CFI’s Michael De Dora

Some people have considered the recent criticisms of the CEO of the Center for Inquiry to be a wholesale attack on the organization (well, “some people” meaning “freakin’ loons”). Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a supporter; I think many of their causes are essential; I appreciate the work of many of the people there. Let’s not forget that the whole of the organization is not the brain of the CEO, whether it’s Paul Kurtz or Ron Lindsay, both of whom have also done good work. We have to trust in the quality of the group to overcome the flaws of the individual.

So I thought I might throw out an occasional post to let you know about a few of the commendable efforts of CFI — you know, try a little positive reinforcement in addition to my usual spiked bludgeon of criticism.

CFI has an Office of Public Policy.

The Office of Public Policy (OPP) is the Washington, D.C. political arm of the Center for Inquiry. Our mandate is to advocate for public policy based on reason, science, and secular values. This includes lobbying at all levels of government — Congress, the Administration, and the international community, including the United Nations — to promote and defend separation of church and state, the role of scientific evidence and secular ethics in policymaking, and basic civil and human rights. 

This is the unit that lobbies the government directly for secular causes — if there is something that pisses you off about public policy, this is an effective place to ask for assistance. The director of the OPP is Michael De Dora, who has been working his butt off to get things done. He’s also their representative to the UN.

He meets with the State Department on issues of international concern for secularists, and as we all know there have been a number of those lately, with atheists being persecuted in several countries. He lobbies to keep religion and politics out of science, and has fought against the corruption of our educational system.

He’s also stood up for women’s issues, opposing restrictions on emergency contraception and abortion. You can find a good summary of his position in his speech at the Unite Women rally.

If CFI had really felt it necessary to tap a high-ranking man to give an introduction at the Women in Secularism conference, it would have been a good choice to delegate it to De Dora, who has a solid record on women’s issues and would definitely have been politic enough to avoid throwing a few rhetorical grenades into the crowd. In the past I’ve said some rude things about a few remarks he made about creationism, but…he got better. I’ve met with him a few times, and I’m confident in his abilities in his job — and he’s one of a lot of faces at CFI who do great work.

So keep on criticizing where criticizing needs to be done — it’s how the organization gets better. But let’s not forget that CFI also does invaluable work on our behalf.

Michael De Dora

Michael De Dora of CFI addressing the Unite Women rally


  1. echidna says

    If CFI had really felt it necessary to tap a high-ranking man to give an introduction at the Women in Secularism conference

    This. It was not necessary, and it was not well done.

  2. ck says

    echidna wrote

    It was not necessary, and it was not well done.

    I disagree with the first part, although I agree with the second. CFI should send their CEO (man or woman) to introduce events like this. It lends the impression that the organization takes the event seriously, and presents the opportunity to introduce and recognise those people at CFI that made the event possible. The fact Lindsay did none of these means he horribly failed at the only thing he was actually needed for.

  3. says

    We have to trust in the quality of the group to overcome the flaws of the individual.

    Would you say the same of a church? I don’t think so.

    Obviously, there are good people doing good work at CFI (WiS itself clearly illustrates that), but that’s not enough. I’ll crosspost what I said at B&W:

    I will blame them (i.e. the org. and its board) if they don’t denounce him. He ought to be forced to apologise (a real apology, not a notpology) to the participants and organisers of WiS2 at the very least. Preferably, he should resign as CEO.

    I also think the organisers of WiS should look out for another sponsor and divorce themselves from CFI unless Lindsay is replaced with someone who is willing to support it as one of CFI’s goals.

    In fact, I’m kinda thinking that a lack of official response by CFI and the fact that Lindsay’s posts still remain on their site at this point, days after they were first posted, says all you need to know about CFI. Would there be this kind of condonation if Lindsay had been pro-racist or anti-Semitic instead of anti-feminist? I don’t think so.

