Public Policy Participation and Political Action
Current Events Statements:
PFC Celebrates Our Freedom to Read and Write
READ BANNED BOOKS!
September 19, 2022
Pittsburgh Freethought Community (PFC) is proud to celebrate Banned Book Week during September 18-24, 2022. Banned Books Week is the annual celebration of the freedom to read. A coalition of organizations dedicated to free expression, including the American Library Association, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), Freedom to Read Foundation, Lambda Literary, National Council of Teachers of English, PEN America, and the People For the American Way Foundation, sponsor this event. As the only organization in Southwestern Pennsylvania dedicated to freedom of thought, PFC endorses the event’s motto “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”
A book challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials based upon the objections of an individual or group. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from a curriculum, library, or bookstore because of their content, ideas, or themes, thereby restricting others’ right to read it. A book ban is the successful removal of those materials. The commitment of librarians, educators, parents, students, and citizens like you prevents most challenges from succeeding and ensures that most materials are retained in the school curriculum, public library collection, and on bookstore shelves. Book banning is a form of censorship.
Anyone or any group can initiate a book challenge – parents, library patrons, political and religious groups, educators, elected officials, and students. The vast majority of challenges occur in school libraries, public libraries, and individual schools. Although books are the most frequently challenged material, films, graphic novels, textbooks, library programs and displays, music, artwork, and electronic databases also face challenges. The most frequently-stated reasons include alleged explicit sexual content, violence, or child abuse, LGBTQ content, profanity, religious or political viewpoints, race/ethnicity viewpoints, unsuitability for children, lack of literary merit, or allegedly contain “harmful,” “hurtful,” “hateful,” “hate speech,” or “problematic” themes. Both the Left and the Right, liberals and conservatives, are censorious.
The American Library Association (ALA) tracks the annual number of book challenges across the country. It compiles an annual list of the most frequently-challenged books. In 2021, The Top 10 titles were Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson, and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin. These books contain the themes mentioned above. However, ALA emphasizes that their annual Top 10 lists are only a snapshot of book challenges. Surveys indicate that 82-97% of book challenges – documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries – remain unreported and receive no media attention.
We are not alone! According to surveys from ALA and other groups, at least two-thirds of eligible voters oppose censorship in libraries and schools. PFC encourages all of us to fight book challenges and bans. You can contact your local, state, and federal elected officials to oppose censorship in any form. No individual, group, or government has the right to determine what we are allowed to read, hear, and watch. You can get involved here and here.
Most importantly, READ BANNED BOOKS! Game of Thrones author George RR Martin wrote “A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” If someone wants to ban a book, it probably contains information that we need to read. So read it! The more familiar we are with challenged material, the more effectively we can fight challenges when they occur.
PFC stands with all organizations fighting for our freedom to read, write, and think for ourselves. If you agree, join PFC here.
The information in this document was compiled from the following sources:
PFC Condemns the Attack on Salman Rushdie
August 22, 2022
Pittsburgh Freethought Community (PFC) strongly condemns the attempted murder of author and atheist* Salman Rushdie. PFC endorses freedom of speech, press, and expression in all forms, with the few exceptions that the Supreme Court has established. Each of us has the right to speak, read, and write freely. No individual, group, or religion has the right to deny it.
Squirrel Hill's own Bari Weiss has written a brilliant defense of Rushdie and freedom of expression:
We live in a culture in which many of the most celebrated people occupying the highest perches believe that words are violence. In this, they have much in common with Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who issued the first fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989, and with Hadi Matar, the 24-year-old who, yesterday, appears to have fulfilled his command when he stabbed the author in the neck on a stage in Western New York.
The first group believes they are motivated by inclusion and tolerance—that it’s possible to create something even better than liberalism, a utopian society where no one is ever offended. The second we all recognize as religious fanatics. But it is the indulgence and cowardice of the words are violence crowd that has empowered the second and allowed us to reach this moment, when a fanatic rushes the stage of a literary conference with a knife and plunges it into one of the bravest writers alive...
