Opinion

Expelled from Boston Atheists for Thought Crime

Expelled from Boston Atheists for Thought Crime

I have written for the atheist/secular humanist press since 1974, when my first article appeared in the venerable British monthly, The Freethinker (established 1881). 

I remember that, from time to time, we would debate the best names to apply to ourselves: atheist, agnostic, freethinker, or secular humanist.  I myself have always liked freethinker — someone who stands for freedom of the human mind.

Recently, my own right to free speech was flagrantly violated by Boston Atheists (BA), of which I’d been a member for many years.  Boston Atheists is the largest group of non-theists in Massachusetts; it has meetups (brunches, etc) and an e-mail discussion list.

Shortly after Donald Trump won the presidential election, members of BA considered a special meeting to plan protests against “Trumpocracy”.  People on the discussion list went mad, accusing Trump of every conceivable form of bigotry and of being a new Hitler.  I then joined the discussion, pleading for calm.  After only three posts, two from me and one from “Cara”, I was kicked out.

On 10 November 2016 I wrote:

Let’s face it, the worst person lost: Hillary, one of the two most  corrupt persons ever to run for POTUS.  (The other one was Bill.)

It’s not enough these days to read just the Mainstream Media. Myself, I read independent Internet sites from left to right, including CounterPunch.org, Antiwar.com, and LewRockwell.com .  Those who rely on the Mainstream Media have no idea of the extent and enormity of the Clinton crimes.

Here is what I consider a good, fair, tough analysis of the election by Diana Johnstone:  [Link to article here.]

So, let’s all just calm down.  Trump’s Victory Speech was gracious and  presidential.  I think he’ll have plenty of advisers and will do a good job.

John Lauritsen

The same day, 10 November 2015, “Cara” wrote:

If this person is coming, count me out. Trump is a corrupt, immoral, misogynistic, racist, rapist. How many women’s abortions do you think he’s funded? Your articles are from sources so not legitimate, I refuse to expose my computer to the spam onslaught.

Seriously, Zachary, you need to explain what you had in mind, because I will not expose myself to ignorance and ridiculous foxnews conspiracy theories like those below. I assumed this special meeting would have an anti-Trump bent, because we are intelligent people who live in a blue state and purport to care about women, immigrants, people of color, and all the others Trump will impact.

The next day, 11 November 2016, I merely posted a link:

An excellent piece by Justin Raimondo in today’s antiwar.com: [Link here.]

John Lauritsen

This was too much for Boston Atheists.  On 11 November 2015 I received a post with the Subject line: “You’ve been removed from The Boston Atheists Meetup Group.” Further down, the post elaborated: “The person who removed you said”:

Dear John:

I’m making a decision to remove you from the group. Things are being taken in a more community-oriented direction, and in discussion with the other organizers we reached a consensus that your participation tends to be disruptive rather than constructive. I regret we didn’t see a solution that would allow us to avoid such a drastic action. Well, to the extent that this IS drastic. After all, the Boston Atheists *group* does not constitute fully the Boston atheist *community*. If you ever need to connect with atheists, or the resources available to us as the larger atheist community, you know how to get in touch with me. I know as well that you are well connected with other points of contact, as well. As far as being a formal member of the Boston Atheists, that’s come to an end. I wish you well.

Take care,
Zachary [Bos]

I comment: My first post makes severe charges against Hillary Clinton, that she is corrupt and criminal, but these well founded charges had been made in many publications and websites, from CounterPunch.org, Antiwar.com, and LewRockwell.com to The Wall Street Journal.

My post is civil, and entirely within the bounds of netiquette.

The second post, from someone identified only as “Cara”, begins with insult (“this person”), goes on to accuse me of “ignorance and ridiculous foxnews conspiracy theories”, makes wild and unfounded accusations against our President-Elect (“rapist”), and strongly implies I should not be allowed in BA.

In the third post, I merely give a link to a sensible article by Justin Raimondo.

In the fourth post, Zachary Bos kicks me out of BA on the grounds that “your participation tends to be disruptive rather than constructive.”

But I had been totally inactive for over a year, neither attending events nor taking part in discussion.  His statement, “Things are being taken in a more community-oriented direction …”, is chilling.

Does “community” require censorship so everyone can think alike?  Does “community-oriented direction” mean something like the Nazi practice of Gleichschaltung (making everything compatible with the goals of National Socialism)?  Zachary’s smarmy suggestion that I, although banned from BA, might be able “to connect with [other] atheists”, is contemptible.