  4. biogeo says

    I like this “positive reinforcement in addition to [the] spiked blugeon of criticism.” Highlighting what CFI is doing well helps emphasize that blunders like Ron Lindsay’s “unwelcoming” address aren’t inevitable. This organization, and the movement in general, can, and often do, do better than this.

    I agree that CFI did the right thing by having their CEO open WiS, to show their full support for the conference. In fact, a curious aspect of this whole debacle is that at the first WiS, last year, Ron Lindsay gave the sort of welcoming address he should have given this year: brief, and focused on acknowledging the good work of the organizers. I do seem to recall something in his comments or phrasing during his welcoming the first time which made me think he didn’t really “get” what the conference was about, but it wasn’t especially notable. If he’d stuck to the same formula this time, he’d have done everyone, including himself, a favor.

  5. PatrickG says

    @ Ibis3:

    First, let me agree completely with your comment, both the original and reposted versions.

    Second, let me say that the web presence is … off-putting to me. Paul Fidalgo post dated two days after Ronald Lindsay’s “alternate universe” post, describing the opening statements as “controversial”, is simply bizarre to me. Not blaming the webmaster! Simply the message.

    That said, for whoever is reading blog comments here, I was considering donating to CFI, specifically based on their support for this conference, and I will withhold said donation until I see how this plays out. I have limited funds, after all, and there are multiple groups out there! SSA of Kentucky can use my paltry $20 as much as you can. :P

  6. kellyw. says

    What ibis said.

    I’m sure there are good people at CFI. These good people have the opportunity to do the right thing. If they don’t (because I sure as shit don’t expect that Lindsay will do the right thing at this point), it’s the same old tired crap. Do people really want the secular/skeptic/atheist movement to be more than a white dude’s movement? I gotta wonder, because this shit just keeps happening. And it’s beyond sad. That said, I can spend my time and money on things that don’t require me to wade through a heap of condesplaining turds.

  7. Thumper; Atheist mate says


    Would you say the same of a church? I don’t think so.

    The difference of course being that the good work of the organisation as a whole more than outweighs the stupid and insensitive remarks of one of their employees. The same can most certainly not be said of the church, so the analogy is a poor one.

    However, I agree that the board should be doing something about this. I believe a sincere public apology is needed from Lindsay, at least.

  8. says

    You know who’s really upset by Ron Lindsay’s remarks? A large number of the employees of CFI. The CEO’s remarks do not reflect the views of the people doing most of the work there.

    I agree that that doesn’t mean much if the org doesn’t rise up and slap him down a bit, though.

  9. shawn says

    Isn’t a CEO supposed to represent an organization? Is an outsider going to feel that the CEO represents an organization or friends of employees blogging about that organization? I feel bad for the people working for CFI who feel differently than Lindsay but I can’t help but feel pretty gross about CFI as a whole right now. I know that internal politics are pretty complicated but this kind of shit needs to be addressed fast.

  10. Sili says

    Odd. I have the name filed away under “bad”, but I can’t find out why now.

    Either he did something stupid some time ago, or he was prominent in speaking out against stupidity, and I put him in the wrong column.

    I tried searching Butterflies and Wheels, but apparently it wasn’t there that I’d seen him.

  11. kaboobie says

    I became a member of CFI late last year because of two things: the existence of the Women in Secularism conference and the work done by De Dora at the Office of Public Policy (highlighted in an interview with Surly Amy at Skepchick). Ron Lindsay has done nothing but disappoint me since then, and my gut reaction to his opening speech at WiS2, which I attended, was that I should leave CFI just as I left JREF after D.J. Grothe’s rape apologist meltdown. (Was Carrie Poppy’s thinly-veiled criticism of him at WiS2 not delightful?)

    However, I have decided for now to continue supporting CFI. I don’t want to take anything away from the efforts of those involved with WiS2, not only Melody Hensley but other hardworking employees such as Lauren Becker, Adam Isaak, and Debbie Goddard.

