It’s with great pleasure that I announce today the next President of the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers, Natalie Kaufman. On April 15th, she will take office with a new officer team appointed by her for the next year. As well, Natalie will announce her appointee for Vice President and the opening of applications for officer positions soon. That said, let me explain why she is the natural successor for leadership in this group.
I’ve been fortunate to know Natalie since she came to UNI and she attended her first event within weeks of coming to campus. Even in the first event she attended, she demonstrated a willingness to discuss, critically analyze, and deconstruct the arguments she was presented with. She examines the ideas of others with a critical eye, even if she won’t always admit it, and is careful to form her own response. These are aspects I’d consider valuable for any leader, and so vital for a group that values skepticism as highly as ours.
In her time in UNIFI, she has demonstrated compassion toward her fellow members, dedication to the tasks at hand, and a willingness to go above and beyond. As Director of Public Relations last year, she went above and beyond and created a process for advertising events and coordinating Darwin Week that was much needed. This year, she proved to be an invaluable support through thick and thin as the Vice President.
But most of all, I have always appreciated her resilience in the face of opposition, her willingness to challenge me – respectfully – and ensure the organization was being run well free project management app. This is something I’ve greatly missed as she spends the current semester studying in Italy, and I sincerely hope she’s able to find an officer team that will contribute as much to her success as she has to my own.
Thank you, Natalie, and best wishes for the year to come. You have my respect and my support, and I know as the next President, you will earn the same from each member.
The page Spirit Science has over eight million likes on Facebook. Each vacuous post of theirs gets thousands of likes, or shares, or both, and is seen by hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions. Many of their YouTube videos obtain hundreds of thousands of views. And some of their content gets me mad as hell.
You might think, “You’re just jealous.” You’re damn right, I am. The nonsense they peddle that amounts to little more than a new age rebranding of The Secret with covered in a thin veneer of word salad. I am jealous of the attraction that this pseudoscience gets! But what gets me from jealousy to anger is this:
Wowing parents of children with Autism with a series of impressive sounding chemical names and processes, the people promoting this solution claim it’s a miracle cure. The fact that it’s a miracle is in the name: Miracle Mineral Solution. But wait, there’s more!
It cures H1N1, it cures hepatitis, it cures AIDS, and it cures cancer. But most of all, it cures that unsatisfying feeling of an intact digestive tract. It does that because this miracle cure is bleach. Drink enough, and you’ll be cured of any disease. It’s a toxic solution that parents make for their kids that causes them to expel parts of their intestines in their stool. And SpiritScience.net, a site which is expressly disinterested in obtaining answers to questions by real, non-spirit science, will happily encourage you to purchase MMS.
I am jealous of the captivating power of new age, spiritual nonsense. The scientific method, and the slow, plodding success of medical science is not very interesting, but there is a reason we have such an exacting standard in our country for medical claims. Unproven medicines have killed and harmed so many people that the bar had to be set very high, and even then, mistakes still occur. They are corrected, slowly, by a system that is anything but exciting.
There are no miracle cures, and bleach doesn’t cure autism. It’s exciting to believe in chakras and higher planes of existence. It would be a wonderful world to live in if it were true that we were on the precipice of a new phase of human existence, free of physical constraint. While that might seem harmless to believe in, it is supported by a fundamental belief in a conspiracy theory: scientists, experts, teachers, and your professors are lying to you about how the world works. That belief undermines trust and encourages the proliferation of miracle cures. Only if you believe that the doctors are keeping real cures like “Miracle Mineral Solution” from you would ideas like this take hold. That it does is deeply disturbing.
I’d sleep better tonight if I knew Spirit Science was peddling literal snake oil. Instead, they’re asking parents to feed their autistic children bleach.
Support real science, not spirit science. Real science is boring and slow, but it eventually finds the right answers, not quick fixes.
Officer applications for the next academic year are now open! Over the past year, the officer team has run dozens of events, from the Controversial Movie Nights and Know Your Arguments to Progressive Picnic, the Flying Spaghetti Monster Dinner, and Darwin Week.
