The Giordano Bruno Stiftung (gbs) was officially recognized as a “legally responsible public foundation according to civil law”, on April 15 2004. Since then, the gbs has accomplished a great deal in terms of establishing the central themes of humanism and enlightenment in society. This “chronology of the most important events” should help understand the foundation’s development.
2004-2005: “Religion-free zone”, the Manifesto and fowid
The foundation made its first public appearance in May 2004, when it hosted an impressive ceremony on the 80th birthday of the author and church critic Karlheinz Deschner (“Criminal History of Christianity”/”Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums”) in Haßfurt. In the following September, a first scientific conference in co-operation with the International League of the Non-Religious and Atheists (IBKA) took place in Cologne, titled “Knowledge Instead of Belief!”, in which the American “debunker” James Randi was awarded the IBKA-prize for his educational achievements.
In the following year 2005, the climax of media coverage surely belonged to the series of events “Heathen fun rather than Hell’s torture” (“Heidenspaß statt Höllenqual”), in a religion-free zone in Cologne, the gbs antidote to the Catholic ‘World Youth Day’. The pope-dinosaur float made by Jacques Tilly and a cheeky grinning black sheep (“picture of the day” on NTV) caused an international stir.
2006: Cartoon controversy, Ursula von der Leyen and the hpd
In 2006, the foundation reacted to the controversy surrounding cartoons of Mohammed with a petition campaigning for the protection of free speech and artistic expression, against attempts to limit these rights out of deference to religious narrow-mindedness. Furthermore, the gbs opposed Ursula von der Leyen’s “Alliance for Upbringing”, which attempted to bring a stronger religious element into the raising and educating of children.
In June 2006, the foundation supported the International Committee against the Death Penalty in its attempts to save people sentenced to death under Sharia law. In the case of Nazanin Fatehi, a 17-year-old Iranian woman, this was successful.
The most important event of the year was doubtlessly the launch of the Humanist News Service (hpd: Humanistischer Pressedienst) in October 2006, when the gbs and the German Humanist Society (HVD: Humanistischer Verband Deutschlands) officially presented the service in Berlin’s Red City Hall. Because of its broad coverage, the hpd rapidly evolved into the most important voice of the secular scene in the German-speaking countries, with several million site views per year.
2007: Ex-Muslims, Dawkins and the “New Atheism”
In 2007, the gbs presented the “Central Council of Ex-Muslims” at the Federal Press Conference in Berlin. The campaign provoked headlines worldwide, as ex-Muslims had never before openly admitted to having forsworn Islam – an act for which, according to the Koran, they face the death penalty.
Apart from that, 2007 was influenced by the somewhat bewildering slogan “The New Atheism”. On television, on the radio, as well as in the print media there were extensive debates on the alleged “Crusade of the New Atheists”. Here, gbs-representatives were frequently given a platform, in particular Michael Schmidt-Salomon and Carsten Frerk. The considerable media storm, which led to an article on the gbs in the “Spiegel” magazine, was unleashed by the successful book “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, who was awarded the Giordano Bruno Stiftung’s “Deschner Prize” in October 2007 in Frankfurt.
The last highlight in 2007 was an event on December 1 in Cologne considering the possibilities of a progressive criticism of Islam with Mina Ahadi, Günter Wallraff and Ralph Giordano, which made it into the review of the year’s events in the ARD.
2008: Giordano Bruno, the little piglet and the New Humanism
2008 began as tumultuously as 2007 had ended. Ursula von der Leyen’s Federal Ministry for Families filed for a blacklisting of Michael Schmidt-Salomon and Helge Nycke’s children’s book “Which way leads to God? asked the little piglet” (“Wo bitte geht’s zu Gott? fragte das kleine Ferkel”), the impulse coming from the Catholic Church. The gbs then started the campaign “Save the Little Piglet!” in co-operation with the Alibri publishing house.
A few days before the successful defence of the book before the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons in Bonn, the foundation was a joint organizer with the Deutsche Bundesbahn (German Federal Railways), the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the Humboldt University Berlin and the Central European University Budapest, of the “Giordano Bruno Days” in Berlin, whose main event was the erection of Alexander Polzin’s “Giordano Bruno Memorial” at Potsdamer Platz, in the heart of the capital.
