Update: Justin Vacula has resigned his position as co-chair. The petition to remove him is no longer necessary, and I congratulate him on making the right move for the Secular Coalition.
There are a number of odd ideas going around about the petition to have the Secular Coalition for America remove Justin Vacula from the leadership position they put him in. Let’s address those.
First is the idea that this is just like the petition to remove Rebecca Watson from the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast. There are three similarities that I can think of.
- These are both volunteer positions.
- Both petitions are hosted on change.org.
- The pictures accompanying both have a strong element of teal.
The differences, on the other hand, have some substance to them. The petition about Rebecca says she should be removed because she’s promoting a particular ideology. The petition about Vacula lists specific behaviors that make him unsuited to his new position. The petition about Rebecca is trying to remove her from a podcast, which anyone can choose–or not–to listen to. The petition about Vacula is trying to remove him from a position in which he would be representing the interests of atheists and secularists for an entire state, which isn’t a matter of choice. The petition about Rebecca was accompanied by a harassment campaign directed at her. The petition about Vacula was accompanied by private communication with the SCA to make sure they understood what they were getting into. Additionally, my name and reputation are attached to the Vacula petition. I take the heat the petition gets. The SGU petition? “John Smith”.
Then there are a couple ideas from a comment that Jason highlighted.
I don’t really read blogs much, so perhaps I am just out of the loop on how “bad” Justin is. But I think that’s sort of the point: a lot of activists in our movement (e.g. Edwina, Kelly, myself, etc.), just don’t keep up much with all this internet drama stuff; it’s just not a big deal for many of us (for better or worse). I think there is definitely merit to some of your complaints that you have backed up with evidence, but I just don’t think it is enough to warrant an attempt to systematically ostracize an activist from our movement who seems to be doing SOME positive things and many people seem to respect.
I love the idea that respect based on ignorance should somehow be weighed on an equal basis as the facts of the matter. “I don’t pay much attention, but a bunch of people just like me all think the way I do”, just isn’t something that should ever be used as an argument. (For that matter, neither is “I don’t read” something to be proud of, whatever the medium.) If you don’t have the time or energy to be educated on an issue, perhaps you should give some credence to the opinions of those who are, or pay attention to the evidence you’re presented, or at the very least, stop acting like ignorant opinions have equal weight as informed ones.
He is DEFINITELY polarizing, and has apparently made some pretty bad judgement calls, so you and others who dislike him should certainly ban him from the orgs. that you guys control, but is it really necessary to attempt to exclude him from ALL corners of this movement?
I’m still trying to grapple with how “Sure, make your corner of the world better, but can’t you ignore the rest?” is an argument.
Show me that this guy has a history of violent crimes/felonies and then MAYBE you would have a case for total exclusion. But I mean, are you really going to circulate petitions outlining the allegedly nasty things he’s done online to get him fired from every secular leadership position he ever achieves his whole life?
Aside from the nonsense about online behavior being somehow irrelevant, notice that we have several different ideas being conflated here. Apparently, because I started this petition about this position at this point in time, I am:
- Trying to have Vacula completely removed from the entire secular movement.
- Trying to have him removed from the position he holds in NEPA Freethought Society.
- Going to pay attention to his actions forever.
- Going to object to every he position he receives from here into eternity no matter what.
I just got back from northern Minnesota, where all the Smokey the Bear signs said, “Fire Danger: High”. I think the same applies here, with the straw version of this petition. I will agree with the commenter that a petition that tried to do all that would be useless. Luckily, this one doesn’t.
Sadly, Emily Dietle repeats that idea about this being a complete condemnation of Vacula as a person forever and ever.
So, I did a bit of digging, looked at the concerns of others, and found their claims somewhat substantiated. Regardless, I’m one to give second chances, and let people prove themselves. [...]
As a humanist, I seek to resolve differences cooperatively, joining our unique individual selves into a web of support, so that we can enrich society together. Sometimes, those individuals make horrid mistakes, or present unfavorable characteristics. They still have value, and are part of the web, and are able to change. It’s against my better nature to blacklist, berate, and defame.
As an aside, “defamation” is a legal term. In the U.S., for a statement to be defamatory, the law requires that it be untrue. False accusation of defamation have, themselves, been found to be defamatory. Also, unlike stalking laws, defamation law does actually involve additional leeway when discussing “public figures”. In other words, please don’t play with the law, boys and girls, unless you know what you’re doing.
As for Emily’s broader point, yes, it’s often good to offer guidance and correction to someone. However, no one abused by that person is ever obligated in any sort of moral sense to be the person to offer that guidance and correction. No one who has ever been harassed by Vacula, no one who has ever watched him harass a friend, no one who has ever seen him stand up for and pal around with their harassers has the tiniest responsibility to try to fix Vacula either for his sake or for the sake of the movement. No one has any obligation to “suck it up”. No one has any obligation to “get over it”.
Certainly no one has any obligation to “let bygones be bygones”, particularly since there’s nothing bygone about any of this. According to the transcripts here, Vacula has held this position since early July. It was after that call that he did almost everything presented in the petition. He’s been relatively quiet lately, but based on the recent conversations with SCA representatives, he’s been behaving because he’s been on probation. So, while it’s nice for the SCA that he hadn’t done anything vicious right before their announcement, it’s not evidence of a change of heart, merely a change of priorities.
Anyone is able to change. One of the great things about humanity is its malleability. That doesn’t mean, however, that anyone abused by Vacula has any responsibility to assume he’s changed without being presented with substantial evidence. Distrusting someone who has abused you isn’t malice. It’s rational self-preservation.
Nor is there any evidence that Vacula has changed or wants to change. There is, however, evidence to the contrary. Yesterday, I posted some of the abuse posted on Twitter in response to the petition. If you take a look at the list of people Vacula follows on Twitter, you can currently (as I write this) find more than 50% of them. You can also find about half a dozen or so more slimepitters, including a second alias of “Franc Hoggle”. You’ll also find @girlwriteswhat, the MRA and Vacula’s fellow A Voice for Men author who claimed that someone at FtB had posted a DMCA notice on one of her videos in order to get her address and threaten her family.
Some people have tried to suggest that it’s inappropriate to label Vacula as an MRA for one post on a Southern Poverty Law Center-identified “woman-hating site“, that it’s assigning guilt by association. Some will likely come along and point to the above paragraph as the same thing. After all, Vacula also follows a number of members of the Westboro Baptist Church, right? Except I don’t think Vacula ever had something like this to say to the WBC:
Nor, I assume has he ever gone out on one of their protests with them, whereas he did join in the Twitter harassment. And he probably doesn’t subscribe to their YouTube channels, the way he also has with other A Voice for Men authors like JohntheOther and NurdyDancing.
Has Vacula said or done anything to suggest he no longer thinks contributing to A Voice for Men is appropriate for the SCA’s pick? Has he said or done anything to suggest he no longer thinks that the actions of the people he is following is worthy of praise and emulation by someone who is supposed to be a leader?
Then, no, those of us whom Vacula abused and those of us who were otherwise injured by that abuse have no obligation to put ourselves back within his reach for more abuse in order to gently lead him someplace he has no intention of going. If Emily wants to get active in that respect, she is more than welcome to. However, that will require her or anyone else who wants the job to start paying attention to what Vacula is doing.
Additionally, it’s still something that needs to be done before Vacula is fit for the job he was just given.