeet
  • UNI USITT United States Institute of Theatre Technology Student Chapter
  • UNI Varsity Mens Glee Club
  • UNI Veterans Association
  • UNI Women in Physics Club
  • UNI Womens Soccer Sport Club
  • UNI Womens Ultimate Frisbee Sport Club
  • UNIBusiness Global Associates
  • University of Northern Iowa Anthropological Association
  • University of Northern Iowa Cycling Sport Club
  • University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers
  • University of Northern Iowa Geography Club
  • University of Northern Iowa Grafx Club
  • University of Northern Iowa Longboarding Association
  • University of Northern Iowa March of Dimes
  • University of Northern Iowa Pre-Physical Therapy Club
  • University of Northern Iowa Psychology Club
  • University of Northern Iowa Student Athletic Training Organization
  • University of Northern Iowa Student Cable Programming Service (UNI Sketch)
  • University of Northern Iowa Student Early Childhood Association
  • University of Northern Iowa Students Today Alumni Tomorrow
  • University of Northern Iowa Students Together for the Advancement of Reproductive Rights
  • University of Northern Iowa Tourism Assocation
  • University of Northern Iowa Triathlon Team Sport Club
  • Vocal AmmUNItion