Petition to the Secular Coalition

Update: Justin Vacula has resigned his position as co-chair. The petition to remove him is no longer necessary, and I congratulate him on making the right move for the Secular Coalition.

By now you’ve heard that Justin Vacula has been named one of the co-chairs of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Secular Coalition for America. You may be among the people who are upset about this appointment. If you are, a petition has been started that will hopefully represent your concerns.

"Wrong Way" traffic sign.
“wrong way” by kag2u. Some rights reserved.

We urge the Secular Coalition of America to reverse the appointment of Justin Vacula as co-chair of the executive council of the Pennsylvania chapter. We believe that Vacula is unfit for this leadership position for the following reasons.

1. He has engaged in extreme behavior, including harassment, in opposing feminists within the secular movement that does not befit a leader and does not promote broad participation in the movement.

2. He has, at the same time, minimized harassment as a problem within the movement and broader community.

3. He has spoken publicly and incorrectly on legal matters in a way that would be counterproductive in a lobbyist.

4. He has used his current leadership position as a tool for his personal causes, including personal grievances.

Much of this behavior has happened in venues the SCA may not be aware of. However, it will still impact the effectiveness and credibility of SCA as an organization. For that reason, all of these issues are discussed in further detail below.


Leaders of state chapters are intended to represent their local secular communities to the media. We believe it is inappropriate for such a representative to have unapologetically published on the site A Voice for Men, which describes itself: “AVfM regards feminists, manginas, white knights and other agents of misandry as a social malignancy. We do not consider them well intentioned or honest agents for their purported goals and extend to them no more courtesy or consideration than we would clansmen, skinheads, neo Nazis or other purveyors of hate.” We further consider it inappropriate for Vacula to have used this site, monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as a platform for attacking a fellow, feminist secularist.

Leaders of state chapters are also intended to lobby their state governments. We believe it is inappropriate for such a lobbyist to rely his own naïve understanding of the law when speaking publicly, as Vacula has done several times. He did so when claimed that public figures could not be cyberstalked. He did so when he claimed Fair Use of copyrighted material without understanding the limitations of Fair Use, when he claimed DMCA notices were bullying, and when he filed a DMCA counternotice on a photograph he did not own. This kind of active ignorance may work on a blog, but in the halls of legislature, we believe it is a recipe for disaster.

Most of all, leaders of state chapters are intended to be leaders. This gives them power and, thus, responsibilities beyond the ordinary. Vacula has already been one of the leaders of the NEPA Freethought Society, and his actions in that role give us additional cause for concern. We believe these are concerns the SCA should take seriously as well.

A leader should use the resources of the group for the good of the group, not to achieve personal goals. Vacula did not meet those standards when he used the NEPA Freethought Society podcast to criticize Ophelia Benson for dropping out of the speaker line-up at TAM after receiving threatening emails. Additionally, he did not meet what I hope are that organization’s and the SCA’s standards for honesty in leaders when in that podcast, he read out only parts of the emails that are nonthreatening.

Additionally, leaders, particularly leaders of popular movements, are responsible for providing a welcoming atmosphere to those who would contribute to their causes. In this respect, Vacula has failed most spectacularly.

No one actively involved in movement atheism in the U.S. can fail to be aware that certain women in the movement have been harassed, some to the point of abandoning their activism, for more than a year. Vacula has dismissed this harassment as “trolls making silly comments on the internet”, saying, “Here’s the deal. You produce a real threat and I’ll sound the claxons.”

Not only has Vacula dismissed the harassment as unimportant, he has participated in it himself. He has participated very actively in the #FTBullies and #atheismplus campaigns, where anti-harassment and inclusion efforts are characterized as censorship, totalitarianism, dogmatism, group-think, and bullying (among the more polite terms). He has written blog posts on these topics that he promoted using those campaigns.

He has been a regular commenter at what is now known as The Slyme Pit, a group dedicated to hatred of Rebecca Watson and anyone who is or is perceived to ally with her on matters of “radical” feminism. This group has produced threats requiring the attention of organizers of two different conferences and has been home to the cyberstalking Vacula defended as perfectly fine for “public figures”. Vacula has participated in this group both before and after it was removed from National Geographic’s ScienceBlogs website for violating nearly every provision of the site’s code of conduct.

Nor has Vacula’s association with harassment been passive. He has continued to contact people on Twitter after being told to stop, requiring that he be blocked. In one particularly egregious example of harassment, he posted the address of Surly Amy Roth to The Slyme Pit. He provided her information to a group that had already been posting obsessively about her.

