This is point of inquiry for Friday, May 5th, 2006. Welcome to Point of inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe the point of is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank collaborating with the State University of New York at Buffalo on the new science and the public master’s degree. CFI also has branches in Manhattan, Tampa and Hollywood and 11 cities around the world every week on point of inquiry. We look at some of the central assumptions of our society, focusing mostly on three research areas first, pseudoscience and the paranormal. Second, we look at alternative medicine. And third, we’re interested in the implications of science for religion. We look at secularism and nonbelief. We do this by drawing on CFI, his relationship with the leading lights of the day, including Nobel Prize winning scientists, public intellectuals, social critics and renowned entertainers. On today’s point of inquiry, I talk with Edward Tabbaa, a lawyer and civil rights activist in Southern California. He’s a civil rights attorney. We’re going to talk about the true meaning of separation of church and state. But first, I’m going to talk with Lauren Becker, a regular contributor to Point of Inquiry. We’re going to talk about 10 amendments day, not Ten Commandments Day, 10 Amendments Day. Lauren, welcome to Point of Inquiry again. Sure. Thanks for having me. This Sunday is 10 Amendments Day. So what is 10 Amendments Day?
Well, it is also a Ten Commandments day, and that has a lot to do with why we decided that we need to put together 10 amendments day.
And when you say we, you mean the Council for Secular Humanism here at the Center for Inquiry?
Exactly right. And and actually, anybody that is sort of threatened by this Ten Commandments day, we first found out about the Commandments Day event several months ago, was supposed to be originally in February. They pushed it later on. So now it’s in May. It’s a group of folks that have come together to celebrate the Ten Commandments, which is all well and good. But we started looking into it a little bit more. And it turns out that it’s actually sponsored by all of the big leaders of the religious right. And these are people that we know have been very active in trying to change the Constitution, to suit their views of morality and their views of religion. So we got quite alarmed by that. And we started to look into it even more and realized that there was a lot of disinformation going on and we wanted to respond.
Surely you’re not saying you’re threatened by the Ten Commandments? I hear a lot of people from all quarters argued that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of morality in America. You’re not saying you’re afraid of the Ten Commandments, are you?
We’re not afraid of the Ten Commandments. And we certainly agree that anybody has a right to come together and celebrate the tenants of their faith. But let me give you an example of some of the language that’s on their Web site. We went over and we started digging. And on one of the very first pages, you see the impetus for the Ten Commandments day. And they say, quote, In response to recent court rulings against the public display of the Ten Commandments and the continual assault of a secular humanist agenda against traditional values. And then they go on to explain that’s why we’re here. So that is sort of a threat to me personally and secular humanist. It’s also a distortion because there isn’t a secular humanist assaults against traditional values. We started researching even more and we realized further down in their Web site, you find language like this, quote, History has shown that no civilized society or government can exist successfully without recognition, acceptance, adherence and submission to an absolute authority, end quote.
And they’re talking about God there. They say society needs to submit to God to thrive.
They’re not just saying society. They’re saying that government, society, through their government, all aspects of society, need to submit to this absolute authority of God. And for a democratic republic, that is a direct threat. Statements like that, we know from our history that that has caused lots of problems and that that is actually a threat. And that’s why we need to respond.
So your idea for the ten amendments today, which is now really taking off all over the country, we’ve received some good press attention in Indianapolis, Southern California, all over the country, and some of our community groups affiliated with us are working to put on a 10 amendment stay. Well, the reason for this isn’t just in response to a Ten Commandments day, right? Your line lighting, the Bill of Rights, the ten amendments. Why should we limelight that? Don’t we already all know what the ten amendments are?
Well, you would think so. But actually, some recent studies have come out pretty interestingly, showing that people in America can more quickly tell you the names of the children on The Simpsons show than they can tell you three of the five guarantees of the First Amendment, the rights of the First Amendment. Wow. We find that, you know, and even honestly, I have to say, when I went back to look at the first 10 amendments, there are a couple in there that I had forgotten about. Some of them that are interesting and specific to more colonial type situations. There is one that says, you know, weren’t the governments not allowed to quarter soldiers in your home without your permission? Doesn’t really sound applicable right now, but it just an indication that there’s stuff in here that we need to talk about. And in fact, the ideas of the Bill of Rights, the reason we have the Bill of Rights is a limit on the authority of the government. And that puts it in direct opposition to the statements from the Ten Commandments Day Commission saying that, no, no, no, we have to go back to an absolute authority. The Bill of Rights says no, the authorities and the people, individual rights are more important.
