Letter finale

Well…this is going to suck to write, and it’s not at all the post I wanted to put up.

I was told that I could go public with all the information I had.  I wrote the post – frankly, it was one of the best, most airtight pieces I’ve ever written.  I got it vetted by all necessary parties.  But sometime between then and now my superiors changed their minds.

It has been one of the biggest adjustments of my life going from an activist and writer with no oversight and no appreciation for playing politics to working for an organization and being bound by the decisions of people who are, well, not me.  Most of the time I agree with my superiors.  Sometimes I don’t (this is one of those times).  But they remain my superiors, and for the SSA to run I must abide by their decisions.

And now, in this case, their decision is to let it rest.  I’m sorry.  I wish I could give you more.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • http://www.atheist-faq.com Jasper of Maine (I feel safe and welcome at FTB)

    Do the good guys win?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      Depends on who you ask. You can probably guess my answer, but I’m drunk at the moment and have a policy against publishing anything while drunk.

      • Mark

        A lot happened in the previous 18 minutes, then? :-)


  • NateHevens


    No. Just… no.

    Who do I send a letter to? Seriously.

    What you’re doing is part of the reason I donate to the SSA in the first place. They don’t get to tell you to just “let it go” when this is your job.

    So who do I put pressure on to move this forward? I don’t have a lot of money, but I have words, a voice, a phone, an email address, and the Jewish Guilt Trip at my disposal. Who do I use ‘em on?

  • bawgs

    After sitting motionless on the edge of my chair for days now, I feel compelled to call bullshit.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

    Believe me, I understand. I put an insane number of hours in on this in the last week and a half.

    If you think it’s hard for you to let it go, imagine how hard it is for me to let it go.

    • bawgs

      Well when you put it that way, I think I can relocate my already misplaced anger.

      Sorry brah.

      Guess that fundie teacher trolled you guys pretty hard.

      • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

        This is my life. It was my life in college, it’s my life as an adult. It’s the perfect use of an obsessive personality like mine – obsession with making sure bad people get stopped, or at least opposed.

        SOmetimes it doesn’t work out. Believe me, I lose sleep over it.

    • SlantedScience

      I put an insane number of hours in on this in the last week and a half.


      • Drew


  • Steve

    But you aren’t dropping the case, right? This is just about not making it public?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      There are some questions I’m not sure if I’m allowed to answer. This is one of ‘em.

      • https://profiles.google.com/UCIcaarus/about Icaarus

        My only question is whether this ends with some kind of resolution, or if you are left floating in the sea of détente.

  • Drew

    While I’m disappointed, I think that for the SSA this is probably for the better.

    • NateHevens

      How is it better? JT was basically told to not do his job here. We don’t have all the facts, but part of me feels like they basically told him to abandon this high school to anti-atheist bigotry. This is entirely against what the SSA is. They shouldn’t drop it because the school’s run and staffed by hard-asses.

      So I’ll say it again: who do I write a letter/make a phone call to?

      • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

        They made the their best call. Don’t think they don’t care about atheist students: they care a lot.

        They thought the school handled it sufficiently. I didn’t.

        • pneumo

          How was it handled then?

      • Drew

        maybe I read it wrong then, because it didn’t seem to me like they just dropped it. It seemed to me more they simply stopped JT from naming and shaming, right now.

        My (possibly incorrect) interpretation was that it was a strategic decision to wait on the naming and shaming for now. I figured they were just waiting until the start of the school year to see what happens and revisit the idea of naming and shaming then. We know they’ve got no legal leg to stand on, and perhaps they’ve already earned the crap storm they’d get from JT posting the names, but I was just thinking maybe it was better from a strategy point of view to wait on that until the actual lawsuit happens (if/when that becomes necessary).

        But what do I know?