And yet as shocking as this attack was, it was also 33 years in the making: The Satanic Verses is a book with a very bloody trail.
You can read the entirety of Weiss’ article here.
PFC promotes science, reason, and humanist values. Freedom of expression is vital to a free and democratic society. The attempted murder of Salman Rushdie is an attack on all authors, artists, and freethinkers. We renew our call for an end to violence against freethinkers. If you agree with us, please join PFC.
*Bill Moyers, Salman Rushdie on the Politicization of Religion at 31:41.
Statement on the “No Right to Abortion” Amendment to the PA Constitution
May 15, 2022
Pittsburgh Freethought Community is on the record opposing both SB 956 and HB 2252, the No Right To Abortion Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. If passed, these bills would make Pennsylvania’s state policy to “protect the life of every unborn child [sic] from conception until birth.” As we can see in states like Mississippi and Arizona, these bills have dire consequences for prenatal care, contraception, IVF, ectopic pregnancy, and even how a pregnant woman decides to give birth.
If these bills pass the state legislature, they could be on the ballot as early as November, 2022. If Pennsylvania voters approve these bills, they will be enshrined as amendments to the state constitution. No pro-choice governor can veto a constitutional amendment. Women in Pennsylvania will lose their fundamental right to bodily sovereignty.
These bills are catastrophic for all women, especially those who already suffer under existing abortion restrictions – low-income, rural, young, women of color, and survivors of domestic violence and rape. Violence in intimate relationships often begins when a woman becomes pregnant.
Domestic violence affects nearly one-third of women in the United States. Domestic violence survivors are more likely to be forced into unintended pregnancy, to need abortion, and risk being trapped in violent relationships if they are unable to obtain a safe abortion. The consequences of such entrapment range from heightened abuse during pregnancy to being murdered.
Rape frequently co-occurs with domestic violence, and survivors who are raped by intimate partners are more likely to suffer multiple rapes and more likely to suffer acute and chronic physical and reproductive injuries. Approximately one in four women who are raped by their male partners become pregnant, a rate five times the national average for rape-caused pregnancy.
These consequences are entirely preventable when women have the right to safe and legal abortion and contraception.
SB 956 and HB 2252 are insults to human dignity. We must reaffirm to all women, especially abuse and rape survivors, that their bodies are their own. If we deny women the right to make important decisions about their own bodies, we are violating their bodily autonomy yet again. With the landmark Roe vs Wade about to fall, women in Pennsylvania urgently need guarantees that their fundamental human rights will be respected.
Throughout United States’ history, both court decisions and constitutional amendments both expanded and guaranteed individual rights and liberties. For the first time ever, a constitutional amendment would remove a fundamental human right, and for 51% of Pennsylvanians! Amendments should be progressive, not regressive. We must move forward, not backward. Passing SB 956 and HB 2252 will endanger every woman and girl in the state. We cannot allow this to happen.
PFC strongly urges all our members and supporters to contact their Pennsylvania state legislators and tell them to oppose SB 956 and HB 2252. You can find your state legislators here: https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/
Statement on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
April 10, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attack on his neighbor Ukraine violates the humanist values which we at Pittsburgh Freethought Community (PFC) affirm:
We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that secular democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on biological sex, race, religion, gender identity, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility, empathy, and compassion.
Vladimir Putin has employed a campaign of disinformation and fictionalization of history to justify his brutal assault on the sovereign nation of Ukraine, which in recent years has worked to strengthen its democracy, reduce corruption, and move closer to the West. The Russian Army’s horrific attacks targeting medical facilities and civilians, including children, amount to possible war crimes which are being investigated by the International Criminal Court.
This unprovoked war has created a massive humanitarian crisis, forcing tens of millions of people to flee their homes, with more than three million refugees fleeing to Poland and other neighboring countries. The United States is accepting Ukrainian refugees as well.
