What a Lawsuit Costs Us All

That the secular movement is litigious should not come as a surprise to anyone. The Center for Inquiry is suing Walmart and CVS. American Atheists is suing a state senator. Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center both use lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits as a primary form of activism. We know the good a strategic lawsuit can do in protecting our rights.

That doesn’t mean every lawsuit is good for our movement, of course. Among the secular organizations that do litigate, there’s been a push to more carefully consider all the possible outcomes of filing suit, particularly as the Trump administration stacks the federal courts. We’re in this for the long haul, and precedent can cost us as well as help us.

With that in mind, Secular Woman urges organizations and individuals in the secular movement to consider two current lawsuits and what they stand to cost us. In the last few years, two prominent men in our movement have been accused of a range of inappropriate sexual behavior and have chosen to respond by suing the women who have spoken up.

Richard Carrier was accused of persistent sexual advances and responded by suing two of his accusers, a nonprofit organization that reported banning him from their events, one blogger who collected reports of his behavior from him and others into one place (full disclosure: Stephanie Zvan is vice president of Secular Woman), one blogger who reported receiving reports for further investigation, and both blog networks on which these posts appeared. 

Three years after his original suit was filed, Carrier is reduced to two remaining lawsuits. He continues to sue a former student group leader and the atheist blogger who said the claims against Carrier would be investigated. The other suits were dismissed with prejudice for jurisdiction or because the statute of limitations ran out while Carrier fought to keep his suit in a state without anti-SLAPP statutes. None of his claims or those against him have been heard in court, despite him recently telling a judge that was all he wanted. The defendants have spent well over $100,000 on their defense.

In April 2018, David Silverman was suspended from American Atheists after unspecified allegations were made against him. Shortly thereafter, he was fired after a review of “internal documents and communications related to the initial complaint as well as evidence relating to the additional allegations brought to the Board’s attention”. A Buzzfeed News article states that the original allegations involved “financial and personal conflicts of interest” and the additional allegations involve sexual assault.

In September of this year, Silverman filed suit against Buzzfeed, American Atheists, its president, and its chair. He also filed suit against another board member and both his accusers, claiming they had conspired against him. He did this despite both claiming he’d only been damaged by the financial allegations and being on record elsewhere as knowing one of these accusations dated back to at least 2013.

What is the purpose of these lawsuits? Each man has already published his own account of events on a site anyone can read. The women who accused Silverman of assault cannot prove he had no financial conflicts of interest relating to his book. Carrier’s claims cannot be heard by endlessly litigating jurisdiction instead of moving the case to a court stipulated to be acceptable by the defendants. 

The only things lawsuits like these can do is use up the time, money, and energy of our movement and further discourage our activists from speaking up about how they have been treated. As a movement, we’ve spent years fighting past legal threats to warn people about those among us who abuse their power, like Lawrence Krauss and Michael Shermer. This work is critical to keeping our activists and building a stronger movement. If we want them to work for and support us, we must look out for them.

What can you do about lawsuits like these? You can take a critical look at them, ask whether they have any chance of doing what they claim to be trying to accomplish. You can ask what kind of conspiracy the accused claims is arrayed against them and what anyone could actually gain from being part of such a thing. 

You can count the costs to the movement. What could you do to support secularism with $100,000? What could you do with more activists whose attention isn’t scattered by legal demands, with volunteers and donors who feel comfortable working with you because they know they can speak up if they’re poorly treated?

We at Secular Woman know that many secular organizations and activists already privately denounce lawsuits like these. Some do so publicly. We thank you for that. But we also urge that, as a movement, we work to get better at not rewarding disruptive, punitive, costly lawsuits like these.

A Statement About HEADS

Since its founding in 2012, Secular Woman has worked to amplify the voices of atheist, humanist and non-religious women. We do this in part by participating in the annual conference attended by the leaders of national secular organizations. We have attended four of the past five meetings.

The structure of this year’s meeting changed after women voiced their opinions and concerns at last year’s meeting. Some of those opinions were unpopular and unwelcome, and during the meeting, the Chair of the Advisory Board of the Secular Coalition of America requested that the next meeting be available only to member organizations of SCA. SCA ran this year’s meeting, and the change was made, excluding Secular Woman and other smaller organizations.

