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On harassment policies protecting religion

They don’t.

Okay, I suppose I owe you more than that, don’t I?

One of the big concerns that people have about the American Atheists’ strong harassment policy is that, among the protected classes mentioned, religion is right there, despite this being an atheist conference.

American Atheists is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion.

And later:

We have many different folks attending this conference: sexualities, genders, gender identities, races, ethnicities, abilities, beliefs—these are just a few. Blatant instances of racism, sexism, homophobia, or other stereotyping and harmful behaviors should be reported to conference staff immediately.

But then that would prevent us from talking about atheism or countering certain religious memes, wouldn’t it? Err, no, not unless you think it’s fundamentally important to use religious criticism as cover so you can bash the people who believe those things.

Remember Draw Muhammad Day? That day where you’re supposed to draw Muhammad in defiance of the religious proscription by some Muslim clergy against drawing their prophet, which may not actually be all that bad according to the Qu’ran? Yeah, some people use it as cover to bash Muslims.

Really, though, are you surprised? In America, with its predominant Christian sentiment, Islam is often depicted as a race of violent brown-skinned turban-wearing terrorsts. Yes, I said “race”, not “religion”. So whenever an event criticizing a specific tenet of a religion like Islam comes along, people use it to bash the Islamic people as a whole. Except, that wasn’t the point of the event. Remember, associated with this event was an image that clearly delineated what we were actually discussing, that said “beliefs don’t deserve respect, people do”. (I’d embed it here, but it seems to be missing from my media library. If someone could point me to that image, I’ll embed. My ability to use multiple tabs and Google Image Search is severely curtailed on this low-memory netbook.)

Anyway, the policy goes on to describe harassment:

Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, 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.

This is the clause people are worried about — they think that discussing religion is in some way disparaging a person’s specific religious identity. CFI and other cons have included specific language expressly stating that discussion of beliefs is not discussion of a person’s characteristics, even if a person holds those beliefs.

I don’t entirely think that’s necessary, because the very nature of the convention assumes that people will be discussing religion, and because it assumes that a person’s religious identity is somehow an intrinsic trait of that person. The proscription is, effectively, against harassing people for holding those beliefs. We do want to welcome people of other religions to our conferences so they can hear what our side has to say, we may want to hear their beliefs so we can discuss them, and we’re even likely to try to convince them that they’re wrong. But if someone were shouting “death to the infidels” or “you’ll burn in hell” at the atheists (a threat, you’ll note!), that’s far more likely to be classified as harassment than “there is no God” (a statement of fact). Even if the religious person is far more offended by the attack on their beliefs than the atheist is by the threat of being sent to eternal torture.

The fact is, the convention handlers are the ones who determine what constitutes an incident of harassment. I think if you were to follow a person in a burka around and yell at them that they’re stupid or ignorant or a terrorist (or worse — demanding they show you their face so you can judge their appearance), that’s something that should be dealt with, even if we’re going to discuss how religions like Islam demonstrably oppress women.

It’s simply laughable to think that an atheist or skeptic convention might institute a harassment policy to protect people’s beliefs. The goal is to protect people, because people deserve respect if we want to build a stable society. Their beliefs are well open to discussion, and I see absolutely nothing about that policy that suggests that we have to treat those beliefs with kid gloves. Where someone shouldn’t claim all Muslims are terrorists or all Catholics are child-buggerers (thanks julian), or follow around someone who has expressed a religious belief and insult them repeatedly and — yes — harass them, one can certainly say that Islam or Catholicism are wrong because they depend on an entity that does not exist — a deity.

Harassment is a different animal altogether from criticism. Harassment is targeted, it is insulting, it is dehumanizing, and it is essentially a way for a person to do chipping damage to another to control their behaviour. It is thus a form of bullying. People in our community are presently being harassed for having feminist principles that are informed by our skepticism and rationality in order to stop them from talking about what they’re talking about, and that harassment has real-world repercussions. If you want to see what harassment looks like, look at the people who’ve made it a personal crusade to, for an absurdly extended period of time, target and silence certain members of our community.

Dana posts her thoughts on the CFI policy’s language expressly stating that vigorous debate about beliefs is still on the table, along with sexy fun times as long as they’re consensual. And PZ expresses astonishment at the reductio ad absurdums coming from some supposed rationalists in this debate.

Comments

  1. says

    “It’s simply laughable to think that an atheist or skeptic convention might institute a harassment policy to protect people’s beliefs. The goal is to protect people, because people deserve respect if we want to build a stable society. Their beliefs are well open to discussion, and I see absolutely nothing about that policy that suggests that we have to treat those beliefs with kid gloves.”

    Tell that to a religious person. A religious person will be offended by anything you say against their beliefs because, for them, their beliefs are what define them as a person, regardless if what you say is directed towards them as a person, or not.

    You are trying to separate the person from their beliefs. While a logical person can see the difference between the two, religious people are far from logical and will not see this the same way you do. It is a dangerous way in which the policy has been worded, and any lawyer could tear it apart to the benefit of a religious person who feels they have been offended, regardless of how you see it.

