This is to let everyone know about what’s going on with Sunsara Taylor - and the shameful action on the part of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) who have now officially rescinded their invitation to her to speak, this coming Sunday Nov. 1st on “Morality Without Gods.” See below Sunsara’s statement released yesterday - along with some of the many inspiring statements of support and letters of protest sent to EHSC. It’s not too late to send them an email letting them know what you think. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org (appreciate getting a copy to email@example.com) ALSO: everyone in the Chicago area - you will get to hear Sunsara (see information at the end of her statement). On behalf of Sunsara, best regards,Joan Statement from Sunsara Taylor October 29, 2009To Everyone Concerned About Critical Thought and the State of the World:
Something very wrong is afoot among those one would expect to be among the greatest champions of critical thought and open exchange. On October 19, 2009, the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) rescinded their long-standing invitation for me to speak to their Society’s weekly gathering on November 1, 2009.
I had been invited to speak on the topic of “Morality Without Gods” back in July and I accepted this invitation in good faith. I arranged to be in Chicago to give this talk because I believe it is of the utmost importance to open up discussion of the questions thrown up by the moral crisis of our times and because I believe I have a valuable contribution to make to this discussion. As testified to by the statements below, this is a view that is shared by many who have heard me speak, shared a platform with me, and who have interviewed me, whether they agree with all of my views or not.
EHSC’s decision to dis-invite me was based on gross mischaracterizations and distortions of my character and of the content of my intended talk. It was pushed through in contradiction to the Society’s own stated principles and in an atmosphere where fear and anti-communism were being aggressively stoked by some members of the Committee.
The decision to dis-invite me is wrong. It is not in keeping with EHSC’s avowed principles, i.e. “We value the importance of living an ethical, responsible, and joyful life. We promote intellectual, philosophical, and artistic freedom, avoiding dogma and rigid creed.” (from “Who We Are-What We Value” mission statement of EHSC). And, this decision contributes very negatively to the current chill on intellectual and political discourse that challenges the status quo in the academy, the media, and beyond.
I have heard many reports of fear-mongering and anti-communist hysteria being whipped up among members in regards to the alleged harm I could bring to EHSC if allowed to speak. None of this was ever addressed to me in an open or aboveboard way. Rather, the Committee has repeatedly implied that there was something in the content of my proposed talk that was either different than what they had invited me to speak on or beyond the pale of reasonable discourse for their Society. However, the theme of my talk is precisely in keeping with the original theme they invited me to speak on (“Morality Without Gods”).
The only time anyone from the EHSC Program Committee cited anything objectionable in my proposed talk, it was complete distortion and defamation. On October 21, 2009, I wrote to the Program Committee, setting the record straight and documenting just some of this. Here is an excerpt of that letter from me:
In any case, I feel it necessary to set the record straight. Kashyap wrote:
“On the first point, we are an inclusive humanist group. A talk that dwells on ‘Christian fascists’ and characterizes the leading moral problems facing the U.S. as depending critically on ‘an influx of immigrants from around the world, [and] the entering of women into the workforce in the last generation’ is not what we were expecting.”
In fact, the description of my presentation clearly says we live in a time of moral crisis because “the stability and way of life of millions of people are being disrupted by the effects of imperialist globalization.” I give examples of these huge fast-paced changes and instability in people’s lives here and around the world as part of what is giving impetus to a resurgence of reactionary fundamentalist religion as people seek something solid, familiar and absolute in a time of such upheaval and change. Kashyap has pulled a snippet of my talk description out of context to imply that I blame society’s moral crisis on immigrants and women joining the work force when my actual meaning was clearly just the opposite, including to counter the scapegoating and backlash that a narrow and hateful brand of Christian fundamentalism engenders against these sections of our population.
Is there any who can read such a gross mischaracterization and inversion of the content of my planned talk and believe this dis-invitation was based on sound principle?
