April 30, 2013

Shunning Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula
Justin Vacula is no stranger to controversy. He is an atheist activist who has received national media attention for his efforts to defend the separation of church and state in Pennsylvania. That is more than enough to make him a controversial figure to many religious individuals. But Justin has generated even more controversy within the atheist movement by being publicly critical of a few of the bloggers who write for Freethought Blogs and Skepchick. His tell-it-like-it-is attitude has earned him many enemies among these bloggers and their supporters. You may recall that Justin was one of those who received DMCA complaints from Skepchick blogger, Surly Amy.

The controversy surrounding Justin peaked - or so I thought at the time - when some of the bloggers on the Freethought Blogs network and their supporters pressured the Pennsylvania state chapter of the Secular Coalition for America to remove Justin as co-chair. Stephanie Zvan launched an online petition demanding that the Secular Coalition remove Justin, prompting him to resign. While there were a few relevant lessons to come out of this debacle, the primary one appears to have been the one so eloquently summarized by a commenter (KickSexistsOutOfAtheism) on one of the blogs celebrating their victory:
I hope the supporters of Justin realise that we can intimidate people like him out of his position. It sends out a strong signal to the rest of the community.

We will come after you as well, if you are a misogynist. We will launch petitions to harass you. We will get you in the end.

There is no room for people like Vacula in our community Let this be a lesson.
At the time, I speculated that this comment was a Poe. I now think I was probably wrong. In any case, I was definitely wrong to think that Justin's removal as co-chair was the peak of the controversy surrounding him.

Justin will be attending the Women in Secularism 2 conference, and to say that this has generated controversy would be a massive understatement. PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson, both bloggers with the Freethought Blogs network, have written posts demanding that Justin not attempt to speak with them at the conference. According to Justin, Ophelia even sent him a Facebook message in which she said that refusal to honor her pre-emptive request that he not approach her at the conference "is grounds for being expelled" and "If you do approach me I will make an official complaint, immediately."

Stephanie Zvan, another blogger with the Freethought Blogs network and author of the petition to have Justin removed from his position with the Pennsylvania chapter of the Secular Coalition for America, sent a long letter to the organizers of the Women in Secularism 2 conference complaining about Justin's attendance (see Justin's response here).

Some are now calling for Justin to be denied entry into the conference. Rather than waiting to see whether he behaves himself, they want to pre-emptively ban him from attending. And now it appears that Rebecca Watson has entered the fray, attempting to paint Justin in a negative light by using a picture taken out of context.

Whether you love Justin, hate him, or are simply bored of the whole thing already, it is clear that the Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+ smear machine is doing what it does best: punishing dissent. And Women in Secularism 2, the conference created to create a "safe space" for secular women, is becoming less safe by the moment.

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