People continue to write “where are the women” pieces about the secular movement after years of work to make us more inclusive. Women enter this movement, then leave with stories of being talked over, silenced, and valued for their bodies over their voices. As #MeToo continues to gather momentum, the leaders of this movement have changed the rules to specifically exclude Secular Woman, the only secular organization which focuses on the concerns and voices of women.

This move exemplifies the very reasons Secular Woman was created. We are here to ensure that women’s voices are heard, even if they sometimes make those listening uncomfortable. We are here to elevate more women to leadership positions, to bring their influence to bear at national levels. If this were happening easily, “naturally”, without a fight, our organization wouldn’t exist.

We at Secular Woman encourage the leaders of these organizations to walk back this exclusionary change. We fought for our seat at the table. We will continue to fight to regain it.

Take Our Survey

The new year is a traditional time to look back at what we’ve accomplished in the last year and forward to what we hope to accomplish in the next. Secular Woman would like your help doing that this year.


We’ve been quiet recently, but we’re trying to get better about bragging about our accomplishments. 2017 started with our president, Monette Richards, attending a meeting of secular organizations to represent the interests of women in the movement. We won’t say it was friction-free, but we made points that would otherwise have gone unsaid. The year ended with an update to our website and back-end systems to improve functionality and make updates easier in the future.


In between, we continued to host interesting discussions on our members-only Facebook page, ran the Secular Women Work track of workshops at Skepticon, and got mouthy when the secular movement decided our interests weren’t important. We also added two new board members to help us accomplish more in 2018. Please help us welcome Sam Farooqi and Stephanie Zvan!


We’ve already started working on projects for 2018, but we want your input on how we can do more. Please fill out this survey on what you’d like to see from us this year.


While you’re at it, please consider renewing your membership to Secular Woman. Your membership helps us help you (and keeps us from sending you another email soon when we run our membership drive).

Secular Woman Announces the AHSI



Finding our History: Indexing the Skeptic, Humanist, and Atheist Movements

A new project from Secular Woman

Bainbridge, GA November 13, 2015 — If you have ever wondered about the history of skepticism, humanism, and atheism in the U.S. and hoped for a place to find such information, that resource is coming soon! We are excited to announce the launch of the Atheist, Humanist, and Skeptic History Index, a project that addresses that gap. The Index will catalogue information from publications of our movements and other sources so that they can be easily found by anyone interested in that history. We are thrilled that writer and activist Stephanie Zvan will be heading the project as the administrator. She was motivated to begin this project because “the U.S. atheist movement has always been in dialogue with our larger culture, but many people prefer to pretend all our history is religious history. I want to make that harder for them.”

Ours is a rich history in the U.S., stretching back prior to the American Revolution and continuing through today. From historical figures such as the writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin to suffragist and abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton – atheists, humanists, and skeptics have helped to shape the social fabric of United States. Unfortunately, our history is often obscured or not well documented; this is especially true of humanists, atheists, and skeptics who are also part of a disenfranchised group, such as black people or women. This project will be working to make information on these movement figures, events, and publications more widely accessible, lifting the curtain to usher in this history from obscurity.

To ensure that the archive is of high quality and well-organized, there will be project administrators and volunteers working on its different aspects. Donations to this project will go toward supporting administrative staff. We’re currently raising funds to cover the costs of initial set-up, contacting and coordinating with other organizations, and indexing of over 200 issues of the American Atheist Magazine that are publicly available.

This project will be pulling from the archives and websites of organizations in these movements that have already begun their own catalogues, as well as adding new information as we find it. And as it continues it will be focused on identifying existing relevant periodicals (such as those that profile movement figures), legislation and court cases related to or brought about by these movements, events, and other related historical records of note. The index will take shape on a wiki platform so it will be simple and accessible for users and volunteers.

Secular Woman board member and project lead Monette Richards is particularly excited about how this project fulfills our mission, Richard’s points out that “the works and accomplishments of women are often left unwritten. We would be failing our mission to raise the voice of secular women if we allowed those voices to be forgotten.”


