New Orleans Speech Restrictions Stopped For Now


The ACLU is suing the city of New Orleans on behalf of an evangelist over absurdly broad speech restrictions and the judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing the ordinance to be enforced pending the outcome of the case. AP reports:

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon issued a temporary restraining order Friday that blocks enforcement of the law for now.

Under the law, Christian evangelists were arrested earlier this month and booked with preaching on Bourbon Street during Southern Decadence, an annual celebration of gay culture.

The restraining order came after the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed the suit on behalf of Kelsey Nicole McCauley, a member of the Raven Ministries religious congregation.

The ordinance was adopted in October, and violation is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

It’s likely that the judge will extend the TRO into a preliminary injunction after a hearing on Monday. Some of the restrictions in the ordinance are likely constitutional, but the definitions are also overly broad. Howard Friedman points out that the law forbids any speech “for the purpose disseminating any social, political, or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise.”

Comments

  1. says

    This just seems to me like a “SHUT UP WE’RE TRYING TO SLEEP” clause.

    In the French Quarter they’d be better off making it a sunup to sunset rule, then…

  2. Michael Heath says

    OT: Maybe the judge was concerned Raven Ministries were going to verbally harass Decadence participants based on their religion. [/snark, see below]

    I point this out in continued hope of getting Ed to blog about skepticon’s speech prohibitions registrants must concede to in order to register for skepticon’s upcoming event. Prohibitions one of the administrator’s claims and I quote:

    I can assure you that all of us on the team [skepticon organizers] are on the same page on this one.

    Here’s the relevant thread which also contains the above organizer quote: http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/09/23/help-keep-skepticon-free/

    The blog post title of this blog post was about Ed’s credible concern of keeping the event free of charge, not freedom of speech. Another commenter in this thread, joachim, noticed that all registrants’ speech rights were being preemptively limited.

    Ed rightly pounds on conservatives repeatedly mangling the principle of speech and freedom of conscience. Yet here we have, according to Ed, “the largest free conference for the secular community in the country”, preemptively restricting the speech rights of all registrants as a way to quell the anticipated and unacceptably bad behavior of some.

  3. F says

    Urk. If they are verbally assaulting people, disturbing the peace, or illegally interfering with events or participation, arrest or remove them for that, not some stupid unconstitutional thing.

  4. machintelligence says

    Michael Heath @ 3

    Yet here we have, according to Ed, “the largest free conference for the secular community in the country”, preemptively restricting the speech rights of all registrants as a way to quell the anticipated and unacceptably bad behavior of some.

    And they are perfectly within their rights to do so. This may be a free conference, but attendance is in no way mandatory. Violate their rules and they will put you out on the street (where you are free to say anything you want.) Talk about clueless!

  5. didgen says

    @Michael Heath, it seems an easy solution would be to simply not go if you disagree with the policies. The organizers do seem to be giving fair warning, do you have reason to believe that the rules would put an unfair burden on anyone?

  6. slc1 says

    Re Michael Heath @ #3

    This is a fallout from elevatorgate which occurred a couple of years ago at the Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas. This is in addition to complaints of sexism by many of the female participants in these atheist events. Several bloggers in this network, including Ophelia Benson and PZ Myers have pontificated on this issue at considerable length.

  7. says

    @Michael Heath:

    Is Skepticon run by the U.S Government? Is it hosted by an official government agency on public property? No? Then shut up. Freedom of speech doesn’t equate to freedom of venue. What the city of New Orleans was trying to do in this case is restrict free speech on a public street using the law. That’s a no-no. Skepticon is, basically, a private party that is more than allowed to have its own rules.

    Also, the “anti-free speech” policy you linked to is an anti-harassment policy. I’m sorry you’re not allowed insult people, photograph/video people with their consent, or follow someone around without their permission, but I really don’t find those to be unreasonable restrictions.

  8. yoav says

    So if I’m in New Orleans and I try to talk my friends into choosing bar A over bar B can it be considered speech disseminating a social message and lend me behind bars.

  9. Michael Heath says

    machineintelligence quotes me:

    Yet here we have, according to Ed, “the largest free conference for the secular community in the country” [skepticon], preemptively restricting the speech rights of all registrants as a way to quell the anticipated and unacceptably bad behavior of some.

    machineintelligence then responds:

    And they [skepticon] are perfectly within their rights to do so.

    Nice strawman given I never claimed otherwise. However it is incredibly hypocritical of a freethinking organization to restrict the speech rights of all its registrants while simultaneously claiming they defend speech and freedom of conscience rights.

    Their behavior here reminds me of Rick Santorum trying to change the subject in mainstream media interviews regarding his attempts to deny gays their liberty rights by claiming he wants to instead talk about how he’ll defend Americans’ liberty rights. Skepticon loses at least some of its moral authority to define itself as speech advocates when they conflate criticism of an individual’s religion with criticism of someone’s immutable characteristics (e.g., sexual identity) – a conflation which normally gets ridiculed in this venue when conservatives do it. We’ll see if all liberals choose the consistent application of principle over tribe if this topic continues to be debated.

    machineintelligence then digs his hole really deep:

    This may be a free conference, but attendance is in no way mandatory. Violate their rules and they will put you out on the street (where you are free to say anything you want.) Talk about clueless!

    The nicest thing I can say is nice projecting there on the cluelessness charge. That’s given the fact you argue with an imaginary strawman in your head rather than confronting and responding to what I actually argued. How’d that jolt of dopamine feel? Good? I hope so because it came at the cost of your credibility.

  10. says

    But you do not have a right to free speech on private property, unless of course if you own it. There is absolutely no cognitive dissonance between “we stand for the right to free speech under the law” and “don’t come into our shindig and be a bully”.

    By your rules, Skepticon would have to let Brother Jed come on in and have booth so he can call all the college girls whores and tell everyone to get right with the Bible. Which, while immensely entertaining (I should, I protested the guy for five hours straight when he came to GVSU), runs contrary to the goals of the convention.

  11. Michael Heath says

    didgen writes:

    it seems an easy solution would be to simply not go if you disagree with the policies. The organizers do seem to be giving fair warning, do you have reason to believe that the rules would put an unfair burden on anyone?

    My criticism never referenced my desire to attend or not attend. It was instead directed at the fact an event which shapes the greater reputation of freethinkers in the U.S. is preemptively limiting the speech rights of its registrants. And doing so in a way that gets regularly ripped in this venue, i.e., conflating one’s religion with one’s immutable characteristics such as sexual identity.

    So the first two comments I read has me observing avoidance in order to not confront the reprehensible behavior of one’s fellow tribal members; equivalent to what we see conservative Christians so frequently do.

  12. says

    By Shatner’s toupee, you’re one of them. One of those people who conflates “don’t harass people over their religion” with “don’t say any mean things about religion”. They’re not the same thing. Like at all.

  13. Michael Heath says

    slc1 writes:

    This is a fallout from elevatorgate which occurred a couple of years ago at the Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas.

    I’m fully aware of that point of reference and was the first time I offered criticism in the last blog.

    That reprehensible behavior by some not only fails to justify limiting the speech rights of all registrants, it raises the possibility some so-called freethinkers either:
    a) have the same authoritarian tendencies we see from conservatives and are exploiting that fiasco to act out authoritatively – or,
    b) the organizers are young and clueless on what it means to authentically defend speech and conscience rights.

    I realize this venue’s regular readers are spoiled at the great education we get as Ed publishes behavior which defends our rights and behavior which attacks it, and the comments that follow. That’s why I’m hoping Ed will speak-out on this topic.

    I’m confident the behavior on display here by skepticon’s organizers wouldn’t get reasoned criticism here if it was offered by a right-wing organization, they’d instead get the ridicule from us skepticon rightly deserves.

    For me the best outcome is the organizers are in their twenties and just haven’t encountered a sufficient number of cases to fully appreciate what it means to authentically and credibly defend others’ speech and conscience rights. And then learn from this mistake, remove this policy, and contritely apologize to those who already submitted to the policy in order to register.

  14. says

    Michael Heath, who is easily the most valuable commenter this blog has, in my view, is nonetheless way off base on this one. It is perfectly reasonable, I think, to question the precise wording of the harassment policy that Skepticon has adopted; I’m not crazy about it myself. But I’m also aware that A) almost any wording is going to be problematic and B) this is an event run by college kids in their spare time, which means we can hardly expect them to be legal experts. As such, I’m not really all that concerned about it. I don’t really think it’s going to change much of anything, it’s just a means of having some policy with which to deal with people who cause real problems at the event.