Instead of responding to any of the key matters of fact and principle addressed in my above quoted letter, or offering any honest objection to the actual content of my planned talk, the wrong decision to dis-invite me was then compounded and fortified. On Monday, October 26th, the Society as a whole allowed the Board of Trustees to shamefully reaffirm this decision on the same wrong basis in a hurriedly called meeting.
It matters little whether the broader membership sanctioned this dis-invitation due to blatant anti-communism or “merely” out of the desire to “preserve the unity” of the Society; the effect and the precedent remain the same. All too often these days, great moral wrongs are allowed to sit, and capitulation on matters of principle is excused in the name of “not disrupting unity” or that it is simply “too much work” to go up against the forces arrayed against what is just.
This calls to mind the line from Yeats, “The worst were filled with passionate intensity, but the best lack all conviction.”1 Those times when it is most difficult to stand up for principle, those times when standing up for principle requires going against the grain and sometimes even sacrifice, are precisely the times when it is most required and can make the greatest difference. These days, there is all too much self-censorship and acquiescence to the curtailment of unconventional discourse in academic and intellectual life, in political discourse, and on matters of morality and ethics. The decision of the Society must be seen in the context of, and as contributing to, this broader chill and this is why it is unacceptable.
In their most recent letter to me, the Board of Trustees of EHSC wrongly invokes all sorts of procedural “rights” of their committee rather than addressing the content of my objections to their decision.
They write, “We do not censor programs, and it is clear to our members that speakers do not necessarily reflect the view of our Society. We do, however, have the right to choose the speakers who speak and the topics of their presentations. We have a Program Committee that conducts a process to determine the speakers and topics for our Sunday.”
However, it was not I who went to the Program Committee and insisted that they allow me to speak; they approached me. After conducting their established process, they invited me and published my name as an upcoming speaker in their October newsletter.
Further, the fact that it is the bureaucratic “right” of the Board of Trustees to reach the decision to dis-invite me does not make that decision morally right, any more than the “right” of California voters to ban gay marriage through Proposition 8 made that decision morally or ethically defensible.
All suggestions on the part of EHSC Board or Program Committee, as made in their October 28th letter to me, that I would somehow endanger the “safe, peaceful, engaging” atmosphere of their Sunday program is merely further character slander. This behavior from any organization is shameful, but coming from a group that avows itself to be rooted in ethics and humanism it is disgraceful.
If the Society continues to proceed in this fashion and does not reverse its decision to dis-invite, it would be more appropriate to rename itself the “Un-Ethical Society for Anti-Humanism.”
In their October 28 letter, the Board of Trustees apologized for “any acrimony between the Ethical Humanist Society and [myself] that has transpired recently.”
However, the conflict that has arisen between EHSC and myself was never about feelings of “acrimony” but of profound matters of principle and ethics. I protest and condemn in the strongest terms their decision not out of feelings of personal acrimony or a sense of pride, but out of a firm commitment to matters of ethics and principle. Indeed, I do not believe I would be worthy of any platform to speak on matters of ethics or morality if I did not strongly object and condemn and call out such shameful behavior on the part of any organization.
I intend to fulfill my commitment to all who want to hear me speak. I will lead a workshop on the theme of “The Liberation of Women and the Emancipation of All Humanity” on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2-4:00 p.m. at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago, 7574 N. Lincoln Avenue in Skokie . Further, I will be available and prepared to speak to all and any willing to hear the content of my originally scheduled talk, “Morality Without Gods,” on Sunday, November 1st.
I believe this is the only ethical thing to do.
