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Enlightenment in Times of Corona

How the Giordano Bruno Foundation responds to the pandemic


Bruno with mask (painting: Wolfram P. Kastner, corona modification: Roland Dahm)

Assessments of how dangerous the new corona virus is vary widely within the Giordano Bruno Foundation (gbs). It is certain, however, that the gbs like the vast majority of non-profit organisations must break new ground in the wake of the corona pandemic. The prerequisites for this were set by a meeting of the Board of Trustees and the Directorate, which took place last Sunday via video conference.

The Giordano Bruno Foundation had already cancelled all events in March on the 9th of March, and a few days later all events were cancelled until May 2020. Three cancellations were particularly painful for the Foundation: On the 21st of March a memorial service was to take place in the "Haus Weitblick" for the medical doctor and assistant to the dying Uwe-Christian Arnold, to celebrate, amongst other things, the landmark decision of the Federal Constitutional Court on the "right to Last Aid", which was reached in February. A "mockers' meeting" was planned for April 18th at the gbs foundation headquarters under the auspices of the Humanistic Press Service (hpd), in which the cartoonists Martin Perscheid, Lilith Menze, Ralf König, Klaus Stuttmann, Dorthe Landschulz, Oliver Ottitsch and Michael Holtschulte as well as the cabaret artist Volker Pispers, among others, were to take part. In addition, the kick-off event of the newly founded Hans-Albert-Institute (HAI) in Heidelberg was to take place on May 2, and the campaign on the focus topic 2020 "The fine art of rationality: facts, fakes and perceived truths" was to be officially launched.

Living with uncertainty

"It was difficult for us to cancel these events prematurely," explains Michael Schmidt-Salomon, the Foundation's spokesman, "but it was clear to us early on that a contact ban would have to be imposed for a longer period of time if it was to have any effect. The Foundation has been working intensively on the pandemic since the beginning of March, but the assessment of the situation among the Foundation's members has been very diverse – which, according to Schmidt-Salomon, "is mainly due to the unclear data situation". For this reason, the Foundation had issued a statement on March 23, explaining why it could not issue a statement on the corona pandemic under the given circumstances.

"Our statement was also intended as a criticism of those who absolutize certain model calculations or study results without sufficient empirical findings," says Schmidt-Salomon. "We wanted to make it clear that rational action also includes the ability to manage uncertainties. This is difficult for us humans, but it is crucial: Just imagine the loss of confidence the scientific system would suffer if it turned out that Sars-CoV-2 is far less dangerous (or even more dangerous) than previously thought! I therefore believe that politicians and the media should have communicated much more clearly that the drastic measures against the pandemic cannot be rationally justified by the fact that we already know so much about the virus, but rather by the fact that we still know far too little about it."

Foundation work in the corona crisis

Regardless of how the data situation on Corona is assessed, every non-profit organization must currently ask itself how it can effectively continue its work under the conditions of the pandemic measures. For example, all major events this year in which the Giordano Bruno Foundation was to play a major role have now been cancelled, including the "Zukunftssymposium" ("Future Symposium") in Stuttgart, the "Rationalismus-Kongress" ("Rationalism Congress") in Heidelberg, and the "Evolutionsfestival" ("Evolution Festival") in the Neanderthal Museum – all events planned for autumn 2020.

In order to compensate for these cancellations, the Foundation will increasingly offer online events, lectures, and discussions in the coming weeks and months. This was decided last Sunday at the joint meeting of the gbs Directorate and Board of Trustees, which - for the first time in the history of the foundation - did not take place locally at the gbs headquarters, but virtually by means of a video conference. The online event series will begin in a few days' time with a lecture by philosopher (and gbs Advisory Board member) Franz Josef Wetz, which will be streamed live on the gbs YouTube channel on May 5 (information on this will follow soon).

"Fortunately, the Giordano Bruno Foundation has experienced IT and video experts working in the background, so we can switch to digital formats relatively quickly," says Schmidt-Salomon. In any case, the gbs does not need to reinvent the wheel under the conditions of the pandemic, as the foundation's work basically continues as before - apart from the consequences of the contact ban: "Even though these events are very important to us, a large part of our work takes place beneath the spotlight. The gbs is also primarily concerned with networking, sifting through literature, developing concepts, formulating statements, answering enquiries. In fact, the corona crisis has not brought any of our projects to a halt. In some projects, there is in fact much activity at the moment. Thus, some of the cases that the Institute for Secular Law (ifw) is handling are gradually entering the decisive phase - for example, Kristina Hänel's legal case aimed at removing the controversial Section 219a from the German Penal Code and liberalizing the outdated legislation on abortion. In order to support her in her proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court, we decided on Sunday to commission an additional legal opinion. Such projects will of course continue - completely independent of whether a pandemic is raging outside or not."

From this perspective, the corona crisis changes much less in the Foundation's work than one might think. Nevertheless, due to the pandemic, the budget of the Foundation, which was approved by the gbs Board of Trustees on Sunday, is "more provisional than ever": "At the moment, we do not know where we will be at the end of this year. It could well be that our donations will also collapse in 2020, as many other organizations are currently fearing. However, we trust that our supporters will continue to stand by our side. After all, the Foundation has had some notable successes (especially in the recent past) - such as the groundbreaking ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court in February of this year, which declared the 'Euthanasia Prevention Act' null and void and the campaign for the 'Right to Last Aid' was able to claim a decisive stage victory. We therefore believe that we are on the right track with the Foundation and its projects as a whole, and that we should not let ourselves be diverted from this path without good reasons - not even by a virus which spreads fear and terror among many people worldwide."

On April 19, the newly formed Board of Trustees of the Giordano Bruno Foundation met for the first time. Since early 2020 it consists of three women (Ricarda Hinz, Dr. Jacqueline Neumann, and Assunta Tammelleo) and two men (Dr. Thorsten Barnickel and Dr. Rainer Rosenzweig). During the meeting, Thorsten Barnickel was elected as Chair of the Board of Trustees and Jacqueline Neumann as Vice-Chair of the Board.