It has come to my attention that certain people — certain thuggish, stupid people — are objecting to the Code of Conduct for the American Atheists 2014 convention. In addition to complaining that it shouldn’t bother to address the needs of trans people (WTF?), they object to this section.
American Atheists does not tolerate harassment of or by conference participants in any form. Prohibited conduct may include but is not limited to harassment related to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, religion, sexual images in public spaces (not related to convention sessions or materials), deliberate intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic conduct will not be tolerated.
That all sounds good and reasonable to me. But some people are complaining that at an atheist convention, it is far too PC to say you may not harass people for their religion, and then they point to David Silverman, who is known for his confrontational style and his willingness to openly disagree with religious convention.
These objectors are obtuse and wrong. This does not say you may not disagree with someone; it does not say you may not publicly express a different opinion; it does not say you have to be kind and gentle to bad ideas.
It says you may not harass someone.
Harassment is persistent, aggressive behavior with the purpose of intimidating or silencing someone. The code of conduct even goes into detail: “deliberate intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.” To say that you may not do that to a religious person is not a violation of the purpose of American Atheists; I’d say it’s actually a damn good idea if atheists don’t harass religious people and make respectful behavior towards other human beings a part of their policy…while still continuing aggressive campaigns against bad ideas.
So if Thomas Monson, president of the LDS church, shows up at AACON2014, you can argue with him, you can tell him how much you dislike his church, but if he asks you to step aside and leave him alone, you will do so. David Silverman can give a talk in which he castigates the Mormons for their hypocrisy and the absurdity of their religion, and if Thomas Monson raises his hand to ask a question afterwards, the audience will not heckle him and shout him down. And when he starts walking up the aisle to leave afterwards, you will not grab him, block him, spit on him, shout obscenities at him, or interfere with him in any way, because that would be harassment, and that would put you in violation of the code of conduct. Well, and also put you in violation of many norms of civilized behavior.
I have no objection at all to the American Atheists code of conduct, and think it is a fine document fully in accord with the aims of the movement. If you disagree, you shouldn’t go anywhere where you might find yourself in groups of people. Perhaps you’d be better off living in a small cave in the middle of nowhere? Or perhaps confining yourself to the company of trolls on youtube?
I was pointed to the commitments and code of conduct for an anarchist book fair. They’re rather progressive. It doesn’t matter who you are, when people gather, there will be rules to regulate your behavior.