American Atheists’ Code of Conduct for Conferences

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First, I’m thrilled that the leadership of American Atheists has started to address the concerns of the conference-going-community regarding getting strong policies in place to make conference spaces safe and welcoming.

Maybe you wonder why it is so important for atheist community events especially to be safe and welcoming spaces, and I will tell you: because so few spaces are. If you are an atheist, you have surely noticed that there are few places that you can- without censure- voice even very mild opinions such as: “I don’t see any evidence for that,” or “I don’t think we should enshrine in law faith based beliefs which would impact everyone’s life whether they believe or not.”

Let me tell you a secret. A secret that is almost unnoticed despite the fact that women have been practically shouting it off the rooftops for some time now: there are damn few safe places just to be a woman. Places where you do not need to be constantly mindful of your personal safety or feel that you are being evaluated primarily as a sexual object. So, if you are an atheist woman, wanting a place to relax as an atheist, it must necessarily also be at least a somewhat relaxing place to be as a woman.

As to the Code of Conduct itself, it is extremely both well thought out and well written. The fact that staff for the events are already being trained in dealing with issues of harassment is a relief. The fact that they are responsive and added “gender identity” to their list of protected categories also indicates how seriously they are taking this. (Thanks to Greta Christina for noticing that)

In fact, there are only 8 words in the entire Code that I have any issue with, and it is only on account of vagueness. See, I like atheist events. Part of relaxing as an atheist among other atheists is being able to point out the hypocrisy of religion, or the absurdity of religion, or the damage that religion does. And so, I would hope that any Code of Conduct at an atheist event would distinguish between verbally attacking people, and verbally attacking ideas or collections of ideas known as religions. Here is the vague part:

“Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to… religion.”

If that is intended to mean that people shouldn’t perpetuate stereotypes about people based on religious identity, or that people shouldn’t be insulting people based on religion: fair enough-I think it should be reworded, and maybe with their demonstrated responsiveness they will do so- but I’m down with that.

But the language is loose enough to be understood as meaning that I shouldn’t say “I don’t think that wine turns into blood when Catholics drink it.” because it might offend any Catholics (or accommodationists) who might be in earshot. And I really, really don’t think that we should- at atheist events- be enforcing religion’s privilege of remaining unexamined, unquestioned and unmocked.

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