Also in 2008 the gbs made efforts to redirect public attention from “New Atheism” towards “New Humanism”. It co-operated with the Humanist Academy Berlin in hosting the conference “New Atheism and Modern Humanism” in Berlin as well as the symposium “New Humanism – A Scientific View of Man and Secular Ethics” (with the “tower of senses”: turmdersinne) in Nuremberg. Furthermore, the gbs was one of the initiators of the “Critical Islam Conference”, which distinctly distances itself from xenophobic right-wing populists, and promoted a liberal-minded, humanistic Islam critic using the motto: “Enlighten Rather Than Obscure!”
2009: Darwin, the bus campaign and the wondrous world of religiots
2009 was characterized by Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his groundbreaking book “On the Origin of Species”. In order to promote a public discussion on evolution theory, the foundation initiated the most comprehensive Internet portal on the Darwin Year: www.darwin-jahr.de, in co-operation with the project group Evolution Biology in the “Association Biology, Bioscience & Biomedicine” (“Verband Biologie, Biowissenschaften & Biomedizin”). The foundation also celebrated Germany’s biggest Darwin birthday Party in the German National Library in Frankfurt to honour the founder of modern evolution theory. The gbs-campaign “Evolution Day, not Ascension Day”, launched shortly afterwards, also attracted much attention. And at the same time,Ricarda Hinz’s videos “Children of Evoluton” and “Susie Smartypants Explains Evolution” (a humourous trailer promoting Michael Schmidt-Salomon’s and Helge Nyncke’s recent children’s book), which she produced for the gbs, were presented to the public.
Besides the big theme “evolution”, there were of course other issues addressed by the gbs in 2009. For example, at the end of March with the gbs-advisors Ralf König and Esther Vilar, and in co-operation with the film distributor Central, the foundation presented the film “Religulous” by the director of “Borat”, Larry Charles, in the “Babylon” in Berlin. Michael Schmidt-Salomon recommended the film as an “adventurous expedition into the wondrous world of religiots”. The gbs also supported the secular bus campaign, which caused a stir in the media.
2010: Institutionalized children’s protest, state subsidies and the “Dominant Jewish-Christian culture”
In 2010, the gbs took part successfully in various political debates. The foundation was able to contribute to bringing the fate of the sexually abused and maltreated institutionalized and boarding school children to public attention. The gbs organized, among other things, the big rally of formerly institutionalized children in Berlin, “It’s Our Turn to Talk!” (“Jetzt reden wir!”), for which gbs-advisor Jacques Tilly contributed the medially highly effective “Beating Nun”, and gbs-advisor Ingrid Matthäus-Maier conducted the ex-institutionalized children’s press conference, which took place at the Federal Press Conference in December and sparked international media response.
The KORSO-campaign (“Co-ordinating Council of Secular Organizations”/ “KORSO: Koordinierungsrat säkularer Organisationen”) for the repayment of the state subsidiaries to the churches, where the fundamental new work of gbs-trustee Carsten Frerk “Violettbuch Kirchenfinanzen” (“Purple Book of Church Finances”) was sent to more than 1,000 politicians and journalists, also proved successful. Similarly effective was the campaign co-initiated by the gbs “Refuge for Ex-Muslims”: Siamak Zare, one of the co-founders of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims, received the status of a refugee, thus becoming the first person officially recognized for being religiously persecuted as a non-believer.
Last but not least, the gbs intervened in the freshly kindled “Dominant Culture Debate”, by making it clear that a plural society must be based on secular values, and that the talk of the “Jewish-Christian West” amounts to a dubious distortion of history.
2011: Fundamental rights for great apes, debate on bioethics and protests against the Pope
At the beginning of 2011, the “Ethics Commission of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung” published a widely noted evaluation on the admissibility of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PID). The paper received positive attention in expert circles, whereas conservative politicians and church officials vehemently criticized the statement that we should support the ill and disabled with all available means – but not encourage illness and disability as such.
