Petition to the SCA on Justin Vacula.

Surrounding the whole hullabaloo with the SCA promoting a very bad person (unless all volunteers are co-chairs of a state branch, in which case I guess Justin wasn’t promoted, although that would make their announcement of Justin’s new title somewhat weird), Stephanie Zvan has created a petition to the SCA to have him removed.  If this were a paid job for Justin, I’d pull any support from the SCA on my end, but I’d be reticent to opine that he should be fired.  But since it has been repeatedly asserted that he’s a volunteer, and therefore will not be out his livelihood, I must admit I do think the SCA would be right to purge him from a position of responsibility or to demote him back to an intro level position until his behavior improves.

The petition is hereI’m almost tempted to make another one to request that Edwina Rogers address Justin’s past transgressions as well as his lack of repentance, but if she were going to do it she’d have done it by now.  She did quibble over whether or not he was hired though, as if saying he was appointed rather than hired would suddenly make him a good person.

As for this “he’s just a volunteer” noise.  Did you miss the part where he was made co-chair of a state branch?  That means the SCA found him particularly worthy.  It’s an endorsement of him.  Now, either the SCA didn’t know about all the terrible things he’s done (and though they’ve still said nothing of his past, though surely they cannot still be ignorant of it), or they did know and endorsed him anyway.  Either way, it reflects on them and I don’t see how anybody can suggest otherwise through the excuse of “he’s just a volunteer”.

Also, what if he was just a volunteer?  Obviously at some point a person is so despicable that you don’t even let them volunteer.  If an unapologetic KKK member wanted to volunteer, you’d turn them away.  Much less, you wouldn’t tell the world that you think they are the person you want leading a group.  Justin is clearly beyond the point, in terms of integrity, that an organization should endorse him without at least acknowledging why they don’t think his actions (and absence of remorse for them) are of consequence.

Also, on the idea that I’m making a disagreement personal, I’m not (Jason Thibeault has a great post on this).  I disagree with a lot of people on a lot of things (including Stephanie Zvan, PZ Myers, Greta Christina, Jen McCreight, and others), and yet somehow I am allies with them in the atheist movement.  But the evidence is clear that Justin is an especially bad human being.  I certainly believe that our desire to win should never supplant our compassion, yet Justin has conducted himself in contra to that principle.  If you disagree, you should explain either why you don’t think Justin has consistently behaved in a way that suggests he lacks empathy or why you don’t think that should matter to the SCA.  If you do not have an answer to either of those things, I honestly don’t see how you could not agree with me.

What’s more, look at what Justin did with Jen McCreight and Amy Roth.  His response to disagreements with both of them was to attempt to do damage to them personally by exacerbating Jen’s depression with a taunt and posting Amy’s address, as well as a picture of her residence, to a forum full of people who hate and harass her.  If you defend Justin, but gripe about me trying to do harm to those with whom I disagree, you should recalibrate your sense of irony.

I also certainly believe that affiliation with a hate site/hate group speaks volumes of a person.  I don’t care if the KKK asked me to write an article about how puppies are cute for their newsletter, the next words out of my mouth would be “Absolutely not, I would never associate myself with people like you.”  But when a site monitored as a hate site by the Southern Poverty Law Center asked Justin for an article, he said, “OK.”  Or, he actively submitted the article to the hate site, which is even worse.

You’ll note that these have always been my complaints.  Not once have I mentioned feminism or Atheism plus, though Justin’s defenders bring them both up ad nauseam.  You can swing at those things until you’re blue in the face and never once graze the reasons for my displeasure.  My position from the get go is that Justin is a person of extremely low moral fiber who doesn’t need to be given positions of responsibility in our movement until he demonstrates some sort of contrition.

I also love the idea of the SCA, as I’ve repeatedly said (and repeatedly shown by donating to them the last couple of years).  I want them to do well, and I want them to operate in a respectable manner.  I want them to denounce malice and to appoint the best of our movement to positions of authority (FSM-knows, there are lots of great people out there being activists – enough for this blog to run a column on them every Monday).  With the promotion of Justin Vacula, the SCA is failing to live up to the very low standards my hopes entail.  They are either unaware of promoting a malicious person (and unwilling to admit the mistake, even if they don’t fix it), or they are embracing maliciousness rather than denouncing it.  I do not express my love for the idea of the SCA by staying mum when I believe they are making enormous mistakes, nor do I express it by giving them positive reinforcement when instead of handling the situation with dignity they dodge the issue.  Good leaders should expect to earn support, not to receive regardless of how they are performing.

So if you’re going to harp on my motives, you are welcome to do so.  But if you continue to swing at phantoms or come into the comments doing little but tossing around insults, I will either break out the ban hammer or edit your comments in ways that amuse the hell out of me.  Justin appears to lack compassion to a degree that should make anybody associating with him cringe.  If you’re going to disagree with my assessment, that is it.


Rebecca Watson has weighed in on this and I agree with her assessment.  She also included a video from the HFA conference last weekend where she asked SCA Research and Advocacy Manager Kelly Damerow about the Vacula hire and how someone like him fit into their mission of outreach/diplomacy.

Rebecca received the same “he’s a volunteer, not hired” non-answer that I did.

We don’t care if he was hired or appointed.  Don’t care one lick.  We care about your endorsement of the type of person he is, and now we also care about the SCA’s attempts to ignore the issue by citing one, irrelevant distinction that does not at all unmake the SCA’s endorsement.

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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.


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