Atheist Humanist Skeptic History Index

AHS History Index

What is the AHS History Index? The Atheist, Humanist, and Skeptic History Index is a project to make the information contained in the publications of these movements easily discoverable by historians and anyone else with an interest in the history of these movements. Several organizations have done a good job of collecting this information and making it accessible to people who ask to see it, but it's difficult to ask for things you don't know exist. This project aims to fix that problem.

Donate to help us fund this project. To become a member with or without an additional contribution, please visit our Membership Page.


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What are we Talking About

What are we Talking About? Dr. Ruth, Cannabis, HRC, Caitlyn Jenner

What are we Talking AboutThere are many interesting and insightful conversations happening in the Members Only Facebook group.  Want to know what we are talking about?  This weekly series highlights a few articles that members found interesting.

This week in the member’s only group we were talking about (curated links):

  1. Dr. Ruth:  Women Can’t Say No to Sex Once Naked in Bed
  2. The First Church of Cannabis was Approved After Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law was Passed
  3. Why do Men Rape?  Comparing the Epidemic from Each to West
  4. 5 Most Disappointing Things we Learned About HRC’s ‘White Mean’s Club’
  5. Scott Walker”  Women Only Concerned with Rape and Incest in ‘initial months’ of pregnancy
  6. What are the Least Churched Cities in the US?
  7. Revealing Caitlyn Jenner:  My Thoughts on Media, Privilege, Healthcare Access & Glamour < Janet Mock
  8. First Speaker Revealed for Skepticon 8
  9. Tripling Down? Walker Misstates his own Ultrasound Policy
  10. Terrible Advice for Female Scientists
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Send Soraya Chemaly to Secular Social Justice

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Help Sponsor Speaker Soraya Chemaly

In January 2016, the Secular Social Justice conference will be held at Rice University in Houston. This marks another conference within the atheist community that has a social justice focus, a trend we welcome and support as more attention to issues of social inequality using a secular, rational framework is needed.

Speaking at Secular Social Justice is Soraya Chemaly, who is on our Advisory Board. She is a prolific writer on the topics of race, feminism, masculinity, and social justice. Her writing can be found on Salon, Time, Huffington Post, and more. She is also an activist and has worked with Women, Action, Media on their action to get facebook to remove content that is violent against women.

Secular Woman is pleased to have been asked to sponsor Soraya Chemaly’s travel for this conference and we are looking for your support. We are fresh from successfully supporting the Secular Women Work conference taking place this fall, and now we would love for our partners and supporters to donate a little so that Soraya will be able to attend this conference. Our support and yours will show how much we value the Black Skeptics Group, Houston Black Non-Believers, the American Humanist Association, African Americans for Humanism, Soraya Chemaly, and the rapidly growing social justice movement within the atheist community.

Chemaly’s travel expenses will be approximately $2500, and we are asking our members, supporters, and the atheist/secular community to help fund her expenses. As you can see, the conference date is around the corner, please donate today.

Anyone donating over $50 will get an @AbortTheocracy sticker. Please remember to include your mailing address!

If the amount raised exceeds the actual travel expenses, these monies will become part of Secular Woman's general fund.

Secular Woman, Inc. reserves the right to redistribute funds in the best interest of the organization.

Secular Woman is in the process of applying for federal tax exemption as a 501(c)(3) organization. If this designation is granted, then the full amount of your contribution will be deductible for federal income tax purposes.

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Noelle George Foundation Beyond Belief Executive Director

Interview: Noelle George

Noelle George Foundation Beyond Belief Executive DirectorNoelle George is the new Executive Director of Foundation Beyond Belief and is also on the Advisory Board here at Secular Woman. Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson talks with her about her new position at FBB, her goals and her hopes for women in the secular movement.

Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson: Tell me a little about yourself and your background.

Noelle George: Well, I joined the secular movement in 2009 when I founded the SECULAR Center – an organization around secular volunteering. I merged that organization into Foundation Beyond Belief (FBB) in 2011, and I’ve been with FBB ever since. I’ve volunteered with a few other atheist organizations and founded an online atheist moms group as well. Before I got involved in the secular movement, I was a project manager for a large energy company, and I have my chemical engineering degree from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. Right now I’m living in South Korea with my family because of my husband’s temporary work assignment here. I enjoy reading, music, running, and sleeping. In addition to my role at Foundation Beyond Belief, I also run another secular charity called Secular Avenue.