In the middle of the year, the same debate arose once again, when the gbs awarded its ethics prize worth €10,000 to the two initiators of the “Great Ape Project”, Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer. The German Federal Commissioner for the disabled, Hubert Hüppe (CDU, a radical anti-abortionist who supports the annual “Walk for Life”) even tried to prevent the award event in the German National Library in Frankfurt, but failed.
After the celebration of the award, the gbs began a relaunch of the Great Ape Project in co-operation with several animal rights associations, calling for certain fundamental rights (the right to life, the right to individual liberty, and the prohibition of torture) for our nearest animal relatives. To accompany the campaign, the gbs published the brochure Brother Chimp, Sister Bonobo, in which, among other things, it is explained why chimpanzees and bonobos should become members of the species “homo”.
In 2011, the gbs and its co-operation partners achieved two victories in court: In the lawsuit Schmidt-Salomon vs. Bishop Müller, the Federal Administrative Court ruled that bishops too must every now and then stick to the truth in their sermons, at least that they may not vilify their ideological competitors with invented citations. Furthermore, it was possible to at least temporarily stop the appointment of a professor to a concordat chair at the University of Erlangen..
A final highlight of the year was undoubtedly the manifold activities during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Germany. Some 15,000 people attended the demonstration in Berlin, “No Power to Dogmas!” – the largest event critical of the church ever to take place in Germany.
2012: Religious discrimination at the workplace, circumcised children’s rights and the “seculars’” change of image
In previous years the gbs was often described by the media as “the voice of a social marginal group”, but in 2012 it was increasingly styled as a spokesperson of a “secular majority that wants to aggressively suppress the rights of religious minorities”. This remarkable change of image was triggered not least by the discussions surrounding the controversial video of Mohammed, “Innocence of Muslims”, and also by the debate on the circumcision of boys.
In both cases the gbs adopted a clear position: Concerning the Mohammed video it argued that freedom of the arts also has to apply to bad films, and that it would be fatal for the state to restrict civil rights and liberties in deference to the sensitivities of violent, religious fundamentalists. A corresponding commentary by the gbs-speaker Michael Schmidt-Salomon on the web portal of the periodical ZEIT was among the most read, commented and recommended articles of the year.
The gbs intervened in the debate on the circumcision of boys with their spectacular children’s rights campaign “My Body Belongs to Me!” (www.pro-kinderrechte.de, FAQ also in English) The campaign was supported by many individuals and initiatives (i.e. the Deutsche Kinderhilfe and the Israeli children’s rights organization “Protect the Child”). But it also provoked hefty personal attacks, against which the gbs defended itself with clear words.
The campaign “Against Religious Discrimination at the Workplace” (“Gegen religiöse Diskriminierung am Arbeitsplatz”, GerDiA), launched in spring, and demanding freedom of religion and ideology in all publicly financed social institutions, also caused a stir. Several verdicts (e.g. concerning the right to strike in church-run institutions, or the iniquitous discrimination of non-denominationals) as well as media reports (e.g. the documentary “Gott hat hohe Nebenkosten” – “God Has High Additional Costs” or the satirical comments on the tv programme “heute-show”) showed just how well the campaign hit the nerve of the times.
The Great Ape Project, revived by the gbs in 2011, also received great media attention in 2012. After the National Geographic had presented the project in a cover story of 34 pages (July 2012) nearly every German newspaper (even “BILD am Sonntag”) reported on the poor conditions under which great apes are kept in German zoos.
The regional and university groups of the gbs who conducted more than 50 local events in 2012, such as the “religion-free zone” during the church congress in Mannheim or the alternative programme for pilgrims “Heilig’s Röckle!” (“Holy Little Coat!”) during the “Holy Coat Pilgrimage” in Trier, also made a big contribution to the success of the foundation. The “World Skeptics Congress” in Berlin as well as the “2012 European Atheist Convention” in Cologne (which were both supported by the gbs) likewise attracted significant media interest.
You can learn more in the richly illustrated gbs-chronology 2004–2012, which can be downloaded as a pdf-document at the bottom of this page.