In a moment, I want to get Edie to bash on the phone. Before I do that, though, I’m interested in your opinion about the whole Ten Commandments day. No. Not 10 amendments. Ten Commandments day notion. A lot of well-meaning Christian activists out there look around, see all the problems in our culture, and they say the world’s going to pot.
The solution is God. In fact, they argue that American law is based on the Ten Commandments. What do you say to that?
It’s wishful thinking. You can go back. We have and I’m sure Eddie can talk to this even more specifically being a constitutional scholar that he is. But you really don’t even have to be a constitutional scholar. You go back, you read history, the ten amendments, the Constitution that we have, the Bill of Rights. Even a little further back, you go to the Declaration of Independence, the notions that are expressed in these documents that set up the ideas of what America is. Have nothing to do with the Ten Commandments. It’s actually very interesting when you go back again and look at the Ten Commandments Day Web site. They’re saying this, quote, The principles laid out in the Ten Commandments, such as the brotherhood of man, the importance of a just legal system, and the vision for eternal peace form the basis for successful civilization, end quote. They’re actually having to go back and rewrite the Ten Commandments to make it sound like they support the Ten Amendments and the Constitution that we have our constitution, our legal system is based on a whole plethora of understandings, research. The founders were very learned in the systems, the government systems, cultural systems for centuries before they came together to write the laws that make up America. In fact, a good deal of American law is based on British common law, which later came to have Christian influences. But actually British common law is much older than that. It was around 200 years or more before Christianity ever even came to the British Isles. In fact, Jefferson spent a lot of time clearing that up because even in his day, he was ridiculed and given a hard time for not putting God into the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, that sort of thing.
Interesting ideas about the origins of American jurisprudence. American law sounds like a perfect time to get Eddie Tomasz involved in this discussion. Later in the conversation, let’s make sure we get back to exactly what listeners can do if they want to get involved in this year’s 10 Amendments Day or 10 Amendments Day as we’ll be celebrating them. From now on.
So let’s. I’m looking at our smiling producer. Let’s figure out how to get Eddie to bash on the line. Hello, Eddie. Are you there? Yes, I am.
Eddie, I’m glad you’re on the show, especially this week when we’re talking about the true meaning of separation of church and state and the 10 amendments day. Before we get into that discussion, let me let our listeners know a little about you. You are a civil rights attorney in Southern California, a longtime supporter and adviser to the Center for Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism. You were affiliated with the Americans United for Separation of Church and State ACLU. And on and on. Thanks again for being on the show.
Thank you for having me, T.J.. I think that point of inquiry is very, very important in the current crisis that we have in our society with our being on the verge of a religious fundamentalists takeover point of inquiry as one of the very few types of programs on the air where the alternative to religious dogma and the alternative to supernatural belief systems can be heard. So I’m very, very happy to be on this program.
Thanks, Eddie. I really appreciate that. Thanks again for being on the show. We were just talking about the 10 Amendments Day, this new celebration of the Bill of Rights that the Council for Secular Humanism, with your involvement, others involvement, has just launched. We’re gratified to see across the country a lot of people excited about it, wanting to get involved. But by way of background, of the 10 amendments day, why don’t we begin talking about the true meaning of separation of church and state? This discussion I just had with Lauren? Well, it came out that a lot of people think that this is a Christian nation, that separation of church and state is a misguided attempt of contemporaries who misunderstand American history.
