Voter fraud at the Secular Party of America and the price of redemption.

A story has broken on Atheist News that some board members of the Secular Party for America rigged the vote on their name change from the National Atheist Party.  Go read it.  It’s concise, so it won’t take you long.

So where do I stand on all of this?  First, I want to praise Atheist news.  This is how (and when) you break a story like this: with documentation and several lines of evidence.  The evidence is so solid that the primary responsible party for the vote rigging, Bernie Kellish, has taken full responsibility on his facebook wall.  This story did not publish anonymous accusations that could just as easily been fabricated by people who do not care for the SPoA as they could’ve been true.  This article is a great example of how to write with integrity.  I cannot thank Lee Moore and Erin Fortes enough for that.

As for the SPoA, I have never been that involved.  It’s simply not my cup of tea, but I still support the project.  More voices for atheists the better…as long as those voices represent us well.  There are some issues, like social justice, where even though we may disagree on how to pursue them, most of us are driven by our own sense of morality to pursue the same outcomes.  Those differences should not drive us apart (even though they sadly do much of the time).  But for certain moral values such as compassion and honesty, we cannot abdicate them.  They are the very foundations of justice and without those values what grounds do we have to eviscerate the lies of religion?  Our allegiance to these values absolutely must come before our allegiance to other atheists.  Though I think some people in the atheist community are far too eager to declare enemies of honest and compassionate people, we must also be able to police our own when atheists are not compassionate or honest.  This, sadly, is one of those times.

It seems to me the problem with the SPoA, in this case, is with some members of their board of directors.  I know, I know…what is an organization if not their board of directors?  The answer to that question is their members – the people who are willing to donate and work for the ideals that were betrayed by those board members.  So far it seems that Christopher Thomas and Sheila Blackadder knew about this and only recently came forward.  While it took some stones for them to come forward (which certainly earns them some forgiveness points with me), they still knew at the time.  Were they still a part of the SPoA, I would like to see them resign.  But they’re not, so nothing to be done there.

Bernie Kellish, however, remains on the board (to my knowledge).  Since he orchestrated this mess, he should resign immediately and indicate who else was involved – he should do this for the good of the SPoA.  While the SPoA is not my thing, it is the thing of many people, and those people should not be punished for the deeds of a corrupt leader any more than Americans should be punished for much of what George W. Bush did.  I don’t think the SPoA is beyond redemption, but the guilty must be extricated before that process can begin.  Until the cancer is removed, the host should still be considered sick.  I will wait and hope it happens, for all of those who support the SPoA and had nothing to do with this.

What’s more, I don’t think the three people I’ve listed above are beyond redemption.  In my life I have done things I later regretted on a moral basis, even though I did them with the best of intentions.  I suspect we all have, so it shouldn’t be difficult for us to empathize with people who did the same – mistaken though they were.  People make mistakes and they learn, but we do so in a world where forgiveness must be earned, not acquired effortlessly through a belief in ancient myth.  No matter our intentions, we all must pay the price for our transgressions, and in this case it must be, at minimum, some time away from any position of responsibility in the atheist movement.  We cannot do things like demand the Catholic Church police their own if we are unwilling to do it ourselves.  The best the rest of us can do is to make sure the price of redemption is not cruelly steep, lest we lose sight of fairness and compassion ourselves.  Let us do our part and hope that the men and women who make up the SPoA will do theirs.

The Secular Party of America has released a statement.  While this whole event is a tragedy, I like the SPoA’s statement.  They have admitted the wrong doing, accepted the resignation of Bernie Flash and James Klawon, who were party to the rigging, and are discussing whether the name change will stick while trying to “balance the need for all voices to be heard with the reality of having already legalized and advertised the change.”  This is an understandable dilemma and I think we need to be patient with them while they work it out.

It should be noted that these types of positive results are what typically flows from responsible writing.  When you cite evidence and are clear with details rather than publishing hearsay, the good among us must generally accept your conclusion and the wheels of change subsequently turn very fast.  I’d once more like to lavish Lee and Erin with praise for tackling this issue with a very high standard of integrity.  We are all in their debt and should strive to follow their example.

Having done what they could to remove the guilty from their ranks, I have no qualms wishing the SPoA the best in the future.

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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.