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Obama Signs First Anti-Persecution Legislation Protecting Atheists
H.R. 1150 expressly protects non-theists from religious persecution around the world.
Freedom of religion, as humanist groups often claim, also means freedom from religion. While not debated and publicized (and, frankly, griped over) as much as the translation of the Second Amendment, First Amendment rights are constantly being challenged. Jeffrey Toobin recently wrote about the harrowing challenging journalists could face with the new administration in light of the recent Gawker case sponsored by Peter Thiel, who used his deep pockets to destroy an organization he didn’t agree with.
Perhaps in preparation of the sea change about to occur in the former swampland known as Washington DC, President Obama signed into law amendments to H.R. 1150, otherwise known as the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Act. The bill, first signed in 1998 by Bill Clinton, is an attempt at stopping religious persecution around the planet.
The job of the committee formed by the first bill is to identify acts of persecution, then report them to the president, who will concurrently be handed a list of potential actions against that country to try to force them to stop. These actions include public or private actions or condemnations, canceling of state visits, and withdrawing U.S. aid and assistance.
In 2014 the Republican representative from Virginia’s 10th district, Frank Wolf, introduced a reauthorization to keep this independent commission alive through 2019. As a human rights activist Wolf was inspired by the Sudan crisis and Darfur genocide. He’s held numerous conferences in his home district to raise awareness of such issues worldwide.
While the bill, originally titled H.R. 4653, never found a home in that Congress, it passed in the House of Representatives in May 2016, over a year after Wolf retired from his seat. The bill is specifically notable for two reasons.
The first is that for the first time ever the term ‘non-theistic’ is included in the language. This is especially important given the heinous and deadly actions taken against secular bloggers in countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia in recent years. Robert P. George, former chairman of the commission founded with the 1998 bill, writes,
Persecution of atheists and theists alike is equally reprehensible and must be condemned. Religious freedom is the precious birthright of humanity and must be honored and upheld for believers and skeptics alike.
The amendment also reminds Americans of their First Amendment rights. While we might not have public stonings of atheists, there have been other methods of persecution against nonbelievers.
This is especially daunting at a time when Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has stated the educational system is the best place for restoring God’s kingdom. It’s easy to imagine how quickly nontheistic rights will fade when school systems introduce prayer and treat creationism as an equally valid course of study as evolutionary biology. There are plenty of ways to destroy a culture without bloodshed.
As of 2014, seven states still had enforceable laws prohibiting atheists from holding public office. Over half of Americans still claim they would not vote an atheist for president, a larger number than those who would shun candidates that have had extramarital affairs or never held office. For example, the 2016 election.
Persecution in America tends to take place at the local—i.e., tribal—level. Atheist veterans were heckled and mocked at a Memorial Day parade in Pennsylvania; the Central Arkansas Transit Authority refused to run ads by an atheist organization; the Mississippi chapter of the ACLU rejected a $20,000 donation because it came from an atheist group (in favor of LGBT rights, a double whammy); a high school student fighting school prayer was ostracized and threatened by peers and town mates.
The new amendment won’t necessarily stop such vitriolic attacks. But by being the first congressional bill passed that specifically cites freedom from religion in such a manner, it is an important step forward.
That said, the second notable aspect of the bill is not as productive. As Hemant Mehta reports, new language in the amendment means
if people who defend male infant circumcision or animal slaughter are “persecuted,” the U.S. will consider it a violation of religious freedom. Our government is therefore giving tacit approval to those practices.
That’s a shame. The practice of circumcision has long been debated, its purported benefits contested. Given a plethora of ritualistic slaughters and animal abuse across the planet—ten thousand dogs murdered yearly at a festival in southern China; the killing of countless chickens for Jewish atonement; males having sex with donkeys in Colombia—offering protection for such practices is a giant step backwards.
Humans have long claimed to be the planet’s superior animal, with religion playing a primary role in elevating the mindsets of followers—the whole ‘dominion over the earth and all other animals’ part. Through a few chance evolutionary steps we’ve dominated our environment, other species, each other. Recognizing a common playing field for every human is the first step. With his pen Obama brought us a step closer to that realization.
Derek's next book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, will be published on 7/4/17 by Carrel/Skyhorse Publishing. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.