I’m excited to say that applications are now open for this year, open to any who would like to set the direction for UNIFI for years to come and be a part of these great events! If you’re wondering if you should apply, the short answer is YES, but if you have more questions, see last year’s Officer Application FAQ.
For the upcoming year, there are four officer positions open in addition to President and Vice President. They are the following:
Director of Finance: This officer manages UNIFI’s finances, merchandise, and is responsible for coming up with effective ideas for fundraising. A strong math or finance background is not needed to be successful in this position; all responsibilities can be learned.
Director of Activities: This officer oversees event planning and promotion, and is responsible for thinking of new event ideas.
Director of Public Relations: This officer runs the UNIFI blog and social media outlets (including Facebook and Twitter) and acts as a liaison to other groups.
Director of Membership: This officer plans and implements our recruitment and retention efforts, and finds new ways to recruit members.
For a more detailed description of each of the above positions, and for general officer expectations, click here. Not sure how you would fit in, but think you might fill a role needed in the officer team? Apply for the position of Coordinator and fill in the rest.
The officer application process goes as follows:
Fill out the attached application form. These will be due Monday, March 30th by 5:00 PM. We will put together an interview schedule, and inform each applicant, by e-mail, of the date, time, and place of the interview. The interviews will include both the prepared questions and some impromptu questions.
Consider the prepared questions. We expect detailed and well-thought out responses.
Come to your interview!
The new officer team will be announced on Wednesday, April 15th.
The interview will consist of your responses to both prepared and impromptu questions. Three prepared questions are provided on the application form, and these must be completed and brought to your interview in addition to completion of the application form.
If you have any questions about any of the above, please contact either Aaron Friel at email@example.com or Natalie Kaufman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, we encourage you to speak with former UNIFI leadership, listed at the bottom of the attached application form.
We look forward to your responses, and good luck!
Your President and Vice President-elect,
Aaron Friel and Natalie Kaufman
Dear members, friends, and alumni of the UNI Freethinkers & Inquirers,
With every spring, this student organization undergoes its leadership transition, making way for new leaders. We, speaking not just for myself but for all past presidents, treat this process very seriously, and put significant thought into the candidates for every position, and that although I did not make the cut every time, the end result was better for the group. This seriousness and dedication to leadership distinguishes the Freethinkers & Inquirers among many other student organizations, so it was with enormous pride that I accepted the presidency last year.
As I will be returning for another year at UNI, I will be retaining my position as President of UNIFI. I have learned a lot from my officers this past year, and I look forward to pushing another officer team to succeed and supporting them in implementing their vision for the group. But it is not just my tired old vision that is necessary for leadership, but also new (and frankly, more youthful) energy that is needed, too.
With that in mind, I have asked Natalie Kaufman to be the next Vice President of UNIFI.
Natalie joined the organization in her first year at UNI as a member. I recall meeting her at, I believe, her first regular UNIFI event in September of 2013, at Know Your Arguments: Secular Identities. At that first meeting she asked many questions and had already begun to grasp some of the more difficult questions the secular community faces in knowing its identity and what it should mean to be secular, to be a freethinker, and what the responsibilities our community should have.
Although just a member, that year she led her first meeting as she co-hosted a talk on reproductive rights and abortion. That successful event and others naturally followed with her pursuing an officer position and being appointed as Director of Public Relations last year. In that position, she has exceeded my expectations, and has proven herself to be reliable and supremely invested in the success of this group.
I give Natalie my thanks for being a voice of reason at officer meetings, and for excelling in her role as Director of Public Relations. I look forward to working with her over the next year, and especially in selecting the officer team that will succeed this years’ and continue to be a voice for secular values at UNI.
President, UNI Freethinkers & Inquirers
P.S.: I would be remiss not to mention that officer applications for the next officer team will be available shortly, with a transition to the new officer team in approximately one month. Please stay tuned for this!
The oft offensive and satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked. The satirists were coming off the high of a wildly successful issue1 that angered Muslim extremists and brought a religious conflict into their home, their headquarters in Paris. There, the assailants issued a lawsuit and demanded the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo cease their shenanigans forthwith.