ARS: What is Foundation Beyond Belief and what does your position there entail?

NG: Foundation Beyond Belief is an organization that allows people to demonstrate and live their humanist values. The main way we do this is via our humanist giving program – people join as members by signing up to give an amount monthly (which can be as low as $5). We select five charities per quarter and the members can choose which of these charities they want their donation to go towards. One hundred percent of their money goes directly to the charities – we don’t take anything off the top for operational costs.

My position is not a new role, but it’s new to me. I will be overseeing the Foundation and its four programs – Humanist Giving, Beyond Belief Network, Humanist Disaster Recovery, and our most recently added program – Humanist Service Corps.


ARS: What are your main duties as executive director?

NG: My most important tasks are overseeing our administration and program operations, fundraising and financial management, and raising the visibility of the Foundation. This includes managing staff and volunteers, overseeing expenses and working with fundraising development, shaping tangible, measurable program goals, doing interviews, forming lasting partnerships with other organizations, and more.


ARS: Are you the first woman in this role?

NG: Yes – Dale McGowan was the founder of the organization and its first executive director. I am succeeding him as the second executive director. I’m proud to say that we have a very good gender balance in our staff, and I am working on increasing our racial diversity as well.


ARS: What do you hope to achieve?

NG: I would like to continue the work that Dale McGowan started by further developing our programs to operate more efficiently and in a self-sustaining manner, raise the visibility of the Foundation both inside the secular community as well as outside, increase the financial stability of the Foundation, focus more on social justice issues, reach out to other organizations in partnership (like Secular Woman), and just generally build on the success of the Foundation so far.


ARS: What is the most exciting thing going on at FBB right now?

NG: Our annual event this year is the Humanism At Work mini-conference, awards dinner, and charity benefit. The theme will be #blacklivesmatter: listen, learn, think, discuss, act. Sikivu Hutchinson will deliver the keynote address, “Colorblind Lies and Morality Myths: Moving Secular Social Justice”. 50% of proceeds from the event will go toward a charity (to be announced in the coming weeks) in line with our theme. And there’s much more in store..


ARS: What is FBB doing about disaster relief in Nepal? How can Secular Woman readers help with that or other initiatives?

NG: FBB activated our Humanist Disaster Recovery Drive almost immediately after the Nepal earthquakes struck. Right now we are supporting Women’s Foundation of Nepal in their recovery efforts. This organization was chosen as one of our beneficiaries for two primary reasons. First, locally run organizations are always best suited to handle recovery, especially in the long-term. Second, the impacts of disasters on women have been widely researched in countries around the world. This research has found that women face more and unique challenges throughout response and recovery – including needs related to health, safety, and economic stability.


ARS: Where do you see yourself in five years?

NG: In five years I’d love to still be at FBB – continuing to grow and refine our programs, adding new and innovative programs, spreading the ‘secular word’, and securing a strong future for both FBB as an organization and the secular movement in general.


ARS: What is one pet project you’d love to do either within FBB or elsewhere?

NG: The other project I have going on is another secular charity organization – Secular Avenue (www.secularavenue.org). We help people who are in an unsafe situation because of leaving religion, coming out as LGBTQ, or experiencing domestic violence. I think it’s very important for us to take care of our own, and many organizations that help people in these situations are religious. There isn’t another organization out there that is dedicated to people leaving religion. When people are especially vulnerable because of escaping an unsafe situation, they don’t need religion pushed on them. Secular Avenue offers a path to safety without proselytizing.


ARS: What do you see as the main challenge for women in the secular community? What do you think is the main promise?

NG: Having our concerns and needs listened to and understood by those already in the community. I see that too often, we try to explain how we are received within the movement and treated by people within the community, and it falls on deaf ears, is rationalized and excused away, or just plain ignored. I think we all need to speak out about our experiences and join our voices together, and continue to support each other in fighting sexism both inside and outside the secular community.