Well, it’s actually the opposite, T.J. In fact, for conservatives as well as contemporary liberals, nothing is more clear than the founders intended. A government in which. Branches of government had to be neutral with respect to matters of religion. In 1785, for years before he drafted the First Amendment, James Madison protested in his native Virginia the assessment of a general levy that would have helped all religions. A year later, he and Thomas Jefferson collaborated on the most comprehensive. At that time, statues for religious liberty ever seen in the civilized world, which essentially said that the believer, a nonbeliever, are equal. And then in 1787, a year later, Jefferson, who guided Madison in not just the Statute of Religious Liberty, but in the composition of the First Amendment, though Jefferson at that time was in Paris. Jefferson said It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are no gods or 20 gods. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. And again, as far back as 1785. Jefferson wrote Madison wrote that our religious convictions must be a matter of how we interpret the evidence in accordance with our individual conscience. And then throughout the Statute of Religious Liberty in 1786 for the new state of Virginia, it was declared that the civil magistrate, which meant government of any sort, is not to be the arbiter or the intermediary between a human being and that person’s conscience on matters of religion.
But the most powerful argument that there is is the actual constructing of the First Amendment. Madison, in August of 1789 introduces this marvelous text that there should be no law establishing religion or articles of faith.
But when the First Amendment emerges from both the House and the Senate a few weeks later, it’s even strengthened to say no law, even respecting an establishment of religion. A law can’t even show respect to the establishment of religion. And then in 1882, Jefferson, as president, writes to the Danbury Baptists, politely declining the request that he declare a National Day of Prayer or a day of Thanksgiving, and says that he contemplates with sovereign reverence that the United States, the people of the country, wanted to erect and impenetrable wall of separation between church and state. So the history is so unmistakably clear that this is a nation in which no human being is more or less a part of an officially welcomed category of people for either rejecting or accepting any tenet of religious faith.
So clearly in the history of the American cultural tradition, our legal history, the history of our government, of the way that we do things, separation of church and state is there from the beginning. But there are those activists today who say that that was a mistake. They say that America is a Christian nation. And I would ask both Lauren and you, but both of you can come and I’d be interested. Isn’t America a Christian nation? Just it’s a numbers game. You look around. Most people are Christian. Doesn’t that mean that they should have at least some say in some of these policy questions?
Not at all. Because what America is is a secular society in which a majority of the residents adhere to some form of Christianity. But the government must be officially neutral because if, in fact, the government could start reflecting a theological point of view, where would that end?
If we were a officially Christian nation, would then Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and others also have some form of second class citizenship, not just a nonbeliever, a nation, a modern nation that was founded not for the purpose of being a haven for a specific religious group that may have been persecuted, but a nation that was founded to be a universal society for everyone can not allow the whim of majority rule to undergo a kind of ebb and flow in which there is this dramatic shift from one day to the next. Assuming, for instance, in in my state of California, if we were free to allow the legislature to choose an official religion at any given moment in time, the joke is in California, one day the New Age Hindus would rule.
The next day, the new age Buddhists would rule. And then in New York, the reform conservative and Orthodox Jews would slug it out in. Bama, which Baptist church would be able to take over the legislature? It would be so preposterous. What really gets to the heart of this DJ Grothe is the separation of church and state is one of those magnificent issues that can help to unify a very severe breach between liberals and conservatives in our country, because the separation of church and state appeals to both. If you are a true conservative, you don’t want government legislating private beliefs system. And of course, if you’re a liberal, you don’t either by saying that no American can be officially valued more or less because of either adhering to or rejecting a tenet of religious belief.
It’s the church state separationists who becomes the keeper of the traditional flame of liberty. Just imagine a society in which one group of people could cripple the liberty of another group of people merely because of religious belief. We would be going back to the to the dark ages. And so Americans have to grow up to understand that there is a difference between one’s personal view as to how the universe is put together and what the law of the land should be.
So let me ask Warren, is the motivation behind the 10 amendments today? Just the persuasive arguments that we both just heard Eddie Tobolsk give or do you have an extra grain? Is there something else going on?
