Secular Woman Member Article

Charles Loelius Letter to CFI

Secular Woman Member Article
By Charles Loelius

An Open Letter to CFI
Regarding Ron Lindsay and Women in Secularism

As a member of a number of secular organizations, including American Atheists, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, The Foundation Beyond Belief, and Secular Woman, as well as local humanist and atheist groups, I have been following Women in Secularism, and its aftermath, with considerable interest. Not only because my local groups, just as the national ones, have a problem with bigots and sexists, but because I am genuinely interested in the future of the secular movement, and how it can best do good in the world. The Women in Secularism conference, it seemed to me, was a tremendous opportunity to share ideas about how secularism, free thinking, and skepticism could help end sexism in the world, and strengthen other social justice movements. And indeed, on the whole it did so admirably. While I could not attend in person, I was able to read transcripts, summaries, and other accounts of talks and discussions, about which we are still talking.

But, unfortunately, and as you certainly are aware, Ron Lindsay, the CEO of the Center for Inquiry, cast a dark shadow over the conference. Having read the transcript of the talk on his website, it is clear that he was not enthusiastic about the conference- refusing to welcome the many guests who had paid hundreds of dollars for tickets and travels- and forcing most guests to listen to a rather banal criticism of the concept of privilege. Speaking as a straight white cis-gendered man, I found his criticisms rather tasteless and ill timed. I certainly don’t think there is never room for discussion about the concept of privilege, and what it feels like to be a person in the majority to hear such criticisms. But I do not think a welcome talk is the right place, especially considering the optics of having a white man lecturing at a crowd of mostly women about the harms of using the concept of “privilege,” and I must admit to being reminded of Rand Paul’s disastrous talk at the NAACP conference only a few short months ago.

But I would not be compelled to write to the board over such a minor transgression. As much as it reveals Lindsay’s ignorance about sociology, and his own uncharitable readings of others’ works, it hardly matters to me if one speaker- even the CEO of the hosting organization- says something a bit inane. However, Lindsay’s reactions to criticisms of his talk have crossed a line. In his follow up blog post, he compares a number of bloggers in the secular movement to totalitarian dictators, going so far as to suggest that Rebecca Watson is some sort of Kim Jung Un. It is worth noting that Rebecca Watson, like many women in the secular movement, has been targeted persistently by a number of serial harassers who have slandered, used humiliating photoshops, and otherwise worked to chase her out of the secular movement. In his hyperbolic comparisons, Lindsay riled up these same harassers, gave them an outlet at his blog where they remained unmoderated, and led to further harassment and support. Worse, at the same time as he was doing this, he personally welcomed Justin Vacula, a well known harasser and writer for the hate site “A Voice for Men” to the conference, a dignity he would not even perform for the rest of the attendees in his welcome speech. All this because, evidently, he disagrees over how privilege ought to be used with Rebecca Watson and PZ Myers(whom he odiously conflates into some hybrid person in the same offensive blog post.)

This is of course disgusting coming from a major leader in the secular movement, and the CEO of your organization. But what is worse, it comes from the same individual who just recently authored and signed an “open letter to the secular community,” claiming that we members of the secular community ought to discuss privately our concerns with those whom we disagree with in good faith. Not only was this letter published without more than cursory input from feminist secular organizations, and those writers who have so often been bullied and harassed- to the point of quitting the movement- for the reason of being a woman and outspoken, but it now appears that it is meant to apply only to we who speak out against sexism. Because it is clear that Ron Lindsay himself did not take the time to talk with PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson in person, as opposed to writing public posts inviting more harassment, and turning a welcome address into a personal argument with people whom he did not even need to phone, as they were in the very same room as himself. This behaviour is not only disgusting and hypocritical, but it has killed my faith in most of the organizations in the secular movement. Evidently as a movement we are happier keeping serial harassers in the movement than we are with making women feel even remotely valued, and Ron Lindsay and by extension the CFI are at the forefront of this decision. What is more, I am personally affronted by his behaviour here as a white male, for I have never felt silenced by even the most ardent feminists in our community, but I have avoided starting my own blog, publicizing my own name, or even attending many conferences because I am too afraid of the serial harassers attacking me for my pro-woman pro-minority positions. Encouraging those harassers has done nothing to encourage me to get more involved in this movement.