Perhaps that wasn’t the attack you were thinking of. That was in 2006, after the magazine bravely published in full the cartoons from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, having caused controvery a year prior on September 30th. Those cartoons depicted the Muslim prophet Muhammed, and made a few people unhappy. Some of those people then made hundreds of other people into mourners. Is it a cartoonist’s job to ensure someone isn’t so inflamed as to murder? In 2005, “Jeg er Jyllands-Posten”.
What of the attack that occurred shortly after publishing an edition criticizing Shariah law with a cover featuring “Muhammed”? That edition mocked Middle Eastern nations’ laws that targeted LGBT* persons, women having sex out of wedlock, and the brutalizing punishments enforced by a number of predominantly Muslim nations. That attack came in 2011 when their building was fire-bombed. I believe no one was injured, except for the pride of someone who couldn’t stand criticism. It was a step up from a lawsuit in violence, and an unfortunate setback for civility.
That still may not be the attack I was supposed to write about. What about when they published a short film criticizing Islam – albeit poorly – and incited hundreds of riots at embassies across the Middle East. That film, the Innocence of Muslims, was never forced on anyone, and was uploaded to YouTube and translated to Arabic by some coy Coptics. The Coptic Christians in Egypt seem to have a perennial one-upmanship with the Muslim Brotherhood, a sort of keeping up with the Ahmedses.
That was not Charlie Hebdo’s work, rather it was Nakoula Basseley Nakoula’s film. Nakoula is not a role model of free speech by any means, he’s been something of a petty criminal much of his life, but he did make a film. That made a few people unhappy. Some of those people then left thousands of others in grieving. Is it a filmmaker’s job to ensure someone isn’t so inflamed as to murder? In 2012, “I am Nakoula”.
There are many other instances of free speech, of a publication riling up extremists, and innocents dying. At the pain of omission, we come to the attacks perpetrated on January 7th of this year. A cartoon criticizing ISIS depicted the extremists beheading Muhammed precipitated the attack. I don’t understand it myself, as I’ve seen their comics and while the line work is quite basic, but I don’t think it’s so bad as to incense one to murder. Ever seeking to prove me wrong, some Muslim extremists were and they proceeded to kill more political cartoonists than all but a few newspapers in the United States employ2.
In the wake of this tragedy, I found the most solace in Banksy’s art. I believe strongly that from this tragedy, Muslim extremists will only rally more cartoonists, satirists, and comedians against them. This seems to be the case, as the Washington Post has opted to publish one of their comics, and the New York Times’ editorial board has faced substantial criticism. The Danish cartoons in 2006 did not elicit this much controversy, or such an outpouring of support. If one is so angered by satire as to kill for it, it might be in one’s best interest to stop killing satirists.
The news that had me seeing red was the cowardly commentary by self-avowed journalists in the United States. The victim-blaming of Charlie Hebdo crowded my news feeds and it came from every unlikely source I could imagine. From social justice activists to the Pope, many suggested that Charlie Hebdo, all scantily clad and with their blasphemers barely covered by adequate censorship, were asking for it.
What’s cropped out of these photos, you see, are their canvas and pens, just hanging out. The maintenance workers and security guards, the columnists, and the editors were of course just encouraging it. One can’t simply go around publishing works “mocking, baiting and needling Muslims”, as Europe editor for the Financial Times says. That isn’t to say they deserved it, as he writes:
This is not in the slightest to condone the murderers, who must be caught and punished, or to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims.Tony Barber
This sophomoric attitude seems more befitting a balding and ill-prepared school principal. Barber writes not to suggest anyone should be censored, perish the thought! Rather, it would be good if these publications could just come to adopt a dress code and try a bit harder to cover up their offensive bits. Not censorship, per se; Barber would just rather they not publish things that offend Muslims.