    But I think the criticism he makes here is mostly wrong, for several reasons. For instance:

    Ed rightly pounds on conservatives repeatedly mangling the principle of speech and freedom of conscience. Yet here we have, according to Ed, “the largest free conference for the secular community in the country”, preemptively restricting the speech rights of all registrants as a way to quell the anticipated and unacceptably bad behavior of some.

    But there are no speech rights to be defended here. It is a voluntary event run by a private organization, not a government entity. One no more can claim a right to say anything they like in that setting than they could complain that their “speech rights” are violated if they are thrown out of someone’s home for being an obnoxious ass to their hosts. He then doubles down on that confusion:

    Nice strawman given I never claimed otherwise. However it is incredibly hypocritical of a freethinking organization to restrict the speech rights of all its registrants while simultaneously claiming they defend speech and freedom of conscience rights.

    But again, this just isn’t comparable. By this reasoning, I am being “incredibly hypocritical” when I ban a commenter from this blog and that act proves that I am violating their “speech and freedom of conscience rights.” Does a commenting policy on a blog also prove a free speech advocate to be a hypocrite? Of course not. To make that claim is to ignore the distinction between government action and private action.

    If this is really a question of violating someone’s free speech rights, then why does Heath focus solely on the religion part of the restrictions? Wouldn’t it equally violate someone’s free speech rights if they are thrown out for racial harassment? I mean, if it’s really about speech rights and freedom of conscience, that is an argument having any kind of harassment policy at all, isn’t it?

    It’s one thing to claim, reasonably, that this particular policy is not worded very well and might lead to problems in application. It’s quite another to claim that it is a violation of a right to free speech that does not exist in such a setting and that accepting the right of private groups to restrict speech in that setting makes one a hypocrite if they defend free speech in other settings where it actually does apply.

  15. machintelligence says

    Michael Heath @ 11

    machineintelligence then responds:

    And they [skepticon] are perfectly within their rights to do so.

    Nice strawman given I never claimed otherwise. However it is incredibly hypocritical of a freethinking organization to restrict the speech rights of all its registrants while simultaneously claiming they defend speech and freedom of conscience rights.

    You are making the argument that while they are within their legal rights, they are morally wrong. I reject this argument as well. If you don’t like their rules — tough shit– don’t go. No one likes a skunk at a picnic.

  16. AsqJames says

    @Michael Heath,

    I can’t work out precisely what your problem with the anti-harassment policy is. I grant you that’s probably my fault for being thick, but I’m sure you’re a genuinely nice guy who won’t mind educating me by spelling it out in specifics.

    Can you give an example of speech or behaviour covered by the policy which you think should be allowed?

  17. Michael Heath says

    chriswalker writes:

    Is Skepticon run by the U.S Government? Is it hosted by an official government agency on public property? No? Then shut up.

    Most people in this venue argue that suppressing speech is not prudent behavior if we care for society to flourish. They instead argue the optimal way to respond to reprehensible speech is with more speech. That’s why authentic and credible speech supporters defend the constitutional protections we enjoy, not because it’s already the law and therefore we submit. So from that perspective, your, “shut up”, quip has you preemptively conceding all moral authority to credibly criticize me if you also claim to be an authentic defender of speech rights. However I’ll continue.

    And again ad nauseam relative to all previous posts with the exception of slc1’s, I never even hinted skepticon was breaking the law by prohibiting some speech at its event or limited by what they could do via the U.S. Constitution. I’m criticizing the skepticon organizers’ behavior and its reflection on the greater freethinking community, not what they can and can’t do.

    chriswalker writes:

    Also, the “anti-free speech” policy you linked to is an anti-harassment policy. I’m sorry you’re not allowed insult people, photograph/video people with their consent, or follow someone around without their permission, but I really don’t find those to be unreasonable restrictions.

    This policy conflates the criticism of someone’s religion with immutable human characteristics and requires all registrants to limit their speech, where I quote the policy (my bold):

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

    It has all registrants submitting to the limitation of their speech rights, even those who would never abuse another person, where skepticon gets to determine whether one violates their speech standard or not. This is a classic example of an effort to “chill” speech and again, we wouldn’t waste time reasonably criticizing it if this behavior came from conservatives, we’d instead give them what they’ve earned – ridicule.

  18. Michael Heath says

    Ed to me:

    But there are no speech rights to be defended here. It is a voluntary event run by a private organization, not a government entity. One no more can claim a right to say anything they like in that setting than they could complain that their “speech rights” are violated if they are thrown out of someone’s home for being an obnoxious ass to their hosts.

    Sure there is, there are the speech rights of all registrants to be defended here. Not by law, but instead by the policies which govern the event. And again ad nauseam, my argument has nothing to do with what skepticon can and can’t do legally, but instead how they’re limiting the speech rights of all their registrants. That reflects on the greater community of freethinkers, their policy is illustrative of how authoritarians act, exploit the bad behavior of some to restrict the rights of all.

    Me earlier:

    However it is incredibly hypocritical of a freethinking organization to restrict the speech rights of all its registrants while simultaneously claiming they defend speech and freedom of conscience rights.

    Ed responds:

    But again, this just isn’t comparable. By this reasoning, I am being “incredibly hypocritical” when I ban a commenter from this blog and that act proves that I am violating their “speech and freedom of conscience rights.”

    Major false equivalency among other logical failures Ed; it’s one thing to ban someone in a small venue whose being disruptive after-the-fact compared to a national event preemptively limiting speech by requiring registrants submitting to a policy statement for a national event. An event which is somewhat reflective on the entire American community of freethinkers when it comes to their position on speech. In addition, I repeatedly pointed out that skepticon had recourse for dealing with disruptive individuals, where what defines a disruption will vary from venue to venue.

    You and other bloggers have elegantly argued that blog forums are like having people over to the blogger’s home. That such people should respect the host and contribute to the discussion, not disrupt it. In fact I hesitated to even post on this topic in this thread because it’s tangential to your blog post. But we all know there’s ample opportunity to ridicule another government official or right winger for restricting speech where here we have a national event from our side doing what we normally ridicule.

    And for the record, you are violating the speech rights of those you expel. But I don’t see that as a moral failing relative to what skepticon is doing, in fact I find it prudently necessary on your part. Competing rights after all do exist and speech won’t always win out. A better example of a blogger morally failing comparable to skepticon’s behavior is the blogger moderating his comment threads to stop any comment posts which devastate their argument, which we frequently see from conservative Christians such at those at Bill Dembski’s blog. He has a comment policy which reveals solid arguments against IDC will not be posted, he’s preemptively limiting speech just like skepticon is, even for those who are not disruptive like a troll at your blog or somone at skepticon disrupting and event. I don’t like the analogy between you blogging and this event and wouldn’t use it myself because I find it a false equivalency, I’m merely responding to your analogy as best as I can by showing we can be consistent in minimizing disruptions without preemptively limiting the speech of all participants, which you don’t do in your blog.

    Ed writes:

    If this is really a question of violating someone’s free speech rights, then why does Heath focus solely on the religion part of the restrictions? Wouldn’t it equally violate someone’s free speech rights if they are thrown out for racial harassment? I mean, if it’s really about speech rights and freedom of conscience, that is an argument having any kind of harassment policy at all, isn’t it?

    Because other rights are involved, competing rights. Our speech rights do not exist in a vacuum. You in fact normally weigh speech rights with far greater import than I do; so I’m flabbergasted you’re not more outraged by this than I am. And I as noted in first comment in the other thread I linked to, I think the whole policy should be scrapped. I’m merely raising the restriction on criticizing someone’s religious speech as particularly reprehensible for the same reasons you’ve repeatedly done in your blog. Because we can’t change our immutable characteristics – verbally criticizing people for their sexual identity for example is bigotry, but our religious beliefs should be up for healthy and vigorous debate. So yeah, skepticon’s limitation on religion is more reprehensible than the immutable characteristics they conflate with religion.

    So I find this policy objectionable to varying degrees when we parse it out.

    Ed writes:

    This is an event run by college kids in their spare time

    I’m greatly heartened to hear that. Far better that they’re insufficiently learned on what it means to defend speech than authoritarians exploiting an opportunity. However I think our obligation to criticize them for their policy goes up given they’re young. This should be a teaching moment yet here you’re arguing a perspective that greatly surprises me. [Where I would not accept your previously pointing out that MSNBC for example, has every right to fire Keith Olbermann, the two are not analogous where I realize MSNBC both had a right to quell his speech by firing him and doing so isn’t necessarily objectionable. I bring this up because you have rightly posted about the difference between protected speech and unprotected speech. Which has nothing to do with my argument here.]

