We are altruistic from an early age. In essence, we are born to help.

A new study ("Altruistic food sharing behavior by human infants after a hunger manipulation") published in Scientific Reports looked at the willingness of babies to forgo a tasty treat (a researcher dropping a highly desirably piece of strawberry or banana in front of them) if the researcher feigned an inability to retrieve it ("begging" behavior). In trial runs where the researcher did not express an interest in picking up the dropped food item, 4.17 percent of the studied infants picked up the item and attempted to give it back to the adult. When the research demonstrated a failed attempt to retrieve the item, the babies (who otherwise could have enjoyed a high value target) returned the food item to the researcher 58.33 percent of the time. 

In other words, we are hardwired to help (at least the majority of the babies studied). These infants are presumably illiterate and unfamiliar with sacred texts conferring "Golden Rules," which means that being good is probably a natural inclination. Frans de Waal discusses similar behavior between chimpanzees retrieving a ball that is just of reach for human researchers (The Age of Empathy). Under a wider lens, this behavior could indicate that two thirds of us merely fawn over scientists, but I would suggest that helping others is just something that what we do. 

Helping those in need is not necessarily on the agenda of all political administrations however. The SPI signed onto a letter from the National Women's Law Center along with 56 other organizations asking the heads of several departments within the US Government to not shorten the usual comment period of 60 days to 30 on measures relating to "religious liberty" in policy Implementation. The regulatory changes amount to allowing organizations distributing public money the ability to discriminate against eligible recipients based upon the personal religious preference of agency directors or staff. 

Prior to the implementation of policy in the United States, the public generally has 60 days to comment via the Federal Register. This allows the people greater attempts to influence the laws that govern them. The Trump Administration is cutting that time in half in order to rush through policies pandering to its Evangelical base. The baby fruit and begging study obvious did not indicate the ubiquity of fairness.

Not to be devoid of hope for humanity, we have the Sikhs. To commemorate what would have been the 550th birthday of the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak, the largest gurdwara outside of India (located in West London) set a goal to register 550 members of their local Sikh community as organ donors by the end of 2020.  

At the National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday, President Donald Trump said, "I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong." Considering the actions of infants, neither do I Mr. President, neither do I. 

Have a great week, 

Jason Frye, CEO
Secular Policy Institute                             
International Update:

Hui Muslims were also swept up into camps along with Uighurs (Foreign Policy).

With the resignation of Adel Abdul Mahdi, Mohammed Allawi was appointed as the new Prime Minister-designate of Iraq by President Barham Salih. The move by Salih was met by rejection from the ongoing protests in Tahrir Square. The protests have experienced a division as cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who had once opposed the government, endorsed the seating of Allawi (Reuters). 

Saying that "Zionism was meant to create a center for the Jews, and not a center for the Jewish religion,” Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai (75) has initiated public transportation during the sabbath in order for his city to be a "model for democracy and pluralism" (NYT).

After the right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) passed restrictive legislation threatening prison time for intimating Polish complicity in the Holocaust a Jewish art scene begins to thrive (Foreign Policy).

The Russian Orthodox Church has drafted new rules asserting an interesting church/state separation angle in that:  "The blessing of military weapons is not reflected in the tradition of the Orthodox Church and does not correspond to the content of the Rite" (Reuters).

A bill legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide (under certain circumstances) cleared a first step as the Parliament voted to let the bill proceed to the floor for debate (203-140, two abstentions) (Foreign Affairs). 

United Kingdom
On the 550th anniversary of birth of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak, a gurdwaras in West London set a goal to register 550 Sikh community members as organ donors (Religion News Service). 

A new chapter is unfolding in the Saudi-Houthi conflict as the Houthis (Ansar Allah, Party of God) consolidate their power in Sana'a creating a Zaydi-Shia government modeled after the conservative Iranian theocracy (The Economist). 

Science News

New Solar Observer: A joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency will study as-yet observed areas of the sun, the poles. 

Amazon: The disruption of the hydrological cycle of the Amazon is threatening to push the rain forest beyond the point of recovery. Nearly one half of the total precipitation within the Amazon is self-generated. Should the Amazon go, a large portion of South America will incur irrevocable damage through lost agricultural irrigation and the loss of hydroelectricity (damming from large-scale hydropower projects have also disrupted the river-basin ecology from limiting nutrient-rich sediment replenishment). 

Hominid Speech for More than 25-Million-Years?: A new study published in Science Advances by researches at the University of Alabama suggest that the capacity for rudimentary vowel production and speech may not be a recent Homo sapien development but may well have extended back 27 million years. 
read more

Antarctica's Hottest Day: Temperature recordings of 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit (18.2 Celsius) were recorded on the continent of Antartica. The average temperature range is 14 degrees to minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 to -60 Celsius). 

342 Days in Space: Christina Koch broke a record for the longest stay in outer-space by a female astronaut at 342 days in which she advanced our scientific understandings in a variety of fields. 

Update on SPI Fellows: Dr.s Benford and Juergensmeyer

Gregory Benford:
Dr. Benford, astrophysicist, is a 2019 Analog Science Fiction and Fact Analytical Laboratory Award finalist for his article "Building a Gravitational Wave Transmitter."
Read more....

Mark Juergensmeyer:
Dr. Juergensmeyer, sociologist, held an interactive panel discussion on "India in the global rise of religious politics" at the the University of California Santa Barbara. 
Read more....

Construction of a fence along the US-Mexico border is proceeding with the blasting of a hill designated as a UNESCO-recognized ecological preserve containing Native American ancestral lands with burial sites. 

Wells Fargo had donated millions of dollars to a state-run private school voucher program (Step Up for Students). After a Florida Sentinel investigation uncovered that 156 private Christian schools within the state expressed anti-LGBTQIA sentiment, 83 of which prohibit attendance by LGBTQIA students (or the children of same-sex couples), the bank pulled its financial support as some of those schools were Step Up for Students program beneficiaries. 

The anti-abortion "Value Them Both" state constitutional amendment failed to pass, receiving only 80 of the 84 votes necessary. 

The Supreme Court of the State of Michigan put a temporary hold on a case involving spending public funds on private Christian schools until the US Supreme Court rules on Espinoza v. Montana

The state's Office of Attorney General is reported investigating whether the Jehovah's Witnesses failed to report sexual abuse allegations to authorities. 

South Carolina
At the request of Governor Henry McMaster, the federal government issued a waiver to foster care agencies in South Carolina that receive federal funds, allowing them to discriminate against same-sex and non-Christian couples.

It was revealed recently in a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has stockpiled nearly $100 billion (70 percent of that, liquid).

The "Virginia Values Act" (which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's non-discrimination law) passed the House of Delegates. The State Senate approved the measure last week. 
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