Secular Party of America
I know I’m late in the game making a statement about the recent controversy surrounding the Secular Party of America. Most of us in the atheist “community” are aware of the voter fraud involving the name change from the National Atheist Party to the Secular Party of America. The short-version rehash of what happened is that Bernard “Flash” Kellish enlisted the aid of Christopher Thomas to help him rig the vote for the name change and unsuccessfully attempted to enlist Sheila Blackadder, who flat-out refused.
My Short History with NAP/SPoA
I first heard of the National Atheist Party shortly after the Reason Rally and Rock Beyond Belief took place. It didn’t sound like an appealing thing to me because it was a political organization that pursued (or at least seemed to according to its name) a certain and specific religious political agenda. I am and have always been a firm advocate for the complete separation of church and state. I felt that supporting such a party would be anathema to some of my core values.
My cousin did attend Reason Rally, however, and he met the (then) President of NAP, Troy Boyle. My cousin told me that the President of NAP was really cool and that he had signed up and supported NAP. He showed me the website and I found out that I actually agreed with most of the positions that NAP took on social and political issues. I was intrigued but never fully convinced. I am very politically-minded and I realize that public perception IS reality in the political spectrum. I knew that with a hyper-polarizing name like NAP it would not attract the rest of the secularists who were religious, spiritual, or at the very least agnostic or apathetic to the matter of belief.
Nonetheless, I signed up. It was a non-committal gesture on my part. I knew that signing up would not take away my voting rights with any other party I was affiliated with because I felt they had real power and clout. I threw my name down on their registry and never visited the site again.
A few months later I attended a conference and mentioned the NAP in a passing conversation with someone. I found out they were on the EB(Executive Board) and that rather than the President of NAP having any actual power…it was founded by all of them and that he just executed the decisions of whatever the board told him to do…or something like that. This just struck me wrong. I was very upset that such an ignorant statement could be made about a political organization!
I’ve worked in a very professional and political environment for the better part of the last decade and realized that at some point an executive decision must be made (especially in politics) and that a board is never a very good way to make that happen. I guess with their political cognitive dissonance they thought by naming it an “executive board” it could make those executive decisions…whatever. Everyone who holds the title of President or CEO is the Leader of the Executive Branch of whatever they do. The President pretty much has the final authority on any executive decision. Case-in-point: POTUS. Any decision made within the Executive Branch falls on him. Any decision not made also falls on him.
However, when I was told by this individual that the President ultimately had no power and that he was constrained by the will of the EB I immediately regretted putting my name down on their register. I did immediately withdraw my support of NAP, however. I stopped believing in NAP as an institution and a political agent for possible change. The piss-poor bottom-up management is not and has never worked in our political sphere. I suppose we could make an argument out of ‘Occupy’ or the ‘Tea Party’ but those are grassroots movements (one is, one fakes it) and are not professional organizations in and of themselves.
And then Troy quit because the management team was piss poor. I applauded that decision by Troy. I think it was the right thing to do. I also do not believe they have had a President since that time. I could be mistaken because I quit paying attention to NAP. They were insignificant.
An offer from NAP
I don’t remember exactly when but I began conversing with Bernard “Flash” Kellish. I ended up telling him some of my ideas for politics and engaging with churches in order to team up with them. It is quite frankly the only way we will ever stop this onslaught of Christian Nationalism from the Religious Right, a spawn of the “moral majority” which was campaigned by Jerry Falwell in the 1980’s.
He liked what I had to say and I had, and still have, big ideas and some plans for a way to make that work. I’ve stayed quiet about it for a long time because honestly, who the hell is there to talk to in this community about it? Everyone’s so butthurt about one issue or the other that we aren’t focusing on the big picture of stopping the very real threat of Theocracy. If you think I’m exaggerating just remember who the VP nominee was in 2008! She didn’t even know where Iraq was (even though her son was deploying there), believes the earth in 5,700 years old, and thinks the Bible overrules the Constitution.