    Ed writes:

    It is perfectly reasonable, I think, to question the precise wording of the harassment policy that Skepticon has adopted; I’m not crazy about it myself.

    I laughed when I read this because it sounds so much like what Mitt Romney said when he first responded to the 47% video.

    I’ve got a dinner engagement I’m hosting at my home that I have to leave for now; so I won’t be able to respond until later this evening or early tomorrow. But I’ve got some zeal for pushing my argument here because I do find this policy reprehensible. There are better methods to insure people are not victimized at this event than preemptively quelling speech while conflating religion with immutable characteristics. Lots of conventions have no speech policies and get through it just fine; in fact I’ve been to a number of evangelical and fundie events where no one was asked to checked their speech rights prior to entry. And yet here we are with a freethinking event asking us to check ours or they won’t even register people.

  19. says

    Oh my Ceiling Cat, some people just CAN’T let go of the idea that asking them to behave in a civilized manner is somehow stifling their freedom of speech!

    Now that’s out the way, I think I need to see the ordinance/code myself to properly have an opinion. Does anyone have a cite?

  20. AsqJames says

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

    Sorry, still being thick and not quite getting it. Can you give me an example of something you think would fall foul of this part of the policy, but which you nevertheless feel the organisers of Skepticon have a moral duty to allow?

    Thanks!

  21. says

    Michael Heath wrote:

    And for the record, you are violating the speech rights of those you expel. But I don’t see that as a moral failing relative to what skepticon is doing, in fact I find it prudently necessary on your part. Competing rights after all do exist and speech won’t always win out.

    This is where you and I differ, and always have. There is no right here at all. The right to free speech only means that you cannot be punished or censored by the government for the things that you say. If someone comes to my house and offends me and I throw them out, this isn’t a matter of competing rights because you do not have any right to conduct yourself as you please in my house.

    If you want an analogy to this situation, let’s look at the Conservative Political Action Conference. There was much controversy in the last two years over whether to have the gay Republican group GOProud involved in the conference. And I criticized CPAC for no longer allowing them to do so — but only because it revealed how strong the anti-gay bigots are in the conservative movement, not because they were violating the rights of GOProud. They were not, because it is a private conference and no group has any “right” to be there. That’s why I’ve said it’s perfectly reasonable for you to criticize the content of the harassment policy, but it is not reasonable to claim that it’s a violation of anyone’s rights (and still less reasonable to claim that anyone is being hypocritical, unless you can show examples of me or anyone else you’re disagreeing with taking the position that a conservative group that restricts speech at a private conference is violating someone’s rights — and I don’t think you’re going to find that).

    Criticize the specifics of the policy all you want, on the grounds that they are untenable, inconsistent, or what have you. But all this talk of violating rights and being hypocritical is just nonsense.

  22. Pierce R. Butler says

    slc1 @ # 8: … elevatorgate which occurred a couple of years ago at the Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas.

    Elevatorgate happened not much more than one year ago, at a freethinkers’ meeting in Dublin, Ireland (where they do have a few neon signs, so it can be easy to confuse them after suitable applications of the traditional local lubricants).

    The The Amazing Meeting -gate happened this year, though we’ve had so much collective fun since then that chronological confusion is also to be expected.

    Though she was present at only one of these historic events, the fault for both episodes falls entirely on Rebecca Watson, of course.

  23. tfkreference says

    Michael Heath writes: ” There are better methods to insure people are not victimized at this event.”

    Will you please name some? I don’t doubt they exist, but I think that defining the behavior expected by the guests is the most expedient way to avoid problems. What I appreciate most about free speech in the public square is that it makes it easy to spot idiots and reply to their idiocy. The convention attendees, however, shouldn’t have to worry about having to reply to harassment. Phrasing it as a policy is an unfortunate necessity, because almost by definition those who harass don’t heed polite suggestions, or evenr basic etiquette.

  24. satanaugustine says

    Michael Heath wrote:

    Because we can’t change our immutable characteristics – verbally criticizing people for their sexual identity for example is bigotry, but our religious beliefs should be up for healthy and vigorous debate.

    Note that in the case of sexual identity you refer to criticizing “people,” but when referring to religion you talk about criticizing “beliefs.” As Katie pointed out to you in the previous thread, criticizing beliefs is fine, while criticizing people is not. So based on your above quoted statement, you essentially agree with Katie (even though you obviously did not in that comment thread): http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/09/23/help-keep-skepticon-free/

    Here’s some of what Katie said, which you still objected to:

    “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.

    In other words, according to the Skepticon Harassment Policy, as clarified by Katie, it is perfectly OK to criticize beliefs in a very strong manner. Christianity is bullshit is a strong, ineloquent, true, though potentially offensive, statement, but it is perfectly OK according to Skepticon. However it is not OK to attack people for their religious beliefs, as in, to use Katie’s example again: “You’re an idiot for believing that stuff.” Surely you can see the clear distinction here. In one case beliefs are being criticized, in another people are being personally insulted. Are you saying that you have a problem with a harassment policy that asks that Skepticon attendees treat other attendees with basic human decency and respect? Do you really have a problem with a harassment policy that asks that you not insult others based on qualities they have either no or little control of?

    You’ve stated repeatedly that the entire harassment policy should be scrapped. (Are you aware, by the way, that most major atheist/skeptic/freethought conferences have already adopted their own harassment policies?). But you place particular emphasis on religious people, stating that:

    Skepticon loses at least some of its moral authority to define itself as speech advocates when they conflate criticism of an individual’s religion with criticism of someone’s immutable characteristics…

    (Side note: Skepticon is not objecting to criticizing an individual’s religion, they’re objecting to criticizing that individual based on their religion).

    Those “immutable characteristics” you refer to are:
    “…gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race…”

    I would strongly argue that some of those are not immutable (not all disabilities are permanent – some people recover; people can, and often do, change their body size/physical appearance via exercise and dieting), but that it’s still morally reprehensible to discriminate based on them any of these characteristics. Whether or not these traits are immutable is beside the point. People can change their appearance in many different ways and people can change their religious beliefs. For many people, though, changing their religious beliefs would be more difficult that it would be for them to change their diet and activity levels to the point where they lose 50 pounds. And it’s not as though people choose their religion. They’re typically born into it (as many are born into poverty, which is strongly correlated with obesity), it’s reinforced in various ways by their environment (as is overeating, especially in the US), and there’s evidence that some people may have a strong genetic tendency towards religiosity (just as some overweight people have a strong genetic tendency to gain weight). So again, immutability is beside the point. Criticizing a person’s beliefs is quite different from criticizing a person based on their identity (and yes, religion – and even nonreligion – are identities for many people, just as much as their gender status and sexual preference).

    This year will be the third in a row that I’ve attended Skepticon and while I’m sure I’ll probably be criticizing religion while speaking with fellow attendees at some point, just as I have in years past, but I won’t be treating anyone disrespectfully (at least not intentionally). Should I end up in a conversation with a religious believer (unlikely since Skepticon is made up mostly of atheists) I may criticize their religion (if that happens to be the subject we’re discussing), but I won’t be insulting them because, like most adults, I treat people the way I’d prefer to be treated. The Skepticon harassment policy, however, exists for those who are so naive or ignorant or insensitive that they need a reminder to treat others with respect.

    Skepticon is not “preemptively limiting speech rights,” it’s merely setting guidelines that one is expected to follow, and aside, perhaps, from a few clueless assholes, no one will have trouble following these guidelines because they are merely asking that one act like a decent, mature, respectful human being towards other human beings. This may not have been perfectly clear the way the policy was worded, but it is perfectly clear to me after Katie’s clarifications.

    I think Ed’s analogy would work quite well if he had a commenting policy, as many bloggers do. The commenting policy is analogous to the harassment policy. By commenting on a website with a commenting policy you are assenting to the rules of that policy, just as by registering and attending Skepticon you are assenting to those rules. If you break those rules, you suffer the consequences outlined in the commenting policy, just as you suffer the consequences of breaking the rules outlined in the Skepticon harassment policy.

    Your objections, Michael, appear to me to be based on a misunderstanding of Skepticon’s intent. Unless, that is, you think freedom of speech trumps an individual’s right to not be personally insulted for who they are.

