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.

  • Zach High-Leggett

    JT, for someone who claims to lament the recent drama and discord in the atheist community; I don’t think I’ve seen a day go by in recent weeks where you didn’t take a snarky potshot at the social justice side of the community on Facebook, Twitter or your blog. Which is fine, I mean, you should express your anger in any way you feel is appropriate (see what I did there?), but at least realize that you’re part of what’s perpetuating the drama. To do otherwise is hypocritical.

    Right now you’re not the “third group”, you’ve picked the side that complains about how bitches be lyin’.

    • baal

      ” you’ve picked the side that complains about how bitches be lyin’.”
      Could you, Zach, chose less inflammatory language to stuff into JT’s mouth?

      • Zach High-Leggett

        “You’ve picked the side that snarkily implies that the accusations made are false, or at least that we ought to ignore them until the evidence they provide reaches some standard that nobody’s been particularly clear on and that they should do it in the face of all the harassment and abuse that every other woman who has spoken up on these issues has gotten, but hey, who knows, maybe it’ll be better this time?” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

        • http://onehourparkingshow.com Jeff van Booven

          Versus, you’ve picked the side that just lumps everybody who doesn’t hold to their ideological purity test as a misogynist who wants to see all glory given to the men’s rights movement. Which, may only just be the side of you, because I’m pretty sure not everybody you consider part of your in-group is as dishonest as your commentary. So yeah, excuse me while I think you’re full of reductionist shit.

    • JTEberhard

      “I don’t think I’ve seen a day go by in recent weeks where you didn’t
      take a snarky potshot at the social justice side of the community on
      Facebook, Twitter or your blog.”

      They are not the social justice *side* of the community. Virtually every atheist cares about social justice, myself included. To call them the social justice side, as if everybody who doesn’t care for their tactics or who thinks they get some things wrong does not care about social justice, is somewhat misleading.

      And if appreciating when people support their claims with evidence, such that no infighting can possibly take place over who believes the shaky claim, is a pot shot, then I think the problem is with your perception of pot shots. I made no mention of anybody else, but I praised the integrity of Lee and Erin as writers. That praise was well-deserved. They did great and wrote responsibly. We should all be happy about this.

      • Zach High-Leggett

        Thanks for responding JT. I want to say that while I do disagree with you 100% on this issue, your discussions of mental health basically saved my life and I still consider you a friend. We’ve hung out, and last Skepticon was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I still like you as a person and I still think you’re great at what you do, I just have a serious disagreement with your take on recent events.

        There are atheists, though, who care more about social justice than others. Which is fine. There are atheists whose primary focus in increasing diversity within the movement and fighting against sexual harassment (I’m not saying you don’t, but I think it’s fair to say it’s not your *primary* focus) and this is who I mean by the social justice side of the movement. There are also atheists whose primary focus is science education, or arguing apologetics, or just hanging out with likeminded people. All of these are fine goals, and may even overlap! But the social justice atheists are just asking that people don’t deny the experiences of minorities which the p-word can blind anyone to.

        The problem I’m trying to point out is that you have been complaining about the drama in the atheist movement but without acknowledging that your constant sniping these past few weeks is contributing *to* this drama. Personally, I’m fine with drama because it raises issues that could otherwise be swept under the rug, but to complain about drama and then perpetuate it is hypocritical.

        Also, yes, evidence is great. But what evidence exactly are you expecting to provide incontrovertible support to Shermer’s or Krauss’ or whoever’s accusers? I’m sure if these interactions took place on social media we would have great evidence, but seriously… what are you looking for? If Flash and Klawton had held their conversations in person rather than in a medium that permitted the screencaps in the article, would it be any less worthy of reporting on?

        • Didgya

          Zach – feel that you are sincere and not part of the problem but.. “But the social justice atheists are just asking that people don’t deny the experiences of minorities which the p-word can blind anyone to.” I have to disagree with this statement. It seems to me that they want us to suspend our skepticism for their feelings. Feeling strongly about things does not make them right. That only produces infallible dogma.

  • EmpiricalPierce

    Frustrating as it is to hear about corruption within the atheist community, calling it out and cleaning up our own house is preferable to sweeping problems under the rug like the Catholic Church.

  • iknklast

    While I have stayed out of this fight as much as possible, I will have to say that, in this case, I have to agree with Zach (though maybe not putting words in JT’s mouth). The standard of evidence set here, and the snarky way of referencing it, is problematic. Rape does not happen in public. Usually there are no other witnesses, though sometimes a rapist will post their videos on You-Tube for the convenience of the courts (and even in those cases, it seems many people still don’t see that as adequate evidence of rape, and the excuses continue). Rape cases have to be decided on somewhat nebulous evidence, and it isn’t likely to be right out there screen capped on You Tube. In fact, the standard of evidence being requested even for someone who is simply warning someone about another person, and not bringing charges against anyone, is similar to the Muslim standard of two (male) eyewitnesses. And someone better hear you scream.

    This pretty much closes the book on dealing with rape cases, except those rare cases where the attacker conveniently leaves a video of himself raping a fully conscious, screaming woman, leaving bloody wounds and bruises behind.

  • Daniel Schealler

    And if appreciating when people support their claims with evidence, such that no infighting can possibly take place over who believes the shaky claim, is a pot shot, then I think the problem is with your perception of pot shots. I made no mention of anybody else, but I praised the integrity of Lee and Erin as writers. That praise was well-deserved. They did great and wrote responsibly. We should all be happy about this.

    You’re right that Lee and Erin did a good job, and I am happy about it!

    In general I like pretty much everything in the OP. But there is a problem here.

    I like to think that I’m as sympathetic, reasonable, and generous a reader as anyone’s likely to get. But even I winced a little when I read over these sections:

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Zach is correct to point out that there is an issue of snark in your post: The sections I’ve cited can are very, very, very easily be read as thinly veiled passive-aggressive criticisms of FtB’s recent handling of the accusations relating to Shermer’s sexual behaviour at conferences. The implication being that that their writing in those instances lacked evidence, relied on hearsay, and therefore lacked the integrity that you are praising in Erin and Lee.

    JT, you’re one of the most thorough and enjoyably ruthless dialectic bloggers I read on a regular basis. You kick logos’ hairy butt. However, you seem to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to ethos, pathos, and kairos. You’d have to be at least a little bit blind to get defensive when Zach rightly pointed out that there was an issue of snark in what you’ve written, particularly given the context, recent history and timing (although Zach expressed himself poorly, so that’s a thing too).

    Given that, the majority of the attention in the comments already is being spent on those sections of your original text, rather than the actual subject of what you were writing about. I expect that the response moving forward (if any) to what is an otherwise good post is just going to wind up annoying and stressing you out even further.

    None of us want that. I’m pretty sure you don’t want that either – so on those grounds I’m pretty confident that you didn’t put the snark in there on purpose. But I could easily be led to believe that my reading of those sections is in line with how you’ve been feeling about FtB recently (I can totally sympathize with you on this if I’m right, btw). If so, I can see how it could have slipped out that way without your explicit intent.

    Your dialectic is, as always, spot on. It’s your rhetoric that’s getting you into trouble here. They’re both relevant to how your audience interprets the content of your arguments.

    On the subject of rhetoric: I really hope that I’m not coming over as finger-wagging here. I’m trying very hard to adopt the tone of directing your attention to something you may have missed but are more than capable of sorting out on your own once you’ve seen it. I’m not trying to scold or condescend, but there’s a chance that’s how I’m coming across. Rhetoric is hard. >.<


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