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Help Keep Skepticon Free

I’m very much looking forward to going back to Skepticon in November. It’s the largest free conference for the secular community in the country and it’s only free because of donations and sponsorships. Freethought Blogs is buying a table for the event, which will help, but much more is needed. If you’re planning to attend, or if you just want to support a great event, please send a little money.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m planning on attending this year (very excited for it), and I wish I could contribute. As it stands, the fact that it’s free (and that I have family in Springfield, MO) is pretty much the reason why I’m able to attend. If I can, though, I’m hoping to make some kind of donation.

  2. joachim says

    Registration at Skepticon requires signing a special statement.

    It seems that it could subject one to legal liability for an unintentional action.

    So, not this year.

  3. Michael Heath says

    joachim writes:

    Registration at Skepticon requires signing a special statement.

    It seems that it could subject one to legal liability for an unintentional action.

    So, not this year.

    Curious, I sought out the objectionable statement. I assume this policy is what joachim is referencing. Following is part of the policy; now which item is distinctly different than all the other listed items?

    Harassment includes offensive verbal comments [related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion] . . .

    Did the Pope get to add an item?

  4. says

    I think Michael meant to link to this, which I find entirely unobjectionable. Certainly, it’s not enough of a reason to avoid the conference as a whole.

  5. says

    No, it does not require anyone to sign any special statement. It merely has a harassment policy, like most other conferences now do. And no, it does not create any legal liability of any kind. How could it? The conference organizers are not deputized by the sheriff.

  6. Michael Heath says

    Ed Brayton writes:

    No, [Skepticon] does not require anyone to sign any special statement. It merely has a harassment policy, like most other conferences now do. And no, it does not create any legal liability of any kind. How could it? The conference organizers are not deputized by the sheriff.

    Actually the administrators require registrants to comply to the harassment policy I quoted above during the registration process: http://www.skepticon.org/event-registration/

    TCC:

    I think Michael meant to link to this, which I find entirely unobjectionable. Certainly, it’s not enough of a reason to avoid the conference as a whole.

    Thanks for the correct link.

    So you agree Skepticon should demand registrants comply to not employ “offensive verbal comments” regarding religion? How is that different in principle from the Catholic Church or some Muslim theocracies seeking limitations on speech in other countries which are disrespectful towards religion? [Their efforts in the U.N.]

    In this venue we typically and laudably deride advocates who seeks to repress speech on religion which isn’t “respectful”; instead we typically promote all ideas should be subjected to fierce scrutiny, and ridicule if earned. Yet here we have an organization defectively conflating immutable human characteristics which reveal nothing in regards to character or morality with a particular type of ideology and claiming that particular ideology is off-limits at this conference when it comes to “offensive verbal comments”.

    I’m really surprised this organization is promoting such. I’m skeptical its organizers understand much of anything when it comes to the value of our individual speech and freedom of conscience rights. I’m currently reading Chris Mooney’s Republican Brain which covers some scientists unsuccessfully seeking the elusive left-wing authoritarian in contemporaneous America; I recommend they check out this organization.

  7. says

    Offensive statements made about religion in general are fine. Offensive statements that target an individual are not.

    The event is intended to be a safe space for everyone. You’re welcome to deride a religious attendee in your own space (e.g. outside or in your hotel room) where that attendee doesn’t have to miss event programming just to avoid you.

    “Christianity is bullshit” is fine. “You’re an idiot for believing that stuff” is not. “Atheism is moronic” is fine. “You’re going to Hell, blasphemer!” is not.

    I realize that the wording here is vague. Suggestions are more than welcome.

  8. Michael Heath says

    Katie Hartman writes:

    Offensive statements made about religion in general are fine. Offensive statements that target an individual are not.

    The event is intended to be a safe space for everyone. You’re welcome to deride a religious attendee in your own space (e.g. outside or in your hotel room) where that attendee doesn’t have to miss event programming just to avoid you.

    “Christianity is bullshit” is fine. “You’re an idiot for believing that stuff” is not. “Atheism is moronic” is fine. “You’re going to Hell, blasphemer!” is not.

    I realize that the wording here is vague. Suggestions are more than welcome.

    At a minimum I suggest removing ‘religion’ from your list of prohibited ‘verbal offensive statements’.

    Credible speech and conscience advocates would do away with the entire statement which registrants are required to to submit to in order to register.