  25. eric says

    Heath @20:

    Major false equivalency among other logical failures Ed; it’s one thing to ban someone in a small venue whose being disruptive after-the-fact compared to a national event preemptively limiting speech by requiring registrants submitting to a policy statement for a national event.

    The anti-harassment policy states that organizers may take with a wide range of responses, including warnings and such. Its entirely possible that they will act exactly as you suggest they should, by (first warning, then) banning attendees who are being diruptive after the fact.

    So, I think the strongest argument you can make is that its hypothetically possible for the organizers to act in a draconian anti-speech manner using this policy. But its also possible that they won’t, because the policy gives them some leeway in how to respond to accusations.

    Rather than simply assuming they will limit your speech rights when it comes to other people’s religious beliefs, why do you not consider that the policy will be used to support a perfectly normal “manner” restriction on religious criticism? Because the written text supports both interpretations. For example, its perfectly consistent with the written policy for
    the organizers to allow “I think Christianity is false” comments but issue warnings and penalties in the case of “I think f*cking Christianity is f*cking false, you Christian a**hole,” because they consider the former to be non-harassment and the latter harassment.

    Now, I can see how an ambiguous policy that might lead to draconian speech restrictions but might not will bother a lot of people. But there are tradeoffs to consider here. Fashioning a policy that eliminates the ambiguity will likely make the policy more complicated and less accessable to conference-goers. Where attendees might take the time to read a couple paragraphs, if they see several pages of detailed clauses, they might not. The organizers have to consider whether eliminating the ambiguity is worth reducing their ability to communicate their core message. Given that you, Michael, are somewhat older and have a high level of education, I suspect that you would personally prefer a longer, more complex, and less ambiguous document. Because you would take the time to read and understand it. But not everyone would.

    Now, maybe if you have a short, unambiguous alternative text that very clearly communicates how religious criticism is allowed but harassment on the grounds of religion is not, then I suggest you give it to the organizers. Maybe they will adopt some or all of your changes next year. Until you can come up with that alternative text, however, I would not be so quick to get upset at their choice of policy wording.

    In short, if you think it sucks, come up with less sucky alternative that communicates the same anti-harassment message.

  26. Michael Heath says

    Ed,

    I’d love to see you publish a blog post on skepticon’s policy. I find our disagreement on whether our rights always exist (as I claim) or that there is some effective arbitrary method to determine rights, as you assert, irrelevant to my criticism of skepticon. Even if I concede your position on determining the existence of rights, which I don’t, I still think it’s bad form for skepticon to put a policy in place that preemptively suppresses speech for all registrants, particularly on religion.

    I would also find it incredibly hypocritical of skepticon’s organizers and other close-stakeholders to claim to be champions of speech while not working to eradicate this policy; not to the extent we observe from anti-gay rights rights advocates claiming they’re the defenders the liberty, but on the same continuum as them. Of course skepticon has the right to put such a policy in place, but they demonstrate not just a lack of commitment to the principle of free speech and how to optimally engage with abuses thereof, but a lack of awareness that the support of speech doesn’t extend merely to doing what is legal, but instead advocating the expansion of speech is laudable.

    Ed writes:

    If you want an analogy to this situation, let’s look at the Conservative Political Action Conference. There was much controversy in the last two years over whether to have the gay Republican group GOProud involved in the conference. And I criticized CPAC for no longer allowing them to do so — but only because it revealed how strong the anti-gay bigots are in the conservative movement, not because they were violating the rights of GOProud. They were not, because it is a private conference and no group has any “right” to be there. That’s why I’ve said it’s perfectly reasonable for you to criticize the content of the harassment policy, but it is not reasonable to claim that it’s a violation of anyone’s rights (and still less reasonable to claim that anyone is being hypocritical, unless you can show examples of me or anyone else you’re disagreeing with taking the position that a conservative group that restricts speech at a private conference is violating someone’s rights — and I don’t think you’re going to find that).

    You’ve missed the core of my argument. My argument is not about the registrants behavior in regards to the existence or non-existence of their speech rights, but instead the behavior of the organizers of skepticon. Skepticon’s organizers seek to suppress speech, while claiming to be a secularist group which advocates freethinking. They seek to address a previous problematic event by suppressing the speech of all their registrants, that’s their fix. Not more speech, not dealing with disruptions on an individual basis, not but preemptively requiring all registrants submit to a suppression of their speech. They’re the people who reflect on the reputation and the legitimacy of secularist commitment to speech, not a relative handful of yahoos.

    So I remain baffled by your position. I’m confident if a conservative group had done such a thing we wouldn’t spend any time reasoning on its defectiveness but instead merely ridiculing it. Yet here we are . . .

    Ed writes:

    Criticize the specifics of the policy all you want, on the grounds that they are untenable, inconsistent, or what have you.

    Well I have and yet from my perspective you’ve avoided those criticisms. We have a national freethinking group, whose events and publications reflect on freethinking and secularism in general, preemptively suppressing the speech of all its registrants. In addition they’re conflating ideas with immutable characteristics to suppress speech on an idea, and a religious one at that. Those are both flat-out definitionally authoritarian moves.

    I don’t think there’s a defensible argument to concede this policy while claiming to be as staunch of a speech advocate as you define yourself as, especially since it fails to meet my lower standard relative to your higher standard. So while I don’t rise to your level because I defend some competing rights more than speech relative to you, here I am attempting to pull you up to my level on this issue. I never expected us to have this type of debate given our normal disagreements on speech is you claiming it’s worth protecting speech even at the expense of the infringement of the rights of others where I think their rights matter more in those instances.

  27. eric says

    Getting back to the original topic…

    Katherine @1:

    “for the purpose disseminating any social, political, or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise.”

    This just seems to me like a “SHUT UP WE’RE TRYING TO SLEEP” clause.

    No, that would read: “any noise above xyz decibels is prohibited between sunset and sunrise.” There is simply no reason to even mention what the sort of content messages may not contain – unless the purpose of the law is to restrict specific types of message content.

  28. eric says

    Heath @28:

    Skepticon’s organizers seek to suppress speech, while claiming to be a secularist group which advocates freethinking. They seek to address a previous problematic event by suppressing the speech of all their registrants, that’s their fix.

    There is currently no evidence that they will punish, limit, or otherwise attempt to censor non-harassing religious criticism. Yes, that might happen. Or it might not, because the written policy could support either type of implementation.

    Why don’t you wait and see what they do before implying they are going to impletement most extreme possible intepretation of their own policy? Or better yet, as I suggested above, come up with some alternate wording. Because right now your implied argument seems to be that they should scrap the policy altogether and have nothing, rather than use a policy that could potentially lead to trouble if the organizers themselves implement it in a heavy-handed fashion.

    You are, essentially, committing the error of making good the enemy of perfect.

    I don’t think there’s a defensible argument to concede this policy while claiming to be as staunch of a speech advocate as you define yourself as,

    The defensible argument is that the policy could be implemented multiple ways. One of which would be bad. But you have no evidence that’s the way they are going to implement it. In legal terms, you are speculating about a possible future harm but have no strong evidence that such a harm will actually occur.

  29. abb3w says

    @15, Michael Heath:

    That reprehensible behavior by some not only fails to justify limiting the speech rights of all registrants, it raises the possibility some so-called freethinkers either:
    a) have the same authoritarian tendencies we see from conservatives and are exploiting that fiasco to act out authoritatively – or,
    b) the organizers are young and clueless on what it means to authentically defend speech and conscience rights.

    You’ve been around enough to have Altemeyer plugged in your direction previously. Anyone who hasn’t… well, that’s a lot of background, but a fun read.

    The data on Atheists/Freethinkers supports the correlation of high-RWA attitude to religiosity — though as always there’s a distribution, they tend astoundingly low-RWA. But there’s two types of authoritarianism — and SDO is apparently independent on religiosity, meaning there are likely just as many in the Freethinker movement as in society generally. (Indirect experimental evidence suggests it may even be higher among Freethinkers bothering to join groups or go to conventions.)

    Furthermore, while both are associated with prejudice, they differ in the kind of prejudice. While both tend prejudiced against dissidents (high-RWA more than high-SDO), high-RWA tend prejudiced against groups perceived as dangerous, while high-SDOs tend prejudiced against groups perceived as derogated. In so far as the “MRA” faction appears prejudiced against women, it’s possibly an expression of low-RWA, high-SDO tendencies. High SDOs tend to be relatively uninterested in what’s commonly called “Social Justice”, and low-RWAs tend relatively uninterested in individual restraint. Libertarians may wish to be self-aware on this topic, as there are suggestions in various sociology research that high-SDO/low-RWA personalities may tend unusually common.