        • Drew

          For clarity’s sake,

          The “they” I’m referring to in this sentence “We know they’ve got no legal leg to stand on, and perhaps they’ve already earned the crap storm they’d get from JT posting the name” is of course the school not the SSA,

  • Adam Collins

    Wow. This sucks. I don’t watch TV or anything like that because I’m always wrapped up in this movement and spend a lot of my free time on freethoughtblogs.com. This is like watching an intense season of (insert reality show) then having the final episode cut. Damnit. Oh well, maybe I can just ask you personally at the next conference. Deal? Pretty please with cherries on top? :-)

  • buckyball60

    To think this series got me extremely exited to add SSA to my FY donation list. If your higher ups are reading, I am going to need one heck of honest, open, human and factual reason for what went on here. A terse press release will not cut it.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      The SSA does a tremendous amount of good. In this case they did what they thought was best. We just happened to disagree on what was best this time. They’re in those positions because their judgment is better than mine most of the time.

      • NateHevens

        IMO, they’re judgement here isn’t just wrong… it’s fucked up.

        • Rory

          Thanks for sharing your completely uninformed opinion.

  • basementmatt

    I know how you feel. It’s disappointing in the extreme. But, there will be other dragons to slay. This one remains a good mystery.

  • A Hermit

    Take the long view and just keep pushing forward…this is one step to the side, not a step back.

  • memphis matt

    A little disappointing, but that first letter was a real pleasure to read. Keep up the good work

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      Always. Bullies piss me off.

  • http://www.facebook.com/llamagirl kevinbutler


  • Rando

    Man, I’m gonna be pounding this thing tonight! http://nooooooooooooooo.com/

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      You and me both.

  • magster2

    Hang in there, JT. As much as this must hurt, you’re strong enough to get through it. You’ve done so much good work in the past, and you’re going to do so much more good work in the future. It’s O.K. if one or two of these don’t work out, the rest of it more than makes up for it. Take all the time you need to mourn this loss/stalemate/less than completely satisfactory resolution/whatever the heck the situation is, and then go out and win the next one.

    Oh, and it would be a shame to waste a perfectly nice bender without enjoying it at least a little bit. I have no idea what your tastes are, but maybe download a Marx Brothers movie?

  • Laurence

    I’m really curious why they decided to make the decision they made. Knowing why would really help me understand and appreciate their decision. You might want to tell them that there are a lot of people who were following this case and are extremely interested in it. It would be helpful if we could have some kind of closure. Not knowing what’s going on is pretty shitty.

  • John Eberhard

    You are to be commended for the dignity and grace of this post, as well as the restraint. Your passion is one of the things that makes you extraordinary at what you do, and refraining from lashing out at those whom you perceive to have stopped you from righting what you consider to be a wrong speaks well for your maturity.
    Go you.
    Sucks really bad that all the time you spent on this was for nothing. However, in keeping our eye on the bouncing ball, hopefully the students will in fact start up a group there this fall and we know for damned sure that the school—and your taunter—are well aware they are on the SSA/JT evil eye list and will be watched every step of the way. I have no doubt a safe haven for skeptic kids will be established there, and your efforts through this will be huge contribution to that.
    Go you, again.

    • Rory

      Well put. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Deanna

    Is there any way you could share your most recent writing, without publishing the name of the school/principal/teacher? That way, we could live vicariously through it? I’d love to see what you wrote.

    Remember, we loved your original letter without knowing who it was written towards. As much as it would be fun to “unleash the hounds” (hounds being your readers), I would be more than content to read your words, without knowing who was supposed to receive it.

    • Kilian Hekhuis

      This. I don’t care for names, but I’d like to know the outcome, even if in a perfectly anonymous fashion like the first post on this.

      • Drakk

        I will third this.

  • Carol Eberhard

    There is still so much good that came out of all of this, even if it was not the conclusion you had hoped for. A lot of awareness was raised. Sometimes you lose a few battles in order to win the war. And remember how much you’ve already won. They know you are onto them and are watching.

    Quiet dignity and grace, for reals. You continue to amaze me.