It’s a fashionable enough ideology that the Pope is on board. Charlie Hebdo needs to know that it shan’t bare too much lest it might bear the brunt of more attacks. To borrow Pope Francis’ words, “If my good friend Sarah wears a certain outfit, she can expect sexual assault. It’s normal. It’s normal.”4
Normal things are, as a matter of course, moral. Hence the commandments on Moses’ third tablet and why miscegenation (also known as “different race marriage”) is illegal, Henry Ford was jailed for perverting the natural way of travel, the Wonderbra is contraband, and our nation’s presidents, past and present, are white Protestants; all as God intended. The fifteenth commandment being that if she wears that skirt, well, we all know she asked for it.
The other day I had the misfortune of being late to the papers, and seeing no copies of the New York Times I relegated myself to picking up a USA Today. I read it anyhow, and aside from a typo or two it exceeded my expectations until I read this:
This is a column from DeWayne Wickham, dean of the School of Global Journalism & Communication at Morgan State University. I found the legal argument lacking, his position as dean of a school of journalism confusing, and finally, his support for the heckler’s veto infuriating. I’ve reached out to Wickham’s office with these questions, but as of publication time, have not received a reply.
On the issue of free speech, I’m not aware of any reading of Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire5 that would apply to depicting or criticizing Muhammed in a publication. The court ruled there on the issue of directed statements to a chosen individual. I was unable to obtain a statement from the ACLU at publication time, but if the Westboro Baptist Church won its case in Snyder v. Phelps, I doubt we can consider Charlie Hebdo’s publication to be “fighting words”, but legally it hardly matters: they are French. American courts would likely rule in favor of Charlie Hebdo, but they can’t. This legal argument is tenuous at best.
On the issue of DeWayne Wickham being the dean of a college of journalism, arguing that any critical or irreverent speech is “beyond the limits of the endurable” can only have a chilling effect. What is a student of journalism at Morgan State University to think, or any journalist, cartoonist, et al., if this apparently reputable head of a journalism department has deemed an entire category of critical thought beyond the limits of free speech?
Finally, I am most perturbed by his support for the heckler’s veto:
If Charlie Hebdo’s irreverent portrayal of Mohammed before the Jan. 7 attack wasn’t thought to constitute fighting words, or a clear and present danger, there should be no doubt now that the newspaper’s continued mocking of the Islamic prophet incites violence. And it pushes Charlie Hebdo’s free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable.
This suggests that if the paper continues its criticism of Islam unabated, they have it coming. If Charlie Hebdo’s speech is beyond the limits of the endurable, then what is an extremist to do? This is as direct a parallel to sexual assault victim blaming as I could have asked for: “When the skirt is so short, it pushes her free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable.” Wickham at least has the disreputable company of the Pope and a hopefully soon-to-be-former editor of the Financial Times. This suggestion that their writing is beyond the limits of the endurable is a form of heckler’s veto. That anyone, at any time, may threaten violence and this threat overrides free speech.
Suppose I and many others believed sincerely, with as much conviction as the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack, that this article was beyond the pale. Suppose, again hypothetically, that this article and perhaps all of Wickham’s columns are so offensive that we, this group, would threaten harm6. Suppose then, that this group had perpetrated violence to make its point clear. Is Wickham’s column beyond the limits of the endurable? Should Wickham stop writing because some group is so inflamed as to murder?
That would be absurd. No group, no matter how violent they are, should wield the power of the heckler’s veto. After all, even Muslim extremists have to choose to pick up and read Charlie Hebdo. Even radical free speech activists have to choose to pick up a copy of USA Today and voluntarily subject themselves to its writing. In daily life, there are only two institutions that can force you to read, watch, or otherwise consume speech: your government and the Coca-Cola Company’s marketing department. For everyone else, it’s a struggle to be heard and the best ideas should win out. Lax restrictions on speech enable that marketplace of ideas. Sometimes those ideas might be offensive, but no one has a right not to be offended.
The original quote: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal.” [↩]
The 1942 case that established “fighting words” as an exception to free speech [↩]
An interesting question to the reader: how explicit can this example be before it, itself, constitutes a true threat? That said, I have no desire to go to Maryland, let alone limit anyone’s, even Wickham’s, speech by force. [↩]
Tentative research suggests half of all stars exist in the space between galaxies. If it’s lonely in the Milky Way, try evolving ten thousand light years away from the nearest star!