Do I have an ax to grind that’s kind of funny. I guess maybe I do. I’m a Virginian. I grew up in Virginia. My family is all from Virginia. So I grew up listening and learning about these great figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, James Madison, George Mason. All of these people that were very much supporters and almost the originators of these ideas that we really do need to keep these things separate. One of the things that really gets to me is when you go to sites like the Ten Commandments Day Conditions St.. Jim Underdown, they have quotes on these sites that they are attributing to our founding fathers, people like Jefferson and Madison, that they did not say. And so on a personal level, yeah, I take that as label against one of my fellow Virginians.
Let me ask you, Eddie, do you have an ax to grind or are you just looking around and alarmed by the encroachment of religion in American life?
I don’t have an ax to grind, but I’m in a defensive posture because as the son of an Orthodox rabbi and an Auschwitz surviving mother who now I densified as an atheist, secular humanist, what is most important for me is to make sure that the founding ideals of rugged individualism and personal freedom remain in this country.
And if the religious right has its way, the most precious freedom of conscience, the most precious and valued. And I would say for an atheist sacred principle, that one’s view of how the universe is formed should not be touched at all by the heavy, oppressive hand of government, which should be left to a realm of total individual freedom. All of these things are in jeopardy because of the religious right wing.
And unfortunately, the president has seen fit to put people on the Supreme Court who have an inclination to overturn the separation of church and state.
The great conservative senator, the even right wing senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater, who was the leader of modern conservatism and even gave Ronald Reagan historic as a newly minted conservative in 1964. Toward the end of his career in the US Senate, turned completely against the religious right and saw them as a divisive encroachment on individual liberty. And I would say that the reason we have to be in a defensive posture is that as incredible as it may seem in the sixth year of the 21st century, there is more powerful than ever before. A juggernaut of government supported powerful politicians and judges who are out to completely dismantle the officially secular nature of our government. And there will be many victims, not only the nonbeliever, but for me as a heterosexual man. I think about we’ll be like to live in a society in which the majority of people would want it illegal for me to have romantic contact with women. Well, gays and lesbians deal with that every single day. There is not one proposed piece of legislation that would deny gays and lesbians equal rights. That is not grounded in religious dogma. And so there are real world consequences in allowing one group of human beings to use religion as a tool of legislative official police power, oppression against others.
So you’re saying even issues as culturally volatile as gay rights, you’re saying those are church state separation issues?
They are. Because I have in in my activism career, I spent about 20 years as the most active man in abortion rights in California, debating all the professional anti choice spokespeople and even in the abortion rights movement. I met some, not too many, but there are some secular people. And I think Nat Hentoff would be the most eminent who believe in fetal personhood that would trump abortion rights.
Now, I disagree with that, but at least somebody can make a secular argument, even though I think it’s wrong. But you never hear a secular argument against same sex love. All those arguments are grounded in religious dogma. There is no one on America’s contemporary political scene who would deny gays and lesbians equal. It’s who is prompted by other than religious considerations. There are no major or noticeable secular opposition to gay and lesbian rights.
In fact, the disheartening statistic that in the November 2004 election that 22 percent of the voters were interested in banning same sex marriage. And only 21 percent cared about the economy. None of those 22 percent were non-religious people.
So what we see is that in every every phase of our lives, when the purveyors of religious dogma try to seize hold of the police power of the state, they will use this power not to expand their own freedom, but to restrict the liberty of others of whom they disapprove. And that is a critical danger.
Eddie, it sounds like you’re saying really every one of the so-called culture war issues, not just gay rights, not just abortion, but conversations we’ve had before. We’ve talked about things like stem cell research or cloning. These fundamentally boil down to church state separation issues.
It is in this sense, if anybody wants something to be officially prohibited by any branch of government with police power enforcement, then.
That is a church state issue because I define church state separation is no human being in America should lose her or his freedom to do something because of nothing more than somebody else’s religious beliefs. And so if people can enact their religious views into law, then we have a violation of church state separation and we have to always guard against the restrictive view of human liberty. That is a part of every fundamentalist religion on Earth. I think we can safely say that the smaller the mind, the harsher the God, the more people buy into religious fundamentalism and in blind faith, except the most literal interpretation of scripture, the more they have a harsher view of what the D.A. wants. Biblical literalists have no choice but to accept that the D.A. wants to gay men who make love with each other to be put to death, because that’s exactly what the Book of Leviticus says Jim Underdown.
