Annie Laurie Gaylor on David Silverman, harassment policies, and all the usual issues

A good article by one of the founders of the FFRF: it seems there have been many concerns simmering for some time. I was a little surprised by this bit of news.

That Silverman is accused of saying to a woman fighting him off, “You don’t get to say no to me,” however, unfortunately rings true to me. I felt “bullied” while attempting to work with Silverman on the speakers committee for the second Reason Rally. I say “attempting” because I was summarily booted from the committee he was chairing and denied a voice in the planning (but at least not before I was able to secure Julia Sweeney as a speaker, I’m pleased to say).

Also, the FFRF has been leading by example for a long time.

At FFRF, all staff and volunteers must sign an anti-harassment policy, which also instructs on how to report any such harassment. This has been in place for decades.

In 40 years, there have been only two reported or known occasions of sexual harassment. One involved a friend, then in her early 20s, who was accosted by one of our Board members, a middle-aged man, in an elevator as she left an FFRF convention in the late 1970s. He restrained her in a bear hug and forcibly kissed her as the elevator went down several flights. She was a rape survivor, and this repugnant encounter unfortunately summoned back that trauma for her. She told me what happened, I immediately informed my mother, the president of FFRF, who immediately confronted the Board member and demanded (and got) his resignation.

About 12 years ago, I learned that a young staffer, another woman in her 20s, was accosted at our office by a new volunteer, an elderly man. As she walked past him, he slapped her behind with a post-it note containing a weird message. As soon as I learned of this, I immediately contacted and confronted him, and he too was “fired.”

A commitment to women and equality means nothing unless the freethought movement makes clear it will not tolerate sexual misconduct or sleazy behavior by leading nonbelievers.

One disappointment, though: don’t read the comments. Like many of the atheist sites on Patheos, the FFRF page is infested with known slymepitters and miscellaneous sexists/misogynists. One of the only suggestions I’d offer to them is that you ought to curate your comments sections, because they’re pretty much unreadable.

Also, the first comment is from a guy threatening to withdraw from the FFRF because he’s annoyed about the grammar in the post, and talks about how he “could go on for hours”, nitpicking. Yeah, let him withdraw.


  1. says

    Of course saying something about the comments got me curious about something so I went checking for one name in particular.

    Sure enough his was the second comment.

  2. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    A few of you may vaguely remember when I “confronted” Silverman on Twitter a couple years back on his hostility towards those who questioned anything AA did. No matter what I said, he brought everything back to “…But I’m RIGHT.” (Which he wasn’t, imo, though that doesn’t actually matter.) “Maybe you shouldn’t be openly hostile to potential members.” “…But I’m RIGHT.” “But don’t you think diplomacy would be better?” “…But I’m RIGHT!”

  3. says

    Sanderson’s a slippery deplorable for sure. I found that post a couple of days ago and have been confronting the garbage as I come up with useful responses.

    That second comment I haven’t responded to yet because I don’t want to make it about our end of the larger conflict when I do. It has the appearance of attacking people in positions of authority who disingenuously address sexual harassment and assault and he simply tags PZ on as one without evidence. And they post a video with anti-sexual harassment and abuse content by Silverman along with it so that content gets the associated feelings too.

    But since it’s quite right to call out such people I don’t want to simply go straight for their actual purpose because that lets them whine about us supposedly supporting abusers. I’m sure they will try that with the claim of us allowing rapists to post here that I’ve already responded to, but that one is easier to deal with since they are sacrificing male victims for political gain and I can redirect towards the relevant issue.

  4. paxoll says

    Given ubiquitous and undeserved stereotypes against nonbelievers, it should go without saying that it’s incumbent on those of us who have the privilege and responsibility of leading freethought groups or speaking out on behalf of nonbelief to be irreproachable in our personal conduct.

    Is a pedophile priest worse then a pedophile parent? No. As a whole the atheist community promotes itself through a lens of rational thought. An atheist doesn’t require that to be an atheist or a member of the community, but as a whole the group/s attempts to spread through reasoned and rational discourse and not intellectually dishonest manipulation. This article reads like manipulation. A lot of look how great we are, look how crappy others are. She is quite literally using her own emotional response to bad behavior to support her argument. There is no “higher” standard to hold anyone to. There is a moral standard that can be arrived at through discussion, codified, and upheld and should be set up for all social circles. Different social circles require different codified rules, NOT because there is and difference in the moral standard, but because that moral standard needs finer distinction for consequences. Sexual assult / rape is the same for BDSM as it is for catholic marriage. The rules are different, but unless we uphold those rules they become meaningless and the moral foundation of them become suspect. Thus the higher standard is not on the individual, the higher standard is on the people and organization. That is what is good about the #metoo movement, it is not the lets dig up every perceived wrong action on someone and shame them into behaving better, it is the encouragement of the group to speak up, and enforce that moral code that we have.