    Offensive speech should be countered with more speech, not with prohibitions on speech. I’m not even a free speech absolutist given I advocate more recourse in the civil courts for dishonest speech which harms others; yet even I find this requirement thoroughly offensive.

  9. says

    You’re always free to step outside and yell whatever you like at whoever you like. I would ask that you not do it inside the venue, where whoever you’ve targeted might feel that they have to leave in order to escape you. If you’re not targeting anyone, you’re not violating the policy. If the policy doesn’t make that clear, please feel free to offer suggestions regarding the wording.

    Once again, a statement about religion is not the same thing as a statement about an individual regarding their religion. If you don’t grok the distinction I’m making, have another look at the examples in my comment above.

  10. Michael Heath says

    Katie,

    I’m perfectly cognizant of your argument’s nuance, and again, find your requirement to register anti-speech. Not because I don’t understand your argument, but because I support broadly protected speech and conscience rights from a policy perspective, both by government, private organizations such as this one, and individuals.

    If someone is being disruptive there is recourse without having to create an anti-speech policy infringing on the rights of all registrants as this organization has done. Consider how public universities without so-called ‘politically incorrect’ speech prohibitions protect speech while maintaining decorum at organized events.

    Hopefully you’re not one of the organizers since all you’re doing in this forum is digging the hole ever deeper.

  11. says

    Yep, I am an organizer – and I can assure you that all of us on the team are on the same page on this one.

    Our event is not an absolute free speech zone, and we’re not claiming that it is. If you can’t make do without harassing an individual on the basis of his or her gender, sexual orientation, religion, or pretty much anything else, please don’t come. It’s a free event; ticket sales won’t hurt.

    Say literally whatever you want about religion. Anything. But don’t target other attendees. Them’s the rules.

  12. Michael Heath says

    Katie Hartman writes:

    If you can’t make do without harassing an individual on the basis of his or her gender, sexual orientation, religion, or pretty much anything else, please don’t come. It’s a free event; ticket sales won’t hurt.

    Are you conscious of the strawman you create here to avoid my criticism or are you really that oblivious to what authentic support of speech and conscience rights entails?

    As I noted earlier, you already have avenues to deal with people harassing others, without requiring all your registrants submit to a restriction of their speech rights in order to attend. The authoritarianism you demonstrate here is morally repugnant, even more so than a handful of idiots who might harass some individuals, precisely because you apply your prohibitions against an entire group.

    Ed, I’d really like to see you blog about this item and see what your readers think of it.

  13. says

    As I noted earlier, you already have avenues to deal with people harassing others, without requiring all your registrants submit to a restriction of their speech rights in order to attend.

    Perhaps you could expound on how you think these things should be handled? What avenues are already in place?

  14. Michael Heath says

    Joshua,

    Like nearly all conventions and public events handle disruptive individuals. That varies based on the setting and size of the audience. Bigger events normally have some security and coordinate with local police as well. It’s easy to coordinate with event experts to tailer what’s needed for this particular event without having to preemptively deny all registrants their speech rights.

    Are you also promoting applicants to this event accept a limitation and some prohibitions on their speech rights in order to register?

  15. says

    Michael,

    The problem is that your way is just as restrictive to free speech as their way. The only difference is that their way requires that they acknowledge the rule before attending.

    The only way to avoid restricting speech is to let people say whatever they want. And, frankly, that is not going to happen. Your objection to having to acknowledge the policy is ridiculous. Especially since you have no problem with them enforcing it on people as long as they don’t have to agree to it.

  16. Michael Heath says

    Joshua writes:

    The problem is that your way is just as restrictive to free speech as their way.

    That’s simply not true, not even remotely true. My method requires no one to concede their speech rights in order to register for this event, skepticon wants all registrants to preemptively concede their rights in order to register.

    If a registrant because disruptive, then that disruption allows the organizers avenues to address such disruptions. But in no way am I, unlike skepticon, advocating anyone lose their right to criticize an individuals’ religion unless they’re disrupting an organized event. Contra to that skepticon has defectively lumped religion in with immutable attributes to preemptively prohibit speech which isn’t necessarily disruptive and where they are the arbiters on whether that speech is harassment or not – that should be repugnant to all speech advocates.

    Conflating critical speech regarding religion with someone’s immutable human characteristics is also the type of defective thinking Ed posts about regularly. Where he and his regular respected commenters all rightly ridicule; they don’t merely criticize such defective conflations because it doesn’t warrant such, it earns ridicule.