1 “The Second Coming,” by W.B. Yeats
STATEMENTS IN SUPPORT OF SUNSARA TAYLOR [Letter sent to EHSC] To whom it may concern: I write to express my great surprise, and disapproval, on learning that the EHSC has decided to rescind its speaking invitation to Sunsara Taylor. While certain of her arguments may well be controversial, that is no reason whatsoever to decide against allowing her to make them publicly, under your auspices: on the contrary. It is because her arguments are challenging that she should be allowed to go ahead and make them, as originally planned-allowing others there to challenge them in turn, if those others should be so inclined. Please reconsider your decision, which does just not reflect badly on your organization, but, if allowed to stand, will represent yet one more victory for “safe” opinion over full and vigorous debate.Mark Crispin MillerProfessor of Media, Culture and Communication, New York UniversityOctober 24, 2009 I debated Sunsara in New York City on the topic of atheism and religion. We stand on separate sides, I as a seminary graduate and believer, she as a committed atheist. Sunsara was serious, respectful and thoughtful in our debate. Her voice helped two communities that often do not come together find common ground and further mutual respect. Chris HedgesPulitzer prize-winning journalist & author ofWar Is A Force Which Gives Us MeaningSenior fellow at The Nation InstituteAnschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton UniversityOct. 17, 2009
Sunsara is a well-known speaker on a variety of issues. If you haven’t seen her, I urge you to go on YouTube now. Yes, she may take stances you disagree with. But on the topic of morality without god, I would hope the society and Sunsara share viewpoints. That’s what she is talking about and no doubt she’ll do a great job of it. If you have concerns on her other stances, i feel they are irrelevant in this matter.Hemant MehtaChair of the Secular Student Alliance Board of Directors*Oct. 16, 2009
I hear tell that some persons are opposed to Sunsara Taylor’s upcoming presentation. You may recall, I was on the program with her at Colombia College and I was surprised at the response she engendered among the several hundred young people present. I know that her presentation will add much to the conversation of your group. I believe that we should welcome opposing points of view because it is out of such interaction that we may find our way as a human community.Bob Bossie, SCJ Catholic order of Priests of the Sacred Heartstaff member, 8th Day Center for Justice, ChicagoOct. 16, 2009
I have had formal and informal debates with Sunsara Taylor, and — despite our disagreements on politics and philosophy - I have always found her a thoughtful voice of reason and an engaging public presence. She brings a different point of view to the conversation, and we need desperately different points of view to have a vibrant democracyMassimo PigliucciProfessor of Ecology and Evolution at State University of NY StonybrookChair of Dept. of Philosophy - Lehman CollegeOct. 17, 2009 As someone who’s reported extensively on the Christian right, I’ve shared the podium with Sunsara on a number of panels and events, and I’ve also watched her hold her own on late night political talk shows. Sunsara is consistently open and frank about her convictions; she forthrightly and thoughtfully engages in political arguments and brings energy and passion to any discussion. Moreover, at this time of economic crisis, when many Americans are dumbfounded to hear that Wall Street is already in recovery while they suffer joblessness and foreclosure, Sunsara’s critique of capitalism strikes me as an especially important perspective to have aired.Esther KaplanInvestigative Editor, The Nation InstituteOct. 17, 2009
Project Censored at Sonoma State University has hosted Sunsara Taylor on two occasions and both times her talks were intellectual, stimulating and of significant importance to social justice both in the US and the world. I highly recommend her presentations as positive support for academic freedom and human equality. Peter PhillipsProfessor Sociology, Sonoma State UniversityPresident, Media Freedom Foundation*Oct. 16, 2009
I was shocked to learn that a group of people at EHSC have waged an unprecedented effort to rescind your fine organization’s invitation to Sunsara taylor to speak on “Morality Without Gods.” It is a disappointing surprise to find that some in the EHSC are wallowing in the irrational fear and hatred whipped up by Joe McCarthy and other right-wing lunatics in the 1950’s and ’60s and the resurgence of this nonsense by the ghoulish remains of the Republican Party in response to the election of America’s first black president.
As you know, the author, entertainer and great American secular humanist Steve Allen was a victim of America ‘s right-wing hysteria during the dark days of blacklisting. Steve, who was honorary chairman of my campaign committee when I was a Democratic party candidate for the California State Senate, had been hurt so badly he went to great lengths to assure that he would never again be labeled a “communist,” “communist sympathizer” or “pinko” by those vicious, un-American people who had brought him down decades earlier. In this respect, he was like a shell-shocked soldier. Even so, he had a strong commitment to free speech, free discussion and free exchange of all points of view. I think Steve would be as shocked and disappointed as I am today to learn of your decision to prevent your membership from hearing Sunsara Taylor.
