(UPDATE: In my original letter, I neglected to ask to be removed from the CFI Speakers’ Bureau. I have now done so.)
Dear CFI Board of Directors:
It pains me to do this, but I am withdrawing my support from the CFI national organization, and am cutting ties with all events, projects, and publications connected with it.
This includes the following:
* I am withdrawing as a speaker from the CFI Summit in Tacoma in October.
* I am resigning my position as columnist for Free Inquiry magazine.
* I am declining the honorarium I earned for my recent speaking engagement at CFI headquarters in Amherst, NY. Please re-direct this payment to the Secular Student Alliance. If that is not possible, please go ahead and send it to me, and I will donate it to the SSA.
* My wife and I are cancelling our subscription to Skeptical Inquirer magazine. This last one makes me extremely sad: Skeptical Inquirer played an enormous role in my process of becoming a non-believer, and it was the first publication to publish my godless writing. But I am no longer willing to be connected with your organization.
I will continue to support local CFI groups, as they are largely independent of the national organization. But unless I see tangible evidence that Ron Lindsay’s words and actions at Women in Secularism 2 do not represent CFI, and that this is not the direction CFI intends to take in the future, I cannot support or participate in the national organization.
I have already sent you two letters detailing my very serious objections to Ron Lindsay’s opening statement at the Women in Secularism 2 conference, and explaining why both the content and the context of that talk was insulting, contemptuous, patronizing, wildly inaccurate, and grossly unprofessional. I, and many other people in this community, have been waiting for several weeks now for an official response from CFI on this matter, in hopes that the Board of Directors would recognize that a large and growing segment of the community was deeply insulted and alienated by this incident, and in hopes that they would take this matter seriously.
Today’s response by the CFI Board of Directors was nothing short of cowardly.
Today’s response by the CFI Board of Directors was pure spin. It was bland, equivocating, obfuscating misdirection and corporate bafflegab. It expressed “unhappiness with the controversy,” without any acknowledgement of what that controversy was about or why people have been so angered by it. It referred to the controversy “surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2,” without any acknowledgement that the source of this controversy was the CEO of their organization. It took the cowardly position of valuing “respectful debate and dialogue” on important issues that concern the community, without being willing to actually take a stand on these issues. It expressed the intent to work with “all elements of the secular community,” without any acknowledgement of the “elements” in this community who have been engaging in a persistent campaign of hatred, harassment, abuse, and threats of violence, rape, and death towards feminist women in this movement. It expressed the intent to “enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity,” creating a false equivalency between harassers and their targets. It was so dodgy, it wouldn’t even use Ron Lindsay’s name.
And today’s response by the CFI Board of Directors treated this community like fools. It responded to a serious controversy in the community, not with straight talk and a willingness to take a stand, but with bland corporate spin that obfuscated the issues and failed to address them in any substantial way… or even in any insubstantial and symbolic way. It treated the people in this community, not as participants to be talked with, but as sheep to be placated and deflected and manipulated.
Some people have been calling for Ron Lindsay to resign or be fired. I am not one of them. I have been calling for Lindsay to apologize. But frankly, I would have been satisfied with any action at all on the part of the CFI Board of Directors — censuring Lindsay, calling for him to apologize, apologizing on his behalf — that would have shown an understanding of the seriousness of this matter. I would have been satisfied with any action at all indicating that Lindsay’s insulting and contemptuous behavior did not represent CFI, and that this is not the direction CFI intends to take in the future.
The board wasn’t even willing to do that.
It has become all too clear that the people in charge at CFI — not the staffers, not the volunteers, but the people in power — are profoundly out of touch with the realities of this movement. They are profoundly out of touch with the ugly realities that any woman in this movement faces if she raises her head to speak about sexism. They are profoundly out of touch with the ways that Ron Lindsay’s opening talk at WiS2 was a dog-whistle to the misogynistic harassers in this movement. They want solidarity and a focus on common values, but are profoundly out of touch with the fact that it is literally impossible for this movement to be inclusive of everyone: that it is literally impossible to be inclusive of atheist women, and at the same time be inclusive of people who hate women or are dismissive of our concerns and our realities.
And they are profoundly out of touch with the direction this movement is going in. They are profoundly out of touch with the fact that the young people in this movement are overwhelmingly on board with feminism and other social justice issues. They are profoundly out of touch with the fact that the young people in this movement overwhelmingly want the atheist movement to work on these social justice issues in the places where they overlap with atheism… and want the atheist movement to pay attention to these issues in internal matters and be willing to clean up their own house. They are prioritizing the concerns of the old guard — and the lack of concern of the old guard — at the cost of alienating the vibrant, energized, well-organized, rapidly-growing segment of this community that is 25 and under. As Amanda Marcotte wrote in her own response to the CFI board statement (“The Center For Inquiry Likes Atheism’s Cranky White Guy Image, So Screw You Ladies”): “Sometimes, by refusing to take a side, you end up siding with one side, usually the bad guys.” In waffling and trying to placate everyone in this debate, they have alienated the people who are the future of this movement.
I’m done. It makes me sick and sad — I have great respect for many of the CFI staff and volunteers, and have great value for much of the work that CFI has done. But I can’t be part of it.
Note to readers of mine who are angry and disappointed in the recent actions of the CFI leadership, but who don’t want to harm the projects or staff members who you do value and support, and who are wondering what I might suggest: Ultimately, you have to keep your own conscience. But you do have options. You can withdraw your time, energy, and financial support from the national CFI organization, and donate it to other organizations that are doing similar work and whose leadership you respect and trust. You can withdraw your time, energy, and financial support from the national organization, and donate it instead to local CFI groups. You can continue to donate money to the national organization, and earmark it for specific purposes that you do support rather than just for the general fund: such as supporting local groups, paying the salaries of staffers like Melody Hensley or Debbie Goddard, supporting CFI On Campus, etc. If other people have suggestions, I’d welcome hearing them in the comments.
Whatever you do, please let CFI know that you’re doing it. Email to the Board of Directors can be sent to the Corporate Secretary, Tom Flynn, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their mailing address is Center for Inquiry, PO Box 741, Amherst, NY 14226-0741. Please be sure to let them know what your current level of participation in CFI is — donator, organizer, local group member, national group member, event/ conference participant, etc.