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gbs Annual Review 2019

Manifold activities in the "Year of Anniversaries"

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Bus campaign in front of the Brandenburg Gate

100 years constitutional breach, 70 years of the German Basic Law, 15 years Giordano Bruno Foundation, and 10 years bus campaign: 2019 was a "year of anniversaries" in which the gbs conducted more activities than ever before in its history. The following annual review can only give a small impression thereof. A more detailed account will follow in the next issue of the "bruno." annual magazine, which is expected to be released in September/October 2020.

 
1st quarter: January – March 2019

The Giordano Bruno Foundation celebrated its 15th anniversary with its New Year's Reception 2019, engaging top international musicians Manuel Fischer-Dieskau (cello) and Connie Shih (piano). In his New Year's speech, gbs board spokesman Michael Schmidt-Salomon attributed both the top-class concert and the success of the gbs to the "principle of intelligent waste", which Charles Darwin had already observed in nature: "If you want your message to be taken seriously, you have to send out expensive signals - like a peacock investing a considerable part of its resources in its plumage".

On January 21, 2019, the Evolution Path in Leimen was ceremonially opened in the freezing cold and with plenty of hot mulled wine. The elaborately designed educational Evolution Path was designed by gbs Rhein-Neckar in such a way that the distances between the 20 boards of the trail correspond to the real time intervals. With each meter the visitor overcomes a good 4 million years, each millimeter representing approximately 4000 years, i.e. the time that has passed since the construction of the pyramids in Egypt until today. Welcoming speeches at the opening of the evolutionary path in Leimen, which will be established in many other places throughout Germany, were given by the mayor of Leimen, Hans D. Reinwald, and Michael Schmidt-Salomon, gbs board spokesman.

On January 26, 2019, the "Bündnis für sexuelle Selbstbestimmung" ("Alliance for Sexual Self-Determination"), supported by the gbs, organized an "Day of Action for the Deletion of § 219a StGB", which was attended nationwide by around 6000 people. On the basis of the paragraph, the Giessen physician Kristina Hänel, among others, had previously been sentenced for explaining on her homepage to her patients the methods of abortion she uses. On January 29, the gbs criticized the draft bill presented the day before to reform the controversial § 219a of the German Penal Code (StGB) as a "transparent tactical maneuver" aimed at "defusing the protests in the streets and preserving the outdated German legislation on abortion".

On February 1, Jacqueline Neumann and Michael Schmidt-Salomon submitted a detailed statement on the new version of § 219a to the Federal Ministry of Justice on behalf of the Institut für Weltanschauungsrecht (ifw - Institute for Worldview Law). In the same month, ifw advisory board member Reinhard Merkel criticized the deliberations on the new version of § 219a before the Legal Committee of the German Bundestag. A few days earlier, he (as did Kristina Hänel, among others) had attended the ifw's annual meeting, which took place from February 15-17 at the gbs foundation headquarters in Oberwesel.

On March 10, Michael Schmidt-Salomon presented his new book "Entspannt euch! Eine Philosophie der Gelassenheit" ("Relax! A Philosophy of Serenity"). The publication of the book resulted in several features, some of which lasted half an hour (e.g. on Deutschlandfunk and WDR), in which not only the content of the work was reported upon, but also fundamentally about the philosophy of evolutionary humanism and the work of the gbs. The book, which focuses on the positive contents of evolutionary humanism, was also recommended in contexts which are rather atypical for the gbs: The spectrum ranged from "Domradio" ("Cathedral Radio") to "Playboy".

 

2nd quarter: April – June 2019

"Whose city is this?" was the motto of the Berlin Foundations Week in April 2019 - "Whose state is this?" was the title of the panel discussion organized by the Giordano Bruno Foundation in cooperation with fowid (Research Group on Worldviews in Germany), ifw and the Evolutionary Humanists Berlin-Brandenburg as part of the Foundations Week in the Meistersaal at Potsdamer Platz. Ingrid Matthäus-Maier, Jacqueline Neumann, Carsten Frerk, and Michael Schmidt-Salomon discussed, moderated by Philipp Möller, the "disregard for ideological neutrality" in Germany. At the event, the posters and slogans of the secular bus campaign, which started one month later in Berlin, were also presented for the first time. Particularly noteworthy was the fact that Deutsche Bahn had banned the already booked advertising space at Berlin train stations due to a "lack of ideological neutrality" - which did not apply to the posters for the bus campaign, but did certainly apply to the behaviour of Deutsche Bahn. The news about the DB's advertising ban caused a strong solidarity effect: within a very short time, donations of over 40,000 euros for the secular bus campaign were received.