    This policy is easily the most hypocritical reprehensible behavior I’ve encountered from a supposed freethinking organization recently.

  17. satanaugustine says

    Michael Heath said:

    Bigger events normally have some security and coordinate with local police as well.

    Perhaps you could make a large donation to Skepticon to make this security a reality?

  18. Michael Heath says

    Me earlier:

    Bigger events normally have some security and coordinate with local police as well.

    satanaugustine:

    Perhaps you could make a large donation to Skepticon to make this security a reality?

    Actively seeking a rationalization, no matter how absurd, to demonstrably avoid confronting the bad behavior of one’s tribal members is hardly a compelling defense of their bad behavior.

  19. says

    Michael, your characterization of our policy is just ridiculous.

    Free speech is a right; attending our conference is not. It is a privilege. If you choose to attend and to use speech to harass other individuals in attendance, that privilege may be revoked. We’ve chosen to make acknowledging this policy a requirement of registration so that the standard of behavior we expect will be common knowledge. As has been pointed out, we didn’t need to do that; we can ask anyone to leave for any reason. The venue is not public property.

    The reasons for our decision to explicitly include ‘religion’ are pretty simple: We don’t want anyone to get harassed. Not only is it harmful, it’s counterproductive – all we can ask of theists is for them to actively expose themselves to the evidence, and if they’re non-disruptively attending Skepticon, that’s exactly what they’re doing. The vast majority of our attendees understand the difference between arguing and harassing, and they have no problem avoiding the latter.

  20. Michael Heath says

    Katie Hartman writes:

    Michael, your characterization of our policy is just ridiculous.

    Then you should be able to make a coherent compelling counter-argument. I’m waiting.

    Katie Hartman writes:

    Free speech is a right; attending our conference is not. It is a privilege.

    I never argued otherwise so more avoidance of my argument. The hole grows deeper.

    Instead I criticized your organization for suppressing the speech of all registrants, and given this is a national event, that suppression, fairly or unfairly, stains all freethinkers, skeptics, and secularists. It does so providing anecdotal evidence we accept the suppression of speech. Where it gets even worse is where you deem to suppress “offensive verbal” speech regarding religion; which is amplified by defectively conflating the offensive criticism of ideas (religion) with offensive speech directed towards an individual’s immutable attributes.

    Katie Hartman writes:

    We’ve chosen to make acknowledging this policy a requirement of registration so that the standard of behavior we expect will be common knowledge. As has been pointed out, we didn’t need to do that; we can ask anyone to leave for any reason. The venue is not public property.

    Yes you have; you’re using a classic authoritarian tactic. Use the bad behavior of some at a previous event or two to preemptively suppress the rights of all. As noted earlier, most events do not require all participants to check their speech rights as a condition of attendance, they deal with the yahoos without the type of rights-suppressing authoritarian tactics you’ve chosen.

    Katie Hartman writes:

    The reasons for our decision to explicitly include ‘religion’ are pretty simple: We don’t want anyone to get harassed. Not only is it harmful, it’s counterproductive – all we can ask of theists is for them to actively expose themselves to the evidence, and if they’re non-disruptively attending Skepticon, that’s exactly what they’re doing. The vast majority of our attendees understand the difference between arguing and harassing, and they have no problem avoiding the latter.

    As I’ve noted prior, authentic speech advocates deal with offensive speech with more speech, not with the suppression of everyone’s speech rights. Where disruptive speech is easily handled by other events without preemptively suppressing the rights of all. That fact you’ve chosen this approach strongly argues you’re clueless to what it means to actually defend speech rights beyond mere legalities and instead practice it as a principle worth defending, and learn how to deal with disruptions.

    Further discussions here also reveal you demonstrate no desire to protect speech since you’ve shown no evidence you’ve considered alternative methods which don’t suppress the rights of all, in spite of the fact most other events do not require the type of authoritarian rights-suppressing tactics your organization has chosen.

    You’ve got a lot to learn about the value of speech and why it’s worth defending rather than suppressing as you are both doing here and advocating be done. The problem is the cost of these lessons come at the expense of the reputation of all freethinkers, skeptics, and secularists because national events reflect on all of us.