  5. says

    Since I locked my keys in the trunk of my car I have some more time.

    I think I can challenge that comment of Sanderson’s but it requires tying several of their comments together. The patterns are interesting.

    With respect to the comment where Sanderson posts the video of Silverman speaking about sexual assault, that’s a direct link to something relevant that can be addressed with respect to problematic views. But when Sanderson posts about someone who was groomed into abusing what do they post? A screenshot of someone saying PZ defends a rapist, not a link to where that defense supposedly occurs. The latter would be far more powerful.
    Farther down Sanderson mentions about a rape accusation against PZ and others as well as other claims of abuse, and they post nothing. In the context of that post they could be laying out evidence of another atheist/skeptic community abuser and links to such could be powerful, and they post nothing. I managed to pressure them into posting something about this at the friendlyatheist blog and they linked a tone troll from Michael Nugent that tried to get PZ to stop speaking out because PZ once had an accusation, that PZ actually posted about here! Not Sanderson showing what they are talking about, but some other person. They can’t or won’t directly cite their claims that could be used to help victims if they actually cared about them.

    But they don’t care about victims. They care about undermining attempts to get victims taken seriously.

  6. billyjoe says

    Good to see the FFRF was so ahead of its time.

    The clear policy statement that harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated, the immediate and decisive reaction to an accusation of assault before it gets contaminated by public comment, and the fact that it is a private organisation all probably played a role. It has also probably helped that two women (a mother-daughter pair), and an ex-minister (who is married to one of these women), have headed the organisation over the time of its existence.

    Annie Laurie Gaylor, though softly spoken, has advocated strongly for freedom from religion, separation of church and state, and the rights of women for four decades.

  7. chigau (違う) says

    paxoll #6
    Is a pedophile priest worse then a pedophile parent? No.
    The priest has a mandate directly from God™,
    the parents have only biology.

  8. blf says

    Pedophile priests tend to be protected by their cult, who frequently don’t report accusations to the proper (civil) authorities, ostracize or otherwise cause problems for both the child and parents, move / reassign the priest to other places with new victims, declare that paying more tithes and “praying for” the priest “cures” his (usually) pedophilia, blame any problems they can’t cover-up on those they consider the cult’s enemies, and on and on and on. There’s an entire “ecosystem” for all-but-ensuring pedophile priests thrive, continue to prey on multiple children, and that the cult itself has no responsibility to anyone (children, children’s parents, community, priest, …).

    There is no such ecosystem for pedophile parents (as far as I am aware).

  9. paxoll says

    @blf, thanks for demonstrating the point of my post. What the priests are doing is not worse, its the same. The problem is the people in the organization that do not uphold the moral code. The problem is more difficult to tackle due to the social circle.

  10. blf says

    thanks for demonstrating the point of my post. What the priests are doing is not worse, its [sic] the same

    That is your interpretation.
    Here is an alternative: The priests are worse since they do it again and again, to multiple — many — different children. Excepting parent(s) who don’t confine their activities to their child / children, that is not a characteristic of pedophile parents. In addition, the priests can all-but-count on the protection of the cult, that is, people who know / suspect but who fail to act, and whose “leaders” (plural) essentially actively help the priests’s (plural) pedophile attacks (plural) on multiple children (plural); and that “help” can occur more than once (plural). None of that is the same as for pedophile parents.

  11. paxoll says

    @blf, so change the situation in order to simply disagree with me? Wow thats useful for discussion. Why not, well a priest is not as close to a child as a parent making what the parent does much worse…? The issues is an adult molesting a child, morally wrong regardless of the adult, regardless of the child.

  12. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    I think blf’s point (though you can ask blf to be sure) is that this is a matter of interpretation.

    That’s why blf used the words “that’s your interpretation” and rather than saying that you were wrong, blf simply came up with a different frame in which a different answer would be most reasonable. You inventing another frame (“a priest is not as close to a child as a parent”) doesn’t undermine blf’s point: it reinforces it. There are many valid lenses for analysis here.

    You answered definitively earlier, but this is the kind of question that requires more epistemic humility than that.

  13. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @paxoll, continued:
    Note that this puts me in apparent conflict with chigau, who also answered definitively. Though it is possible that chigau was taking that contrary position simply to destabilize the certainty of your answer (in which case #9 would be simply a sarcastic and pithy version of blf’s #12), if chigau is certain, then I disagree with the certainty, even though I believe chigau’s assertion is one reasonable answer to the question that you posed in your comment #6.