Theoretical physicist Kip Thorne is interviewed on the new science behind the blockbuster film, Interstellar. What the animators thought was a visual artifact might actually be just what a black hole would look like. (And not to be a cynic, but the film’s public relations team has been doing an outstanding job of getting things like this published. Try searching for “physics of interstellar” to see what I mean.)
And speaking of the cosmos, today is Carl Sagan Day, on the anniversary of the birthday of Carl Sagan, astronomer and storyteller! We should all thank him for his contributions. He is one of the very best of the billions and billions of humans to have been on this pale blue dot. Here is his impassioned plea to make of that dot the very best that we can:
The UNI family of students was shocked this past week with the sharing of dozens of hateful and bigoted posts, or Yik Yaks, from the eponymous new media app. Individuals across the university community called for enforcement of the Student Code of Conduct. Acting President of the University, Michael Licari, wrote to remind us that threats to our fellow students are criminal offenses.
However, in the din of this controversy, some have called for the enforcement of the Student Conduct Code on anonymous posters who did not threaten their fellow students. This desire to use force to suppress non-threatening speech is very concerning. To understand why, we have to go back to the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the birth of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964. Pictured above, a student is forcibly removed from the UC Berkeley campus for expressing the radical and dangerous view that political speech other than supporting the Democrats or Republicans should be permitted on campus.
Then in 1964, a Berkeley student organization “SLATE” staged protests, distributed pamphlets and information about the Civil Rights Movement and the Freedom Riders, and engaged in other activism projects. They protested discriminatory practices performed by fraternity and sorority organizations, and they campaigned on campus on a variety of issues in violation of student speech codes. As a movement of the New Left during the height of McCarthyism, and perhaps from concern among administration and faculty of being seen as supportive of the Civil Rights Movement’s activism projects, the student organization was banned from UC Berkeley’s campus.
This was the start of the Free Speech Movement, which sought to ensure the right of free expression to all students at public schools and universities. Students staged sit-ins and protests, and eventually secured changes to policy that should have been protected by the 1st Amendment all along. This right is the most important right we have as students: it empowers us to criticize the administration with impunity, challenge the status quo, and demand change without fear of retribution. The right to do so anonymously, too, ought to be protected. Everyone ought to be able to make an argument in the marketplace of ideas and let it stand or fall on its own merit. The Protestant Reformation and the predominant religious doctrine of most Americans depended on the ability of Europeans to express their ideas anonymously, under fear of being condemned for heresy by the Catholic Church. Even today, students have faced abuse for far less than the hate crimes alleged here.
Free expression and anonymous speech are as important today as they were to the founding of our nation, to the dominant faith of our fellow citizens, and to social movements that have changed our world for the better. In every case, authorities sought to limit speech, and to silence criticism with force, often with the penalty of death. We saw this in Ferguson, and we see it in Syria. In every place on earth, the right to freely assemble and merely express one’s ideas is under constant threat. And in nearly every case, the silencing of free speech has had overwhelming support from the majority of the populace. What the founders learned from this was that no government should ever again have the right to punish ideas: it is too dangerous, the slope is too slippery. Nevertheless, today, the implementation of freedom of expression remains imperfect
I want to be clear to everyone hurt by these words: I would rather stand beside you and not my friends, were my friends to say such things.
Does this right to free expression extend to many the hurtful comments made anonymously today? With a heavy heart I must say yes. My reasons are many, and intimately related to my involvement with the Atheist movement. Without free speech, I know my ideas, too, have been considered hate speech by majorities. In many nations of hundreds of millions of people, denying God is punishable by imprisonment, torture or death. I am fortunate not to face trial for that hate crime. But to many hundreds of millions of people, it is hurtful and incendiary to deny the existence of a God.
That said, the comments made, and the remarks I have heard from my fellow students speaking out about the bigotry they face in person on campus upset me. I want to be clear to everyone hurt by these words: I would rather stand beside you and not my friends, were my friends to say such things. That is how change will come to UNI. We must be willing to call out hate, student to student, and use the power of social stigma to end the bigotry our peers face. Let us not call on authority to enforce our social norms. We must be willing to do so ourselves. Free expression ensures us the right to openly criticize racist and homophobic statements without fear of retribution. We should exercise that right and not seek to use force where words may prevail.