I am not in need of Boston Atheists for my social life.  There is only one issue at stake here: Free Speech.  It is outrageous that members of an atheist group can hurl wild and unfounded accusations against the Republican President-Elect, Donald Trump, but are forbidden to criticize the failed presidential candidate of the Democrats, Hillary Clinton.

On 20 November 2016 I wrote the following to Zachary Bos:

Zachary,

I regard my expulsion from Boston Atheists as an egregious offense against Free Speech, and am writing an essay describing this affair.  I’ll put this essay in the Freethought section of my website and will submit it to appropriate publications.
The entire e-mail exchange consisted only of two posts from me and one from “Cara”.  My second post was merely a link to a fine article in antiwar.com .  Please tell me what was so offensive in my posts that your or your directors kicked me out of a group I’d belonged to almost from its inception.  I want to be fair to you, so give me the details.
I was writing for the secular humanist press — especially The Freethinker (London) — before you were born.  Always atheism was associated with Free Thought.  What has changed?

Best,
John Lauritsen

Zachary Bos responded with an e-mail which did not give a single criticism of my two e-mails, but instead offered crocodile pity for my alleged distress: “I regret that this removal leaves you feel [sic] mistreated.”

I then pointedly insisted that Bos give details: “Please answer my direct and reasonable question: What was offensive in my two e-mails?  Since My expulsion immediately followed them, they were obviously the reason.”  His response was that he had already answered my question – which he most certainly had not.

To conclude: Atheist groups should be concerned with atheism, not partisan politics.  If they do discuss politics, they should allow all viewpoints to be heard.  In England, some members of the National Secular Society and various humanist groups are on the far left, some on the far right, and some in-between – this is accepted, and people are not expelled for their political opinions.  The same should hold true in the United States. There is no substitute for Free Thought and Free Speech.

• This piece first appeared on John Lauritsen’s Pagan Press.com and reposted at the author’s request.

Veteran LGBT activist Lauritsen, according to his biography, became known within the gay movement as an outspoken opponent of religion.

In 1974 he published a pamphlet, Religious Roots of the Taboo on Homosexuality, which became an underground bestseller. It was sold by the National Secular Society (London) and Gay News (London), as well as in gay bookstores. In 1980 he and two colleagues in the Gay Academic Union (GAU) became the most severe critics of the late John Boswell, whose best-selling book – Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality – was then, and still is, the Bible for gay Christians.

The GAU pamphlet went through several printings and two editions; it is online here.

34 responses to “Expelled from Boston Atheists for Thought Crime”

  1. Daz says:

    “It is outrageous that members of an atheist group can hurl wild and unfounded accusations against the Republican President-Elect, Donald Trump”

    Which accusations did you consider to be wild and unfounded, exactly? That he’s a misogynist is proven by his own words and actions. That he’s racist, ditto. That he’s a multiple-bankrupted fraudster is also a matter of record. That he has encouraged an atmosphere of vitriol and violence throughout his campaign is also plainly documented. That he’s picking a staff of anti-science conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, anti-abortionists and other far-right whackaloons is indubitable.

    As to your claim that your right to free speech is being hindered: bullshit. What you appear to want is a free platform.

  2. Smokey says:

    1) Your post comes across as whining. You were treated badly in an internet discussion. Big deal. The world is unfair, grow up.

    2) The worst person lost? Hillary’s compass points towards the money, which is bad, certainly. She would change nothing. More power to the 1%. But Trump’s compass points only to himself. Policy will be dictated by whomever is best at kissing his ass.

    3) Stop double-spacing, it’s distracting and unnecessary. Why are you double-spacing? We’re not writing this on a manual typewriter, we discovered proportional spacing a long time ago. Get with the times.

  3. sailor1031 says:

    Methinks you guys are reinforcing John’s point for him. As for line spacing? get real!

  4. jay says:

    I think the issue should not be so much about a specific group’s censorious attitude (private groups can do whatever they want).

    I think the bigger point is the implicit or explicit demand in many atheist and secular circles that everyone be in lockstep on opinions. All sorts of positions unrelated to belief in gods (immigration, politics, economics, ‘victimhood’ looniness,military issues, Israel, energy policy, even words in the English language) are virtually mandated in these circles, subjecting you to ‘reeducation’ if you don’t play along. Some people who call themselves freethinkers but actually have a very limited notion of correct-think.