  21. satanaugustine says

    Michael Heath,

    I find it abhorrent that you’ve hijacked this comment thread, which should have focused on raising money for Skepticon, and instead used it to flog your free speech fundamentalism and, one might almost guess, willfully misinterpret not only the Skepticon Harassment Policy (which was not the point of Ed’s post) as well as Katie’s responses. You’ve referred to Katie as being “clueless” (talk about irony) and many of your comments have an unpleasant know-it-all condescending tone to them. You’re not even trying to be diplomatic about this. You’re just complaining in a rather authoritarian manner while repeatedly accusing anyone who disagrees with you that they’re dodging your argument. You were offered the chance to offer suggestions to change the wording of the policy. Instead you said the entire policy should be scrapped.

    You state:

    But in no way am I, unlike skepticon, advocating anyone lose their right to criticize an individuals’ religion

    You know what? Neither is Skepticon! And it’s absurd that you continue to make such a blatantly false statement. How do we know it’s false? Because Katie said this at #7:

    Offensive statements made about religion in general are fine.

    I.e., Skepticon attendees and speakers can criticize religion to their hearts delight. What they cannot do is “target an individual” using “offensive speech” such as ““You’re an idiot for believing that stuff.”” The point is to protect individuals from harassment. Criticizing religion is not harassment according to Katie. So what is your problem?

    ———–

    And as an aside, while the freethought movement in general does fully embrace free speech ideals for obvious reasons, it’s not actually part of the definition of freethought. And we don’t need to dogmatically embrace free speech in lieu of other considerations such as treating individuals with respect (and I’m speaking here still in reference to Skepticon).

  22. Michael Heath says

    satanaugistine writes:

    I find it abhorrent that you’ve hijacked this comment thread, which should have focused on raising money for Skepticon . . .

    Ed posted this blog at 9:32 a.m. joachim pointed out skepticon’s speech suppression policy six+ hours later, at 3:45 p.m. That was the second comment post, i.e., the thread as far as comment posts go was dead on arrival. I happened to post at 4:47 p.m.

    Here’s the definition of my computer dictionary for ‘abhorrent’:

    inspiring disgust and loathing; repugnant: racial discrimination was abhorrent to us all.

    I’m struggling to concede that any reasonable person would equate my behavior in this thread with this adjective.

    satanaugistine writes:

    . . . used [this blog post thread] to flog your free speech fundamentalism

    I’m not sure what you mean with the term “fundamentalism”. You appear to be using it as a pejorative where the closest definition I can find which matches your use is:

    Strict maintenance of ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion or ideology

    So from this perspective you appear to be claiming I promote speech equal to what our framers did. The problem even with this definition is there’s never been a consistent standard on how far we should go to protect speech rights, especially amongst the founders. E.g., Federalists who were congressional members along with Federalist President John Adams passed The Sedition Act, which was condemned by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. So I find your application of the term ‘fundamentalism’ incoherent in this context, perhaps because you’ve not studied the history of speech rights. If you’re using the term fundamentalism to assign me to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s camp on the promotion of speech rights, well you’re right – I am and knew this previously.

    I also find it amusingly ironic to apparently be described as an extremist supporter of speech rights in Ed’s forum. That’s because for the past eight or so years, when Ed and I differed on the promotion of speech rights to detriment of other competing rights, Ed has always come down far more in favor of speech rights, even to the expense of other rights. Every single time that is until perhaps this singular issue, though Ed has yet expound on this policy in any meaningful manner. So far he’s focused primarily on the non- relevant differences between us regarding the origin and observation of rights, along with the importance of competing rights when speech is involved in small private forums, which is not what skepticon is.

    satanaugistine writes:

    You’ve referred to Katie [Hartman] as being “clueless” (talk about irony) and many of your comments have an unpleasant know-it-all condescending tone to them.

    Since you find irony in my noting how clueless Katie Hartman demonstrably is, you should be able to make note of those quotes which demonstrates my cluelessness, just like I did. Otherwise declaring victory while presenting no evidence such a declaration is warranted suggests someone isn’t thinking coherently on this matter.

    You are correct my comments eventually became unpleasant since that was by design. I am no fan of authoritarian policies like this skepticon policy, where the organizers give insufficient weight to the value of speech. Particularly when countless other events have been successfully held without creating mandatory speech suppression policies which required all registrants to submit to as a condition for registering.

    This is particularly aggravating because this policy is coming from an organization whose behavior adds to the perception of the attributes of skeptics, freethinkers, and secularist. I like concluding these groups are three of the leading champions of speech, where all three advocate more speech in the presence of repugnant speech – not giving weight to the somewhat analogous ‘hecklers veto’ by demanding all registrants submit to a speech suppression policy.

    satanaugustine writes:

    You’re not even trying to be diplomatic about this.