In another, he reacted to the news that the #atheismplus campaign had triggered the chronic depression of Jennifer McCreight, causing her to stop her public activism. Jen is a blogger, speaker, and vice chair of the Secular Student Alliance board. Rather than noting that harassment that leads to results like this is bad for the movement he is trying to lead, he tweeted, “So, Jen’s allegedly finished blogging…and this time it’s not her boyfriend who kicked her off the internet.” He did so using the #atheismplus tag, copying his contempt to the group that had been harassing McCreight.

Behavior like this is leadership behavior. It condones and encourages. In Vacula’s case, however, what it is condoning and encouraging is harassment of those who are valuable members of the movement that the SCA has appointed Vacula to aid. This is not how a movement grows. This is not how it encourages broad participation.

For all the reasons listed above, we believe that Justin Vacula is singularly unqualified for the leadership position the SCA has seen fit to give him. We urge the SCA to reconsider their decision and remove him as soon as possible.

Sign the petition here.

Petition to the Secular Coalition

44 thoughts on “Petition to the Secular Coalition

  1. 1

    Just signed the petition. That Vacula could even be considered for such a leadership position shows how deep the rot goes. He is a prominent member of the group of hateful secularists who’s actions are no different from the most bigoted of the religious fundamentalists. The justification for their hatred may be different but their behavior is the same.

  2. 5

    Brace yourselves for “Oh, so they have a problem when we do it to Rebecca Watson, but blah blah hypocrisy” false equivalence, everyone. Of course it’s not relevant that Rebecca Watson never wrote for a hate site and the SGU isn’t a national lobbying organization!

    Alternately, they’ll add it to the list of “FtBullies are trying to get people fired!” complaints, under Abbie Smith and that one CFI asshat. Actually, they’ll almost certainly do both.

    Either way, I’m done with the SCA. Ever since the Edwina Rogers flap, they’ve shown themselves to be massively incompetent, and this is further evidence of that.

  3. 6

    When I spoke to Herb Silverman a few weeks ago, it sounded like they had been working a (national) strategy that could produce some real results. So I’m extra disappointed to see such a bad misstep on their part.

  4. 7

    The best part, thomasfoss, is “that one CFI asshat” was just an asshat the once, and exactly one blogger took him to task over it, and that was the end of it. At least until Thuderf00t tried to convince everyone that we were going after his job. So said CFI guy apparently called Ed to ask if it was true, that FtB was calling for his resignation. Of course it wasn’t. So we’re all apparently on good terms.

    But it’s already woven into the troll version of history so thoroughly random folks like yourself come along and repeat it.

  5. 8

    Random folk, Jason? I’m hurt :). But I should probably figure out how to make my logged-in display name “Tom Foss” now.

    But yeah, I should have clarified that (despite the troll narrative) I understand that there was no call for the guy’s firing, and that the alleged phone calls to do so came before the first FtB blogpost on the subject. But it was only a quick comment.

  6. 10

    Also — check your profile, via the top bar if it’s being displayed, or this link if it’s not. (I think. Did that from memory, again. It’s different for users than authors.) You should be able to set the First and Last names, then set the Display name to show an amalgam of those two.

  7. 11

    You know…

    It is weird because I feel like I can say “I agree with the good people and disagree with the bad people”… and the bad people will claim that I’m just playing favorites and choosing sides. The reality is that Vacula has been so extreme that he’s a clear “bad guy” and his targets, while they are human and not perfect, have never done anything to rate the abuse from Vacula and the people he has aligned himself with.

  8. 12

    I found JTs post funny about Vaculas self promotion… It was comedy gold to see the slimepitters complain about this behaviour on their forum as well. So shamelessly self-promoting even the slimepitters have reservations!

    As for the petition, well I have reservations painting the slimepitters as all unremittingly awful but I wouldn’t want Vacula as a leader of any group I was involved in. His writing for a voice for men alone would rule that out. How could he read the comments from his ‘readers’ on that post and not retch? I don’t doubt some of the extreme hate for people like Amy come from the nuts that hang out there. So for encouraging that I voted him down one…

  9. 14

    AVfM regards feminists, manginas, white knights and other agents of misandry as a social malignancy. We do not consider them well intentioned or honest agents for their purported goals and extend to them no more courtesy or consideration than we would clansmen, skinheads, neo Nazis or other purveyors of hate.

    This is particularly ironic given that the AVfM-approved role for women in society is almost absolutely congruent with the role for women proposed by neo-Nazis and (racist, second-wave) skinheads. In terms of gender, they’re vocally disavowing the groups they agree with.