Let me just say that I do think Flash is genuinely a good guy with overall good intentions but that he made a very emotionally charged judgment call with an “ends justifies the means” decision. He has stuck by that and although I understand that NAP was a ‘sinking ship’ it doesn’t justify the course of action he took. NAP, as I said earlier, is an organization that is poorly organized. No amount of turnover or new faces will salvage the wreckage of that piss poor organization. I’ll get to that in a moment, though. Flash should have just left.
After Flash and I spoke I learned there are quite a lot of people that want to push a movement for more secularists to not only vote, but run for office. I wasn’t the only one with this INSANE idea. Perhaps I was more sane than I thought. My intent was to get the churches involved. The quiet ones that are on our side. The ones that aren’t screaming hatred (because they practice an ACTUAL Jesus doctrine) who support the separation of church and state. Without them we don’t win elections — period!Thousands of these churches actually supported Rock Beyond Belief in 2012 aboard Fort Bragg! They are our Constitutional allies – just food for thought.
A few weeks went by, NAP had a vote and officially changed their name to the Secular Party of America, and I felt I could finally show some public support even if I held some giant private reservations towards the Party. I had privately told members of the EB that my support would wane and disappear without a restructuring where the executive members would have more clearly defined roles and a definitive leader who would be able to exercise ACTUAL executive authority and decisions. I don’t think I was ever taken seriously, though.
A-News broke the story about the election fraud that was orchestrated by Flash Kellish, assisted by Christopher Thomas, and exposed by Sheila Blackadder(also assisted by Christopher Thomas). I guess if there’s one thing you can say it is that Christopher Thomas is a good assistant. Bad humor?
From the moment the story broke it was apparent that Sheila never agreed to be a part of the fraud and deception. She resigned after the vote and left SPoA disgusted. Unsure of where to turn she took her story to Erin Fortes and Lee Moore over at A-News. After a time Christopher felt the guilt of having deceived so many people and he too made his way to the same crew at A-News to share his complicity.
And I guess that leaves us with the aftermath of the scandal. Flash admitted his culpability and resigned from SPoA. And then the part that really pissed me off more than anything happened. The Executive Board (which I’ve already stated is piss poor regardless of the amount of talent they may or may not have amassed within the organization) issued a public statement about the affair.
On Monday, September 9, A-News Reports (http://anr.apartmentj.com/) published an article alleging misconduct by one former member and two sitting members of the Executive Board (EB) of the Secular Party of America. The described wrongdoing involved tampering with voting results for a policy proposal to amend the Party charter, such that the Party name would be changed from the National Atheist Party to the Secular Party of America. By late afternoon on Monday, September 9, two of the implicated EB members, Bernard “Flash” Kellish and James Klawon, had tendered their resignations, which were officially accepted by the EB at 9 pm EST the same evening. The third EB member that had been implicated, Sheila Blackadder, resigned her role on the EB shortly following the vote in July.
According to Merriam Webster (the most reliable dictionary source) implicated is a transitive verb that means:
- to show that someone or something is closely connected to or involved in something (such as a crime)
- to involve as a consequence, corollary, or natural inference
- to fold or twist together
- to bring into intimate or incriminating connection
- to involve in the nature or operation of something
With a simple twisting of words the Executive Board is attempting to place culpability on the one person who had nothing to do with the vote rigging and wrangle them into the “guilty” side where they are required to put themselves on the defense rather than on the pedestal of the only person that showed integrity throughout the entire debacle. Sheila Blackadder has been stuck in the position of defending integrity. That’s a position I find admirable. She did the morally and legally right thing…and those two are not always congruous with each other.
The Legally Right Thing to do
If you are walking down the street and witness someone being robbed, mugged, raped, or murdered you are under no requirements to contact anyone about the crime. It is not illegal, you will face no consequences, and the police cannot hold you culpable in such an event. You have the opportunity to step in and attempt to stop said crime, although it may be dangerous and unwise, but you are not required to do so. You have the opportunity to contact the authorities, although you are not required to do so.
