Open letter to the Secular Coalition for America?

To whom it may concern at the Secular Coalition for America,

My name is JT Eberhard.  I am an atheist activist who writes a blog on the Patheos network.  I was present at your conference call of the movement’s opinion leaders before the announcement of Edwina Rogers as the SCA’s new Executive Director.

I want to begin by saying that it brings me no joy to write this email.  That being said, I just read that you have appointed two co-chairs for their new Pennsylvania chapter; Brian Fields and Justin Vacula.

I know Brian Fields and he is excellent.  I suspect he is one of the kindest, most hard-working, intelligent people you could hope to have as part of your team.  He will serve the SCA well.

As for my opinion on Justin Vacula, he wrote me an email in July asking me to promote an online debate he was doing.  This is how I responded.

Justin,

Your incessant self-promotion drives me nuts.  I also have a vested interest in promoting people of character who I believe would be exemplary leaders should fame glance their way.  I do not believe you to be such a person.  From whining at me on twitter to reports from several people I trust that you are two-faced to the extreme, combined with your aforementioned streak of endless self-promotion, I am convinced that you are not the type of person to whom I wish to lend any endorsement.

Please do not email me again asking me to promote you.

And I was being more kind than I should’ve been.

When Jen McCreight announced she was taking a hiatus from blogging due to numerous people exploiting her insecurities, Justin’s response was not the sympathy of someone who wants to win the war of ideas without casualties.  No, it was glee at another person’s suffering, and an elation to win by doing harm to another person.  This was his response.

So, Jen's allegedly finished blogging...and this tie it's not her boyfriend who kicked her off the internet.

So, Jen’s allegedly finished blogging…and this time it’s not her boyfriend who kicked her off the internet.

This type of thing has been Justin’s idiom since anybody began to pay attention to him, and he has never given even a breath for remorse.

When writing, I try to focus on pointing derision at arguments.  Almost always, I’ll say “x idea is idiotic” but not “x person is an idiot.”  I’ll say “x idea is immoral and, if you accept it, that means you are immoral.”  But sometimes you have to denounce bad people and this is one of those times.  He’s done some good activist things, but that does not make up for him being a terrible person.

And what sucks is that this isn’t about him.  I know what Justin Vacula is like.  What I didn’t know was that the SCA was this out of touch.  That he was hired reveals that the SCA is woefully out of sync with the atheist movement (most of which is aware of Vacula’s lack of integrity).  I mean, did you not ask any of the influential people in the movement about him?

Everybody knows I have my gripes with the way many feminists advocate for their cause, but you will never hear me say that their cause is not just or not legitimate.  Even with my disagreements, I still have nothing but loathing for the MRA crowd.  It’s a nest of unreasonable, often malicious men that Vacula has eagerly made his home.  Edwina has spoken at the Women in Secularism conference.  If women in secularism is a cause she cares about, she should weep to learn that people like the one she just hired are setting it back.  Justin’s presence in the ranks of the SCA will serve to make women less comfortable in this movement.  The culpability for this was on Justin’s shoulders up until you hired him.  Now the responsibility for alienating women belongs to the SCA.

The point is that this is not merely a bad hire, this is an abysmal hire.  Vacula may well be a hard worker, but he cannot work hard enough to be worth the cost in integrity the SCA has now paid to acquire him.

I’m all for second chances, but Justin has had them and every time he has doubled down.  I’d even be all for 100th chances, but those should be reserved for people who have shown some contrition, which Justin has not.  Eventually you just have to get to the point where you decide that there are going to be some bad people out there, and they need to be kept out of positions of authority.

Unless there is some sterling justification for how someone like Justin Vacula could have survived any sort of competent vetting process, I am done with the SCA for a while, possibly forever.  I was disappointed, but stubbornly hopeful when Edwina Rogers was hired.  I thought that perhaps her organizational skills on the back end of things would prove to be an asset.  But the last of that optimism has just been strangled, burned, and left for dead.  I’m not going to ask for another donation for the SCA, nor will I make one anytime soon.  And let me tell you, because I love the idea of the SCA, that fact makes me very sad indeed.  There are other organizations with their thumbs closer to the atheist movement’s pulse that are not making mistakes of this caliber.

I could be brought back, but it’s going to take an awful lot of success on your end at this point to overcome a mistake of this magnitude.

With tremendous disappointment,

JT Eberhard

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.


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