  • dcortesi

    They thought the school handled it sufficiently. I didn’t…

    I’m going to speculate out of complete ignorance here… So I’m supposing that your letter and followup contacts produced some degree of compliance, but it’s verbal, not on paper; and the school admins who are handling it said things like, “it’s best handled on the Q.T., we can manage this fine if it doesn’t become a big public controversy, there are certain people who if they get riled will make our lives a living hell, and there’d be all kinds of fallout.”

    So in order to give these admins room to do what they’ve (perhaps grudgingly) said they’d do, the SSA wants to avoid any “naming and shaming” that could be linked back to the school. And no matter how you try to sanitize the story, if it isn’t completely fictionalized, somebody would trace it back, or recognize themselves in it.


    • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

      That’s excessively charitable. I’ve known dozens of people in supervisory positions who’ve backed down from conflicts or from seeing justice done and I can’t remember one single case where there was a good reason for it.

  • http://gravatar.com/huckleberry549 huckleberry549

    I don’t follow all that’s posted here, but Boston and Chicago has banned Chick-fil-a, you may already know about it.

  • Daniel Schealler


    Sorry JT.


  • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

    *hugs* Thank you for all you do, JT, and for sharing this struggle with us. It’s appreciated. Just keep up the good work.

    Btw, tomorrow I will make that donation I promised so you guys can continue doing what you do while the rest of us slackers are spouting off on the internet. I can’t afford much, but it’s a cause that needs support.

  • docsarvis

    After all that foreplay this is the best you can do?

    Seriously, I feel your pain. Keep up the good work. This is but one small battle in a larger war.

  • thztds

    JT, I trust you and I trust the SSA. While we’d all love to have Hollywood style victories, sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. But because of your determination, I’m confident that things will improve.

  • Dave

    Hey JT,

    Welcome to the nasty world of political compromise. You did the right thing by sticking with the organization’s line, even if it hurt. It is part of group work and being on the team.

    As long as you feel the team is moving in the right direction, you have to trim some of your feelings. Once the team goes in the wrong way or you feel you are having to compromise to many times, you go looking for a new job. I had to about two years ago and it was not any more fun than it was compromising. But when it reaches that point, you have to find a new team.

    And your rule about not posting while drunk? It is a very good one, stick to it and include no posting, no commenting, no emailing, no phone calling and no playing with your main character on your account. I lost a lot of ships in Eve that way. But the posting part is important as well.

    Keep at it, you do good work.

  • Gordon

    Dammit JT! the least they (not you) owe us is an explaination!

    • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

      As much as I hate to say it, they really don’t. I’d like to know what happened as much as you, I suspect, but ultimately what happens at the SSA is their business. I trust that they did what they thought would be best for the kids at that school. For all I know, I would agree with them if I knew what happened. However, for now all we can do is put trust in a wonderful organization that’s done a whole lot of good, and offer as much comfort as random people on a network can to the guy who we like to read and don’t really know for the most part, but is awesome and friendly enough to sometimes make us feel like we do.

  • quentinlong

    But based on the information already provided, it’s a damn good bet that the administration of the school in question bloody well knows that The Eye Of Sauron SSA is upon them, and that said Eye will continue to be on them for the foreseeable future. Likewise, it’s a damn good bet that the administrators’ legal counsel has informed them, in no uncertain terms, that what’s already gone down is an engraved invitation to an N-digit lawsuit (N≥6), a lawsuit which the school’s probability of losing is exceedingly large.
    So the relevant question is, just how strongly is the school’s administration committed to Stomping On Godless Freaks In The Name Of The Prince Of Peace?

    Suppose the school’s administrators are basically sane, and more focused on Avoiding Trouble than anything else. If so, they’ll at least make a token effort in the direction of doing what the SSA wants them to do, because all the SSA wants them to do is not violate the friggin’ U.S. Constitution. And who knows? They might even go the extra mile and make a sincere, genuine effort in the right direction. At the very minimum, it’s reasonable to expect that a basically-sane administration will take steps to ensure that the school’s faculty members stop actively obstructing students who want to form a secular organization, regardless of what said administration does or does not do to assist those students in achieving that purpose.
    So under the assumption of basically-sane administrators, the Good Guys have already scored a win, even without the post JT is not allowed to upload to the blog. Maybe it’s not as big of a win as we’d prefer, but it’s still a win.

