Secular Coalition for Pennsylvania Announces New Co-Chair

Following the quick resignation from Justin Vacula due to outside pressure, the Secular Coalition for Pennsylvania has found a new co-director to join Brian Fields.

Scott Rhoades, the founder and president of the Lancaster Freethought Society, will be helping lead the new organization:

Rhoades said he looks forward to protecting and strengthening the secular character of the Pennsylvania government by working with everyone.

“I believe you can be civil and tolerant towards those practicing religion without compromising your values or ideals,” Rhoades said. “You can be respectful to the religious even though you don’t respect their religion.”

Here’s to moving forward.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • JT Eberhard

    Here, here.

  • Brian Fields

    Scott and I have worked on a few projects together already.  Looking forward to working with him on this.

  • Ranson

    Where does he stand on the “Treating women like human beings” question?  It wasn’t ability to work with the religious that was a problem with the other guy.

  • ScottRhoades

    I am a Humanist Atheist that believes in treating everyone like human beings regardless of gender or any other criteria you may name. Labels are only useful if we agree on what they mean but I’d also be comfortable having the term feminist applied to me as most people understand the term.

  • Dangerous Talk

    I’m  going to stand up for Justin. He treats women the same way most
    people in our community treat women (as equals). While I support Scott’s
    appointment, Justin got a bad rap. He doesn’t deserve the hate that
    some hateful bloggers have placed on him. 

  • Parse

    He’s definitely better than Vacula, that much is certain.  
    That being said, back in August he did leave a comment here essentially saying that “Sexism isn’t the problem; talking about it is”:

    I think sexism certainly exists but not in any greater proportion than any other conference. This is certainly something we should work on (see the conduct policy for our conference) but not something that should dominate the conversation and split us as a movement. It dismays me that people that have grouped together in the freethought movement are allowing this to distract us from our real mission of promoting positive atheism and defending the separation of church and state.

    (link to source).

    Draw from that what you will.

  • Adam Lee

    He treats women the same way most people in our community treat women (as equals).

    Uh-huh. Say, would you be the fellow who ran an Atheist of the Year contest that didn’t include any women as nominees because you didn’t want to include a “token nominee”?

  • Justin Vacula

    Too bad people want to be negative here and rehash drama. Congratulations Scott on your appointment. Scott is a great choice for co-chair. Good luck. 

    …and thanks, Staks.

  • Ibis3

     I draw from that (in addition to his comment above):

    Saying I believe in equality is sufficient; actually doing anything about sexism within the movement or as part of the movement is mission drift.


    I hope I’m wrong.

  • Ibis3

    Psst. JT. That should be “Hear, hear” as in “Hey you, you gotta hear what this guy is saying. Hear it, I’m telling you, cuz it’s great stuff that I agree with.”

  • Scott Rhoades

     I think you unfairly represented my words when you incorrectly paraphrased them as “Sexism isn’t the problem; talking about it is”.

    How exactly did you get that from the quote you posted? Not once did I say that we shouldn’t discuss it. I even indicated that it is something we should work on. If you don’t think I’m serious about sexism look at the conduct policy I helped create for the PA Atheist/Humanist Conference ( of which I was an organizer.

    I think I was pretty clear in that quote that I agreed that we should deal with the problem when I said “This is certainly something we should work on “, as we and others such as American Atheist have by responding with progressive conduct policies (thanks to AA for letting us use their policy as a starting point for ours) but that at the same time I don’t think it should distract us from our purpose as a movement. Let’s have the discussion. Let’s create new conduct policies and enforce them. But let’s also continue to move on with our mission.

    Anybody with any type of leadership position in the movement should understand the amount of multitasking we are required to do. We dealt with this issue at the recent PA conference with a pretty tight conduct policy backed up by several documents I myself created (to collect statements from witnesses, to collect separate statements from the alleged victim and perpetrator, and forms to handle any follow up investigations that might be needed, and volunteers trained on how to handle incidents).

    These are forms I spent a long time and serious thought in creating and at the same time I was grateful that none of them were needed as not one case of harassment of any type was ever brought to our attention. I have also posted both our conduct policy and info collection forms in the Freethought Group Organizers group I help admin on facebook for others to use as a template for their own groups’ events (

    All that being said, at the same time we had an event to run. We did what we could about dealing with possible harassment as best as we knew how (and was open to any advice on how to do it better) and then continued on with the other 101 things we needed to do have a great conference.

    This is much like the attitude I describe in the quote you posted. We confronted the problem, we deal with it the best we can, and then we continue our work as a movement. Sexism and harassment are important issues in all levels of society, workplaces, and events. They are serious issues and should be given all due attention. But that doesn’t mean we need to slam on the breaks and bring the movement to a halt until every person has included their input on the subject or until every disagreement or argument about it between fellow freethinkers is resolved.