    Research from Karen Stenner suggests that what’s measured by Altemeyer’s RWA is actually not the innate attitude itself, but the degree of combined expression from variant tendency reacting to varying perceived degree of environmental threat. Various types of high-SDO personalities seem increasingly being recognized as a threat group within the modern Freethinker movement, possibly heightening otherwise exceptionally low tendency to active expression.

    Also, the distribution on RWA is relative, with bottoming out on the scale rare (and usually the results of laziness); and Altemeyer notes that absolute anti-authoritarianism also leads to drawbacks, when genuine dangers are disregarded. Even US law recognizes dangers to the right to personal safety as reason to limit expression. Death threats are not protected speech, and lesser threats such as of bodily assault can readily trigger the coercive power of the state to limit behavior by a restraining order.

    So, I think you’re at best half right, and half (heh) dangerously wrong. This looks to be a triggering among some Freethinkers, of relatively weak and latent tendencies to the type of authoritarianism you appear to be thinking about — caused by perceived threat from the type of authoritarian you seem to be blind to.

    Not that I particularly like the current approach. However, I also haven’t heard an alternative counter-proposal that (loosely speaking) addresses the high-SDO problem.

  30. Michael Heath says

    eric quotes me from earlier:

    Skepticon’s organizers seek to suppress speech, while claiming to be a secularist group which advocates freethinking. They seek to address a previous problematic event by suppressing the speech of all their registrants, that’s their fix.

    eric responds:

    There is currently no evidence that they will punish, limit, or otherwise attempt to censor non-harassing religious criticism.

    We do not have to speculate about skepticon’s commitment to suppress speech; they’ve already started by requiring all registrants submit to a limit on their speech, here’s the relevant portion of their policy:

    Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference without a refund at the discretion of the conference organizers.

    Harassment includes offensive verbal comments [related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion], deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.

    As I’ve repeatedly noted and dissenters continuously avoid, my objection is not how skepticon post-facto handles some yahoo disrupting events or harassing an individual to the point they’re being disruptive. It is instead the reality of a freethinking national event requiring registrants to submit to the suppression of their speech, particularly when it comes to religion; where they defectively conflate offending people regarding religion with offending people for their immutable attributes. Such authoritarianism should be anathema amongst freethinkers and secularists.

    I can’t finish going through your post at juncture, I’ve got a work commitment I have to process. Perhaps later this evening . . .

  31. Michael Heath says

    eric to me:

    Why don’t you wait and see what they do before implying they are going to impletement most extreme possible intepretation of their own policy? Or better yet, as I suggested above, come up with some alternate wording.

    I think they should scrap the policy in its entirety. And the sin isn’t so much in how they implement it, but instead in both creating it and requiring registrants submit to it.

  32. Michael Heath says

    abb3w writes:

    So, I think you’re at best half right, and half (heh) dangerously wrong. This looks to be a triggering among some Freethinkers, of relatively weak and latent tendencies to the type of authoritarianism you appear to be thinking about — caused by perceived threat from the type of authoritarian you seem to be blind to.

    I was thinking about LWAs, not RWAs. Given your post focused on RWA I’m not sure where you think I’m ‘dangerously wrong’ or how what you think it applies to my argument. Since I’m a big fan of what you think, I really want to understand your thoughts but at this point don’t understand what your thoughts are which do directly confront my position.

    Skepticon’s policy appears consistent with what we observe at a relative handful of universities whose policies are heavily influenced by the ivory tower types who promote what I find to be reprehensible speech restrictions on campus. So, my observation is not so much conformance to hierarchal demands like we see from RWAs but instead a policy emanating from authoritarians with a strong communitarian perspective (the rare LWA). And to be clear on the ivory tower pejorative; I think they’re, fortunately, a relatively rare phenomena – contrary to conservatives seeing them around every corner.

  33. eric says

    Heath @32:

    We do not have to speculate about skepticon’s commitment to suppress speech; they’ve already started by requiring all registrants submit to a limit on their speech,

    And the relevant portion of the code:

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

    Your argument starts with the premise that “offensive” refers to content rather than manner. I.e., that they are asking you to not make substantive critiques of any religious belief.

    Why do you make that assumption? Its not there in the text. Remove that assumption, and your whole argument disappears. And you have no evidence the authors and implementers of this policy agree with your assumption.

  34. Michael Heath says

    Me earlier as quoted by eric:

    We do not have to speculate about skepticon’s commitment to suppress speech; they’ve already started by requiring all registrants submit to a limit on their speech . . .

    eric quotes part of skepticon’s speech suppression policy:

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

    eric then responds further:

    Your argument starts with the premise that “offensive” refers to content rather than manner.

    No, my argument starts with the fact a national freethinking event is requiring all registrants to submit to a speech policy which suppresses all their registrants’ speech rights. Whether one defines this suppression as a right being unjustly infringed upon as I do or whether one merely notes the effort to suppress speech – either way still ends with the same result. The very existence of this policy alone is worth condemning because this is a national event and therefore, fairly or unfairly, reflects on all freethinkers, skeptics, and secularists. The more people like those in Ed’s venue who defend or avoid dealing with this speech suppression policy, the more such a stain we’re not authentic principled supporters of speech is earned by all us.

    So I think authentic speech advocates, who actually understand how speech has been successfully defended and suppressed in the past, including at similar events, have an obligation to speak out, which I do here.

    I’m still hoping Ed will weigh-in with a blog post, where he’s yet to directly confront this issue while instead addressing peripheral issues I find irrelevant to what skepticon is doing. I hope he blogs on the core objection I present here rather than marginal quibbling around the edges I find irrelevant to my core objection.

    eric then responds further:

    Your argument starts with the premise that “offensive” refers to content rather than manner. I.e., that they are asking you to not make substantive critiques of any religious belief.

    Why do you make that assumption? It’s not there in the text. Remove that assumption, and your whole argument disappears. And you have no evidence the authors and implementers of this policy agree with your assumption.

    My argument doesn’t disappear. I’m using skepticon’s words to condemn them, not imagining what other words they should have added to clarify their intentions where if you imagine hard enough, you conjure up some magical spell which has my argument disappearing. Yet here it remains, directly reflective of what they actually wrote, not what they might have intended to mean.

    And skepticon’s organizers have an obligation to stand by what they wrote, I have no obligation to infer what they mean beyond the plain meaning of the text by imagining what they might have meant beyond what they wrote. It’s absurd for you to claim I should divine what they meant beyond what they write; and strong evidence you have no compelling argument.

    I also disagree my argument disappears even if they meant ‘manner’ as you appear to hope or conclude they do. My primary rebuttal in light of their hoping for more productive speech and no disruptions or repugnant harassment is that lots of conventions get held all over the place with lots of debates, where sponsors who actually defend speech don’t require all their registrants submit to a speech policy in order to register and yet still figure out how to handle disruptive yahoos, including preemptively rather than after-the-fact.

    So there’s no need to parse bits of the text here and imagine what they might have meant to oppose this policy; the very existence of a speech quelling and chilling policy coupled to registrants being required to sign it to register is ample enough condemnation.

    Indeed, the organizers remain committed to their policy, in spite of the fact a cursory benchmarking exercise would reveal there’s a way to defend speech and mitigate the risks they claim to be concerned about. Cite (Katie Hartman commenting in this thread is one of the organizers): http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/09/23/help-keep-skepticon-free/

  35. Michael Heath says

    WMDKitty writes:

    Shorter Michael Heath:

    WAAAAH! I’m being oppressed because someone asked me to be civil to others at a private event! WAAAAAAH!

    That woosh over your head nearly knocked me over.

    I remain bemused at how easy we ridicule and entertain ourselves with bad behavior on the right and then use the same defective avoidance tactics the right uses to avoid confronting bad behavior on our side.

  36. satanaugustine says

    Michael Heath said:

    Skepticon’s organizers seek to suppress speech

    No they don’t! Katie has clarified this for you, yet you continue to trumpet this false claim. To paraphrase Katie: It’s OK to criticize religion. Actually, let me say that again, but louder: IT’S OK TO CRITICIZE RELIGION AT SKEPTICON. It’s not OK to harass, verbally or otherwise, a fellow attendee based on who they are, whether who they are is gay, Latino, or Christian.