In fact, really one of the only things the Bible seems consistent on is that being gay is bad.
Now, of course, I think that they’re actually counter arguments. I floated this in a speech in a small town in Minnesota a few weeks ago and got some very, very interesting response. I was saying that if we take a non-religious view and we look at evolution and how evolution responds to crises in the environment, that what to me is one of the greatest problems on a planet, which is overpopulation might actually lead to an evolutionary increase in the number of gays and lesbians, because when heterosexuals keep on producing biologically at such a rate. So we could even argue that not only should gays and lesbians not be a persecuted minority, but from an evolutionary standpoint, considering that from 1960 to the year 2000, world population and a mere 40 years doubled from three billion to six point four billion. You could make the argument that it’s evolutionary necessary for more people to be homosexual so that the rate of human reproduction, the rate of human reproduction goes down and our overcrowded planet. So I think that we could even make an argument that we need more gays and lesbians on the planet rather than less, because we have to stop this mad rush to a limited reproduction that has already overpopulated the planet.
I love that. A public policy argument for being gay. Jim Underdown, the religious right will really have a heyday with you this week. Eddie, I want to take our discussion back. A little earlier. We were talking about America being a Christian nation or a secular nation. And that really seems to be up in the air for a lot of people. It sounds like the things that you’re saying in our discussion today and what Lauren and I were talking about earlier.
Well, it sounds like there’s not a lot of optimism going around, especially from people on the call it the secular left, early secularists in general. You just don’t seem very optimistic, Eddie.
Well, one of the things that one does when one becomes a secular humanist and a scientific skeptic, when you buy into the true message of the Center for inquiry is you become a realist and you’re not an optimist or a pessimist. You’re a realist. When Winston Churchill was exhorting the British people to fight off the Nazi invasions of World War Two, he wasn’t an optimist or a pessimist.
He was exhorting people to fight as hard as possible to repel a serious enemy. Right now, given that the president could have another one or two appointments to the Supreme Court. I have to be realistic. The events of the past few years have thrust the religious right into greater power.
The nonbeliever, rather than being appreciated as a formidable and honorable intellectual force in society, is demonized as something deviant, rather than seeing us as scientifically minded people who valiantly reject the supernatural and who embrace the natural evidence of. Physical universe, we are seen as something negative and something undesirable. It is the spiritual and religious immaturity of, unfortunately, an overwhelming majority of the American people, coupled with the power that the religious right has seized in the White House, in Congress, and soon possibly the most important, a total takeover of the Supreme Court. That has made me very, very worried. So I am not optimistic, but I am committed to fighting as hard as possible. It might very well be that those of us from all walks of life who want the government that’s officially secular, it may take us 100 years to get back what we had in the 1970s.
If we lose it, but we can’t give up on this life, but we have to be realistic right now. So many Americans and so many elected public officials are devoted to trying to recast this nation in the mold of an officially religious society. And that would carry with it the very heavy hand of oppression.
That’s actually something that we were really worried about. We found that the Ten Commandments they commission was encouraging supporters and people that were coming to their Web site to send letters to their Congress, people to their senators, writing letters to the editor, just really dispersing this whole network of fabrications, half truths and lies about us being a Christian nation and how we have to get back to that. And that’s one the reasons why we put together this 10 amendments, they say.
So, on that note, I’d like to ask and then I’ll ask you, Lauren, what specifically can our listeners do specifically if they want to get involved in advancing this pro science, the secular point of view, contre, these prevailing religious political extremists that we’ve been talking about, Eddie? You do not seem optimistic, but yet you keep pushing that boulder up the hill. You keep fighting the good fight to use a biblical allusion. Something I’m want to do sometimes. Eddie, what can people do if they want to get involved?
I think they need to join the center for inquiry because the Center for Inquiry works comprehensively on all levels. Legal education or philosophical intellectual.
People who want a society in which the government cannot push religion need to have an organizational base.
