Wrong answer, Edwina.

So I wrote an open letter to the SCA about their association with Justin Vacula.  SCA Executive Director, Edwina Rogers, came by and left a comment.

Correction – the Secular Coalition for America has not “hired” anyone in any state. We have a staff of seven in DC. We are staffing state coalitions in 49 states, DC and PR. The state coalitions are made up of interested groups and individuals in the states and particupation [sic] is voluntary. We are willing to work with as many affiliated and allied groups and individuals as possible. We are seeking volunteers in the states and are thankful to those that are willing to assist. We have much work to do at the National and State level…



He was appointed co-chair of PA, but wasn’t hired, per se?  Whoops, my bad.  Was that really the one point you wanted to get cleared up?  Nothing about the SCA’s association with the guy who celebrated the mental anguish of a board member of one of the SCA’s affiliate organizations?  What about his writing an article for a designated hate group (via the Southern Poverty Law Center)?  Does the distinction of appointment carry less of your endorsement than “hiring”?

You didn’t even acknowledge what the actual fuss was about!  Take that one tweet I posted (and for those griping that I posted nothing else condemning of Vacula, don’t confuse mercy with lack of ammunition).  Where Justin had the opportunity to say “I still think you are wrong, but I hope that you are ok,” he instead threw out a taunt.  The atheist movement should, of course, strive for reason, but it must also strive for compassion.  Sometimes we try and fail.  However, in terms of compassion, Justin is clearly not even trying.  It was more important to him to indulge his self-interest by appealing to similarly malicious people than it was to even think about if Jen was all right.  That is the person upon whom you just bestowed a position of responsibility, and so far we’ve not even seen a hint that this matters to you.  But that I said “hired” rather than “approved” or “appointed,” that apparently matters enough for you to speak up.

Don’t you get it?  What pisses us off is not whether Justin was hired or appointed, it’s that you either approve of the, frankly, vile things he has done, or that you don’t care who you vest with authority under the banner of the SCA.  In either case, your association with Vacula undermines our remaining confidence in you as a leader and in the SCA as an organization.

Edwina, when you were first announced to this movement there were a whole host of gripes, such as your financial support of Rick Perry.  Ordinarily donations to men who would love little more than to see the end of secularism in America would be viewed as a betrayal, but you actually tried to spin your financial support of secularism’s enemies as a reason to trust that you’ll be able to effectively work toward ends opposite of where your dollars went.  Another one of the big gripes on you was that you dodged questions.  Greta Christina put it perfectly.

[Edwina] was talking to her own community here. She was talking to the people she was hired to represent. And she treated us with contempt. She treated us like children, or fools. She treated us like gullible, easily manipulated sheep, who would swallow whatever she told us without question. She treated us, not like members of a community who she was hired to represent, but like targets of a PR campaign who she was hired to dupe.

And your comment on my blog establishes that our optimism that you would eventually learn your lesson was misplaced.  You are still dodging the issues.

And the terrible irony here is that in your first interviews and conference calls (I know because I asked the question of how you intended to get ahead of the Rick Perry donations) you played the political game of answering the question you wish had been asked, rather than the question that was asked.  And back then, you always turned it back to the 50 states program and how it was your baby, and how you were “overseeing it.”  That was your selling point.  Those were your words.  And now, are we to believe that you’ll just take any volunteer?  Is this how seriously you take the charge of personally overseeing something?

Now listen to me, Edwina.  If you take nothing else away from this post, take this.  You will make mistakes.  You will make them as an activist, as head of the Secular Coalition for America, and as a human being.  I make them too; as an activist, as a blogger, and as a person.  We are all fallible.  What makes an admirable leader is not perfection with regard to never making mistakes, but that they make their mistakes with dignity.

Your comment, nitpicking over one irrelevant detail while conspicuously ignoring the entirety of the point, is the game of politics.  In terms of integrity, it is the worst decision you could have made.  Had you admitted a mistake, that would’ve shown humility.  Had you defended Justin, it would’ve betrayed a myriad of negative qualities, but it would at least shown that you can identify the most important issue in the room and stand up for what you believe.  It would’ve allowed you to disagree with dignity.  Instead, you opted for the only option vacant any principle, save for that of self-interest.  This is why you have yet to earn a place in the hearts of atheists; not because you make mistakes, but because you fail to make them with dignity.