When the authorities do arrive if they are made aware of such an incident (say by another third party) and you are questioned as to why you did not report the crime an appropriate response is”I don’t know”.
Sheila was under no obligation to tell a soul what happened after she left the board. She wasn’t obligated to the police, the media, the board, an ethics committee, or even the members of the Secular Party of America who have donated their time and money. She was free and clear of any obligation…except to her conscience.
The Morally Right Thing to do
If you are at a party and you witness a woman being raped you, again, are under no obligation, none whatsoever, to stop it nor to report it. But that doesn’t make it right. Although that is precisely what happened at a Prom in California in 2010. She was gang-raped as people just walked by, noticed, and then went on with their night. No by-standers were charged. There was nothing legally wrong with what they did. But that didn’t make it morally right.
I’m not comparing a horrible crime like the one above with the fraud committed at NAP… but the culpability of someone noticing a crime and then just leaving is reprehensible to me. There are extenuating circumstances, of course, where one cannot put oneself at risk – or if you are the victim you may not seek the help of authorities…that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m speaking of the witness to a crime – this one being voter fraud. The proper moral thing to do would be to find a way to let the people who are represented by the Secular Party of America know how they were not truly represented. It is not the political thing to do. But it is the Humanist thing to do. I suppose Sheila is just a humanist who can’t deal with the politicking of politics. Woe is her!
The thought that a 75% vote to pass anything would seem ludicrous to me. A constitutional amendment is the only vote that is required of approval at that level…and then only by the state legislatures. At the national level it is still a supermajority of 60%. The Party isn’t a national player upon which laws will be set. It is designed to support people attempting to get elected to office.
The President has no authority. This reminds me when the Democratic Party, during the last election cycle, wanted to take out all mention of Israel from their platform but were overruled by the Executive of their party. I didn’t particularly agree with it (as it did not fall in line with the party’s vote), but that shows that in politics sometimes a bad call can be made by the Chief Executive and we must stick with it until a new Chief Executive is put in his position.
The Party hasn’t even had a President since Mr. Boyle resigned his position and left the political arena. I’m not sure what ALL that says about the party… One thing it does say however is that SPoA is not yet a serious organization ready to take serious political matters to the public.
The site for The Party doesn’t even state who is on the Executive Board. Who are we to now hold accountable for this last act where they are attempting to shift blame to Sheila Blackadder? I know that falls under a violation of their own charter:
Article VIII: Code of Standards and Ethics
A) Secular Humanism
1. Secular Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethics based philosophy on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities and justice for all.
2. All members, officers and advisors will conduct themselves as defined by our Secular Humanist mandate.
3. Any member, staff, officer, or advisor who is found not upholding the Secular Humanist mandate, the established code of conduct (see Appendix), or the laws upholding society with the highest regard will be evaluated and, depending on the severity, be subject to disciplinary actions consisting of but not limited to: verbal warnings, removal from the group, removal from the Party, and/or possible legal action.
The Tempting Offer?
Shortly after this scandal erupted I began speaking to a few members of the atheist “community” and they were all pretty straightforward with me. And then the most surprising thing happened. I was asked by former members of the EB and people who have left the party to publicly state I would join SPoA and help “clean up the party”. I received a few “don’t ever get involved with NAP/SPoA” comments from some other former members, as well. I laughed it off quickly and said that it was definitely not an option for me. As much as I agree with the premise of what the party stands for…it’s not what the party actually stands for.
The only thing this boils down to is that I am now publicly stating what I had kept private. I cannot in good conscience, and in any sane political mind, support the Secular Party of America. I wish I could. I wish there were some way in which the organization could not just “be salvaged” but be turned into a viable political option for a serious contender of third-party candidates. But I’ll wish in one hand and shit in the other.
For the time being activists are stuck busy at work. I look forward to the day when instead of relying on reactive activism to keep the theocrats at bay and preserve our Constitution we are able to be proactive; electing secularists (both believer and non alike) that are fighting it at the legislative level. But that day is not today. And that time is not now. Not yet…