    Now suppose the school’s administrators are dyed-in-the-wool godbots who know damn well that Stomping On Godless Freaks trumps any merely human law, be that law the U.S. Constitution or whatever else. If this is the case, the adminstrators won’t do a damn thing the SSA wants, and might even double down on Stomping On Godless Freaks—which means that the already existing evidence of the school’s having shat upon the U.S. Constitution, will be augmented by more such evidence, of further instances of the school shitting upon the U.S. Constitution. Thus, by ‘easing up’ on the school’s administration right now, the SSA is more-or-less giving those administrators all the rope they need to hang themselves.
    In other words: By going easy on the godbots now, we gain a case against them which is even stronger, even more unwinnable for the godbots, than the case as it currently stands.

    Best case: We’ve already won.
    Worst case: We’ve bought ourselves a stronger, more-punishing victory over the godbots, with larger damages for them to pay, when the inevitable court case finally happens.

    • B-Lar


  • den1s

    there is no fuckin way I am donating to the SSA now, or in the future. This shows that they are a top down organization who are trying to justify their existence, rather than bottom up and defending student rights. I think you can leave that job now.

    • http://www.atheist-faq.com Jasper of Maine (I feel safe and welcome at FTB)

      That doesn’t seem particularly reasonable. The legalities are complicated – beyond what you may be aware. They also have to be responsible enough to not accidentally cut off their noses in spite spite of their faces.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      You could not be more wrong.

      You will be hard-pressed to find an organization that does more with less than the SSA. Every single person there cares very deeply about atheist students. It was with that care that my superiors made the decision they made. Do I think they were right? Not in this case, and they know that. Does that mean they, and myself as their employee, are trying to merely justify our existence? Absolutely not. The SSA’s results and past work speak for themselves.

      It would take a lot for me to leave this job. This is one of the best organizations in the world, and my bosses have taken very good care of me during my time there.

      • den1s

        sorry, I was totally on edge over this episode, which now gets to be left alone. Apologies, I slipped into an intellectual black hole for a moment

      • https://profiles.google.com/UCIcaarus/about Icaarus


        This actually gives me the opposite opinion of the SSA. Knowing that they were initially cool with you releasing the letter, then after careful and deliberate group discussion they changed their minds. This indicates that your higher ups are very rational, able to change their minds. It also shows that they take great pride in their work and not putting their beneficiaries at a disadvantage. Why is this obvious, well you would not have hyped a letter that you thought might have been stopped. I don’t see any wrongs here. Finally, the last thing it shows is that the SSA is cohesive. That gives me great confidence in them going forward.

        Best of luck

  • Lyfa

    *gives JT a hug*

  • Benjamin

    I am dissapointed because I didn’t get something I wanted. However, I realize intellectually that I do not know the people, issues, and legal details involved to say whether or not I agree with the decision.

    I read an earlier comment where someone had asked if you would be willing to release a redacted version of the letter you were going to unleash on the school. Allow me to ask myself if that would be something you’d be willing to do, JT.

  • RuQu

    You’re unhappy with the result, JT. Your superiors are happy with it.

    What I haven’t seen is the most important question:

    Are the kids you are supporting happy with it?

    That’s what this is about, right? The rights of secular children to organize and provide themselves with a safe community? I know there is a larger culture war (sic) going on out there, but we can’t let that distract from the intended purposes here, and it is those purposes which should decide the success/fail criteria.

  • baal

    I don’t think it’s time for JT to go rogue and go against the wishes of the SSA. I know it’s hard but the bigger mission of getting more clubs set up has to be the focus.