    Just because you say it is so, does not make it so to the one feeling harassed.

  2. says

    And those people will be free to make those harassment complaints because a system will be in place, no? Doesn’t mean they’ll be taken seriously, any more than “that person over there is wearing a red t-shirt and the color red offends me.”

  3. Mark says

    I guess the confusion comes from how people like PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson often write on their blogs about religion and often talk on podcasts (RW on the SGU can be pretty scathing and direct). I am pretty sure much of that is offensive to a religious person.

    I can only assume that PZ and RW (and others) are very different in “real” life than they are when they write on the internet. I would imagine them to be a lot less offensive and considerate. If so, they would do well to keep in mind that being more considerate in real life probably goes for quite a few people.

  4. doubtthat says

    I think it’s worth dealing with this issue factually and practically rather than coneptually.

    Let’s envision the scenario critics are worried about: religious person comes to conference, is confronted with criticism about his/her beliefs, complains to organizers.

    What’s the next frightening step? Conference organizers are going to be interpreting the rules, and because they’re running atheist conferences and want atheists to pay them money, I fail to see why anyone would worry that everyone is going to be sent home for making fun of the talking snake.

    Shameful confession: I’m a lawyer. This is how the law operates. There’s some factual occurrence, a bunch of rules that could or couldn’t apply depending on how the case is presented, then some authority that renders and enforces a decision. People are demanding a sort of conceptual flawlessness to these policies that has never been accomplished in 5000 years of human-generated statutory codes.

    There will always be grey areas and people pressing the boundaries. That’s why it’s worth considering the authority charged with decision making. If the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was determining what constituted religious harassment, it might be a problem, but conferences have no interest in alienating their customers (well, MOST conferences…).

    Incidentally, that’s probably why the most important aspect of all of the various policies being debated is the data collection process. Everyone in the atheist community needs to know what’s going on and how it was handled so we can use collective pressure to design these things like we want. If someone gets booted from TAM because they called the story of Noah’s Ark a fairy tale, people need to know that’s what happened so they can use their pocket books to get the policy changed.

  5. Nathaniel Frein says

    Kind of off-topic, but…

    What OS are you using on your netbook? If you’re having memory issues and you’re using Windows, I’d highly recommend switching to Lubuntu. It has the ease of install that Ubuntu linux offers while being targeted at limited resource computing.

    Whatever OS you’re using, I’d highly recommend switching from Firefox to Chromium (not chrome) on your netbook. It definitely has one of the lightest touches when it comes to system resources.

    Even with an HDD, my lubuntu netbook booted up as quickly as my windows gaming desktop. When I upgraded the SSD in my desktop, I put the old one in my netbook, and I literally go from power up to login in less than five seconds.

    Sorry for the topic drift. I’ve just recently started reading your blog (started browsing the different blogs after coming here following Hank Fox and Justin Griffith). Keep up the good work!

  6. Nathaniel Frein says

    @4 “Just because you say it is so, does not make it so to the one feeling harassed.”

    The point of the harassment policy is that there are clear guidelines as to what is harassment and what is not. This means that people coming to the convention know that the people running the convention have their backs if something goes bad.

    Any convention that would use those harassment policies as a means to kick people out simply for being critical of other’s beliefs or thoughts is not worth going back to. But I really doubt that would happen.

    I think we can safely transpose Justice Potter’s “I know it when I see it” policy here. Harassment is (almost always) pretty clear. It is targeted. It is belligerent. It involves people, not ideas. People harass other people. People cannot harass beliefs. Criticizing beliefs is not harassment; chasing down and haranguing a person for their beliefs is.

  7. J. J. Ramsey says

    Let’s envision the scenario critics are worried about: religious person comes to conference, is confronted with criticism about his/her beliefs, complains to organizers.

    What’s the next frightening step? Conference organizers are going to be interpreting the rules, and because they’re running atheist conferences and want atheists to pay them money, I fail to see why anyone would worry that everyone is going to be sent home for making fun of the talking snake.

    But you don’t want a situation where the conference attendees see a conflict between the stated conference policy and reasonable behavior (which for an atheist conference obviously includes critique and sometimes–for better or worse–mockery of religion). If that happens, then the policy rules will routinely be bent or broken, and a precedent of not respecting the policy will be set.

    It’s far better to have a policy that well-meaning conference attendees can obey to the letter without it being onerous.

  8. FredBloggs says

    Absolutely clear definition of what harassment actually is, is required.

    It’s the classic “I perceive I am being harassed, therefore I am being harassed”.

    And as someone has already pointed out, the religious have an infinite capacity for taking offence.

  9. Nathaniel Frein says

    @11 “But you don’t want a situation where the conference attendees see a conflict between the stated conference policy and reasonable behavior (which for an atheist conference obviously includes critique and sometimes–for better or worse–mockery of religion). If that happens, then the policy rules will routinely be bent or broken, and a precedent of not respecting the policy will be set.

    It’s far better to have a policy that well-meaning conference attendees can obey to the letter without it being onerous.”