    As I stated in my previous post (which you’ve completely ignored), and which Katie reiterated in the Keep Skepticon Free comment thread, the harassment policy is in place for those few individuals who unfortunately need to be told how to treat others with respect.

    Since you continue to argue against this policy despite Katie’s clarification that criticism of religion is perfectly acceptable, it appears that you are arguing for the speech rights of those who would use such speech to insult and harass others. I don’t think that’s what you intend (or is it?), but given the context it’s not an unreasonable interpretation of what you’re saying. Thus WMDKitty’s response.

    In my previous comment I mentioned that many atheist/skeptic conferences now have harassment policies. Brace yourself for the following excerpts…

    American Atheists (http://atheists.org/conferencecodeofconduct):

    Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

    Center for Inquiry (http://www.morethanmen.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/CSICon-Harassment-Policy.pdf):

    Prohibited conduct includes, but is not limited to, harassment based on race,
    gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any other protected group status, as
    provided by local, state, or federal law.

    Atheist Alliance International (http://www.secularwoman.org/sites/default/files/AAI.pdf):

    Behaviour that can constitute harassment includes discriminatory comments or actions, personal abuse,
    intimidation, stalking, intrusive photography or video or audio recording, sustained disruption of
    presentations or other events, inappropriate physical contact, unwelcome sexual attention and the
    making of a false report of harassment against an innocent person. Critical examination of beliefs,
    including critical commentary on another person’s views, does not, by itself, constitute harassment.

    Do any of these past muster or should they all be completely scrapped as well?

  37. dontpanic says

    Hmmm, I used to think Michael Heath was a bright guy. But here we have literally everyone saying he’s wrong and he keeps digging in and repeating the same refuted point again and again and my opinion of his intellect is taking a nosedive. No, Michael, WMDKitty has it exactly right and that whoosh is your “point” crashing and burning after a face plant. People have repeatedly pointed out that your “core objection” is a figment of your imagination. You can criticize religion, you just can’t harass/attack other attendees using that as a basis. At least one organizer has explained that to you. And yet you go into hyperbole overdrive with:

    requiring all registrants to submit to a speech policy which suppresses all their registrants’ speech rights

    All their speech rights? Really? Give it up, you’re tilting at windmills. [sigh]

  38. dingojack says

    The questions I’d ask is who and how?
    So, if I go to the Skepicon Conference dressed in a wetsuit and some random person has a deep-seated sexual fantasy about ugly middle-aged men in man-made fibre suits*, who would decide if that constitued ‘sexualised clothing’ and how would they determine this, exactly?
    Dingo
    —–
    * A man can dream, right? :)

  39. abb3w says

    @35, Michael Heath:

    I was thinking about LWAs, not RWAs.

    […]

    So, my observation is not so much conformance to hierarchal demands like we see from RWAs but instead a policy emanating from authoritarians with a strong communitarian perspective (the rare LWA).

    You seem to be confusing the conventional political sense of left-vs-right with the (highly idiosyncratic) sense of “right” versus “left” of Altemeyer’s scale. High-RWA personalities exist on the political left, but that’s not the same thing as LWAs as Altemeyer uses the term. Scores above the neutral midpoint on his LWA scale are far less than 0.1% of the population, such that last I’d heard only one study had ever detected any; as I recall, that found about 10% among European anarchist groups. There are several other scales for measuring various alternate LWA conceptions, but none with even that level of validation. Effectively: LWA is somewhere between vanishingly nonexistent and incoherently ill-defined.

    In contrast, high-RWA personalities with political left lean such as “strong communitarian perspective” are not rare. They’re a bit less common in the US, but that’s a W.E.I.R.D. effect; as Altemeyer’s book notes, a study in the ex-Soviet Union found they weren’t hard to find among Communist Party supporters.

    In short, you’re either trying to talk about high-RWAs existing to the political left there, or you’ve completely lost it. I’m pretty sure it’s the former.

    @35, Michael Heath:

    Given your post focused on RWA I’m not sure where you think I’m ‘dangerously wrong’ or how what you think it applies to my argument

    Where I think you’re dangerously wrong is that you appear blind to SDO and its contribution to the problem — which possible blindness seems emphasized by your apparent missing it as co-focus. Leaving aside weasel-wording to objectivize the subjectivities and rigorize the empirical relations….

    While Altemeyer documents many undesirable attributes for high-RWAs, he also documents some different but similarly undesirable attributes for high-SDOs. High-RWAs are a problem that likely will increase among the atheist movement over time, but the timescale for such increase is long — on the approximate order of the 27 year logistic growth time constant. However, such high-RWAs are presently quite rare; high-SDOs are already commonplace, and root of the ongoing fallout (note: though not that incident itself) from Elevatorgate — probably on both the “MRA” and “Feminazi” factions. (Note²: the latter appear confined to the commentariat rather than any major bloggers. Note³: I loathe both labels, but am trading off precise for concise.)

    You’re worried about a long-term problem with one type of authoritarian. You’re neglecting the immediate problem with the other.

    That said… yes, this approach is a gorilla with a hammer rather than a surgeon with a scalpel. There seems much room for improvement, but the alternative of doing nothing involves more immediate drawbacks.

    My inclination is that the optimal address to the problems would involve some major sociological engineering to subtly alter the conceptual ordering relationship — akin to replacing “dominance” with something more akin to “prestige”. Ideally, this would be done by simply introducing a much more effective construct, and waiting for it to catch on. However, this presupposes getting a better approximate solution to some nigh-intractably hard philosophical problems; and my notions on the exact shape of what a solution might look like are pretty vague. It’s also unlikely to catch on faster than this problem is developing.

    Meanwhile, this looks to be freedom of expression giving way short term due to an demonstrated and immediate conflict with rights to personal safety. YMMV.

  40. says

    dontpanic #39,

    All their speech rights? Really? Give it up, you’re tilting at windmills. [sigh]

    I believe when Michael wrote

    which suppresses all their registrants’ speech rights

    the all referred to all registrants, not to all their free speech rights.

  41. says

    As a Skepticon organizer, I’ve already responded to Michael’s various comments and complaints here, here, here, and here.

    I do want to reiterate that suggestions regarding the policy wording are totally welcome. It’s (perhaps unnecessarily) vague, and we’d love help with the language. As Ed has pointed out, the Skepticon organizers are almost all students, and all of us work. Skepticon has no paid staff, and there’s a lot of work to get done, so we really do appreciate outside help.

    Another note I wanted to make: Our policy isn’t only valuable because it informs would-be harassers about the expected behavior at Skepticon. Its most valuable function is making clear to victims that we do take harassment seriously and are absolutely willing to take action when it occurs. The discussions that have occurred within our community over the last year have made it very clear to us that we’re not going to get reports of harassment unless we express a willingness to act on them, and we don’t want anyone to lose their opportunity to experience Skepticon because they’re being targeted and believe that leaving is the only way to escape it.

  42. Michael Heath says

    I wrote:

    Skepticon’s organizers seek to suppress speech

    satinaugustine writes:

    No they don’t! Katie has clarified this for you, yet you continue to trumpet this false claim. To paraphrase Katie: It’s OK to criticize religion. Actually, let me say that again, but louder: IT’S OK TO CRITICIZE RELIGION AT SKEPTICON. It’s not OK to harass, verbally or otherwise, a fellow attendee based on who they are, whether who they are is gay, Latino, or Christian.

    What an organizer in a comment post thread of a blog claims regarding how they think a policy will be refeered when it comes to “offensive” speech is irrelevant. Instead what is relevant is what the policy actual states, which I will repeat, again:

    Skepticon is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference without a refund at the discretion of the conference organizers.

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

    In addition even pointing this out is getting in the weeds while the forest is burning. That’s because I object to the very existence of a speech suppression policy which all registrants must to submit to in order to register, from a supposedly freethinking organization. Lots of events are able to hold events without requiring registrants submit to a speech suppression policy prohibiting “offensive” speech, especially towards someone’s religious ideas. Because this is a national event it risks staining the very groups who most authentically claim to support speech, beyond the organizers of this event given its national status.

    satanaugistine starts furiously digging his hole ever-deeper:

    In my previous comment I mentioned that many atheist/skeptic conferences now have harassment policies. Brace yourself for the following excerpts… [Heath here- There are three, I’ll blockquote each and then respond at the far left margin.]

    American Atheists

    Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

    I have no problem with this statement since as I previously and repeatedly noted in the sum of both threads where this issue is being debated (here’s the other), these are immutable human attributes, so in this context AA is using the term “harassment” correctly, i.e., as its properly defined. That not what skepticon is doing, instead they falsely assert that harassment is “offensive verbal comments” even when applied to someone’s ideas regarding religion.