    It’s even possible (pure speculation, I don’t know anything) that the initial letter was bait and the sender wound up being a teacher already on his way to retirement or similar. In that case, the problem was leaving and a big fight wouldn’t make sense. I make the ‘bait’ suggestion as the initial letter was really a text book example of perfect evidence. I’m very suspicious of getting of getting what I want – too often it was someone trying to play me. (yes i look gift horses in the mouth – may be not in front of everyone but i do check)

  • wraith

    Hopefully not publishing the material is the SSA taking the high road. But I hope that does not mean that they will not pursue this issue further those kids have rights that are being trampled on and they need assistance.

  • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com MarkNS

    I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of keeping things quiet. People did what they did. If what they’ve done is shameful, they should be held up for public shaming. If what they’ve done is good and reasonable, then there is no reason they should fear having it publicized.
    The SSA is wrong in refusing to publicize the truth of what happened.
    I donated to the SSA for the first time on the strength of JT’s original letter. I will not be doing so again.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      You realize that I’m going to continue writing letters and fighting these battles, yes? That wasn’t the only time I’ve written such a letter. Not by a long shot. It sure won’t be the last.

      If you donate, donate because there are lots of battles out there to fight, not because one wasn’t resolved in the way you (and I) wanted. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but we don’t abandon others because of it.

      • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com MarkNS

        Justice not only must be done. It must be seen to be done. It’s why we have an open court system and a free press. I don’t give money to organizations based upon their claims of doing the right thing…I see that they do the right thing. I can’t know that with the SSA.
        I can only assume that they capitulated to the wishes of the school and I have no idea why.
        Again, if people have behaved legally and honourably, they have nothing to fear in publication. If they haven’t…then I want to know that and what the SSA is doing about it.

        • quentinlong

          I couldn’t agree more, MarkNS! You’re absolutely right that “if people have behaved legally and honourably, they have nothing to fear in publication”.
          By the way, can you post your tax returns, home address, and bank statements for the past seven months in a comment here? Since you’ve behaved legally and honorably, you have nothing to fear in publication. Right, MarkNS?

          • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com MarkNS

            Ok, your analogy is stupid. The school is a public institution that is accountable (or should be) to the citizenry. The actions of people acting in an official capacity for that public institution should be open for public scrutiny. My actions as a private citizen are not required to be open for public scrutiny…unless there is evidence that I have broken the law at which point, if I’d broken tax law, my tax returns would be made part of the public record through a legal process.
            Also, I do have something to fear in having my tax information published as it could lead to identity theft and other real harm. A public officials actions in their public capacity are not the same as private actions of a private individual. If you don’t believe in open government, you’re part of the problem.

          • quentinlong

            sez markns: “Ok, your analogy is stupid.”
            Is it? We shall see…

            “The school is a public institution that is accountable (or should be) to the citizenry.”
            Yes. And the SSA—you know, the group you’re criticizing here?—is not a public institution. So if this is the basis on which you’re saying SSA bad! SSA bad!, you’re doing it wrong.

            “The actions of people acting in an official capacity for that public institution should be open for public scrutiny.”
            Sure. And, again, the group you’re criticizing (that being the SSA) is not a public institution. Wherefore, then, your fulminations at the private institution we know as the SSA?

            “I do have something to fear in having my tax information published as it could lead to identity theft and other real harm.”
            Okay, so you do recognize that “total disclosure, 24/7/365″ isn’t always the best way to go, You do recognize that making information public can have undesirable consequences, even downright harmful consequences. But in spite of that, you still want to piss and moan about how the SSA did not, in this particular juncture of this particular situation, elected not to do the Total Disclosure thing.
            Curious, that.