From April 16 to 17, the oral hearing of the constitutional complaints against the so-called "Euthanasia Prevention Act" (§ 217 StGB) took place in Karlsruhe, at which gbs spokesman Michael Schmidt-Salomon, as an "qualified third party expert", criticized the unconstitutionality of the paragraph in precise words.
 Other participants in the hearing included gbs advisory board member Jacqueline Neumann (as ifw trial observer and author of a detailed legal expertise on the proceedings), and Ludwig A. Minelli (as co-founder of Dignitas and complainant). There was, however, one gbs advisory board member missing: The physician and suicide assistant Uwe-Christian Arnold had taken his own life a few days before the trial began due to his serious illness. His last statement, written on the day before his suicide, was presented at the beginning of the hearing in Karlsruhe at the explicit request of the Chairman of the Federal Constitutional Court Andreas Voßkuhle. Trial observers assessed the hearing as a "stellar moment for the Federal Constitutional Court". It remains to be seen whether the verdict, which is due to be delivered in the first quarter of 2020, will reflect the course of the proceedings.

After several gbs regional groups had caused a stir with "Dance Demonstrations" and "Life of Brian" screenings on Good Friday (19.4.2019) (e.g. gbs-Karlsruhe, "Religionsfrei im Revier", gbs Stuttgart even made it into the "Tagesthemen" with their activities), the secular bus campaign "Schlussmachen jetzt: 100 Jahre Verfassungsbruch" began on May 4, 2019, in Berlin. Its central demands were summarized in the gbs brochure "Abschied von der Kirchenrepublik".

As May 4 was also the day of the International "March for Science", the first evening event of the bus campaign took up this topic, with Tanja Gabriele Baudson (researcher on giftedness and creativity) and Philipp Möller (gbs and "World Saving Trainee in the German Bundestag") discussed the question "How rational and evidence-based is German politics?" with Michael Schmidt-Salomon at the Urania Berlin.

The nationwide tour of the "secular bus campaign 2.0" led through more than 25 cities, including all the state capitals, and was accompanied by numerous evening events. Particular highlights were a panel discussion on the "Limits of Tolerance" between Volker Beck (Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen) and Michael Schmidt-Salomon (gbs) in the Audimax of the Kiel University, which was attended by around 600 guests, and the ceremony "70 Years of Basic Law", which was organized by the gbs in cooperation with the ifw parallel to the official celebrations in the Schlosshotel Karlsruhe. The 2019 bus campaign, which was also significantly supported by the International Confederation of International League of Non-Religious and Atheists (IBKA), ended on May 30 with a "noodle mass" of the "Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Altogether, it was much more elaborate than the first bus campaign, which the "Godless Seven" had carried out 10 years earlier under the motto "Happy Without God", as Michael Schmidt-Salomon summed up in an interview with the Humanistischer Pressedienst (hpd - Humanistic Press Service).

In the course of the bus campaign, the gbs critically examined the role of the media. On June 14, a discussion on this topic took place in the concert hall of Deutschlandfunk radio station with a remarkable line-up: moderated by Christiane Florin (DLF), Lale Akgün, Ingrid Matthäus-Maier, and Michael Schmidt-Salomon, three determined secularists* discussed "Religion and Worldview in the Media" with only one (!) church representative (Klaus Pfeffer, Vicar General of the Ruhr Diocese of Essen).