    I have stopped bothering with the local humanist group that I was a member for many years…. it’s become just a pointless shill for the Democratic party. And while I don’t generally discuss voting, I will say that we didn’t originally plan this but in the end my wife (also atheist) and myself did vote for Trump, not because he’s so great, but in the hope it will break the poisonous strangle hold the left has had on our country.

    Not all atheists drink the left wing Kool Aid. If you’re ready for a rather hardcore alternative, you might want to peruse theAtheistConservative website.

  5. Daz says:

    1) Anyone who thinks the Democratic party is left-wing is, frankly, flat-out wrong. It’s merely the left-most of two right-wing parties.

    2) If we want to talk about strangleholds, which party was it who shut down the entire US federal government for a fortnight in 2013? Still an’ all, I suppose profits for the 1% were deemed more important than basic health care for the poor, right?

  6. Edwin Salter says:

    Being irreligious provides us with a great deal to share and be busy with – it is ample common ground. Everything outside that is optional (should anyone be expelled from a church choir because vegan?).
    Unless a participant deliberately drags in other topics and tactics that are distracting and divisive, if genuinely irreligious then the freedom we value is key.

  7. HaiKarate says:

    Thought crime? Untwist your panties. Your agenda doesn’t align with the group. They don’t want you, and do you really want them?

    > There is only one issue at stake here: Free Speech.

    Free Speech is not in danger here, as evidenced by your article.

    There’s nothing from stopping you from forming your own group of atheists who love Trump and fascism.

    > It is outrageous that members of an atheist group can hurl wild and
    > unfounded accusations against the Republican President-Elect,
    > Donald Trump, but are forbidden to criticize the failed presidential
    > candidate of the Democrats, Hillary Clinton.

    Not outrageous at all. “Atheist” has a very specific meaning: a lack of belief in gods.

    Trump was the candidate that represented evangelical interests. Hillary was the candidate who represented secular interests. Makes sense that they would boot you as a troll. I’d boot you, too.

  8. Stuart H. says:

    OK, only got Lauritsen’s word for what happened here, but it fits in with what brighter US analysts like Ben Frank have been saying for years about why the US religious right succeeds, and eventually why Trump got elected.
    Even in my backwater atheist group, when Nigel Farage came to town half of us were outside protesting, the other half actually paid to get in, and after we met up in the pub and compared notes.
    Because in a small town, if you worried about fellow atheists being doctrinaire leftists or rightists, rather than just working with them against religious privilege, you’d achieve exactly diddly squat.

  9. David Anderson says:

    “Let’s face it, the worst person lost: Hillary, one of the two most corrupt persons ever to run for POTUS. (The other one was Bill.)” Trump a good ol’ law-abiding home-boy who has never been involved in anything corrupt in his whole life, no sireee.

    “So, let’s all just calm down. Trump’s Victory Speech was gracious and presidential. I think he’ll have plenty of advisers and will do a good job.” Fuck me! Have you looked at any of the people he is selecting as advisers?

    Rather than reinforcing Laureitsen’s point, the comments here are reinforcing BA’s point. I would want nothing to do with him either. FREEZE PEACH? He got this bullshit posted on Freethinker didn’t he?

  10. L.Long says:

    He states Hillary is evil! Citations please! He gives NONE!!! So I should believe him? Why? During the run Hillary was straight forward, Trumpkin lied every time he opened his mouth!! Lived thru Bill, why was he evil and the PoS that followed him wasn’t?!?!?! Yes trumpkin is a womanizing ahole, and this makes him different from others in power???? Rapist?? I see no such evidence of this!!

  11. Steve says:

    If we’re Freethinkers, we should be able to have conversations about ideas freely. Expelling someone for having a non-atheism idea and sharing it does strike me as conducive to free thought and expression, especially when no clear rationale for the booting is given. We’re Freethinkers. We should not fear ideas so much that we ban their holders from our groups.
    That’s what religions do. I figured we were better than that.

  12. DeadGuyKai says:

    “Recently, my own right to free speech was flagrantly violated by Boston Atheists”

    Yeah. No, it wasn’t. After all, you’re whining about it on the internet now.

  13. Bubblecar says:

    Sounds like John Lauritsen has lost all contact with reality (a gay activist who opposes religion and thinks TRUMP is the good guy?)

    As outlined by Eddie Tabash in the link below, Trump represents the biggest threat to secularism that the USA has yet faced.

    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/news/grim_reality/

    I can’t blame Boston Atheists for regarding a champion of Trump as an unwelcome troll, atheist or not.