            “A public officials actions in their public capacity are not the same as private actions of a private individual. If you don’t believe in open government, you’re part of the problem.”
            Yes, and that’s why the SSA’s decision to completely stonewall this dreary affair is such a black eye for the SSA.
            Oh. Wait. The SSA didn’t completely stonewall this dreary affair.
            Instead, the SSA (through the medium of its operative, JTEberhard) brought this dreary affair to light in the first place, revealing that at least some part of the school’s faculty was screwing the First-Amendment pooch, bigtime. Which means that the only reason you even can make noise about how wrong it is for the SSA to conceal some of the information in this case… is exactly and precisely because the SSA did not conceal some of the other information in this case.
            Yeah, markns… those SSA scumbuckets don’t believe in open government at all, and are clearly part of the problem…

            If I interpret your remarks charitably, markns, you look like the sort of person for whom ‘open government’ is a serious hot-button issue that they have many, many bees in their bonnet about, and you’re essentially criticizing SSA for not honoring the ‘open government’ issue to anywhere near the same degree of intensity you do. If this is, indeed, the case, you might want to rethink your strategy here, because… well… the SSA isn’t about “open government”. The SSA has other fish to fry. If you think the SSA should focus on ‘open government’ to the same degree you do, you’re entirely welcome to your opinion, but they just aren’t focused on ‘open government’ to the same degree you are, okay? So pissing and moaning about hey! open government! open government, damnit! is, to put it mildly, unlikely to result in the SSA bringing its institutional focus more in line with your particular constellation of Issues Of Interest.
            That, again, is me interpreting your remarks charitably, markns.
            Under an uncharitable interpretation of your remarks… you’re Yet Another Friggin’ Troll, and your ‘open government’ schtick is bullshit straight out of Derailing for Dummies, specifically Don’t You Have More Important Issues To Think About?
            If you are a troll, markns, feel free to fuck off and die in a fire. But if, on the other hand, you are instead some flavor of activist whose worst sin is overly-tight focus, you should really take a step back and consider whether your current behavior is likely to help you achieve whatever goals you may be working for.

      • CWP

        I think the problem is this looks like a contrived fund raising stunt. It wouldn’t be the first time it has happened with an organization. This looks especially bad, since every post, every delay, had a call to donate to the $250K fundraising goal. Then Fundraising met, oops, we won’t post an update after all (and you weren’t the only one in the SSA to do this, I saw at least two others posting update coming, please donate).

        Personal opinion, an organization such as the SSA should be transparent. They work on donations, and the process to get those donations needs trust to work. Things like this make me worry about the organization, and it breeds mistrust.

        • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

          I posted the letter initially so people could get some insight into what I do and the type of things I deal with in my job. I’ve done it before.

          Unless you believe that previous occasions of me posting letters to schools was to set up a precedent for this stunt, I’m not sure it looks that way.

          It wasn’t a fundraiser stunt. There are millions of ways to raise money honestly. It was just something that didn’t resolve the way some people wanted. It’s life. Not a stunt.

          • CWP

            JT, I’m not saying it was a fundraising stunt, but it does look like it. Other “charities” have done stuff like this before, get the internet worked up, and solicit donations. This one really smells, due to the number of pushes on the resolution, all asking for a donation, but don’t worry, update is coming, only to meet the fundraising goals and then a post saying nothing is going to be discussed further. This type of donation request was done both here, and on reddit in threads, and on SSA’s page on facebook.

            I am criticizing the way SSA handled this (I am not criticizing the way you are handling it, I actually think you are doing the right thing when working for the organization). Anyway, a charity needs to avoid the impression of impropriety, I further think that a group such as the SSA should never hide details, never agree to settlements with gag orders, etc. It hurts the cause, it makes others believe that student interests can be hurt, and it makes other students not know the power of an organization like the SSA.

            For example, take this incident, if a true incident, then the publishing of the case (even without names/school info), and it’s resolution would show a student in another area the power and what kind of fight and how to win against a school that fights them forming organizations. Not publishing gives the impression that in some instances the student isn’t backed. Doesn’t matter what really happened, a bullied student might not fight if they have the impression it will just cause more bullying and no change.