And there also has to be a philosophical foundation for what our founder, Dr. Paul Kurtz, has called a new enlightenment. But to do that, people have to come together in community and in communities to work together to preserve or to salvage the precious liberties which are at the core of our nation’s ideals. And so that’s one thing they can do. They can also ask every single political figure in the area where they live, who represents them at any level of government where they stand on these issues. Another very important thing they can do is be very, very watchful of United States Senate campaigns because it is the Senate that can reject or confirm religious right wing judges to all levels of our courts. And so these are just some of the things that people can do to try to preserve an officially secular society. And perhaps the greatest tragedy of all of this. One of the most heartbreaking realities that we face is that church state separation is as good for the believer as it is for the nonbeliever. It is a Win-Win situation for every American who wants to live in a society in which government doesn’t favor or disfavor you because of the beliefs you hold.
Eddie, thank you very much for joining us on point of Inquiry this week. I really appreciate your comments, your contribution to this conversation. Thank you for having me, DJ Grothe.
That was really great having Eddie on the phone just now. So thanks again. And even though you’re no longer on the air, Lauren, couple minutes remaining. Let’s get in to exactly what our listeners can do if they want to get involved in 10 Amendments Day as opposed to Ten Commandments Day.
Right. You know, I have to take it back to Jefferson. You’re asking about optimism versus pessimism. There are two other. Well, many things that Jefferson contributed to us besides this idea of separation of church and state. His library collection became the foundation for the Library of Congress when it caught on fire. And we lost it the first time. And also, he was very proud of the fact that he founded the University of Virginia, which at the time was the first non-religious institution for learning.
Yeah. First institution of higher learning that did not have a theology department.
Exactly right. So when you asked me if I’m an optimist and what can we do about this? My response is education. We have to get people involved. We have to give them the tools, the information that they need to counter the stuff coming from the Ten Commandments Day Commission, as well as a lot of the other Christian nation organizations. So that’s what we did with 10 Amendments Day. We tried to create a Web site where we could just load up resources. What is that Web site, just real quick. Sure. W w w dot. 10 amendments day dot org. And you want to write out the word ten. It’s TTN amendments day dot org.
Easy to remember. Ten amendments day dot org. And I’d like to let our listeners know that a link to that Web site can be found at point of inquiry, dawg, as well as a link to some of the other resources we’ve talked about today.
That’s right. You’ll find the actual historical documents. You’ll find the Declaration Independence, the Constitution. Of course you’ll find the Bill of Rights. You’ll also find the text for the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom that Jefferson and Madison worked on, as well as other historical documents.
OK. So they could get to the Web site and get this information. But what can they do if someone is sitting out there, they’re listening to the show on their iPod, whatever? We’re happy to say we have a lot of listeners all over the world. We’re hearing from them. Keep it up because we’ll keep doing the shows. Anyway, Lauren, I’m asking, what can people do if they want to get involved?
They can go to the Web site. They can go over to have an action section. They can download resources that we’ve created. These are brochures that give them ammunition. They gives them historical facts about what Eddie and I and you have all been talking about. They can print those off at home. They can distribute those. They can use the information there to write letters to their editors, letters to their senators, to the representatives, letting them know that they’re out there correcting the record for what is coming at them from the Christian nation crowd.
Do you think in the years ahead there will be even more resources on the site? Or is this a one shot deal? Is this the only year the Council for Secular Humanism is planning on doing 10 amendments?
We certainly anticipate that it’s going to come around every year. We certainly wanted to we’ve had great feedback in the short amount of time that we’ve had it up already. So we know that we’re going to have groups that are interested. The CFI communities are interested, all of the other people. We actually have an Interfaith Alliance group that’s interested in this. We have religious folks as well as secular folks that understand exactly what Eddie was saying, that this is an important issue both for them and for secular people.
Well, there you have it all about 10 amendments day and the true meaning of separation of church and state. Lauren, thanks for being on point. Require yet again. You had a lot to the show. Thanks for joining me. Thank you so much.
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Point of inquiries produced by the indefatigable Thomas Donnel and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Inquiries. Music is written and composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Quailing. Contributors to today’s show include Thomas Donnelly, Lauren Becker and Sarah Jordan. I’m your host, DJ Grothe.