    Center for Inquiry:

    Prohibited conduct includes, but is not limited to, harassment based on race,
    gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any other protected group status, as
    provided by local, state, or federal law.

    Again, the Center for Inquiry is not extending harassment to mean “offensive” nor are they conflating religion with immutable human attributes and prohibiting “verballly offensive comments” regarding someone’s religious ideas.

    now satanaugistine starts the digging his hole with the really heavy equipment . . .

    Atheist Alliance International:

    Behaviour that can constitute harassment includes discriminatory comments or actions, personal abuse, intimidation, stalking, intrusive photography or video or audio recording, sustained disruption of presentations or other events, inappropriate physical contact, unwelcome sexual attention and the making of a false report of harassment against an innocent person. Critical examination of beliefs, including critical commentary on another person’s views, does not, by itself, constitute harassment.
    [bold added by Heath]

    So here we see Atheist Alliance International laudably and explicitly defending the right to do what skepticon may or may not allow. That’s given how skepticon mutates the use of “harassment” to mean whatever they deem is “offensive” to determine prohibited “harassment”, or not, even when it comes to religion.

    I think it’s also imperative to note I covered all this in my comments prior to here in the passages covering immutable characteristics; so satanaugistine continues to argue with a Heath in his head while avoiding my actual arguments.

  43. Michael Heath says

    dontpanic @ 40:

    I used to think Michael Heath was a bright guy. But here we have literally everyone saying he’s wrong and he keeps digging in and repeating the same refuted point again and again and my opinion of his intellect is taking a nosedive.

    If you disagree with me, then quote me and directly confront my objections. And if you can’t, then at least have sufficient character to point out what exact point I made, by quoting it, and then paste the rebuttals by others up to your comment post @ 40 which in your mind has credibly refuted my point, “again and again”. Perhaps I really am that thick; this is your shot at being the hero by getting me to concede. We’ll see.

    As Ed has repeatedly argued, we all have our blind spots. Focusing in on a person’s performance on one issue to conclude something about their intelligence when other evidence exists their position is not representative of past observations; that does not make for a credible conclusion.

    For example, I think Ed’s absurdly wrong in his claim that the Obama presidency has, “been a disaster”. I don’t think he can muster a remotely compelling defense of that conclusion. And yet here I am continuing to not only enjoy his thoughts on other subjects, but continue to greatly respect his perspective and how he administrates his blog. Using your criteria I would have lost out on Ed’s wisdom since this Obama conclusion since it would be idiotic for me to spend my time in a venue where the blogger doesn’t have a sufficient “intellect” as you define it, to make me a better person.

  44. Michael Heath says

    abb3w writes:

    You seem to be confusing the conventional political sense of left-vs-right with the (highly idiosyncratic) sense of “right” versus “left” of Altemeyer’s scale.

    No I’m not, in fact to insure you didn’t conclude I was doing this I specifically referred to the hierarchal attributes of RWAs vs. communitarian attributes of LWAs. And I’m not referring to Altemeyer’s scale at all. While I think he was a great pioneer, I find his experiments on shaky grounds in terms of how representative they are while as best as I recall, not even addressing LWA’s in what I’ve read from him. So my references here are a laymen’s understanding of the overall consensus of people in this field rather than focusing exclusively on Altemeyer.

    abb3w writes:

    Where I think you’re dangerously wrong is that you appear blind to SDO and its contribution to the problem — which possible blindness seems emphasized by your apparent missing it as co-focus.

    Perhaps. You’ve posted some comments before where I neglected the contributions of SDOs where your explanation provided me with an improved perspective of how authoritarians were merely submitting to what was instigated by SDOs, along with reminding me of the double-highs.

    However, we don’t know the personal dynamics of skepticon’s organizers while I find their policy result analogous to some repugnant university speech codes, Given I was told skepticon is organized by twenty-somethings, I assumed, perhaps wrongly, they were being good little authoritarians by perhaps following the examples they learned at universities which have such speech restrictions. This is all speculation of course and irrelevant to the end result since I’m not focused on how this policy was developed rather than the end result and the authoritarian defense of that result.

    I’m not sure what you are referring to when you write, “the problem”. Are gagging on this policy like I am while disagreeing on my description of the defense of the policy by Katie Hartman as classically authoritarian? Are you claiming she’s acting out in a classic SDO manner? Or am I way off in regards to what you think about this matter rather than how relate it the psychoses of SDOs and authoritarians?

    abb3w writes:

    High-RWAs are a problem that likely will increase among the atheist movement over time, but the timescale for such increase is long — on the approximate order of the 27 year logistic growth time constant. However, such high-RWAs are presently quite rare; high-SDOs are already commonplace, and root of the ongoing fallout (reaction to Elevatorgate).

    Well again, I wasn’t observing RWAs on this skepticon policy but instead LWAs (communitarians). I too observe high-SDO behavior as the atheism movement is getting increasing pressure to politicize, but don’t have the data or confidence to make a conclusion on what we’re seeing transpire on the skepticon issue to make any conclusions on that. Except for the fact this policy is a classic authoritarian response as is its defense by the organizer defending it – especially when it comes to avoiding the reality that others solve this problem while not demanding their registrants check a portion of their rights at the door.

    abb3w writes:

    That said… yes, this approach is a gorilla with a hammer rather than a surgeon with a scalpel. There seems much room for improvement, but the alternative of doing nothing involves more immediate drawbacks.

    Well except I wasn’t arguing skepticon should no nothing when it comes to preventing actual harassment rather than creating speech prohibitions for things which aren’t, while also succumbing to the ‘heckler’s veto’ by requiring all registrants submit to the prohibition of “offensive verbal statements” in regards to another person’s religious ideas – an attribute freethinkers have long championed. In fact I suggested they benchmark how countless other events handle such problems.

    abb3w writes:

    [skepticon’s policy submission requirement] looks to be freedom of expression giving way short term due to an demonstrated and immediate conflict with rights to personal safety. YMMV.

    I don’t see that it way. I don’t see this policy acting as a deterrent to those who would actually risk another’s safety. Instead I see submission to the heckler’s veto. The fact at least one organizer appears irrationally wedded to this policy while avoiding getting the advice from actual experts was another motivation regarding my advice they benchmark and consult with experts in order to prevent actual harassment.

  45. Michael Heath says

    Katie Hartman writes:

    [skepticon’s harassment policy] is (perhaps unnecessarily) vague, and we’d love help with the language.

    The problem is not vagueness, your policy mutates the word harassment to mean “offensive speech” and then prohibits “offensive verbal speech” directed towards someone’s religious ideas. That’s not harassment; offensive speech directed towards religious ideas is a policy which freethinkers and secularists have long fought to secure the right to do and defend that right when it’s threatened.

    Can a skepticon registrant tell a religionist at the event that they agree with Thomas Jefferson that most of the supernatural passages of the New Testament are dung using the modern more popular word, ‘shit’? That seems to me to clearly be an offensive statement and therefore easily exceeds the limitations of your written policy statement. So now we have group in our midst requiring us to submit to not making such offensive statements or we can’t register.

    More problematic is attempting to prevent actual harassment with a policy which suppresses the speech of all registrants. Do you have a cite this will in fact increase public safety and prevent actual harassment where other alternatives which don’t require such a policy can’t work? In spite of countless other events not requiring such? Why did you avoid my initial advice to discover how other events successfully create a secure environment where they don’t go against the very principles the larger group of freethinkers and secularists celebrate and ardently defend?

  46. says

    Can a skepticon registrant tell a religionist at the event that they agree with Thomas Jefferson that most of the supernatural passages of the New Testament are dung using the modern more popular word, ‘shit’?

    Yes.

    If this reply surprises you, feel free to re-read any of my previous responses to you.

    You may also want to have a second look at the excerpt you quoted from the American Atheists policy. And while assessing CFI’s policy, you may want to keep in mind that religion is a federally protected class.

    I really like this portion of AAI’s policy, and will be suggesting to the rest of the team that we add something similar to our own:

    Critical examination of beliefs,
    including critical commentary on another person’s views, does not, by itself, constitute harassment.

  47. dingojack says

    Katie Hartman – I left a message alerting Skepticon of this debate and asking if they would like to reply, not realising you were here already (silly Dingo).
    Unlike Michael I would like to know the practical issues, the who and how, of your policies. Could you expand on that?
    Dingo

  48. Michael Heath says

    skepticon’s policy, I bolded the relevant portions regarding my following rhetorical question:

    Skepticon is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference without a refund at the discretion of the conference organizers.