            This is my problem, to others saying that the SSA is a private charity and don’t need to publish information, I agree, but my charity donations are mine, and those organizations that are not transparent don’t deserve to get those donations. And what do you say to those that donated based on the first post and promises of updates? How do you earn back a trust that you burned?

            Anyway, sorry to go on so long, I just want the organization to know that they have burnt the trust of people who supported them, and your forum is the one way I know someone will listen, and I hate the idea of an organization that has the potential to be great and do great things hurts itself this way.

  • leilah

    I’m disappointed in not being able to see the letter, but I can also think of a ton of possible reasons not to put it out. If all goes well, maybe we could get a follow-up success story in the fall?

  • http://atheistlogic.wordpress.com/ Zach

    I’m obviously not in a position to judge whether the SSA made the right call. I’m disappointed that we don’t get to hear what happened, but my feelings doesn’t make it the wrong (or right) decision.

    I just want to throw out there that I think it’s really cool that you, JT, have a job where you can publicly disagree with your superiors and not catch shit for it.

    Hope you’re alright, you know we know how great the work your do is. :)

  • Brian


    Can you say for certain whether we might hear a resolution to this sometime in the distant future?

  • pneumo

    Lack of information is informationless.

  • Blaze

    I know people who contributed because they thought things were really hitting the fan.

    Now, nothing.

    It almost feels like a scam, a pump up your ratings thing. This looks bad JT, a simple apology does not gloss this over.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      This person’s IP address belongs to a FEDEX in Kansas. I suspect it is one of the trolls in that area I’ve banned trying to get around my IP ban.

      • Icaarus

        I was wondering, considering there was never any connection between fundraising and this specific event.

  • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

    Ok, ladies and gentlemen, JT doesn’t owe an apology or anything else to you or anybody. Neither does the SSA. He thought he would be able to tell us about what was going on, and in the end, most likely due to legal reasons related to defamation of character or libel if not a specific legal settlement that imposes a gag order on both parties, he was unable to.

    In the meantime he has done this a number of times before with no incident when he could very well have been scamming people for quite some time. JT has shown no signs of being deceptive about things in the past, not even during Blog-a-thon when they were trying to raise more money and could have, arguably, “gotten away” with more. And we hear stories about these types of situations and their conclusions all the time. Just not in this case.

    It’s frustrating to see the chorus of people who a) feel entitled to know what a private charity does without considering the possible and perfectly legitimate complicating factors, and b)that this characterizes the SSA, despite post upon post and article upon article about what they do and the work they accomplish.

    JT occasionally lets us know what goes on at his work. That does not entitle us to know that, he’s kind enough to share because he’s passionate about what he does and believes in the cause. We have no right to “transparency” and, as charitable donators, no say in how the organization runs itself. You are not buying stock, you’re supporting a good and needed cause, and if you require some sort of decision making power in order to support children who need secular clubs, you should seriously look at your life to figure out what went wrong.

    Secondly, how many articles have we seen about what the SSA does?

    Well, there’s this one highlighting a couple of schools that they helped get programs into.

    Here’s them supporting the FBB’s Light the Night walk.

    This one has a testimonial from a high school atheist about what the SSA has done for his group.

    This one is a very similar story to the one that we saw, just with less detail, and a more satisfying conclusion.

    And another story of things the SSA does.

    I could continue on, but I think you get the idea.

    This time things didn’t turn out ideally. Sometimes it happens. But neither our blog reading nor our donating entitles any of us to know the inner workings of this or any organization. Nor does this one incident characterize the SSA as a whole, which does amazing work. Whinging on about how you’re not going to support them now that somehow, despite example after example, you “can’t know” that the SSA does good work is not only silly, it’s blinkered.

    • CWP

      Charities depend on donators to operate. For me to feel comfortable, I need transparency, as I said above, not having it hurts the cause.

      I don’t think this should depend on JT blogging, information about cases, what the charity is doing, how it is helping should be front and center on the web page. They should never agree to a gag order, and if they decide it is better for students not to publish the names of schools, etc, they should explain the redacted version of accounts while still discussing the case. Furthermore, I also believe that transparency keeps an organization honest.