    Sorry if I’m misinterpreting this, but I really think we’re making mountains out of molehills.

    If someone thinks that disagreeing with their beliefs, even harshly, constitutes harassment, then that person doesn’t need to be at a skeptics/atheist/freethought convention.

    They will offer nothing of value to any of the dialogue.

    They are just as likely to slip into harassing behavior as to try to speak intelligently.

    @12 “Absolutely clear definition of what harassment actually is, is required.

    It’s the classic “I perceive I am being harassed, therefore I am being harassed”.

    And as someone has already pointed out, the religious have an infinite capacity for taking offence.”

    Firstly, perception is important. There will always be a necessity for moderation.

    Secondly, I submit to you that harassment is already pretty clearly defined. There is a very clear boundary between criticizing a belief system or a behavior versus targeting a specific person and singling that person out for abuse (in the case of religious harassment) or unwanted advances (in the case of sexual harassment).

  10. J. J. Ramsey says

    If someone thinks that disagreeing with their beliefs, even harshly, constitutes harassment, then that person doesn’t need to be at a skeptics/atheist/freethought convention.

    But I’m not talking about such a person. I’m talking about someone who reads a conference policy that says, “Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to … religion,” sees that the conference is full of people disparaging religion, and concludes that the policy is being honored more in the breach than in the observance and thus isn’t being taken seriously. It doesn’t matter here whether the person reading that policy is personally offended. What matters is that the person reasonably thinks that breaches of the policy are routinely given a pass.

  11. Nathaniel Frein says

    @14 “But I’m not talking about such a person. I’m talking about someone who reads a conference policy that says, “Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to … religion,” sees that the conference is full of people disparaging religion, and concludes that the policy is being honored more in the breach than in the observance and thus isn’t being taken seriously. It doesn’t matter here whether the person reading that policy is personally offended. What matters is that the person reasonably thinks that breaches of the policy are routinely given a pass.”

    Your problem is that you are continuing to refer to people who equate “offensive” with “disagreement”. That is the crux of the matter. Either that person feels that criticizing religion is being offensive to religion, or he feels that any disagreement with his views is being offensive.

    This is not a rational way of thinking.

    Further, I think you’re misinterpreting the quote in the first place. The policy is stating that directing offensive comments relating to religion towards an individual is a form of harassment. That is, you don’t get a free pass to harass an individual just because you disagree with that person’s choice in ideologies.

  12. Eric says

    We do want to welcome people of other religions to our conferences so they can hear what our side has to say,

    Oops?

  13. kilane says

    It seems as though you are interpreting harassment differently when it is religious harassment vs when it is sexual harassment.

    In sexual harassment the line of thinking seems to be: It is for the person being harassed to define harassment. If they feel harassed, ask you to stop and you don’t then you are, in fact, harassing them (if not then, you are now by continuing).

    In Religious harassment you say it is up to the harasser (or at the very least, the event organizer) to be the final judge.
    If a person feels harassed, asks you to stop and you don’t, it’s not necessarily harassment. You’re just being critical of their religion and they should have seen that coming seeing as this is an atheist conference. Their feelings are irrelevant.

    You can’t define the same word 2 ways in the same sentence.

  14. says

    kilane: no. That’s wrong. People can, for instance, discuss sociological aspects of sex, gender, or gender identity, but they can’t insult someone for being one sex or gender or gender identity. How is that any different for religion, where we can discuss religion without insulting someone for being that religion?

  15. kilane says

    From what I’ve gathered thus far the sexual harassment discussions haven’t been about the “sociological aspects of sex, gender, or gender identity.”

    Thus far, from what I’ve seen (and please correct me if I’m mistaken), the disagreements regarding the flurry of comments over sexual harassment split along a, relatively, bright line.
    Men who think a certain activity is fair game in picking up women at a conference and Men/Women who believe said activity is a form of sexual harassment.

    Most bloggers on this network have taken the position that if the harassed person feels it is harassment then it is harassment.

    A good read regarding harassment being personal to the harassed.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/cristinarad/2012/06/25/educate-me-on-sexual-harassment-case-1/

    To Religious Harassment

    We can split religious harassment down the same lines but you, collectively, choose not to.

    People who think a certain activity is fair game in discussing religion at a conference and people who believe said activity is a form of religious harassment.

    At an atheist conference people will most likely say any or all of the following: the religious are delusional, support a system of patriarchy, are the cause of a lot of violence, anti-equality, anti-science, pro-torture (see hell), war mongering etc.

    Ah, but those things are true you say. Not to the religious person they aren’t, and it doesn’t change the fact that they feel harassed by comments like that. They feel attacked, ganged up on, helpless, powerless etc.

    I’m not trying to be argumentative for the sake of it. I think a strictly “no assholes” policy should be followed and that will usually catch the bad apples in all groups doing all manner of ridiculous things.

  16. Nathaniel Frein says

    @20 “At an atheist conference people will most likely say any or all of the following: the religious are delusional, support a system of patriarchy, are the cause of a lot of violence, anti-equality, anti-science, pro-torture (see hell), war mongering etc.