I think that women and other minorities have great potential to make this community stronger and I believe that Secular Woman can be a big part of that by helping raise the visibility of our voices. I think women can be a strong force in the fight for women’s rights such as reproductive rights and that we can help liberate women around the world who are trapped in one way or another because of religious beliefs or religious values.


Secular Woman readers can visit the following links to learn more about and participate in FBB’s other programs:

  •        Humanist Giving: Living humanist values through giving regularly to a rotating slate of carefully selected and vetted charities by joining FBB as a member
  •        Beyond Belief Network: Participating in local volunteerism through one of 100+ freethought groups around the country
  •        Humanist Disaster Recovery Teams: Registering as a potential volunteer to assist communities impacted by a disaster in the first avenue to humanists to participate in disaster recovery
  •        Humanist Service Corps: Supporting international outreach in Ghana’s “witch camps” to empower women as entrepreneurs and advocates against gender-based violence and discrimination

Or, you can support the Foundation directly by joining the Foundation 50 giving circle or making a one-time donation directly to FBB.



Amber Barnhill Secular Woman

A Christian Who Wasn’t Cross

Amber Barnhill Secular Woman

By Amber Barnhill

One of my favorite movies is The Matrix. Possibly because I once suffered from a mild obsession with Keanu Reeves or maybe I’m just a geek at heart. I eventually had to change my email after becoming too embarrassed to tell potential employers to contact me at “thewhiterabbit- @yahoo.com.” Little did I know then that the path ahead of me would veer into a series of events which can only be described as a real life manifestation of Neo’s own experience waking up and adjusting to the realization that the world wasn’t the way he had always believed it to be. Cognitive dissonance is a mighty tyrant as the most damaging lies are the ones we tell ourselves. It’s easy to recognize harmful behavior in other cultures, but until experiencing it myself, I never would have known that our own community in South-east Texas has been perpetuating so much intolerance and hatred under the guise of social normalcy. Atheophobia is defined as fear, distrust, or hatred of atheists or atheism; however, this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to atheists and its repercussions on society affect us all, not just those targeted. I can say this because I’ve lived it, both as perpetrator and as victim, and have emerged with the scars to prove it.

National Atheist Day is April first, or so claimed the snarky bumper sticker that hung on my bedroom wall as a teenager. Just underneath the loud red font was an all too oft repeated verse, Psalm 14:1, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” My belief, as confirmed by the movie God’s Not Dead, was that atheists were people who believed in God, but rejected him i.e. the murderers, the Nazis, the homosexuals, and essentially anyone who voted for NObama. My mother remarried early on and sub-merged us into extreme fundamentalism. My biological father believed in God, but didn’t live the way real Christians should so according to my mother and pastor, he was headed straight for Hell. I cried myself to sleep countless nights, sick to my stomach with fear, and still remember my awkward attempts to take him down the “Romans’ Road” of salvation. His mother, who was of a “false religion,” once asked why we couldn’t visit her church. I replied that we weren’t allowed to because they were “heathens.”

During my brief stint in public school, I bravely contradicted my openly Catholic Biology teacher informing him that he most certainly cannot believe in God and evolution at the same time. I answered essay questions in like manner and took zeros on those assignments. This intolerant ideology built an unnecessarily hurtful wall between myself and many who cared about me; not because their beliefs were inferior to my own, but because I had perceived them to be. Thankfully, acquiring some life experience finally taught me to accept that it’s okay for people to think and believe differently though I was still perched comfortably atop my position as an honorary member of the privileged majority. It is impossible to truly empathize with those outside our social norms until spending a day or two in their shoes. The summer of 2013, I inadvertently did just that.

My children were both enrolled in a private Christian daycare when my son started preschool at BISD. As BISD is public, seeing his teacher lead the class in a repeat-after-me prayer was a bit unexpected. The sacred responsibility of spiritual instruction belongs to parents, not government, and unlike my daycare’s religiosity, parents in this class had not been informed of such. I mentioned later that I wasn’t offended, but wanted to be aware of other religious inclusions outside of the ceremonial type. His teacher became oddly defensive stating she would not apologize, among other things, and claimed it was entirely led by the students, a group of four year olds who, at their teacher’s command, repeated a prayer after her. She then targeted my son for conversion. To be clear, individual voluntary prayer is not, nor has it ever been illegal, only coerced or school sponsored prayers are. Contrary to popular belief, God has not been kicked out of anywhere. I posted in a local parenting group for advice and was introduced to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. A reporter saw the thread and asked me for an interview.

