The Reason Rally is a Safe Space (and Yes, Policies Matter)

The Reason Rally is a Safe Space (and Yes, Policies Matter) May 25, 2016


There is gathering of secular people coming up in Washington DC a week from Saturday. Perhaps you have heard of it. It is called the Reason Rally.

The first Reason Rally a few years ago was wildly successful but this one is on the way to becoming truly historic. For perhaps the first time, we have attracted participation from outside the established faces of the movement and are being supported by an amazing cast of famous actors, comedians, scientists, politicians, and so forth. And did I mention that the rally is absolutely free to attend? The folks putting this together have done a tremendous job and now all we have to do is go and enjoy the results of their hard work and maybe make a little history at the same time.

However, like anything else that is done under the secular cause umbrella, this has not been without controversy, and this time, it’s over the rally’s code of conduct.

Here is a link to the Reason Rally Code of Conduct, which you can read for yourself. Also keep in mind that the organization I volunteer for, American Atheists, has had a similar policy in place for several years so this is not a new thing.

I’ve read the policy and it is reasonable, inclusive, and enforceable without being unnecessarily restrictive and is seeming uncontroversial at this point. However, issues with these policies, which I thought were put to rest years ago, are apparently still a thing.

Today, I witnessed this extraordinary exchange on the Facebook page of Dave Silverman, the president of American Atheists:

DS 1st post

Oh, please, let me be clear. If you aren’t coming to the Reason Rally or an AA Convention, or to any atheist event, because they/we have a policy against harassment (a legal term with specific definitions), please 1) Say goodbye in the comment section of this post so I know who you are and 2), Unfriend me.

If you’d like to defend your position of not attending events because they don’t allow harassment of people, please see the above paragraph.


Dave’s post was followed by this from DJ Grothe:

DJ reply 1 DJ reply 2

Dave, do you honestly believe events that refrain from adopting unenforceable and overreaching policies against “harassment” (including attacking religion, like the Reason Rally’s own “Code of Conduct” does) actually therefore *allow* harassment?

These policies are just for show, and are meant to quell some of the more unhinged parts of the atheist movement. Only in a sense are such policies effective. But in reality, such illiberal policies treat adults like children, and create all sorts of liability issues for organization that adopt them if they actually try to enforce them seriously. They are also inconsistent with the ideals of the event – deliberately offending someone because of his or her beliefs constitutes clear harassment in an HR sense. Attendees of the Reason Rally better be sure not to say anything offensive about religious people and their beliefs. And someone should send Dawkins the memo ASAP.

In response, Dave posted this:

Dave reply 3 dave reply 1 Dave reply 2

No, DJ, I don’t think that events without policies actually allow harassment. That’s not the subject of the post. The subject is those asshats who don’t attend because these policies exist.

These policies set out details for how the illegal activity of harassing people (a far cry from “harassing religion”) is handled, and they definitely work. They are most definitely not for show – I’ve had them at AA conventions for year and yes, they work great, and they provide a more welcoming and safer environment without stifling speech in the slightest. The Reason Rally, as well as the other conventions I’ve run, have theists on stage and attendance. It’s not okay to harass these people. You can say anything you want about their religion, but getting in their faces and badgering AFTER they’ve asked you to stop is harassment and it is not okay, and our policies lay out what happens if you do it.

I am a strong supporter of comprehensive harassment policies and it has made the AA convention and the Reason Rally a welcoming and hospitable place for everyone, and NOT ONCE has anyone faced ANY problems for bashing religion. Complaints about these policies are total BS and have no basis to argue. They are all benefit (including telling would-be harassers that this is not a safe place for them to do so), and have no detriment besides effort and small cost.

I know we’re on opposite sides of this issue. You’re wrong.

There’s more on Dave’s Facebook page as this is conversation was still occurring as I was writing this and if this is something you care to read more about, check out Dave’s wall.

The bottom line is that the rally has an anti-harassment policy because it’s the right thing to do, not as an appeasement to imaginary radical villains.

The rally is important and it is important that lots of people go. Now is not the time to skip the event because you think you are making a statement for or against some point of contention in our community such as the presence of an anti-harassment policy that will be invisible to you unless you harass.

I really hope to see you there!

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