The community of atheist activists, who are constantly and self-righteously judging religion as evil, seem to be plagued with some very serious and persistent ethical problems. First there were the accusations of embezzlement associated with Richard Dawkins Foundation, then the accusations of embezzlement associated with the Secular Coalition for America.
Then along comes the accusations of the sexual harassment against Richard Carrier associated with his work for the Secular Student Alliance, made more troublesome by the fact that Carrier is sleeping with the wife of the man who heads the SSA.
Starting to notice a pattern?
And now we have atheist Neil Carter’s lengthy account concerning his work with the Recovering from Religion. Carter wrote a blog post that is quite long, but well written and worth the read.
He puts his finger on something that is indeed odd with so many of these atheist activist organizations:
The longer I’ve spent interacting with people active among the many orgs and non-profits within the secular community, the more I noticed thateverything seemed to be shrouded in secrecy.
Every organization seemed to blanket their dealings with nondisclosure agreements (NDAs), which would make sense for large media-related organizations which require embargos on important press releases and other creative projects. But why would so many smaller nonprofits include NDA clauses covering financial dealings, donation records, receipts, and other such matters of public interest? Why the distinctive lack of transparency, and I mean across the entire secular movement?
Carter tells his story is quite a bit of detail. Rather than having me summarize it, take the time to read it. Here are a couple of excerpts to spark your interest:
I see. So let me get this straight. The board of Recovering from Religion loves me, and values what I have to bring to their organization. They feel I’m a rock star with their base and they want us to partner up together for the foreseeable future. If I reject their offer, however, they are going to come after me and it’s going to get ugly. They aren’t going to be gentle, whatever that means. But let’s not talk about that right now. If I will simply agree to join back up with them, all of these disputes will simply go away and we can all be friends again. Everybody wins.
So in other words, I would be completely at his mercy, without a written agreement of any kind, pursuing a new relationship performing functions previously not included in the already completed contract, but for no compensation, and with no discernible expiration date whatsoever. And if at any point he personally (rather than any legal officer of the organization) felt I wasn’t performing to his own satisfaction, they would take their grievances against me onto their social media spaces, written entirely by him (not the board and staff of RFR), in order to discredit me among our mutual supporters via email and Facebook rather than through the legally prescribed avenues of arbitration spelled out in my previous contract.
In fact, I’m almost certain there is a word for this. What do you call it when you threaten someone, using language clearly meant to intimidate them, but then offer to forgo the retribution as long as the other party surrenders a portion of some good or service from which they ordinarily derive their livelihood? The term has slipped my mind, but maybe it’ll come to me.
Over the past few months of working within the atheist movement I have begun to detect a pattern. The revelations of the last couple of weeks have made it clear to all of us that a whole lot of organizational work within the secular movement happens without a lot of standard safeguards to ensure that people don’t misbehave, or take advantage of other people. This creates a breeding ground for unethical behavior, not only on the part of individuals who would take advantage of the situation, but also on the part of organizations who find ways around their own rules (rules which they probably wrote themselves anyway) in order to do whatever they want to do.