One week later, the "Ketzertag" ("Heretics' Day") took place in Dortmund, which responded to the motto of the Protestant Church Congress "Was für ein Vertrauen" ("What confidence is this"), taking place at the same time, with "Vertrauen? Zerplatzt!" ("Confidence? Bursted!") for which the prominent speakers who came to the "Ketzertag" provided numerous good examples. The sculpture park of the "11. Gebot" ("11th Commandment", led by gbs employee David Farago) attracted a great deal of attention as well, this time with three larger-than-life figures: "Moses with the stone tablet", which for years has been a reminder of the "11th Commandment" at every Church Day ("Thou shalt pay for thy church day thyself!"), were joined in Dortmund by the "Nackter Luther" ("Naked Luther"), who effectively exposed the "reformer's" anti-Semitic hate messages, and the "Geldhamster mit armer Kirchenmaus" designed by Bernd Kammermeier and gbs Rhein-Neckar, which had previously accompanied the secular bus campaign in several cities.

 
3rd quarter: July – September 2019

In July 2019, the first volume of the ifw publication series was issued by Nomos-Verlag: "Aktuelle Entwicklungen im Weltanschauungsrecht" (edited by J. Neumann, G. Czermak, R. Merkel and H. Putzke). The volume offers groundbreaking contributions on fundamental questions of worldview law and highlights current developments in public law (including religious education), tax law (church tax/church money), labour law (religious discrimination in the workplace) and criminal law (including §219a StGB and abuse). A similar range of topics - albeit in a much more popular format - is covered in the anthology "EXIT. Warum wir weniger Religion brauchen" ("EXIT. Why we need less religion", edited by gbs advisory board member Helmut Ortner). Both books are excellently suited to deepen the subjects of the secular bus campaign.

Furthermore, in July 2019 the "Forschungsgruppe Weltanschauungen in Deutschland" (fowid) published a new overview of the "Religionszugehörigkeiten in Deutschland ("Religious Affiliations in Germany"): According to this overview, at the end of 2018 the population share of nondenominational persons was 38 percent (an increase of 800,000 persons compared to the previous year), that of Catholics 28 percent (loss of 300,000), Protestant Christians (EKD) was at 25 percent (- 400,000), denominational Muslims at 5 percent (+ 100,000), and members of other Christian and non-Christian religious communities at around 4 percent (no significant change compared to the previous year).

On July 28, gbs advisory board member Natalie Grams spoke at the gbs foundation headquarters about the "Belief in Gentle Healing". The event was highly topical, as a few weeks earlier the homeopathic preparation manufacturer "Hevert" had issued a cease-and-desist letter to the physician, warning her not to continue to claim that the effectiveness of homeopathy "does not help beyond the placebo effect". Grams refused to sign the injunction, with the support not only of the gbs, but also of Jan Böhmermann, among others, who prominently took up the case in his programme "Neomagazin royale".

From August 7-9, the gbs summer forum took place in "Haus Weitblick", through which the foundation specifically targeted emerging talents. In the night from August 13 to 14, interested persons could follow online how the "Constitutional Breach Ticker" provided by gbs and ifw changed from 99 years, 11 months, 30 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes to 100 years, 0 months, 0 days, 0 hours and 0 minutes. Since then, the ticker continues to count - and it will continue to do so until the presumably still distant day when the ideological and political demands of the Weimar Constitution, which was integrated into the German Basic Law in 1949, are finally fulfilled.

Also in August, Michael Schmidt-Salomon, as an outsider to the party, gave three lectures at the Green Party's Academy of Principles. In particular, his lecture on "self-determination" as a fundamental constitutional value met with unexpected approval from the approximately 400 party members. A few days later, the gbs took part in the major demonstration "Unteilbar: Solidarität statt Ausgrenzung" ("Indivisible: Solidarity instead of Exclusion") in Dresden - which in 2019 provoked significantly less criticism than the year before.

In early September, the gbs was represented at the Humanist Day in Hamburg by several representatives. On the occasion of the "World Children's Day" on September 20, it reiterated its call for the inclusion of children's rights in the constitution. Three days later, just in time for the start of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, the ifw reported that, in terms of sexual abuse, "compensation payments of one billion euros" are pending. Less than a year earlier, the Institute for Worldview Law had filed Germany-wide criminal charges against sex offenders of the Catholic Church.