      People are not asking for decision making powers, they are asking for an accounting of what is being done, and how that is helping the cause they donated too. Don’t give that to them, and they, with good reason, question further donations.

      One thing keeps charities alive, and that is the donors, alienate them, and you fail as a charity.

      • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

        But my point is that they are open about many, many other cases. They tell people what happened very often (see the above links). In this one, singular case they did not, and there are numerous reasons why doing so may have been the better option. Holding a singular incident against the organization or suggesting that it is indicative of how they work is ignoring countless other examples in the other direction. The world is far more complex than you’re making it out to be, and absolute statements like “They should never agree to a gag order” fail to recognize that sometimes a gag order results in a situation that is better for the students. If it comes to what is going to support student secular clubs better or transparency, I will always choose support, and the example of over 350 clubs in schools around the country, over 40 of which are in high schools, indicates to me that the SSA is in a better position to make that call than I am.

        You can donate or not as you choose, but it’s disingenuous to suggest that the organization is secretive or potentially dishonest when they make a point of telling far more stories than they keep secret.

        • CWP

          We will have to agree to disagree about absolutes, I don’t think our opinions on this are going to align.

          This is not a disingenuous opinion though, something like this to drum up support during a fundraiser has been made up before. In my opinion, if an organization doesn’t want to appear dishonest, they need to work really hard to not do things that appear so, doesn’t matter if they did or not, the appearance is there.

  • pneumo

    I’m prepared to accept the SSA:s decision.

    Maybe they felt that the school made enough concessions that there was no need to put the students in question in a highly confrontational and public position.

    Or maybe the SSA just chickened out.

    I don’t know, that is why I want SSA to tell me what happened.

    Details aren’t necessary, but this fog and smoke situation is fucking annoying.

  • NateHevens

    For the record, my anger does not mean I’m no longer supporting the SSA. The SSA would have to do something insane, like suddenly becoming a YEC Charity, or openly and proudly supporting misogyny, or endorsing Mitt Romney for President, or something else equally insane and improbable, for me to turn against it.

    What the SSA does is too damn valuable and too damn important, and I will support that mission (even while I’m poor) to the day I die.

    And not just because the SSA is the only organization that currently focuses on it.

    I’m just frustrated because it almost reads as if they’re basically telling JT to let the bad guys win. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t get why they’d just want to give up, especially since this is what thy do (by “this” I mean “ensuring that non-religious students get equal representation in public schools”… not “giving up”). If this could be clarified, I’d feel much better about it.

  • http://bannedatheists.us Banned Atheist

    SSA has released a statement (without acknowledging JT I note — or even linking here for background). Here’s the link and an excerpt:


    Several weeks ago, we received a letter from a high school teacher where secular students were trying to form an official club. The teacher disagreed with our organization’s mission and expressed prejudices toward secular students, going so far as to call them “deviants” who did not deserve protection. For someone who works with students to express such views was extremely worrying, so we reached out to the school. We wanted to make sure that the secular students would be allowed to form a SSA club and be treated with the rights and respect they deserve.

    We brought the situation to the school’s attention and explained why it was unacceptable. Pointing to the law, the moral landscape, and the bullying that secular students often face, we made it clear that discrimination against nontheistic students in school cannot be tolerated.

    They agreed. The teacher backtracked and pledged never to discriminate against students for any reason. The administrators reaffirmed their commitment to diversity and the rights of all students to form clubs. They spoke with the teacher to ensure his understanding of the law and to emphasize the consequences should any evidence surface that he’s not obeying it. They made it clear that his personal views would not interfere with how he treats students and that he needs to make sure every student does feel welcome in his classroom.

    The students are preparing to get their Secular Student Alliance club up and running as soon as the school year starts, with the administration’s and the Secular Student Alliance’s full support. With our eyes — and the administration’s — on the situation, teachers will be on their best behavior. Discrimination will not stand on our watch.