    I’m quite happy to be working with Secular Coalition for America as Co-chair with Brian Fields and working with my fellow Pennsylvanians to fight the rising tide of religious based legislature, and to eventually stop it entirely even if I need to educate every state legislator personally.

  • Dangerous Talk

    Say, attacking me personally while ignoring what I actually happened in favor of some bloggers attempt to create controversy doesn’t actually address the issue at hand. It’s bullshit like this that is destroying the atheist community. If you would like to have a real conversation about my admittedly flawed Atheist of the Year contest, I would be happy to have that conversation. But insinuating that I don’t support equal rights and treatment for women is just a bunch of bullshit.    

  • Adam Lee

    What you characterize as a personal attack, I think of as a relevant criticism of your credibility on this issue. People who have been wrong about sexism and gender equality in the past are more likely to be wrong about it in the future. The fact that you still think your male-only Atheist of the Year contest was just “some bloggers attempt to create controversy”, as opposed to a visible symptom of a larger problem in the atheist community, is an excellent further proof of this.

    But insinuating that I don’t support equal rights and treatment for women is just a bunch of bullshit.

    Then show it by your actions. Don’t expect us to simply take it on faith that you believe in equality for women when you don’t act in ways consistent with that belief.

  • Michael Gray

    Is this the same JT Eberhard who enthusiatically cheered Rebecca Watson when he thought that she had indulged in chronic and systematic cruel public hazing of her assigned female volunteer?
    Or are there more than one JT Eberhards on the globe?
    There is a recording of the event somewhere, I think.

  • Pitchguest

    Congratulations to Scott Rhoades for this appointment!

    Let’s hope this can bring a close to a bitter chain of events and turn the page on that chapter.

  • Dangerous Talk

    First, you are avoiding the actual topic to attack the person making the point. That is a logical fallacy. With that said, you don’t know me! All you know is what some hateful bloggers misrepresented my position to be. Not you nor any of those bloggers bothered to have an actual conversation with me in a rational manner to clear up any mis-communications. No, you just label me hateful to all women, demonize me, and write me out of the movement despite my life long commitment to equal rights, treatment, and opportunity for everyone. The sad fact is that you and I are probably completely in agreement on these issues, but it makes you feel self-righteous to hate. 

    As I said before, the contest (if you could even call it that) was deeply flawed and I have apologized for those flaws. But none of that matters to you. You don’t care as long as you can find someone to hate and demonize. You say “show it by my actions.” I have! My whole life. I continue to support the equality for all. But all you see are the hate-filled misrepresentions of my position by people who have a history of creating controversies by demonizing others. I offered you an opportunity to have a private conversation to defend myself against your bullshit character assassination and you seem to have rejected that. It bothers me greatly that people like you treat FtBs as if it were the Gospel. Be skeptical!

    I have worked with Justin in the past and he has also always supported equal rights for everyone. 

  • Ibis3

     When you say: “I don’t think it should distract us from our purpose as a movement,” it reads like you think that the sexism that women face, the harassment that they endure, and the misogyny that permeates the culture (largely enforced by religion, thank you very much) is just a nuisance, and if you could just get them to shut up because look we have some anti-harassment policies with forms and everything, we could all get back to doing what I, as a man, deem important.

    I’m not saying that’s your intent, Scott, but that’s how it comes across (notwithstanding your statement that it’s a serious issue). Perhaps if you keep in mind that this issue is front and centre for half of the population, that it intersects with what you’ve defined as the work of the movement, is, in fact, part of “our mission”* and not a distraction from it, you’d inspire more confidence in your commitment to gender equality.

    *If you’re having a hard time buying that, consider that just like the religious want to impose their religious models by injecting creationism into science classes, they want to impose their religious models of the nature of women into legislation concerning health and reproductive rights. Fighting to keep prayer out of council meetings is worthy, but so is fighting to keep religious dogma out of pharmacies and doctors’ offices. This is just an example. I’m sure you can think of others.

  • Adam Lee

    No, you just label me hateful to all women…

    I did? How interesting. Where in any of my previous comments did I say that? 

    I don’t think you’re a hateful person, Staks. I think you made a mistake stemming from unconscious prejudice, which any of us can do. I’ve certainly said my share of dumb, embarrassing things in the past. The issue is how you react when you’re called out on it. Do you own up to it and try to do better next time? Or do you dig in, become defensive, insist that you did nothing wrong and that your critics are just vicious, evil people persecuting you for no reason whatsoever?

  • Dangerous Talk

    You absolutely insinuated it. That was the whole point if your comment. Instead of addressing what I said in support of Justin, you attacked me by insinuating that I hate women and therefore have no credibility. You then doubled down on that.

