I have written for the atheist/secular humanist press since 1974, when my first article appeared in the venerable British monthly, The Freethinker (established 1881).
I remember that, from time to time, we would debate the best names to apply to ourselves: atheist, agnostic, freethinker, or secular humanist. I myself have always liked freethinker — someone who stands for freedom of the human mind.
Recently, my own right to free speech was flagrantly violated by Boston Atheists (BA), of which I’d been a member for many years. Boston Atheists is the largest group of non-theists in Massachusetts; it has meetups (brunches, etc) and an e-mail discussion list.
Shortly after Donald Trump won the presidential election, members of BA considered a special meeting to plan protests against “Trumpocracy”. People on the discussion list went mad, accusing Trump of every conceivable form of bigotry and of being a new Hitler. I then joined the discussion, pleading for calm. After only three posts, two from me and one from “Cara”, I was kicked out.
On 10 November 2016 I wrote:
Let’s face it, the worst person lost: Hillary, one of the two most corrupt persons ever to run for POTUS. (The other one was Bill.)
It’s not enough these days to read just the Mainstream Media. Myself, I read independent Internet sites from left to right, including CounterPunch.org, Antiwar.com, and LewRockwell.com . Those who rely on the Mainstream Media have no idea of the extent and enormity of the Clinton crimes.
Here is what I consider a good, fair, tough analysis of the election by Diana Johnstone: [Link to article here.]
So, let’s all just calm down. Trump’s Victory Speech was gracious and presidential. I think he’ll have plenty of advisers and will do a good job.
The same day, 10 November 2015, “Cara” wrote:
If this person is coming, count me out. Trump is a corrupt, immoral, misogynistic, racist, rapist. How many women’s abortions do you think he’s funded? Your articles are from sources so not legitimate, I refuse to expose my computer to the spam onslaught.
Seriously, Zachary, you need to explain what you had in mind, because I will not expose myself to ignorance and ridiculous foxnews conspiracy theories like those below. I assumed this special meeting would have an anti-Trump bent, because we are intelligent people who live in a blue state and purport to care about women, immigrants, people of color, and all the others Trump will impact.
The next day, 11 November 2016, I merely posted a link:
An excellent piece by Justin Raimondo in today’s antiwar.com: [Link here.]
This was too much for Boston Atheists. On 11 November 2015 I received a post with the Subject line: “You’ve been removed from The Boston Atheists Meetup Group.” Further down, the post elaborated: “The person who removed you said”:
I’m making a decision to remove you from the group. Things are being taken in a more community-oriented direction, and in discussion with the other organizers we reached a consensus that your participation tends to be disruptive rather than constructive. I regret we didn’t see a solution that would allow us to avoid such a drastic action. Well, to the extent that this IS drastic. After all, the Boston Atheists *group* does not constitute fully the Boston atheist *community*. If you ever need to connect with atheists, or the resources available to us as the larger atheist community, you know how to get in touch with me. I know as well that you are well connected with other points of contact, as well. As far as being a formal member of the Boston Atheists, that’s come to an end. I wish you well.
I comment: My first post makes severe charges against Hillary Clinton, that she is corrupt and criminal, but these well founded charges had been made in many publications and websites, from CounterPunch.org, Antiwar.com, and LewRockwell.com to The Wall Street Journal.
My post is civil, and entirely within the bounds of netiquette.
The second post, from someone identified only as “Cara”, begins with insult (“this person”), goes on to accuse me of “ignorance and ridiculous foxnews conspiracy theories”, makes wild and unfounded accusations against our President-Elect (“rapist”), and strongly implies I should not be allowed in BA.
In the third post, I merely give a link to a sensible article by Justin Raimondo.
In the fourth post, Zachary Bos kicks me out of BA on the grounds that “your participation tends to be disruptive rather than constructive.”
But I had been totally inactive for over a year, neither attending events nor taking part in discussion. His statement, “Things are being taken in a more community-oriented direction …”, is chilling.
Does “community” require censorship so everyone can think alike? Does “community-oriented direction” mean something like the Nazi practice of Gleichschaltung (making everything compatible with the goals of National Socialism)? Zachary’s smarmy suggestion that I, although banned from BA, might be able “to connect with [other] atheists”, is contemptible.
I am not in need of Boston Atheists for my social life. There is only one issue at stake here: Free Speech. It is outrageous that members of an atheist group can hurl wild and unfounded accusations against the Republican President-Elect, Donald Trump, but are forbidden to criticize the failed presidential candidate of the Democrats, Hillary Clinton.
On 20 November 2016 I wrote the following to Zachary Bos:
I regard my expulsion from Boston Atheists as an egregious offense against Free Speech, and am writing an essay describing this affair. I’ll put this essay in the Freethought section of my website and will submit it to appropriate publications.
The entire e-mail exchange consisted only of two posts from me and one from “Cara”. My second post was merely a link to a fine article in antiwar.com . Please tell me what was so offensive in my posts that your or your directors kicked me out of a group I’d belonged to almost from its inception. I want to be fair to you, so give me the details.
I was writing for the secular humanist press — especially The Freethinker (London) — before you were born. Always atheism was associated with Free Thought. What has changed?
Zachary Bos responded with an e-mail which did not give a single criticism of my two e-mails, but instead offered crocodile pity for my alleged distress: “I regret that this removal leaves you feel [sic] mistreated.”
To conclude: Atheist groups should be concerned with atheism, not partisan politics. If they do discuss politics, they should allow all viewpoints to be heard. In England, some members of the National Secular Society and various humanist groups are on the far left, some on the far right, and some in-between – this is accepted, and people are not expelled for their political opinions. The same should hold true in the United States. There is no substitute for Free Thought and Free Speech.
• This piece first appeared on John Lauritsen’s Pagan Press.com and reposted at the author’s request.
In 1974 he published a pamphlet, Religious Roots of the Taboo on Homosexuality, which became an underground bestseller. It was sold by the National Secular Society (London) and Gay News (London), as well as in gay bookstores. In 1980 he and two colleagues in the Gay Academic Union (GAU) became the most severe critics of the late John Boswell, whose best-selling book – Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality – was then, and still is, the Bible for gay Christians.
The GAU pamphlet went through several printings and two editions; it is online here.