    Harassment includes offensive verbal comments [related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion], deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.

    I then go on to argue that skepticon has mutated the definition of harassment in order to further suppress speech to include “offensive verbal comments” where my secondary beef with this policy is the suppression of “offensive verbal comments” regarding someone’s religious ideas. I then asked, rhetorically:

    Can a skepticon registrant tell a religionist at the event that they agree with Thomas Jefferson that most of the supernatural passages of the New Testament are dung using the modern more popular word, ‘shit’?

    Event organizer Katie Hartman then responds:

    Yes.

    If this reply surprises you, feel free to re-read any of my previous responses to you.

    It surprises me not a whit since I’ve repeatedly rebutted satanaugistine’s prior references to your claim you’ll arbitrarily decide when not to enforce the plain language of skepticon’s policy which I emphasize in bold above.

    Katie, I’m cognizant of what you wrote so I don’t have to re-read it, instead I’m asking you to read your own policy statement more carefully and defend that. Defend it in the context of requiring registrants submit to it in order to register. Defend the fact you’ve misconstrued the meaning of harassment to include offensive comments, and then defend your policy’s prohibition such offensive statements can’t be directed at another’s religion.

    Registrants are going to trust what’s written will be enforced. Why would they trust one organizer claiming this policy will sometimes be ignored like my Jefferson/shit example? Or even become aware of the fact you personally will avoid the policy in some cases? Your current position is not a defendable position given reasonable people will conclude that which they submit to in order to register will be enforced per the written policy; that the safe assumption here. Not that one organizer may or may not arbitrarily decide when to ignore the policy.

    Also, registrants first impression of your organization when registering is the demand they check their speech when it comes to “offensive” arguments about another’s religion; and you claim to be in support of freethinking??? What a horrible impression to make within the freethinking population.

    Katie Hartman:

    I really like this portion of AAI’s policy, and will be suggesting to the rest of the team that we add something similar to our own:
    Critical examination of beliefs, including critical commentary on another person’s views, does not, by itself, constitute harassment.

    I like it as well, which is exactly why I noted how satanaugistine’s bringing up was not a defense of skepticon’s policy, but instead a direct indictment of skepticon’s policy. In addition, merely adding AAI’s statement to your own policy would make your current policy arguably incoherent. On the one hand AAI defends speech like that which I seek to defend here, whereas skepticon is requiring registrants check their speech rights at the door when it comes to “offensive verbal comments” regarding another’s religious ideas.

    katiehartman writes:

    You may also want to have a second look at the excerpt you quoted from the American Atheists policy.

    Thank-you, I didn’t see that they too are mutating the definition of harassment and advocating for the suppresion of speech regarding religion. I should note here that this forum, including its blogger, usually ridicules this position when this sort of speech suppression advocacy comes from religionists and conservatives. I’m not sure what the motivation is to avoid addressing what we normally find repugnant when it comes from our own side. That’s my motivation for Ed to take this issue on, which he hasn’t done yet; including his comments in this thread which go off on an irrelevant tangential issues.

    Katie Hartman writes:

    And while assessing CFI’s policy, you may want to keep in mind that religion is a federally protected class.

    I do not understand your point. Nothing you write here appears to me to rebut anything I stated previously nor does it explicitly add a point to the discussion. So please elaborate.

  49. Michael Heath says

    In my last comment post I wrote:

    I should note here that this forum, including its blogger, usually ridicules this position when this sort of speech suppression advocacy comes from religionists and conservatives. I’m not sure what the motivation is to avoid addressing what we normally find repugnant when it comes from our own side. That’s my motivation for Ed to take this issue on, which he hasn’t done yet; including his comments in this thread which go off on an irrelevant tangential issues.

    Ed serves up a decent example of his coming down strongly for freedom of speech even when its considered offensive to the point of being ‘blasphemous’ by some religionists. The fact this other blog post is about the advocacy for laws restricting speech, or advocating against such laws, is irrelevant to my criticism of skepticon since I’m not arguing skepticon by law can’t have such a policy. Of course they can. Instead I’m condemning them for having such a policy for the very same reason we seek government protection to blaspheme others’ religions even when it’s offensive. Here’s the link to that blog post: http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/09/30/arab-league-leader-demands-criminalization-of-blasphemy/

  50. eric says

    Heath:

    What an organizer in a comment post thread of a blog claims regarding how they think a policy will be refeered when it comes to “offensive” speech is irrelevant.

    Wow.

    Of course its relevant how the organizers see the rule, Michael. They wrote in and will be enforcing it. One of the organizers just told you that it will not be used to suppress religious criticism.

    In the face of this, it is unreasonable for you to argue that they are going against their own mission or being hypocritical by suppressing religious criticism, because they have just told you that is not what the policy is intended to do and that’s now how they, the organizers, will use it.

    The worst thing you can accuse them of committing is using unclear verbiage in a policy. I think you can still make a credible argument that some potential con-goers may interpret the policy to be suppresing their right to criticize religion, and so the organizers should make better effort to clean up their language so that their intent to limit only harassing speech is made more clear. But you really can’t claim the organizers intend to suppress such speech in the face of them telling you that’s not their intent. (Unless you want to accuse them of lying, which I don’t think you are doing.)

  51. Michael Heath says

    I’m trusting Ed will be merciful in allowing me to respond. I promise to not raise the skepticon issue again since Ed is asking me not to.

    I wrote:

    What an organizer in a comment post thread of a blog claims regarding how they think a policy will be refeered when it comes to “offensive” speech is irrelevant.
    Wow.

    eric responds:

    Wow.
    Of course its relevant how the organizers see the rule, Michael. They wrote in and will be enforcing it. One of the organizers just told you that it will not be used to suppress religious criticism.

    You’ve moved the goal posts eric. One organizer, not “organizers”, posted a comment in a blog post. Even if all the organizers monolithically elaborated in this forum’s comment thread, that is in no way policy, the policy is instead located at their website and is what registrants must accept in order to register. This forum is a mere peripheral debate about that policy.

    I can only assume you’ve never had any experience at all developing and executing policy or entering into written agreements given your incredibly naive argument. If the organizers aren’t going to enforce offensive speech regarding another’s religion, than they should remove that specific language from their policy. I’d be an idiot to accept a comment post in a blog which contradicts the written policy.

    eric writes:

    The worst thing you can accuse [skepticon organizers] of committing is using unclear verbiage in a policy. I think you can still make a credible argument that some potential con-goers may interpret the policy to be suppresing their right to criticize religion . . .

    Actually I’ve accused them of worse which no credible rebuttals to my two core objections, actually no cogent and direct rebuttals at all. The language they use is also quite clear, and I assert that as someone who writes contracts and administrates them and have for twenty-three years now. The organizers explicitly reserve their right to discipline registrants who employ “offensive verbal speech” towards another’s religion. They justify that restriction on speech by falsely claiming this is harassment. There is no ambiguity in that restriction on speech, it’s plainly and clearly written. What Ms. Hartman’s motivation is for misconstruing their policy or asserting she’d ignore it in some cases is something I’m not privy to knowing.

  52. says

    Heath: ever heard of something called “manners?” That’s what Skepticon’s rules appear to amount to: just a code of in-house conduct like the kind that just about every organization of every sort routinely adopts and enforces with no controversy whatsoever. It’s no more anti-free-speech than a rule against profanity.

    Seriously, Heath, someone’s laced your coffee with libertardian kool-aid.

  53. Michael Heath says

    Raging Bee writes:

    Heath: ever heard of something called “manners?” That’s what Skepticon’s rules appear to amount to . . .

    “Appear”? Nice weasle word! ;) Do you think changing the meaning of ‘offensive’ to mean harassment and then prohibiting offensive verbal speech toward’s another’s religion is only about manners, or not? Which is it?

    I also find it amusingly ironic you’d bring this argument up. That’s because if I had to name someone in this venue who best combines offensive speech with consistently thoughtful arguments worth considering it’d be you. In fact I can’t think of a close second. From that perspective alone I would hope you’d be ragin’ on this one.

    However, I’m not surprised you’d come down against freer speech since your prior arguments predominately have you arguing against the more strident speech advocates in this forum. That doesn’t mean I think you’re anti-speech given this venue is almost always consistently supportive of a more absolutist view of speech rights, with fortunately, few exceptions.

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