    Ah, but those things are true you say. Not to the religious person they aren’t, and it doesn’t change the fact that they feel harassed by comments like that. They feel attacked, ganged up on, helpless, powerless etc.”

    You’re forgetting that very bright line between saying “this group of people are using their religion to justify committing , and here’s why” and deliberately hounding an individual and calling him a .

  17. Nathaniel Frein says

    You’re forgetting that very bright line between saying “this group of people are using their religion to justify committing [insert atrocious act here], and here’s why” and deliberately hounding an individual and calling him a [insert horrible thing here].

    I’m an idiot and tried to use angle brackets. Fixed my response here since I can’t figure out how to edit the comment.

  18. kilane says

    I don’t believe I need to defend the idea that there cannot be legitimate attacks on faith without it being harassment, I believe there can be.

    I’m saying that if you suggested the sexual harassment policy be “If a woman feels harassed, she can describe what the activity was to the event organizer and then the organizer will inform that woman whether or not she was harassed” you would be crucified.

    Yet, that is the position that you hold on religious harassment.

  19. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    OK, let’s see how this plays out in the hypothetical: Alice (an atheist) and Bob (a christian) are engaged in a discussion at a convention and Alice makes some comments about religion that Bob finds offensive. Perhaps due to social pressures, Bob is uncomfortable confronting Alice directly, so he takes his concern to one of the event staff, Chris. Chris then asks Alice to be more sensitive to Bob’s religious views, or simply stay away from him/avoid the topic. Problem solved.

  20. says

    Except that’s exactly how this works, for every level of claim. If someone says “that guy looked at me”, that’s not harassment, even though the person’s free to report it. If it’s “that guy has been leering at me and following me around to leer at me and I caught him once following me back to my room then conveniently being outside my door when I left the next morning”, I’d love to know exactly who she’s talking about and make sure that goes in my file in case that douchebag makes a habit of stalking certain people or said douchebag decides to escalate.

    As for religion, it’s a conference about atheism, which is the lack of any belief or religious ideology. (Yes, I shouldn’t have said “other religions”, and I’m usually good about saying “other religious ideologies” because atheism is one endpoint in that line of questioning.) Expecting people to say “what you’re talking about — atheism — is offensive to my tender sensibilities” is just going to get your complaint dutifully filed professionally and competently, then ignored, just like someone complaining about “that guy looked at me”.

  21. Nathaniel Frein says

    @11 “I don’t believe I need to defend the idea that there cannot be legitimate attacks on faith without it being harassment, I believe there can be.

    I’m saying that if you suggested the sexual harassment policy be “If a woman feels harassed, she can describe what the activity was to the event organizer and then the organizer will inform that woman whether or not she was harassed” you would be crucified.

    Yet, that is the position that you hold on religious harassment.”

    This makes no sense.

    If an individual targets another individual (or a small group) and harangues them, makes personal attacks, constantly confronts despite being asked to leave the targeted individual alone, etc, then that person is harassing. It doesn’t matter if the harasser is using the other person’s gender or ideologies as fuel.

    And who said anything about crucifying? If a person is disrupting activities, being belligerent, targeting individuals, making personal attacks, and making other attendees uncomfortable, that person should be removed from the convention.

    This doesn’t give anyone a right to “not be offended” by what is being discussed at the convention. A Christian at a skeptics convention has as much right to not be offended by the normal goings on as a prude at a BDSM convention (which will have very clearly defined sexual harassment policies, despite being a convention on sex) or a luddite at a tech expo.

  22. Nathaniel Frein says

    The whole point of having the policy is to say: “You can come here and express your views, and listen to other views, and engage in debate without fear that you will become targeted for them. We [the organizers] will have your back, regardless of whether they are targeting your gender, your ideologies, your disabilities, or any other aspect of your life.”

  23. kilane says

    Real example:

    Guy asks girl, while in an elevator, if she’d like to share a cup of coffee in his hotel room (politely implying what this would lead to): shit-storm ensues. Many, if not most, of the bloggers cite the man as a harasser because it was unwanted sexual attention.

    Hypothetical:

    Guy says to female Christian, while in an elevator, that she should be ashamed of supporting an idea that supports sex abuse, torture, violence and the subjugation of women: I can only assume the same would happen.
    Extensive blog posts about protecting people from never feeling inferior, a rewriting of all harassment policies, top billing on all the atheist blog sites for months to come. Or would the ‘harasser’just be asked not to do that anymore, if even that.

    The same power dynamics exist (man/woman) and the same harassment exists (perception that someone is generalizing and demeaning you based on a characteristic of yours instead of who you are).

    Yet, it’s not the same level of escalation. It’s not the same repercussions for the harasser. And hiding behind “it’s an atheist conference” is a copout. Why even have religious harassment in there if you’re just going to listen politely and file it away in the shred bin.

  24. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    @kilane In your hypothetical the atheist is clearly attacking not just the religion, but the person, so action is clearly warranted. I imagine this action would be similar to how the same policy would have dealt the elevator incident: staff tells the offender “don’t do that,” and maybe “stay away from her for the rest of the con”. The incident gets logged and if the guy doesn’t listen eventually he gets kicked out.