    That is demonstrably not true. Ms. Hartman defended the policy @ 7. I responded @ 8 where I was in no way disrespectful or disdaining in any way. Ms. Hartman then responded @ 9 which ended with the first [mild] insult. My post @ 10 provided advice on how to handle the yahoos without staining the reputation of all of us with an authoritarian anti-speech policy all registrants are expected to sign, finishing with one mild insult in return to her’s. Ms. Hartman’s subsequent responses demonstrated complete disdain for the protection of speech, she demonstrated no appreciation for the value of speech rights. So on that point you’re right where I never argued otherwise; I became condescending since a national event demonstrably cares so little for speech, they’re demanding all registrants submit to a speech suppression policy them in spite of now being aware of the fact others have successfully secured their events without having to suppress all registrants speech rights.

    satanaugustine writes:

    You’re just complaining in a rather authoritarian manner while repeatedly accusing anyone who disagrees with you that they’re dodging your argument.

    This is the third demonstration of you using a word which in no way either fits the definition of the word or behavior you claim to describe. In this case I observe strong evidence of psychological projection.

    satanaugustine writes:

    You were offered the chance to offer suggestions to change the wording of the policy. Instead you said the entire policy should be scrapped.

    For two obvious reasons; I support speech. This policy is anti-speech. Freethinkers, skeptics, and secularists in predominately and laudably claim to support speech and predominately act to protect speech. I don’t want any events that reflect on all of us staining our reputation by requiring an authoritarian policy which suppresses speech. Secondly, countless events are able to hold their events without requiring all registrants submit to an anti-speech policy and yet are able to control those events.

    I’ll directly address your last two points in a subsequent comment post.

  23. Michael Heath says

    Post continued in response to satanaugistine’s post @ 21.

    Me earlier quoted by satanaugistine:

    But in no way am I, unlike skepticon, advocating anyone lose their right to criticize an individuals’ religion

    satanaugistine responds:

    You know what? Neither is Skepticon! And it’s absurd that you continue to make such a blatantly false statement. How do we know it’s false? Because Katie said this at #7:
    Offensive statements made about religion in general are fine.

    I really don’t care how one person, even if they’re an organizer, provides their individual opinion on how their speech suppression policy will be refereed. Doing so would brand me as someone clueless on how systems and policies are executed, which I’m not.

    My objection is to the existence of a speech suppression policy. My primary objection is further aggravated by the policy conflating religious ideas with immutable human attributes in order to prohibit and I quote the policy, “offensive verbal comments”, regarding someone’s religion.

    In this venue when the right wing authoritarians promote the suppression of speech which is offensive to religion, everyone including Ed barely justifies the ridicule they ladle on those RWAs. So my argument here is merely consistent with those who heap ridicule on conservatives when they attempt to suppress speech, especially regarding religion.

    satanaugistine writes:

    So what is your problem?

    Well obviously a reading comprehension problem by those who disagree with me. I’ve noted my problem ad nauseam but will repeat myself here with a mere copy and paste of what I wrote @ 20, prior to your asking the question:

    I criticized your organization for suppressing the speech of all registrants, and given this is a national event, that suppression, fairly or unfairly, stains all freethinkers, skeptics, and secularists. It does so providing anecdotal evidence we accept the suppression of speech. Where it gets even worse is where you deem to suppress “offensive verbal” speech regarding religion; which is amplified by defectively conflating the offensive criticism of ideas (religion) with offensive speech directed towards an individual’s immutable attributes.

    satanaugistine concludes his post @ 21:

    And as an aside, while the freethought movement in general does fully embrace free speech ideals for obvious reasons, it’s not actually part of the definition of freethought. And we don’t need to dogmatically embrace free speech in lieu of other considerations such as treating individuals with respect (and I’m speaking here still in reference to Skepticon).

    How much history have you had??? Are you not aware why freethinkers, and secuarlists, literate in history value speech so much? This is really an amazing statement on your part and convincing evidence why you can’t or won’t appreciate the value I put on speech and why I tie it to freethinkers.

    As an introduction I suggest studying the roots of suppressing speech and conscience with Charles Freeman’s The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason (my review). And then an introductory-level history of American freethinking written by the amazing Susan Jacoby: Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (again, my review linked). Then perhaps a light will go off.

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