I don’t watch the news myself and hardly expected anyone to notice; however, the story quickly spread and national headlines went from Concerned Parent to Angry Mom Goes Ballistic, many even quoting what was never said. This climax of events, I affectionately refer to as my little red pill. I was officially and involuntarily unplugged from the machine. I woke up the next morning to a world full of complete strangers I had never met who were oddly wearing the faces of my co-workers, friends, and even family. I was ostracized and threatened while locals rallied to run me out of town, to organize a protest in my front yard, and spammed my business page. A Beaumont pastor stalked me for information to feed the media and school board. Apparently, another Amber Barnhill near Galveston was arrested for assault so I became “trash.” The school tried to transfer my son, my ex-husband detailed my location on KBMT, and I was targeted by institutionalized bullying while one of my managers harassed me to the point of having panic attacks before finally losing my job. I have never seen such anger and hatred.

I naively thought my upstanding reputation as a Christian, not just any Christian, but a fundamentalist seminary graduate with a history of evangelical Christian service and the ability to quote entire chapters of scripture would neutralize the issue. To my chagrine, quoting Jesus himself during the interview didn’t prevent Christians from calling me a “militant atheist in disguise” with the devil in my back pocket, or from my more admiring fans, a “dumb-ass moron rat piece of shit” and “gutless bitch” who “needs to be scared so maybe she’ll teach her kids about God!” Though apparently, “sperm would die on contact with such a shrillesh woman.” After being told to go “where women can’t do nuthin but clean and prostitute,” one person was kind enough to ask if I “preferred beating my head into the ground five times a day before going home to her hubby for the nightly punching sessions.” “May her kids grow up to be Conservative activists just to defy Mom the Slut and Dad the Drunk.”

Further disproving any notion that students in our districts are treated fairly, an HJISD principal recently distributed a fear-mongering letter causing community hysteria over pure falsehoods; a Sour Lake Elementary teacher stated, “if you don’t like it, leave!” and boasted of teaching her students to pray for “people like you;” a Burnett teacher says Christians are exempt from the law because “some laws aren’t worth obeying,” and both Henderson’s PTO as well as the HJ Hawks’ social media pages circulated an open letter to the “narrow-minded atheist or condescending idiot who complained” while simultaneously boasting of their tolerance toward others. Those who have spoken out have been called communists, terrorists, workers of darkness, worthless bigots, “baby raping sons of bitches,” “radical uneducated hate mongering fools,” and told repeatedly to “shut the hell up and take you and your kids to a Muslim country,” “drop off the face of the earth,” and “file a lawsuit in Hell.” As previously stated by a sign in downtown Kountze, “If you don’t like it, LEAVE!” appears to be the motto of Southeast Texas. There were threats of being burned at the end of a rope, taken for a “Texas joy-ride,” dragged by my hair and water-boarded, something about pitchforks and an AR-15, and so on. Many students have reached out to me since, including a Methodist, thanking me for doing what they’re afraid to. It’s been unreal, but I would do it again, every time, because if everyone is quiet nothing will ever change and no human being, not even the dirty heathen ones, deserves that kind of treatment.

I am horrified by the ignorance and intolerance in our community, but even more horrified that I myself was once under that same spell. Many Americans have never knowingly met an atheist, even though the majority of the world isn’t Christian. Media and churches continually associate atheism with immorality, communism, and criminal behavior causing a universal misconception about atheism. Our actions define who we are, not our beliefs. Those who want protection for their rights must first exemplify the virtue of protecting others’ rights. The constitution was designed for all of us whether we pray to God with a big “G,” god with a little “g,” or the flying spaghetti monster. It requires courage to take responsibility for our behavior and integrity to do right without the hope of reward or fear of punishment. Standing up for what’s right when it’s not the popular thing to do has cost me a lot this past year, but there is no price so high as the harm we inflict on our own souls when we turn our backs to injustice.