Saying No to a Men-Only Debate

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Dan Barker recently accepted an invite to do a debate in Minnesota against a Catholic theologian as part of the “Argument Of The Month Club,” a forum for Catholic men. They covered his expenses and the debate was set for February 12th.

As Dan was looking at the group’s event page for the debate the other day, he noticed something weird:

Yes, this is a men’s club, but the problem was that the event wasn’t just organized by men. It appeared to be a debate only for men. They have a right to do that in a private club, but Dan didn’t want to give off the impression that he was okay with it:

I immediately shot the organizer David Deavel an email, which prompted the following exchange:

Dan:“While looking at your Event page today, I see that it seems to suggest that your meetings are open to men only. Is that right?”

Dave: “That’s right. Men only. 12 bucks a head for drinks, dinner, dessert, and the show! Not a bad deal, eh?”

Dan: “Can you open it to women that night?”

Dave: “No. Sorry, ours is a men’s group organization. But any atheist/agnostic men are welcome to come and plunk down their 12 bucks.”

I thought about this for a long time… maybe 30 whole seconds… before deciding I couldn’t go through with the event.

In an email Dan sent to David, he explained why he couldn’t go through with the debate under those circumstances:

The Feb. 12 topic has nothing to do with “men only.” (If it did, maybe I would understand your concerns.) I have many female friends in your area, and I simply cannot announce that their husbands and male friends are welcome, but they are not. I’m sure you see how they might feel insulted. Although I understand that private groups are free to limit membership, I cannot give the appearance that I condone such discrimination. My participation in a gender-exclusive event would reflect poorly on the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is opposed to patriarchal attitudes. Although you may not feel AOTM is “patriarchal,” I think banning women certainly gives that appearance.

I have spoken at Catholic churches, where the leadership is all male, and I accept such invitations because attendance is open to all, regardless of creed, race, or sex. I have spoken before events organized by Islamic groups, whose membership is limited to Muslims, where nobody was denied admittance to the public meeting. I would love to do the same with you on February 12. But if you are barring women from entry, then you are also barring me.


Dan paid for his canceled plane ticket but kept his reputation intact.

Can’t say as much for the Catholic group and their No Womenfolk Allowed Club.

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.