We at PFC stand with the Ukrainian people at this time of crisis.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has donated $25,000 to the relief campaign “Humanists Across Borders for Ukraine,” which is sponsored by the The Atheist Foundation Kazimierza Lyszczynskiego, Poland’s premier atheist group. You can donate through the FFRF website at Nonbelief Relief and enter “Ukraine” in the comments.
Overdue Memorial to Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine, the influential Enlightenment philosopher whose 1776 pamphlet Common Sense inspired Americans to declare independence from Great Britain, lacks a fitting memorial in Washington D.C. Paine’s later work, The Age of Reason, challenged institutionalized religion and the legitimacy of the Bible.
“Tom Paine was a person so far ahead of his time that his work still challenges us in significant ways today to build a more democratic society,” says Raskin. “This luminary patriot of the Enlightenment and the American Revolution inspired people in the colonies not only to overthrow the tyranny of faraway kings but to launch a nation founded on principles of democratic self-government, the rights of men and of women, and reason and science. Despite his catalytic role in founding America and our constitutional republic, Paine remains too often on the dark outskirts of history. It is way past time for Congress to give Paine the central place of respect and awe he deserves in our nation’s capital. This memorial to Paine — amazingly, already pre-funded with a flood of voluntary contributions and pledges from private citizens — will be a powerful and dramatic addition to the symbolic life of Washington, D.C.”
Please urge your Congressional representatives and senators to support and sponsor this bill.
Find your US legislators here:
Pennsylvania State Legislators Attack Abortion Rights
January 22, 2022 marks the 49th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade guaranteeing women’s Constitutional right to abortion. According to our friends at Planned Parenthood, Pennsylvania state legislators proposed nine anti-abortion bills in 2021. You can read them at the link below. Click on each bill number to read it and see its sponsor(s):
PFC condemns any and all attempts to restrict women’s dignity and reproductive autonomy. We urge everyone to contact their state legislators, especially if you live in a sponsor’s district, to strongly oppose these bills. You can locate your state legislators at this link. Scroll down to Find My Legislator:
Legislators tell us that personal contact and phone calls are the most effective ways to communicate with them about proposed legislation. Personal letters are very good as well. You can also post on your legislators’ social media and through their Contact Me link on their websites.
Want to do your part? Take Action Now!
Each month PFC's PPPC focuses on a different issue and we need YOUR help!
Tips and links for contacting your legislators:
Calls from constituents and a follow-up letter/fax containing your contact information are more effective than blanket emails. Send "snail-mail" to local locations, the screening process in Washington D.C. takes several months.
Keep it short and to the point, no longer than one page. Focus on specific legislation when applicable and be clear about who you are and what you want from the start.
Make it personal and mention if you have voted for them or donated to their campaign.
Remember, they represent YOU.
Find your PA legislators here:
Find your US legislators here:
Find your local government here:
These actions are directly related to our Mission and an important part of meeting our Committee's goals.
Your time and attention to this is much appreciated.
Not sure who represents you? Use the links below to find out!
Pennsylvania State Representation- Pennsylvania General Assembly Website
Federal Representation- govtrack.us Website
Want MORE ways to take action!?! See the action pages of our national affiliates:
Our work: Public Policy Participation and Political Action
PFC identifies areas and issues within local government and local institutions where PFC can and should contribute a perspective and viewpoint on behalf of our stakeholders. We seek to have a seat at the table to represent and communicate the evidence-based, humanist and non-theist beliefs of our members regarding local issues and actions. Beyond the local arena, we seek to keep our members informed about national and international policy and legislation likely to be important to them. At all levels of government, PFC seeks to facilitate participation by its members, by electronic, voice or personal communication with legislators and other leaders. PFC facilitates this participation within the the legal limitations of our non-profit 501(c)(3) status.
Some of the policies we promote include:
If you would like to get more involved with PFC's Public Policy Participation Committee, please email the Public Policy Committee chair.