My first encounter with Ms. Taylor was at the atheist conference in Burbank early this month where she revealed what a beautifully gifted orator she is. I was impressed with the depth of her knowledge and her ability to excite and energize her audience. Her speech was as entertaining as it was informative and the audience loved her. I met and talked with her afterwards and I am convinced she is a brilliant, sensible, responsible and informed person. I cannot imagine how ignorant, fearful or hateful anyone would have to be to want to prevent others from hearing this
intelligent, well-informed and articulate woman.
As I am sure you are aware, our nation is burdened with ignorant people who will not accept evolution no matter what, who still believe that the sun orbits the earth; who claim the world is only 6,000 years old; who think, “English was good enough for Jesus, so it’s good enough for me;” who want the “government to stop messing with Medicare;” and who cannot explain the differences between capitalism, socialism, communism, our democratic republic, or even the differences between the state of New Mexico and the nation of Mexico. Denying the free exchange of ideas is what caused this sorry condition.
I am hopeful that you will reject the decision by the small minority of people in your organization who want to prevent Sunsara Taylor from sharing her knowledge with your full membership. I am hopeful that you will reject the efforts of those who still channel the ghost of Joe McCarthy and affirm the critical thinking and intellectual openness the EHSC is known for by re-inviting Sunsara Taylor to speak. Please don’t cave in under the objections of the few who value ignorance over knowledge.
Thank you for considering my request,
Charles W. Belser
Author of “Larry the Penguin Searches for the Meaning of Life”
Ms. Taylor brings a perspective to the arena of ideas which aids one’s critical thinking ability. While one may or may not agree with Ms. Taylor’s views, she passionately presents her ideas and thoughts. Her presentation helped to spark a spirited debate on our campus. Our students benefited from the debate. One should always be open to listen to divergent thoughts because it helps to test and strengthen our own points of view.
Dr. Michael R. Williams
Director, Black Studies Program*
Cleveland State University
Oct. 26, 2009
To whom it may concern at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago re the Workshop this Saturday and Sunday morning talk;
Reading the twisted and backward representation of Sunsara Taylor’s presentation sent me into waves of outrage and nausea, which were only stopped upon reading the numerous letters written in her support. It is those letters that gave me some hope for our country which seemed on a slippery slope due to your actions.
As a humanist, the outrage that a humanist society which purports to be based on reason denying any person a place to speak I was reminded of a Thomas Jefferson quote I took as a motto as a child:
“I have sworn, upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against any form of tyranny over the mind of man. ”
Censoring the presentation of Sunsara Taylor is just such a tyranny, one that all freethinking people should decry. And especially at this time in history when critical minds are under siege in academia and women’s bodies are under siege from the society at large. Her workshop on the Emancipation of Women and the Liberation of all human beings, is necessary. I happen to believe that the only way towards such liberation is through women’s liberation, and I would be curious to know what you and Ms Taylor would have to say.
A discussion of Morality without Gods is simply key, especially when it comes from such an engaging speaker as Sunsara Taylor. Thomas Jefferson was speaking ironically about that altar, as I hope you know.
The Society should immediately extend its invitation to speak and its apologies to Sunsara Taylor, and to the rest of us. I was in the Free Speech Movement 45 years ago this Fall, and have been involved in its reunion Conferences. You should know that our student body representatives to our top committees had people for Goldwater and Ayn Rand to people way left of Sunsara Taylor. That is the point of free speech. As adults you should do no less.
I can also say as a nationally recognized speaker for 3 decades that no one cancelled my talks without proper payment of my fees and out of pocket expenses and profuse apologies. It happened twice, once because I was preempted by Charles and Diana of England when touring Canada and the American group really could not help the situation. It was not pre-censorship of the content of what I had to say, and believe me it was controversial in its day!
Sincerely yours, and I expect a reply
— Laura X, founder/director of the former
National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape
Women’s History Library, Berkeley , CA
* for identification purposes only
Assistant to Sunsara Taylor