    This really isn’t that complicated.

  25. Nathaniel Frein says

    @28

    I’m sorry, but you oversimplify the “real” example and your hypothetical is ridiculous (and honestly hard to follow).

    In the real example, the girl had just finished speaking on that very subject. The man had made other passes and had been rebuffed. Her body language and tenor made it clear that she wasn’t interested in him.

    Further, the “shit-storm” happened because people ignored the context in which she posted about it after the fact.

    As to your hypothetical:

    The situation is harassment. The christian is being singled out for abusive behavior and has a very legitimate complaint. Ideally the harasser will get talked to, asked to refrain from that behavior, and be removed from the convention if necessary. In other words, the harasser should be treated just as if he (your example posits the gender) were targeting the christian for sexual advances.

    If that’s what you’re trying to say, then you’re arguing the wrong thing. The complaint (as I read it) is that currently the policy will either serve to restrict criticism of conflicting ideologies in the name of preventing people from “feeling harassed”. This is not the case.

    If I go up to the podium and give a speech about how people of a certain faith perform atrocities in the name of that faith, and this is why that faith is wrong and how said faith supports those atrocities, I am not harassing the person in the audience who believes in that faith. The harassment policy has nothing to do with my speech in this case.

    Nor does it cover that person coming up and stating how I’m wrong, the faith shouldn’t be interpreted that way and many people of that faith actively work against the atrocities I mentioned, she isn’t harassing me either.

    Now, were I to confront her in the elevator while we’re going to our hotel rooms and call her a baby killer or rapist lover, then I have become the harasser and I can legitimately expect actions to be taken against me.

  26. kilane says

    One other small note, most of the time you’re attacking straw men. Following someone, stalking them, yelling at them, calling people slurs repeatedly are all well accepted definitions of harassment in most every arena.

    I’m talking about the subtleties.

    The people that think sexual harassment exists in something like the elevator scenario. That a comment like “hey sexy”, “nice legs”, “what are you doing later, I’ve got a king size bed” can be sexual harassment. It is both harassment and a legitimate pickup line depending on who you are speaking with, and it is for the recipient of the comment to decide whether or not they are being harassed.

    You’re refusing to venture down that same path with religious harassment. Calling someone a torture supporter, child rape supporter, genital mutilation supporter or saying they support a doctrine that is anti-equality, anti-science or anti-woman can be taken as harassment by the recipient.
    You deny them the ability to define harassment as they see it. If you don’t want them to have the ability to see those interactions as harassment then don’t include them in your harassment policy.

    Using general harassment in all your religious harassment examples is telling. Stalking, for instance, is harassment for other reasons regardless of the motive.

  27. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    You’re refusing to venture down that same path with religious harassment.

    What the fuck? Me and Nathaniel Frein both just told you that your hypothetical religious harassment scenario would be handled the same as if it were an unwanted sexual advance. Reading comprehension, does you have it?

  28. Nathaniel Frein says

    @31

    You are adding subtleties where there are none.

    Saying “Islam is used to support rape” is not harassment. A person who feels that it is harassment is not thinking rationally. Were he to complain, his complaint would be “duly noted” and likely ignored.

    If I say as part of a comedy sketch that “I like big butts”, I am not making an unwanted advance on the woman in the middle row who feels she has a bit of junk in her trunk. Were she to complain, her complaint would be “duly noted” and likely ignored.

    Going up uninvited to a man wearing an islamic icon and calling him a rapist IS harassment. His complaint should definitely result in me being talked to and asked to behave civilly with the convention goers. Should I refuse this advice and continue attacking him, or others, then I absolutely should be removed from the convention.

    Should I go up to that woman in the middle row and tell her “I like your ass, shall we shag now or shag later?”, she has every reason to make a complaint. her complaint should definitely result in me being talked to and asked to behave civilly with the convention goers. Should I refuse this advice and continue making advances on her, or others, then I absolutely should be removed from the convention.

    Yes, there are shades and subtleties, but not where you are putting them. Dysomniak gave a good example. The christian felt uncomfortable with the language that the atheist was using in their private conversation and felt it warranted talking to the people who run the con. The atheist then is told “hey, you’re on the border here, watch yourself.” Past that, it is up to the atheist to adjust his behavior. If he doesn’t, or escalates it, then he should be removed for disruptive behavior.

  29. kilane says

    I’m going to try to reel in the topic because it’s gotten sprawling. I had, in retrospect, a poor example and possibly haven’t been explaining well.

    My point as simply as I can make it is:

    People tend to let the harassed have some say in whether or not harassment occurred. The religious are not being given that same right because ‘it’s an atheist conference’.

    As atheists we’re often placed in a position of having to defend our attacks on the religious because they are offended by every little thing. If we talk about atheism, if we group up, if we want to support policy, if we advocate for things etc. we offend people. Usually we just tell them to get over it.