  
4th quarter: October – December 2019

The first issue of "bruno.", the new annual magazine of the Giordano Bruno Foundation, was published in October 2019 and met with an exceptionally positive response from readers. The basic concept of this "hybrid magazine" was developed by gbs advisory board member Helmut Ortner, one of Germany's leading media developers, to mark the foundation's 15th anniversary.

A special highlight of the year were the "Evokids Days 2019", which took place from October 25th to November 3rd at the Ballhaus Düsseldorf. Several renowned gbs advisory board members (including Ralf König, Dittmar Graf, Christoph Antweiler, Eckart Voland, Ricarda Hinz and Volker Sommer) participated in the event. The gbs used the high-calibre series of events organized under the leadership of the Düsseldorfer Aufklärungsdienst as an opportunity to send out a larger contingent of the popular "Evokids packages" for lessons in grades 3-6 - an offer free of charge of which many teachers throughout Germany availed.

In November, the gbs took part in the "Stuttgart Future Symposium", which this year was entitled "Work 4.0 - Colleague AI" and at which Thomas Metzinger (gbs advisory board) and Peder Iblher (gbs commissioner for digital human rights) participated as speakers. In addition, in November, the foundation participated in a joint event of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für humanes Sterben (DGHS - German Society for Humane Dying) and the gbs Karlsruhe on the controversial § 217 StGB, which may be overturned by the Federal Constitutional Court next year (see above). (Another DGHS event on the subject took place a few weeks later in the Babylon Berlin, where the four members of the Bundestag present, from SPD, the Greens, the Left Party and FDP, made it clear that in their opinion § 217 StGB violates the German Basic Law).

On December 1, gbs advisory board member and bestselling author Philipp Möller presented his current book "Isch geh Bundestag - Wie ich meiner Tochter versprechen, die Welt zu retten" ("How I promised my daughter to save the world") at the gbs foundation headquarters. The book had already triggered heated debates immediately after its publication. A few days prior to the book presentation in Oberwesel, gbs spokesman of the board Michael Schmidt-Salomon published an article on "Climate change from the perspective of evolutionary humanism", which also provided plenty of material for discussion - although this was by no means unexpected: After all, the text was intended not least as an "empiricalism test for the humanist scene", in a way as a first test balloon for the gbs' focus topic for the coming year: "The fine art of rationality: facts, fakes and perceived realities".

Last but not least, there were two "successful defeats" in court on December 12, 2019: In Giessen, Kristina Hänel lost her case since her website, on which she provides information on abortion methods, violates, as expected, the new version of §219a of the German Criminal Code as well. In Berlin, the Administrative Court ruled that a woman who had been baptized in the GDR without her knowledge and whose parents had left the church had to pay church taxes, even though she had lived as a denomination-free person for decades and was listed as such by the authorities. Both proceedings are being handled by the gbs respectively the ifw and are intended - if possible - to correct the previous ideologically biased legal situation by decisions at the highest judicial level. Particularly after the Berlin judgement, critical voices also increased in church circles, which pointed out that such church "successes" in court are in reality "defeats", since they ruin the social reputation of the churches (see for example this commentary on katholisch.de).

   
Conclusion

Never before did the foundation and its surroundings conduct such a large number of events, campaigns, and legal proceedings as in 2019, the 15th year of its existence. This has only been made possible by the great voluntary commitment of many men and women who are active in the foundation and in the regional and university groups, as well as by numerous donations and endowments which have laid the financial groundwork for the foundation's work.

"We have already achieved a great deal in recent years - and want to achieve a great deal more in the coming years," says foundation founder Herbert Steffen. "If people continue to support us in such a tremendous way, I am convinced that we will achieve our ambitious goals in time. I would like to thank everyone who has helped us in the past and hope that they will continue to do so in the future. Unfortunately, there are more and more forces today attacking the open society project. It is therefore all the more important that we do not weaken in our efforts to anchor the guiding ideas of humanism and enlightenment in society.

Photos and graphics by: Florian Chefai, Roland Dahm, Evelin Frerk, fowid, Peder Iblher, Piero Masztalerz, Frank Nicolai, Pro Choice, gbs regional group Rhein-Neckar, Michael Schmidt-Salomon, Stuttgarter Zukunftssymposium, Udo Ungar.