I want to again repeat that I have no problem with having discussions about sexism and racism, and listening to opinions that differ from my own. Nor do I think that having those different opinions makes one unfit for holding the leadership positions in a secular organization. But if one is unable to avoid expressing those opinions without demonizing people who have done no more than differ on the matter of sociology and the most effective methods of dealing with the problems of bigotry and prejudice, and can do so in spite of his own explicit command to the rest of the secular movement not to use such disgusting tactics, then that person is not fit to lead. It is thus that I urge you to remove Ron Lindsay from his position of CEO. I understand that he has given a half-hearted apology as it is, but having seen what Lindsay is like at his worst, I don’t think we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt, if we want to be serious about expanding our movement and making it important to everyone.

I am of course only a small donor, and a small voice, but I am nonetheless extremely disgusted with CFI’s leadership, its hypocrisy and its willingness to cozy up to bigotry. I hope that the organization will have the courage to face the darkest parts of this movement, and the willingness and strength to repair the damage that has been done. This would have to begin with the replacement of Ron Lindsay, but could not end there.

Secular Woman Member Article

Anu Ramanathan’s Response to Ron Lindsay

Secular Woman Member Article

By Anu Ramanathan

UPDATE 06/25/2013:

I thank Ron Lindsay for his apology, and hope to see the CFI Board respond likewise for their extraordinarily not-even-trying sham of a bafflegab not-pology, with that same level of courage that is required to make a heartfelt public apology.

I’m not quite ready yet to become a member of CFI, but I will once again set up my recurring donation to CFI, directed specifically to future Women In Secularism conferences, and to Melody Hensley, and meanwhile I will wait and see if Ron Lindsay and the Board of CFI as a whole have actually learned and internalized what it was that pissed me off and so many others people in the community likewise.

While this apology is a beginning, it is going to take a lot to restore my trust in CFI, and yet I am cautiously optimistic that the organization’s leadership will earn that trust back again. It will take a lot more work and actual support from CFI for an inclusive secular community before that shattered trust can be rebuilt; however, at least in my case, it will probably never be as strong as it was before WIS2…

So to Dr. Ron Lindsay – apology accepted.  Board of Directors of CFI – waiting for your apology for the awful bafflegab.

I will be watching and waiting, waiting and watching. I hope to see you earn my trust back with your demonstrated support for an inclusive community.

Women in Secularism 2 and CFI CEO Ron Lindsay’s impolitic and improper conduct during the conference and after

As a member of Secular Woman, I fully support the linked Statement of Objection.

I have ZERO confidence in Dr. Lindsay as CEO of CFI, and rapidly plummeting confidence in CFI as an effective organization for the secular community.  CFI will not see any support from me, monetarily or otherwise, for as long as Center for Inquiry’s CEO Dr. Ron Lindsay continues as CEO, and does not retract his statements and blog posts, and apologize for his shameful and impolitic conduct at last weekend’s Women in Secularism 2 conference.

I am hereby withdrawing my membership in CFI, but will continue my support of the Women in Secularism conference itself for as long as your organization continues to host and support it (the conference). If CFI decides that it cannot or will not host and/or support the conference in the future – and the longer the Board of Directors keeps Dr. Lindsay on as CEO without a clear, honest and sincere apology, the clearer it becomes to me and others like me that your organization is not serious about supporting the conference –  I will expect all the money that I have donated specifically for future Women in Secularism conferences to be refunded to me.

Even if there is a retraction and apology, and even if the Board of CFI censures its CEO  for his extraordinarily impolitic and  unbecoming  conduct, it will still take a LOT to restore in me any level of confidence that CFI’s Board of Directors meant its endorsement of the Open Letter to the Secular Community  as anything more than a shallow public relations move.  It is already clear that Ron Lindsay meant only to jump on the hip trendy bandwagon of major secular organizations’ support of the Open Letter to the secular community.

I trust that you, the Board of Directors of the Center for Inquiry, will do the right thing by your community, and not bow to the hostile demands of the few anti-feminists and MRAs over the far numerous decent members of the secular community worldwide.


Anu Ramanathan

Twitter: @AnuTrophy

Your Point of View is not the Default. Context Matters.

By Kim Rippere and Elsa Roberts, follow them on twitter at KimRippere and ElsaLRoberts 


The article below reflects the personal opinions of the authors, and is not an official statement from Secular Woman


It was a surreal experience to witness a white, double PhD, straight, male lecture women and feminists on how to not upset the men in positions of power/privilege as part of a “welcoming” talk to Women in Secularism 2 – that the concept of privilege can be used to silence men! The conference was derailed before it began just as so many of our conversations are derailed online by men who feel entitled to make their issues and feelings paramount. We’ve seen it countless times; for example, how many times have we all seen a comment thread about rape instantly turned into a thread about how men are raped also (yes, we know that and care!)? It is impossible to count.