    I think that because we’re so used to ignoring those people who feel offended about little things we forget that they are feeling actual offense. What we think is a polite conversation about the evils of christianity is a soul shattering confrontation to someone else. A 5 floor elevator ride may seem like an eternity with no escape.

    One party wouldn’t have any idea that they are doing anything wrong while the other feels they’ve been humiliated, just like sexual harassment.


    Hopefully that makes more sense. If not, oh well I’m going to bed.

  30. kilane says

    PS my “you’re attacking strawmen” was being typed instantly after I submitted 29. before your posts, sorry for the confusion. And sorry again because I started typing 34 right after I posted it (and read your comments)

  31. J. J. Ramsey says

    The whole point of having the policy is to say: “You can come here and express your views, and listen to other views, and engage in debate without fear that you will become targeted for them. We [the organizers] will have your back, regardless of whether they are targeting your gender, your ideologies, your disabilities, or any other aspect of your life.”

    That may be what the AA policy writers mean, but it’s not clear from what they wrote. Instead, what we have is very broad language about “offensive verbal comments” without any clarification of what constitutes offense. As has been pointed out earlier, given that the religious have a history of considering criticism of their religions to be offensive, that makes the practical definition of “offensive” rather muddy.

    I’d say that the writers of CFI’s policy had it right. They headed off the possible ambiguity of what constitutes offense by making this clear: “Critical examination of beliefs, including critical commentary on another person’s views, does not, by itself, constitute hostile conduct or harassment.” The current discussion demonstrates why that language from CFI isn’t as superfluous as our blog host thinks.

  32. Nathaniel Frein says

    @34 “One party wouldn’t have any idea that they are doing anything wrong while the other feels they’ve been humiliated, just like sexual harassment.”

    Which is exactly why the policy should be in place; so that people know “If I feel harassed I know I can talk to the people in charge of the con and we can work this out.” When an incident is reported it can be judged a reasonable complaint or judged as coming out of left field and inapplicable to the situation.

    Using wording that includes religion as the policy is written now means that this applies to everyone at the convention, even Christians who have wandered into a throng of skeptics.

    And sometimes people will feel harassed when they have no reason feeling harassed. Lets say I’m having a passionate (or even heated) discussion with friends about the rape of the news reporter in Egypt recently, and I say some very critical things (but I refrain from using slurs) about the Islamic faith in Egypt. Lets say that a Muslim woman overhears this conversation and reports me. The people running the convention come over, have a short discussion with me. It becomes apparent that I used no slurs and did not call out this woman (it’s my first time even meeting her). Ergo, no harassment took place. “Sorry, ma’am, try to be a bit thicker skinned”.

    Now, say I was using racial slurs and talking about killing “brown-skins” or “sand-n*****s”. Now she has a legitimate complaint (I’m using language specifically designed to marginalize and promote hate. I would expect a completely different result from my conversation with the people running the con. I suspect I’d be told to tone down my rhetoric, and were I to keep it up I’d be asked to leave. “Sorry, sir, but hate speech really isn’t tolerated here.”

    Same thing applies to sexual harassment. If I’m sitting talking with my buddies about a porn star and her…”assets”, I’m not really harassing anyone (I am acting in poor taste, tho…but she is a porn star and she is rather putting herself out there). Were I to sit and talk loudly and leeringly about the passing women then I have every reason to expect to be asked to stop.

  33. KT says

    “You are trying to separate the person from their beliefs. While a logical person can see the difference between the two, religious people are far from logical and will not see this the same way you do. It is a dangerous way in which the policy has been worded, and any lawyer could tear it apart to the benefit of a religious person who feels they have been offended, regardless of how you see it.”

    A lawyer could only pick it apart if there is a legal reason to do so, which means there needs to be a cause of action. The only cause of action I can think of think of that even comes close to applying where a religious person feels harassed and an event organizer determines that they were not harassed is IIED, or intentional infliction of emotional distress. I don’t think any person would be successful pursuing such a case and I certainly wouldn’t take it, as an attorney.

    I suppose they could try breach of contract, arguing that the organization contracted to protect them from feeling offended but they would be hard put to prove any damages, which they would need to do. Even though it’s a popular belief that courts go around handing out rewards for emotional distress they almost never do so when that is the only damage.

  34. kilane says

    “If I’m sitting talking with my buddies about a porn star and her…”assets”, I’m not really harassing anyone (I am acting in poor taste, tho…but she is a porn star and she is rather putting herself out there). Were I to sit and talk loudly and leeringly about the passing women then I have every reason to expect to be asked to stop.”

    What if you were speaking of women in general. You like the ladies and are having a conversation with your buddy about it. Not about anyone in particular, just what you’re into. You prefer a woman under 5’4”, B cup size, nice ass, no pigtails, nice legs. You spot a woman with nice legs and you say “like her over there, by the soda”.

    Finally the woman at the table beside you has had enough and asks you to stop speaking like that because it makes her feel like a sexual object and not a person. Do you be more quiet? Do you stop? Are you under any obligation to stop? Do conference organizers have any obligation to make the environment ‘more welcoming’ to woman by discouraging this type of crass conversation? Or maybe, she should just grow a thicker skin.