  12. JohnM says

    I think we need to remember that the people at CFI who are appalled by what Lindsay’s speech and subsequent comments have limited options unless they are board members. Lindsay is CEO, he can fire them if their actions are not to his liking.

    As someone who has been unemployed for 3 years even after getting training in a new field and earning a Master’s, I have a lot of sympathy for someone who doesn’t want to lose his/her paycheck.

    Another thought: CFI is not a religion and Lindsay is not a prophet or the voice of God. While he represents the organization, his pronouncements are not the end-all and be-all of secularism or humanism. Of course, if the board wants to remedy the damage he has done to CFI (or you know, just do the right thing); they need to insist that he apologize or resign. And if he refuses to do either, they should fire him.

  13. bezu says

    Glad to see you supporting Michael but I wish you could have apologized for those earlier rude remarks instead of implying they were called for. He never deserved to be spoken about that way. I’d like to see you disagree without being “rude”.

    Appreciate the many wonderful contributions you make …but really can’t stand when you stoop to that level.

    Beth Zucker

  14. David Marjanović says

    He never deserved to be spoken about that way.

    Why do you think so?

    I’d like to see you disagree without being “rude”.

    Why, what for?

  15. bezu says

    Michael is a smart, thoughtful, decent person. Disagreement is fine…no one can agree all the time… but when we use smear tactics to express disagreement we accomplish nothing. Honest debate is a lot more fruitful.

    As David Hume said “Truth springs from argument amongst friends.”


  16. Ichthyic says

    I agree that that doesn’t mean much if the org doesn’t rise up and slap him down a bit, though.

    It’s the board of directors job to decide on issues like that, not even the rest of the employees of CFI.

  17. Ichthyic says

    What can be learned here:

    When PZ gets emotional about something, and goes overboard ON HIS PERSONAL BLOG, he apologizes.

    When Ron Lindsay gets emotional, and says really stupid shit on the OFFICIAL WEBSITE FOR CFI, he doubles down.

    lesson learned?

  18. Ichthyic says

    btw, FWIW, Sastra as usual had a thoughtful comment in the original thread:

    I think it’s important to look again at the actual content of the controversial quotation, and put it in context. Here it is again:

    “In the 1970s and 1980s, anti-evolutionists in Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana passed identical bills calling for “equal time” for teaching evolution and creationism, the biblical myth that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian god in six days. But a court ruled that the “equal-time” bill was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state.”

    The textbook is teaching about the legal controversies with evolution. It’s not directly bringing in religion as “another way of knowing” or anything like that. Nor is it directly attacking it. I don’t see a problem with this passage.

    The word “myth” is referring not to the Bible, Christianity, or religion in general — it’s supposed to be describing only Young Earth Creationism. As understood in common parlance, this is saying it’s a fictional story, not to be taken literally. I really don’t see how evolution can be taught without implying this with no uncertainty whatsoever.

    The text isn’t taking on the validity of religion vs. science; it’s taking on evolution vs. creationism. And I think that’s legitimate.

    But — the word “myth” trips a panic button which probably wouldn’t be tripped by the word “story.” A story can be true or false. By referring to a Biblical “myth,” the implication is that the entire Bible is myth — it’s false. That’s not inside the scope of a high school biology class. And it’s not acceptable under the standards of church-state separation.

    So I think De Dora is partly right, but, in context, wrong.

    And I think PZ is guilty of hyperbole in calling him a ‘witless wanker.’ So now what is he going to use against witless wankers? He’s used it up on small, relatively reasonable game, and it’s a fine phrase.

    I’m a longtime member of both CSH and CSI (formerly CSICOP), and have gone to many of their conventions. It functions a lot like a forum. I think that anyone who decides that they wouldn’t want to join because there are some people in it who spout off controversial views is probably not much of a joiner anyway. Purists are nice to have around, but they usually don’t stick around in any organization: they tend to flounce off noisily, which of course is also fun.

    oh, and I miss Tis’ Himself.