Dr. Lindsay’s point in his comments was that feminists need to moderate their voice so as to not upset men (or women who continue to cleave to the patriarchy). There was little apparent understanding of privilege and marginal understanding of how the underpinnings of systemic, historical oppression continue to function in our society, even though women’s historical subjugation was given lip service in his speech. It’s difficult to believe that Dr. Lindsay could have so poor a grasp on these issues given that religious privilege is explicitly a part of the CFI mission. Atheists, and their supporting organizations like CFI, are working to be heard regarding religious privilege, and do they worry about the potential of silencing those that are religious?  I think not. Dr. Lindsay, you acting as the President/CEO of the Center for Inquiry, have condemned religious privilege while, apparently, dismissing and/or minimizing other forms of it.

Feminists are not silencing anyone in our movement; we are simply attempting to be heard.  Dr. Lindsay, it isn’t that you are being silenced, it is merely that you are being informed you should make way for first hand experiences and give those primacy when relevant. As Adam Lee said: “You lack evidence relevant to this problem, so learn from those who have it.”

To put it in skeptic terms #ShutUpAndListen means "You lack evidence relative to this problem, so learn from those who have it."

This is how a conversation should go between individuals when one has more experience and expertise than the other:

  1. When the conversation is about the inclusion of women, women’s experiences are most relevant. That doesn’t mean that no one cares about men’s experiences, it simply means that women’s are paramount.
  2. When talking about how men experience socialization, men’s experiences are primary and paramount.
  3. When talking about being a trans* woman of color?  A trans* woman of color’s viewpoint is paramount.
  4. When educating regarding an aspect of the genome; gender and race are irrelevant; but, being a geneticist is relevant and paramount.


Most would rather hear from a scientist regarding science. The foundation of [privilege] is as simple as that.

Privilege is used, in part, to point out that the most relevant person has the best information/evidence and that their voice should be paramount. It doesn’t mean that anyone is silenced or that a marginalized person is always correct. The geologist isn’t silenced by the physicist speaking and commanding the attention of the room on a topic they are an expert in; they have a differing, complementary, and connected understanding.  And on different ideas each will take primacy as appropriate.

Surely, you don’t think that the residential real estate attorney should be paramount in a legal employment concern? The employment attorney’s opinion, viewpoint, knowledge, and experience should be paramount with the EEOC. This is the foundation of understanding privilege. Your view is not the only view, it is not (or should not be) the default, and context matters when deciding who to listen to. This is one the reasons that GOP Senators were roundly criticized during their hearings on birth control: there were no women on the panel even though the issue explicitly affected women. Men were sitting in judgement of women’s health care, just as you sat in judgment of feminists with little to no apparent understanding of feminist history, feminism, privilege, or your feminist audience.

Your “welcome” speech, then, pushed back gains that women have made in our movement. You have emboldened the harassers and vocal detractors of feminism in the secular movement; in fact many of them have come out in vocal support of your statements. These supporters of yours make a habit of calling women “cunts”, “cunty”, and “bitches” all while creating and breaking down straw feminisms faster than we can keep track and still they claim to the “real” feminists, while those of us working to dismantle patriarchal structures are labeled as irrational. You supported these same repugnant and untruthful sentiments in your hyperbolic blog post made in response to Rebecca Watson, where you stated “Either you believe reason and evidence should ultimately guide our discussions, or you think they should be held hostage to identity politics.”

This statement creates a false dichotomy and implies that identity politics is somehow tainted. Nothing could be further from the truth; identity politics gives marginalized groups the tools to make their voices heard and a way to break free from oppression. Those engaged in identity politics must constantly question the status quo and engage their critical thinking faculties to dismantle long held beliefs which are not rational but merely serve to prop up those in power and to keep systemic inequality functioning. It is precisely these people who make use of the tools of reason and evidence everyday, we must if we are to effectively do our work and help others in non-marginalized communities see that some of their beliefs are not rational, but a cultural heritage which they must shed if they wish to move forward toward a more just society.

Feminism, sexism, privilege, patriarchy, and identity politics are all concepts that are readily available to research via the internet. The seemingly perpetual need within the secular community to have more and new dialogue, instruction, and education on these topics is a microaggression. The assumption that it is a feminist’s role and responsibility to educate, educate, educate the oppressor is completely unbalanced. Do some work, get educated. Or alternatively, listen.