    If you should stop, why is it different than your private conversation about the evils of islam? You list all the bad stuff and eventually you get to the burka and say “like her over there, by the soda”.

    If you shouldn’t stop and the event organizers have no business in asking you to stop or tone it down then we’re having different conversations.

  35. Nathaniel Frein says

    @39

    Firstly, I wouldn’t use hapless bystanders as examples. That calls attention to them and for me that crosses a line. It’s a vague line tho. If I got a talking to for fingering someone like that I would back off and be more careful.

    In general tho, I wouldn’t consider it harassment. The lady sitting nearby has not been targeted. Were she to walk away I wouldn’t follow her. I have not, at any point, specifically addressed her or singled her out.

    Personally, if she said she didn’t like what I was saying I would tone it down. If the people in charge decided I was being disruptive (cuz I was noisy or being crass) then I would certainly listen to their advice. But I wouldn’t file it under harassing.

  36. doubtthat says

    @11

    “It’s far better to have a policy that well-meaning conference attendees can obey to the letter without it being onerous.”

    The point is that this is an impossible desire. It hasn’t been successfully accomplished in 10,000 years of humans writing rules.

    Obviously there are better and worse ways to do things, but it’s pretty clear that a line exists between harassing and arguing/criticizing. Where is that line? I don’t know, it depends on who’s doing the interpretation.

    No matter how much time you spend writing these policies, there will be grey areas and there will be people trying to push the limits. The policy as written is fine, and the worries people are expressing are not realistic given the parties charged with enforcement.

    You could talk about this for the next thousand years and not make much improvement.

  37. male voice says

    Jason, I can assure you I’m not the least bit worried. I have not thought for a millisecond that the AA would actually enforce the policy in its literal meaning. (Though I wonder what policy they actually are gonna enforce.) Nevertheless the policy very clearly equates offending with harassment and thereby defines that any comment regarding religion is harassment. (That is because the offensiveness is judged by the offended.)

    Your and others desperate attempts to reinterpret the words would be funny if this was not so reminiscent of Christian apologetics. “Six days were not literally six days.” It is fascinating to what length grown-up and otherwise rational men will go to defend such obvious bullshit only in the name of feminism.

  38. RH says

    Wouldn’t that policy make wearing a draw Mohamed day t-shirt unacceptable. It is after all specifically intended to offend some peoples religious beliefs? Sure in favor of free speech but some would view it as offensive would they not? Is that a judgement call that we should ask attendees and organizers to make?

    Anyway the fact that this is being discussed makes me think the language could be tightened to be more clear about the difference between criticism, discussion, and harassment. Especially with reference to the meeting/conferences subject.

    I think that would make for a tighter easier to enforce policy. People need to understand that sexual harassment IS what the person being harassed finds offensive. But I do not think we would apply the same standard to religion in this context.

  39. RH says

    oops. Lost my line of thought there…
    I was going to point out that most of us would agree that a sexually suggestive t-shirt would not be appropriate in this context

  40. doubtthat says

    Reading through it again, I think I’m going to agree that this is problematic, despite my earlier comments:

    “Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images…”

    I was wrong, a better definition of harassment is needed.

  41. doubtthat says

    Is it offensive to tell someone that their religion isn’t true? That it’s a bunch of made up stories?

    If so, it seems that the American Atheists may have adopted a policy that defines their entire existence as harassment.

    Glibness aside, it’s pretty easy to correct, but that language is confusing.

  42. says

    Some of the specific criticisms here have merit. There is a gray area in determining what constitutes an “offensive verbal comment”. Just the fact that a comment is offensive (which is a judgement made really by the recipient alone) isn’t quite sufficient for the conference or the public at large to declare it harassment. This is all the more true for the religious, who have a long history of taking offense at just about any negative comment aimed at their religion — even if it is completely impersonal and completely true.

    Were it me writing the policy, I’d add a couple specific provisions. One, any remark which is substantially true by the evidence will not be regarded as harassment. Two, verbal comments alone will not be considered sufficient evidence of harassment if they were not actually made to the person offended by them (example: addressed to the group at large or a third party). Perhaps more specifically, some counter-evidence from the offended person is needed when the harassment claim is contested by multiple individuals involved in the incident.

    There’s no accomplishing perfection here. One way or the other, there will still be some kinds of borderline or ambiguous cases. Those are always going to be hard to deal with; the policy can’t just define them out of existence.

  43. RH says

    @47
    Well you tried but those policies would be even worse. Calling someone fat who is, or hot who is would be ‘true’ but still harassment.

    Making a statement to the conference at large or that was overheard that All women are just…. fill in whatever should be treated as harassment even if it does not target an individual.

    This is an example of how hard it is to put together a clear concise policy. I think we can do better but we could do a lot worse as well.

  44. smhll says

    One, any remark which is substantially true by the evidence will not be regarded as harassment.

    I have to confess that what first leapt into my mind was “Wow, your ass is huge! (Mine, I mean. Not yours.)

