My letter to CFI re Women In Secularism #wiscfi

I have sent the following letter to Tom Flynn, who is receiving letters for Center For Inquiry to be shown to the board members when they meet about Ron Lindsay this Friday. It is structured off of a letter that Miriam wrote intending to collect signatures and deliver with multiple names attached. I sponsor her letter in full, but I absolutely had to expand on much of what was said.

To the Board of Directors of the Center for Inquiry:

As an attendee of the recent Women in Secularism conference, I write to register my disappointment and sense of betrayal with regard to Dr. Ron Lindsay’s opening remarks and his subsequent behavior. I support the recent letter written and signed by thirteen of the conference speakers and would like to add my voice to theirs.

Dr. Lindsay’s comments about the misuse of the term “privilege” to “silence” men, asking them to “shut up and listen”, are both predicated on a misunderstanding of the terms despite numerous conversations explaining them in the interim between WiS 1 and 2. And without examples of feminists using these terms in that manner, feminists of the sort sitting in that very room listening to that very speech, it was a straw dummy argument that is well beneath his stature. Privilege is not a concept that’s difficult to grasp — historically, men have not had in aggregate the experience of being silenced because of their gender, and thus when someone asks them to be quiet long enough to allow non-male voices a chance at the microphone, that might seem like they’re being silenced. They have had that privilege of, when presented with a microphone and a time limit, being able to overrun that time limit without anyone saying “it’s time for you to turn that microphone over to someone else.” Dr. Lindsay, both metaphorically and literally, overran his time in this speech.

Dr. Lindsay’s remarks were addressed to an audience that CFI specifically designed the conference to attract — an audience of rational, skeptical and thoughtful feminists who have been involved in the various fights for feminism, atheism, skepticism and rationality for an uncounted number of years in aggregate. He, with obvious premeditated intent, crafted a message specifically designed to undercut their various fights by telling these feminists that religion has done a lot of harm to them, but for heaven’s sake, “don’t take it too far”. The message was received clearly — do not fight the entrenched sexism within the community. Religion is the real enemy, you see.

Dr. Lindsay spoke about the supposed silencing of men, but he did not speak about the silencing of women — silencing that the CFI conference was specifically designed to counter, by providing women a chance to speak in an environment where they were not, yet again, overshadowed and ignored. And yet, the fallout from the conference is, in fact, about the opprobrium one man unfairly heaped on feminists in the community — making it less about the women whose speeches and panels were wonderful and valuable, and making it entirely a referendum on his actions. This is not what we should be talking about right now. It is a distraction from our very real fights.

The reason many of us attended this conference is because the position of women in secularism is currently a tenuous one. In response to their advocacy for increased inclusivity within the secular movement, women activists have been subject to a divisive campaign of bullying, harassment, and threats. Several prominent activists have dropped out of the movement or decreased their involvement in it due to this ongoing silencing campaign — and do note that this is a real silencing campaign, not a request that someone stop hogging the microphone. Rather than expressing support for these activists facing this silencing campaign, Lindsay cautioned those very activists to avoid taking our activism too far and “silencing” men.

It’s one thing to be wrong about some concepts well understood by your audience. It’s another thing entirely to express that misunderstanding in so unprofessional and dismissive a manner, especially when this conference is an attempt at levelling the playing field for women. It is still another to march out of a fundraising supper so he can disfavourably compare one of the speakers to a fascist dictatorship on the official CFI blog, leaving said speaker to have to stump for the funds to make the conference a success. This was beyond reprehensible for a man in his position, especially galling in light of the specific challenges women are encountering in merely being a part of this community.

Given previous exhortations to the community as a whole to talk to one another about your disagreements in private, rather than to spring it on them in as divisive and damaging a way as they can manage in public venues, this opening speech and his subsequent lack of professionalism undercut much of what CFI hoped to achieve by putting on Women In Secularism and betrayed the spirit of the open letter to the community CFI wrote. Worse, it has served to coarsen the discourse and throw much chaff into an already well-misinformed conversation. And Dr. Lindsay’s actions reflect poorly upon Center For Inquiry and every decision-maker involved with the staging of this conference.

As a secular activist, I welcome discussion about feminism and its role in the secular movement. But a condescending lecture is not a discussion, and the opening remarks of a conference are a time to welcome and thank participants, not to air grievances against them that betray significant misunderstandings of the fights and challenges they face.

I strongly urge Dr. Lindsay to apologize in full for his behavior at the Women in Secularism conference. While I recognize and appreciate that he has since apologized to the aforementioned speaker for comparing her to North Korea, I would like to see him further acknowledge that his opening remarks were inappropriate given his position within CFI and the very nature of the conference CFI was attempting to host. In addition, I am asking Dr. Lindsay and the members of the CFI board to make every reasonable effort to ensure that there will be a third Women in Secularism conference, because the possibility of another conference has been thrown very much in doubt by his actions and the board’s subsequent delay in addressing this issue until their meeting.