  10. 20

    Maybe it is time to take the high road and be the ones not throwing around attack petitions and taking shots at other people’s careers?

    As for this being TOTALLY different from the petition against Rebecca Watson on the basis of Vacula posting on a ‘hate site’ – get a grip. Unless he is a regular on Stormfront, that is some fairly serious hyperbole.

  11. 22

    Moderating voice: Wow, maybe I ought to call up Randi for the MDC. I note that you ignore the relevant difference between the SGU and the SCA, but whatevs.

    So, how many posts on a hate site do we accept from our leaders? Obviously 1 is okay; what does it take to become “a regular”? Two? Ten? A monthly column? Weekly? Does only Stormfront count, or could we also have problems with a regular on the Westboro Baptist site?

    AVfM has been designated as a hate site by the SPLC. Justin Vacula has written for AVfM. Please, without redefining “hyperbole,” explain how it is hyperbole to say that Justin Vacula has written for a hate site.

  12. 23

    Hey, Moderating voice: AVFM and several other MRA organizations were officially designated hate groups by the Souther Poverty Law Center. Get your facts straight.

    And guess what? Holding people accountable for hurting others IS taking the high road. “Attack petition” strongly implies that the issue of contention with the petition is without merit, an argument you have utterly failed to substantiate (and the one element of “fact” you presented, re: hate sites, you got embarrassingly wrong!). People aren’t entitled to careers within the movement when they make a sport out of diminishing others who are trying to speak up for equality and fairness.

  13. 24

    @that trackback at 19: If your goal was to show how mad you were at those meanie feminists who are totally tarring innocent people with claims of misogyny despite their evident reasonableness and fine upstanding characters, attacking said woman’s sexuality is probably not the most effective strategy!

    @Tom Foss, 23: Apparently great minds not only think alike, but type at the same time.

  14. 26

    The cult mentality here is making me sick.

    There’s a bucket.

    Opps, I guess now I’m bad, evil and will be shunned

    This is cute. They’re always so funny with their prosecution martyr complex.

    – do I have to return my 30 or so Surly Amy’s now?

    What’s that supposed to be? Some evidence of what a great person you are or just bragging that you can afford to buy them?

  15. 27

    @25 –

    Did you maybe miss that the same woman who made those necklaces for you, was harassed and her home address posted by the very same guy in this petition? Are you seriously saying it’s cult-like to not want a guy like that in a position of authority?

  16. 28

    The cult mentality here is making me sick. Opps, I guess now I’m bad, evil and will be shunned – do I have to return my 30 or so Surly Amy’s now?

    Are you sure it’s the cult mentality that’s making you sick? It may be an autoimmune reaction to your own victim mentality.

  17. 30

    Called it… see comments. They have nothing better to do.

    What? People are complaining about you guys trying to ruin someones career in response to you guys trying to ruin someones career?

    heh I guess those WHITE MALES have nothing better to do than discuss you people trying to ruin someones career. They need to get a life and stop oppressing everyone just trying to ruin someones career.

  18. 32

    Hey, John neighborly–you say “ruin someone’s career” like it’s a universally bad thing…well, guess what: it’s not. If you have a history of harassing people, taunting those who are the victims of harassment, and going off half-cocked about laws about which you plainly know nothing, you have no business having a career in an enterprise that stands for rationality, humanistic values, and representing said enterprise’s interests to lawmakers. Such a person ruined ZIR OWN career by zir incompetence and maliciousness, we’re just pointing out the obvious and upholding some minimal standards of the people working for us, which we have every right and obligation to do.

    Oh, and on top of everything else, your whining about “career” is pretty ridiculous in this case because Edwina Rogers has said this is a volunteer position.

  19. 37

    A commenter over at JT’s pointed out that the phone recordings of the SCA’s decisionmaking conference calls are publicly available:

    Kelly (26:00): “Do any of you have any interest in being a chair or co-chair?”
    Stacks Rosch: “I would nominate Justin.”
    Kelly: “Justin you’ve been nominated, what do you think?”
    Justin: “Thanks, I’ll accept the nomination.”
    Kelly: “Excellent, is anyone else interested and want to be co-chair?”
    Brian Fields: “I wouldn’t mind working with Justin. Justin and I work really well together, we’ve done a lot of stuff in the past.”
    Justin: “I’ll nominate Brian.”
    Kelly: “Ok Justin and Brian, you guys are going to be our co-chairs of our executive committee… Thank you so much for accepting… Woo hoo!”

    Basically it looks like vetting by discussion only, which again might be enough for a con grunt position with oversight in place, but is insufficient vetting for a co-chair of a lobbying org.

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