Every person at UNI has the power to do this. Remember that in many ways reason and compassion have already prevailed: the last resort of bigoted students to express themselves without fear of stigma are these anonymous posts. Let’s keep it that way, and ensure that no student faces open bigotry, that no bigot may utter such without facing criticism and shame from their classmates and friends. If you hear hate, call it what it is. Whether you are in your dorm, on the hill, or using social media, when you hear hate speech, call it out.
Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.Salman Rushdie
In June of 2012, Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger, was arrested on charges of insulting Islam. Badawi was also charged with apostasy, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. These charges were leveled against Badawi for founding a website dedicated to honest and open discourse about religion and politics. On his website he advocated for freedom of conscience and expression as well as women’s rights.
UNIFI must be there to protect the right to blaspheme; it must be one of the central goals of the group. In the words of Rushdie, “the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.” Religious believers continue to tell us that their ideas are off-limits. They say we cannot depict Muhammad because Islam tells us not to, and that we can’t recognize Muhammad’s marriage to a six year old child as an act of pedophilia because it’s offensive to Islam. They say we can’t suggest it is more plausible that Mary lied than that divine impregnation occurred, or ponder publicly the absurd idea of a god who sends himself to be sacrificed so he can forgive the flawed beings that he created. We refuse to be bound by what we don’t believe.
We realize that blasphemy is offensive to many people, but this doesn’t exempt certain ideas from criticism; ideas have consequences. Because religious ideas are so central to the lives of adherents, and can inform their actions so strongly, these ideas are the ones which deserve the most scrutiny and criticism. These ideas have led people to kill or imprison others or burn down buildings in response to books and simple cartoons. This is why we need to take a principled stance. If this issue isn’t within the scope of UNIFI’s mission, we don’t know what is. We think that it is more offensive to follow a pedophile prophet or a holy book that prescribes contempt for women and gay people than it is to criticize such dogmas.
We feel that declaring any belief to be immune from criticism is an insult to humanity and progress. We are truly offended by such belief systems, and this is our stand. We will mock, criticize, and shed light on the negative aspects of any and all religious faiths in the name of reason, liberty, and the desire to make this world better for humanity.
We hope you will chalk depictions of Muhammad when the ability to do so — either through laws or violence — is threatened. We hope you will criticize and attack foolish religious ideas the same as foolish political ones. We hope you realize the value and importance of blasphemy. We hope you will work to protect it.
Cody Hashman, President 2007-2009
Trevor Boeckmann, President 2009-2011
Cory Derringer, President 2011-2012
Michael Dippold, President 2012-2013
Stef McGraw, President 2013-2014
Aaron Friel, President 2014
This week’s topics: blasphemy rights and free expression in the United States.
A Pennsylvania teenager was charged with “desecration of a venerated object”. Local news in Everett, PA report that he could get two years for lewd photos a statue of Jesus. The relevant law defines desecration as “Defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise, physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action.”
Creator of conservative political documentaries Dinesh D’Souza had been indicted for campaign finance law violations and now faces sentencing. D’Souza’s defense argued that he was facing selective prosecution on account of his conservative views and attacks on the administration; failing that, he has since pled guilty. Arguing for leniency, famed atheist and author Michael Shermer penned a letter that caused strife in the secular community. The vitriolic twitter controversy doesn’t bear repeating, but it’s frustrating to see the secular community rally against free expression1 and participation in the legal system.
My take on these cases? Whether someone agrees with your beliefs shouldn’t be the basis for determining whether or not what they did was wrong. No one deserves to go to jail for outraging the sensibilities, even if they were being an idiot. And if the alleged selective prosecution took place, no one deserves to go to jail for outraging the establishment (or atheists), even if they did create 2016: Obama’s America. If you only support the speech that agrees with you, you don’t support free speech.
This author, at least, doesn’t agree with campaign fraud; but that’s an issue beyond the scope of today’s Links for the Sabbath. [↩]