I reiterate, I love the idea of the SCA.  Read that again and believe every word of it.  I love the idea of the SCA!  I want it to succeed and I want you to succeed.  But not at the expense of compassion.  Not at the expense of integrity.  If your success means removing either of those as a standard, then you must fail.  And the fact that you are failing, and that the SCA is bound to your fate, could not make me more sad.

Do not try and shift blame to me for trying to tear you down, but instead try to indulge in some self-reflection here.  I’m practically begging you.  I promise, I don’t go out looking to do damage to organizations that are part of this cause that I love to get my jollies.  I want you to be better, which is why I sent you that letter in the first place.  I want you to embrace accountability in a way that our politicians seldom dream of.  And I’m disappointed that you’ve still not done it.

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://aceofsevens.wordpress.com aceofsevens

    My money is on the other SCA now.

    • Artor

      The Society for Creative Anachronism?

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

    Entirely unsurprised. She answered like a GOP lobbist, not like somebody who cares about truth or decency. She will always be a GOP lobbist trying to sell this new product and attempting to convince people that the most vile are the most virtuous. I wish she would just take a job with Ralph Reed and let the SCA hire somebody at least familiar with our concerns and willing to address them.

  • louise

    I still cannot figure out why someone who had zero experience with the secular/atheist community was hired to lead the SCA. Knowledge of the movement is always listed for every single job right down to internships and volunteer positions at every single organization, but for some reason the SCA decided it was unimportant. Rogers’ lack of understanding of the community shows and, from what I’ve observed, she’s made no attempt to familiarize herself with it.

    Furthermore, I cannot tell if she just cannot comprehend the issues raised or the questions asked, but every time she replies to someone it’s like she’s talking about some other topic completely or giving some weird only half-related reply.

    In the end, it’s clear that people who encourage the harassment of women in the community, those who contribute to MRA websites, those who put someone in harms way by posting their home address, and basically anyone willing to give free labor is welcome in the SCA and that means I will not support them. Period.

    • Sentry

      Sean Faircloth (previous head of the SCA) only learned about it a month before the deadline for the application to be turned in. Just FYI.

  • Mike LaFontaine

    Well, I’d respectfully submit that you have missed her point:

    <blockquote.We are willing to work with as many affiliated and allied groups and individuals as possible. We are seeking volunteers in the states and are thankful to those that are willing to assist.

    Like him or not, Justin has been on the front lines of the war against religious hegemony in a way that most skeptic bloggers have not. It is one thing for people to sit in the comfort of their home and blog their outrage. It is another thing altogether to act in the public square. Speaking for myself, I’d rather associate with imperfect, but action oriented, people rather than those pure of heart individuals who can’t seem to leave arms length of their keyboards.

    • secular dude

      Well said. Also, the point of the SCA is to lobby for secular issues in America. They are not involved in blogging drama. Yeah, Justin may have been an ass, but does that make him less competent to lobby for secular issues? It’s important that we have the co-chairs of the SCA be people who get things done first and foremost. Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t see how ‘hiring’ this Justin person impeded that.

      • Luna_the_cat

        Are “behaving dishonestly” and “alienating half the movement” good qualities as a lobbyist?

        • Azkyroth

          What’s the big deal? It’s not like women are people or anything, amiright?

        • Moira

          Please back that claim of alienating 1/2 the movement.
          You honestly think this blogging drama is something concerns most people? You think all women (I assume that is whom you meant by 1/2 the movement) agree with your assessment of Justin Vacula?

          This is getting more and more ridiculous every day.

          • Azkyroth

            This is getting more and more ridiculous every day.

            This is a common problem of strawman arguments.

          • Bruce McGlory

            He posted the personal address and a photo of Surly Amy’s home. If you’re going to sit there and pretend that’s NOT alienating to half the movement – which includes men who don’t hate women or want to see them harmed, as Vacula CLEARLY DOES – then I’ll point and laugh you and then feel sorry for you that you’re so desperate for his approval.

          • Maude LL

            Well said.

            This is why I suggest Edwina nominates Tom Metzger in a leadership position as well. I mean, he is more popular than Justin Vacula as a vocal atheist. He would be a great asset for secularism. Some people just expect candidates to follow exactly their ideology, which is ridiculous and divisive. Just like in Vacula’s case, people who shun Metzger for his opinion of non-whites are bullying divisive bigots. And there are non-aryans who also believe in white supremacy like Metzger, so clearly that wouldn’t alienate them all. Even Herman Cain said racism was not an issue anymore in America. It would only alienate those who have been brainwashed by the ideology of “people’s value is not defined by ethnicity”. And who wants those anti-white man bullies in our community?