    As for your other claim, it is both actually. I have admitted many times that the “contest” was flawed. But tha didn’t stop the hateful bloggers out there who now have a history of demonizing people from misrepresenting my position. I have reached out to you to have a private civil conversation without the demonization and you not taken me up on that. 

    While I admit that there were many mistakes with my award, “unconscious prejudice” was not one of them. That’s just more bullshit. You don’t know the facts and making them up isn’t going to work. Demonizing people who agree with you about the importance of equality also isn’t working. Both Justin and I share a strong commitment to equal rights, equal opportunity, and treatment for all. 

  • Parse

    How did I get that?
    You think it’s important, but “not somthing that should dominate the conversation.”  You think it’s important, but it’s not something that should “split us as a movement”.  You think it’s important, but people that have grouped together are “allowing this to distract us from our real mission.”  

    To me, that looks like you’re dismissing concerns about sexism in the movement, that we need to shut up and accept it (or “deal with it the best we can, then we continue our work as a movement”).  

    It’s similar to racism; handling it isn’t a once-and-done thing, but rather an ongoing concern.

  • HughInAz

    Sounds reasonable to me, and certainly nothing like your strawman mischaracterization that “talking about sexism is the problem”. If you think sexism is a bigger problem at atheist and skeptic conferences than other conferences, then you need to back up that claim with evidence. That’s what skeptics do, after all.

  • amycas

     Is that the same “public hazing of an assigned female volunteer” that was  a joke that the volunteer was in on?

  • vjack

     Yeah, I have to agree with Staks on this one. Bringing up the Atheist of the Year contest was not what the discussion was about and seems like an attempt to discredit Staks rather than respond to what he was saying.

  • Parse

    One additional thought:
    I agree with what Ibis3 said – I don’t believe that this is what you intend, but it’s how it comes across.  

  • Scott Rhoades

     How can we deal with it any better than “the best we can”?  While I’m glad that you don’t think I am intentionally blowing off the topic, the best we can do is the best we can do. I don’t think we’ll ever have a conduct policy that will be accepted by every freethought group out there. It will be up to each group, conference, or convention to police the issue on their own. Recommendations can be made but there is no overarching authority to order everyone to follow certain rules.

    As I said before, I consider myself a feminist and I will speak out against misogyny, unequal treatment of women, and harassment wherever it occurs. I will not tolerate it in my group or at events I’m a part of and will also speak out against it in others groups and events when I become aware of it. It is an important topic and a problem we must face. However, I also fight for the rights of the LGBT movement and many other causes that I agree with. It would be impossible for anyone to devote their full attention to working for each of these causes.

    I’m glad that there are those within our movement who choose to make this fight for women their priority and I support them in their fight the best I can. I will help them in this fight when possible. When I mentioned it being a distraction from our real mission, I was speaking of the infighting that is going on over this issue, not the issue itself.

    All I’m trying to say is that it is not the only problem we have either
    as a movement or a society. My main purpose as Co-Chair of SCP is to monitor my state’s legislation and to fight for church/state separation. It’s what I am best equipped to do in this position and why I was chosen for it.

  • Scott Rhoades

     I think you are reading way to much into what I wrote and it is because you are coming at it from a state of mind that is looking for possible flaws. When you translate what you think I wrote into what you think it sounds like you are projecting your own thoughts onto my words and it’s quite unfair when you can simply ask me what I meant instead of reading anything into it.

    When I said “I don’t think it should distract us from our purpose as a movement,” I meant the infighting that was going on over the issue, not the issue itself. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clearer about that in my original post.

    When I talked about creating a conduct policy and documents I was speaking of what I could do in my role as an organizer for a particular conference, not for the problem itself.

    The infighting surrounding this issue is what saddens me. To me it’s a simple issue to treat women with respect and as equals. It seems that for such a rational thought based movement the irrational behavior I witnessed is truly a distraction from our main mission as a movement and it will be until we ALL approach it in a rational way.

  • Ryan Grant Long

    If they didn’t rehash petty drama they might run out of pointless things and have to (GASP) actually DO something useful.

  • Ibis3

     Yeah, I know this is an old comment, but hopefully you’re still following. I’m heartened by your replies to me and Parse, but I hope that my comments will be helpful to you in the future when you present your position.

    This is better, but you’re still giving mixed messages:

    I’m glad that there are those within our movement who choose to make
    this fight for women their priority and I support them in their fight
    the best I can. I will help them in this fight when possible. When I
    mentioned it being a distraction from our real mission, I was speaking
    of the infighting that is going on over this issue, not the issue

    You support those who are fighting to change things, and will even help them,  but the infighting is a distraction from the mission and so you want it to stop?