Jason Thibeault

Stealing from Greta, because this wording is probably the most useful with regard to the specific message:

If you have something to say about Ron Lindsay’s talk at the Women in Secularism 2 conference, and/or about his follow-up posts responding to the controversy… say it to the CFI Board of Directors.

Don’t just say it on Twitter, or on Facebook, or on blog comments, or even on your own blog. Say it to the people who can do something about it. If you’ve already said something on some other forum, please copy and paste it, edit as appropriate, and send it to the CFI Board of Directors.

The CFI Board of Directors can be emailed via the Corporate Secretary, Tom Flynn, at [email protected]. They can also be reached by snail mail, at:

Center for Inquiry Board of Directors
PO Box 741
Amherst, NY 14226-0741

Tom Flynn will be aggregating these letters and presenting them at (or possibly shortly before) the board meeting. Please, if you have something to say about this, do it now.

My letter to CFI re Women In Secularism #wiscfi

11 thoughts on “My letter to CFI re Women In Secularism #wiscfi

  1. 1

    Really good letter and especially strong at the end. (I sent a letter, too, but I think yours is better.)

    As a secular activist, I welcome discussion about feminism and its role in the secular movement. But a condescending lecture is not a discussion, and the opening remarks of a conference are a time to welcome and thank participants, not to air grievances against them that betray significant misunderstandings of the fights and challenges they face.

  2. 3

    Already did that, after reading Lindsay’s comments on his CFI blog. I am more than a little bit pissed about this and frankly see no point in even paying attention to his alleged apology. He quite clearly didn’t apologize for any of his unfortunate (to be polite) commentary on the issue, *excepting* the most extremely over the top statement he made. Sorry, but I don’t see that as remotely satisfying, given all the other crap he had to say.

  3. 5

    I didn’t attend so I am not sure any letter I sent would be valued. However, I’ve heard about it from people I trust and gauged the audience reaction–some of them walked out! I read Ron Lindsay’s absurd and nitpicking attack on Rebecca Watson and his notpology. A swift reaction saying that this was not appropriate and a reprimand to him with instructions to follow his own damn policy would be a nice start.

  4. 6

    Markita –

    Are you involved with CFI at all? I didn’t attend the conference, but I am a CFI member and event host for CFI Michigan. Even if you are not, it certainly wouldn’t hurt. And if you are involved with CFI…well what Lindsay said and his demeanor about the whole thing are reflective of the organization as a whole. Personally, I do *not* want to be associated with kind of garbage.

    And this garbage isn’t just his saying something I disagree with. This is the CEO and president of an organization I am affiliated with, lowering himself to be nearly on a par with the hateful and vile people who have been waging a truly disgusting silencing campaign. This was taking advantage of the fucking welcome speech of a convention that was established largely as a response to that crap, to ambush people who are over that crap! No, nope, not going to put up with it.

  5. 7

    I sent mine about a week ago. I also told them I wouldn’t donate any money or volunteer until they took corrective action. I guess we’ll find out next week or so if our letters will make any difference.

  6. 8

    I sent a message to Tom as well, but I made it very short. Basically it said fire Ron or stop counting on my support. Enough subtle things have been said on our side. And I explicitly said I was male as well. I hate to be associated to the slymepit because of my gender, and the solution to that is to actively disassociate myself from them.

  7. 9

    My brain really has no filters when I first wake up in the morning.

    Two themes for WIS3 come (sarcastically) to mind.

    “Women in Secularism: Knowing Your Place” and “Women in Secularism: You’re Doing It Wrong”.

    Maybe next year the Chiding the Feminists event could be scheduled on a completely different day/week/month? Having the two ‘events’ coincide really sucks.

  8. 10

    I just sent this email to Melody Hensley:

    Dear Ms. Hensley,

    I’m hypothesizing that it will be impossible for Dr. Lindsay to understand women’s issues and related social issues enough, in the immediate future, to apologize for his behavior with any sincerity. Rather than an insincere apology, maybe it would be better, if he could do it sincerely, to express his regrets for the distress and confusion that it generated, and to agree to attend some training courses to better understand the issues involved.

    Best wishes,
    Jim Habegger

    I had previously sent an email suggesting that Dr. Lindsay, and possibly some others at CFI, might need training in women’s issues and some other social issues.

  9. 11

    Sent a short message to the email address for Tom Flynn that you provided. Told them honestly that I was too ashamed to promote CFI to friends anymore, and asked for Lindsay’s removal.

    Thank you Jason, for keeping up the good fight! (And thanks as well to all the other bloggers who have elucidated the problems with Lindsay’s remarks! I know I wont make it around to all the blogs to comment.)

    @smhll #9: “Women in Secularism: Knowing Your Place” is so apt! It almost made me exhale my cereal milk with bitter agreement.

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