        • secular dude

          I just don’t see how Edwina should be expected to make sure every co-chair appointed never said anything that offended anyone. She saw that he had great leadership experience in the movement and had great potential lobbying skills. Focusing on the negative just seems pretty divisive to me. I don’t follow blogging much, so maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see how this is an issue. The SCA is going to be great for the movement and the 50 states thing they are doing is super important. Just my opinion, but it would probably help the movement to focus on how positive this is (thank you Hemant) instead of picking out random issues that are irrelevant to lobbying.

      • Anonymous Atheist

        Involvement with a site that made the SPLC hate list is a step beyond the rest of the “blogging drama”.

        PS: Online communication is what has largely made this movement what it is today. It’s not just some petty unimportant side story.

      • http://www.twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole Introvert

        My fear is that Justin will have access to names/addresses of secular people in his state. Since he has already proved that he cannot keep those facts private about someone (this is in reference to him posting a Surly Amy’s address and photo of where she lives). He does not seem like he can be trusted to keep such information secure. Some folks join these organizations even if they are not “out” as secular/atheists. I would hate any personal information to become public without explicit permission. He cannot be trusted and should not be in any position of authority.

    • Epistaxis

      Well, I’d respectfully submit that you have missed her point

      Indeed, you don’t have to agree with her, but you can’t really say she dodged.

      • Robert

        Of course it’s a dodge. It does not directly say “yes, we support” or “no, we don’t support”. Instead it nitpicks a point that does not affect JT’s conclusion, meaning that if readers were to assume anything out of it they could be nitpicked at again “well, technically I never said this or that” even though it’s not unreasonable to take that from the statement.
        TLDR it’s precisely the kind of political talk (dodge) JT is talking about – address a pint irrelevant to the conclusion, leave without contributing to a solution and able to say you didn’t endorse nor condemn a controversial issue .

        • Stogoe

          Yeah, that’s dodging behind a Dodge Ram while playing dodgeball in Dodge City.

    • RobMcCune

      Really you think JT is demanding purity of heart? Try absence of malice. Justin’s malicious campaign against his fellow atheists over a disagreement about should make an organization think twice before letting him have a leader ship position. Not to mention that his actions in the future will reflect on the SCA as a whole, at least in terms of publicity. How effective do you think Vacula will be in lobbying a legislator who is female or cares about feminism?

      A few months ago American Atheists had to repudiate a leader in their PA affiliate who wanted to flog the Koran to protest “The Year of the Bible” resolution. What sort of bad PR would a misogynistic screed bring down on atheist groups?

    • Jasper

      Speaking for myself, I’d rather associate with imperfect, but action oriented, racist people rather than those pure of heart individuals who can’t seem to leave arms length of their keyboards.

      • Jasper

        In case my point isn’t clear. It seems absurd to me to sacrifice integrity for progress.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/ Greg Laden

    First, I want to say that I have no idea what all the fuss is over the Society of Creative Anachronism.

    Having said that, my memory is that we who had questions about hiring a Bush Whitehouse adviser and spokesperson for the Republican Party on Fox News to represent what is essentially a progressive movement (mostly) were assured at the time that the appointment of Edwina Rogers was a good idea because she is a pro.

    Therefore, it must be assumed that the person who left that comment was not Edwina Rogers, but an imposter of some sort. JT, did you check the IP address? Can you verify? Because there is no way that a professional lobbyist would make that error.

  • https://www.facebook.com/TheHonestAtheist/posts/192364294231945 Mark Panzarino

    JT Eberhard comes out against the Secular Coalition for America under the direction of Edwina Rogers…in two blog posts…SIX MONTHS AFTER HE AND I FOUGHT ABOUT IT ON TWITTER, DESPITE THE MOUNTAIN OF EVIDENCE I PROVIDED ABOUT HER LACK OF ETHICS IN THIS PIECE: http://krankypanz.blogspot.com/2012/05/who-is-edwina-rogers.html.



    • Ted Thompson

      Wait, are you asking him to fuck you publicly, or apologize for fucking you publicly? Perhaps you are asking the public to fuck an apology? Man language is fun.

      • Parse

        But it’s not half as fun as Dog language or Cat language.

  • J.C. Samuelson

    Coalitions can certainly result in some strange bedfellows. Sometimes it’s for better, sometimes for worse. I didn’t take the opportunity to ask Brian about his feelings concerning his co-chair this weekend, but would his opinion count for something, JT?