Why, oh why, CFI?
A couple years ago, I went for a long ride with my friends Chas, CJ, and Abbie to meet one of my favourite women in secularism and hear her give a talk. On the way there, Abbie ragged on me a wee bit for wearing a shiny little CFI lapel pin on my blazer. I cannot now recall the particular details of that conversation, but I do remember defending CFI’s founding values and their achievements to date. Of late, I find myself wondering whether I may have been much mistaken.
As you probably are aware, I helped start a fundraiser to allow fellow SINner Justin Vacula attend Women in Secularism 2 in May. I’ve explained a few of my reasons for doing this elsewhere, but perhaps the most important reason went unstated, and that is my belief that the ongoing disagreements between various freethought leaders can only be solved by seriously engaging with each other, carefully listening to the other side, and at least coming to the point where we can begin to agree on what precisely we are disagreeing about.
CFI has claimed to value this approach in the past, saying that “[n]o topic should be placed off limits to scrutiny,” and demanding “free inquiry in all aspects of human interest.” Their open-minded approach humanism has always impressed me, and until very recently, I’ve never had reason to doubt their dedication to these principles. Of late, though, we’ve seen people like Josh Slocum and Martin Robbins openly calling for a ban, along with this charming fellow, and who knows how many other A-plussers privately writing letters to Ron Lindsay in support of a preemptive ban.
None too long ago, heated debates flared up within the skeptic and freethought communities over the proper role and wording of harassment policies for our conferences. At the time, I didn’t take a strong stand on the issue, although I did argue in favour of a well-crafted policy for our local event, FreeOK. At no point did I take seriously the slippery slope argument that harassment policies could be easily abused by those in charge of organising conferences, as a means of excluding those with whom they have longstanding grudges or disagreements. Apparently, I was being somewhat shortsighted. While I still believe CFI will ultimately do the right thing and allow people like me and Justin to attend, by failing to publicly disavow the various calls for preemptive banning, they’ve created a situation where their (quite reasonable and well-crafted) anti-harassment policy now hangs like a virtual sword of Damocles not only over Justin, but over anyone even associated with him or known to publicly question the methods of AtheismPlus or their most prominent advocates.
It would cost me around $500 to fly to D.C., another couple hundred to register, and another few hundred for hotel accommodations and meals. That’s a significant investment of time and money, and there is no way I can spend that much in good conscience as I’ve no way of knowing in advance whether I’d actually be allowed to attend.
While I continue to support CFI and remain proud to call myself a Friend of the Center, if they implement a policy of blocking/banning/blacklisting for those who disagree (with some of their speakers on some of their issues) I will not be able to do so any longer. This would be a sad day for me, and everyone else who believes in the value of genuinely free inquiry.
ETA: I do not know whether or when the CFI board will announce who will be allowed to attend. My earlier statement that it will not be dealt with until May was a misapprehension on my part.