  45. doubtthat says

    I think the only change that really needs to be made is changing the line, “Harassment includes offensive verbal comments…” to “Harassment includes offensive verbal comments in excess of those generated by heated debate and argumentation…” or something to that effect.

    The only thing missing is the description of a standard or a better definition: “‘Offensive’ for the purposes of this policy would be language or actions that a reasonable person would understand to be made for the purpose of shaming, humiliating, or otherwise personally attacking another attendee. Argumentation and discussion of religion, politics, and related subjects, even when heated, is not alone sufficient to be termed ‘offensive.'”

    That’s just off the top of my head, I’m sure it can be improved, but only a sentence or two is necessary.

  46. doubtthat says

    On re-read, that wasn’t very clear. There are two options in that post:
    1) Eliminate the link between harassment and an unmodified use of “offensive.”

    2) Specify that debate, discussion, and criticism is not inherently offensive and create a “reasonable person” or “reasonable attendee” standard so someone can’t come in and say, “I’m offended that you guys say there isn’t a god.”

    That allows the conference operators to interpret any given incident according to community standards.

  47. Aerik says

    Yup. The bad part about “draw muhammad day” is that it became nothing more than a racist circlejerk. Why?… lemme serve some copy-pasta from a couple reddit comments of mine concerning a catholic/pedo::muslim/pedo juxtaposition comic that hit /r/atheism many times, always incurring racist comments. link

    So let’s go back to the Muhammad/Pope comic that earlier I said was not racist. Well, I was only talking about intent and the content of it’s particular argument. However, can we say that it still does harm to racial relations? Does it inadvertently (or maybe not so inadvertently) utilize racism for its success?

    Yes. Because of that motherfucking nondescript turban that doesn’t exist in real life. At least it’s not spherical like in so many other racist cartoons The bomb, like I said, is paying homage to a dutch cartoonist who did the same thing and had to run for their life. And in his cartoon, it was spherical. So the author did put some thought into not engaging in that stereotype. Some. What bothers me about the turban here is… there are lots of kinds of turbans. I really doubt that the author, much less his intended audience, and much much less his unintended audience, know jack shit about the many kinds of headwear that is worn in the middle east and southern asia, whether currently or 1,900 years ago. And only a fraction of these many religiously or culturally important wraps is called a turban. Compared to the detail given to the trimmings of the pope’s robe, that is one bland turban. No real thought given to it. Even compared to Muhammad’s face, it’s blandness stands out. It doesn’t even look like a wrap, it’s like… Michelin-Man style fluffiness.

    So this comic has this additional message that says that the religion of islam is so disgusting that any real effort into knowing the culture of a character that happens to be muslim isn’t worth our time. Like.. Remember what Yasser Arafat wore? When’s the last time any Middle Easterner or Arab was drawn with something on their head with anywhere near that complexity and style? Can you name a political cartoon that has ever? Me neither.

    So there it is. The comic ends up racist anyways because of this attitude: “hey, a 3-dimensional Muslim? Too much work. Too long, did not read.” And you know, racists have this problem. If a character isn’t 3-dimensional, they fill it in with whatever they want. The comic author has stereotyped Muhammad racially by not filling him in as a real person beyond his popular name in history.

    That’s the responsibility of an author. If the character isn’t supposed to be anybody, then the character has to be somebody.

    And that’s another reason the comic that this comment thread is spawned by, the one posted by personafiles, is so racist. It goes through every effort to make sure that the Muslim character is anybody within a racial demographic. It’s not a somebody. It’s an any-[Arab].

    Thunderf00t invites all his fans and participators to engage in the same crap. This is why he’s been outed by other youtube atheists as not only kind of a turd, but a racist.

    I mean think about it. I think we all know very well that every time somebody says “desert people” or “desert folk” or whatever, combined with crap like this, it only encourages people with racist inclinations to hear “sand nigger.” Tf00t and most of those comics do nothing to dissuade against that inclindation. In fact, they mostly invite it.

  48. male voice says

    @RH

    Wouldn’t that policy make wearing a draw Mohamed day t-shirt unacceptable.

    No. According to the policy only verbal comments are harassment. Thus a t-shirt saying “Women are bitches” or something similar would be okay too.
    I don’t know why the limitation to verbal comments. It nearly seems that people wanted to create a loophole for offensive t-shirts.

  49. says

    [RH]: Well you tried but those policies would be even worse. Calling someone fat who is, or hot who is would be ‘true’ but still harassment.

    You have a standard by which you can access whether someone is “fat” or “hot” as true? Matters of fact? I’d sure like to hear it.

    Those are opinions. They cannot be verified. They are wholly subjective, no matter what percentage of the population you might survey to support them.

    Making a statement to the conference at large or that was overheard that All women are just…. fill in whatever should be treated as harassment even if it does not target an individual.

    Conference speakers may need to be subjected to higher standards than the general population in attendance.

    In any case, your example is extreme. That can be thrown out on grounds of prejudice or bigotry, and should be addressed in any policy specifically as such. You’re going to have to come up with a much more nuanced example.

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