  14. Michael R Haubrich says:

    You write. You have free speech. But no group is obligated to have you as a member. And Lew Rockwell? Do you know who that is? He is not a “Critical Thinker” by any means. Why should anybody consider any post on his site to be rational?

    Further proof that being an atheist is not the equivalent of being a skeptic. c

  15. Dan says:

    In the name of free thought are you going to post the entirety of the email conversation? As a skeptic, I have to question why you left parts of the email exchange out. Will you allow members of the Boston group to use your platform to speak up as to why they kicked you out; why they think you have been disruptive? I hope you are willing to lead by example.

  16. Lunula says:

    Atheists can be sexists too. Any atheist that would purposefully choose the religious fundamental party is not working in alaignment with your professed opinions. Actively supporting radical Religiosity proves your true position. I can’t imagine any active atheist group inviting fundamental religious supports to any group.

    The idea of groups like these are to become active together. Clearly, sir, you do not share the beliefs of this group regarding Fundamental Religiosity. Find a group that better fits your neurosis.

  17. Laura Roberts says:

    I think John and the writers he cited are naive if they think Trump (a) was really serious about reducing America’s military footprint and (b) has a snowball’s chance in hell of pulling it off. It’s precisely what Bill Clinton started to do, shortly before he was pilloried for having sex outside marriage.

    However, I see no reason to ban anyone from any discussion merely because they think Hillary was the worse candidate. That’s the time for debate. It’s the time to ask what metrics we should use to measure a candidate’s fitness for the job, and how to determine whether they’ve been a success or a failure.

    Personally I use metrics such as the unemployment rate and the proportion of Americans with health insurance (or access to Medicare/Medicaid). As an atheist, I gauge the time and money that are likely to be squandered on faith-based programs such as school vouchers or abstinence-only programs. I also weigh the possibility of insane ventures such as instigating a war with Iran, and the possibility of walking back women’s rights and LGBT rights. Which candidate is most likely to make decisions based on science? Which candidate is most likely to support the sciences?

    The choices were awful, but I remain convinced that the winner was by far the more corrupt and less trustworthy of the two.

  18. AgentCormac says:

    As far as I’m concerned, Trump is the complete antithesis of a freethinker. His mind is closed to the undeniable fact that he is both a racist and a misogynist – the truth is of no importance to him whatsoever. All that matters is that he closes the deal. That he wins. That’s what drives him and everything else is irrelevant. His appointment of Scott Pruitt, an outspoken climate change denier, as his head of the Environmental Protection Agency speaks volumes. Under Trump thinking per se will be closed down, marginalised, disrespected and denigrated. Expert opinion sneered at and ridiculed. Only profit matters. Free thinking or otherwise is for those intelligent, educated people who have made this world of ours so rotten and bad. Sorry, John Lauristen, but I don’t think you’ve got a leg to stand on.

  19. Steve says:

    A lot of these comments appear to be missing the point.
    The question here is NOT whether Trump is a nice person, or whether John is right or wrong in his opinion of Trump or Clinton.
    The question is “should Boston Atheists have kicked him out solely for having an opinion other members disagreed with.” I don’t think BA had an explicit support for one candidate, nor do they state that all members must support a particular political party or candidate. Johns opinion, regardless of potential wrongness, should not have impacted his membership.
    I’ll close by asking, are we under the uninformed assumption that John was the ONLY Trump supporting OR Clinton Opposing member of BA? How many now feel they have to remain silent about their freely thought opinions in case they too are excommunicated?

  20. Laura Roberts says:

    @Steve: absolutely right. There’s no need to kick someone out of an organisation (especially a freethought group) just because we disagree. If we don’t want bad ideas to fester, we need to get them out in the open to expose their flaws.

  21. Daz says:

    ‘The question is “should Boston Atheists have kicked him out solely for having an opinion other members disagreed with.”‘

    Except that’s not why he’s been expelled is it? They “reached a consensus that [his] participation tends to be disruptive rather than constructive.” Note “tends to be,” which seems to imply that this is a reaction to an ongoing situation, not, as he tries to imply, to one single disagreement. And given the whiny and entitled attitude displayed in the above post (“I was writing for the secular humanist press … before you were born.” Really; we’re allowing “Don’t you dare criticise your elders” as good debating practice now, are we?), and the tone and direction of many of the articles on his blog, I think they probably have a point.

    Also, I suspect the debate which BA wished to have was something like “What the hell can we do about this awful presidency,” and they have every right as a pro-active organisation, rather than a debating club, to declare nonsensical and counter-factual rants about how Trump isn’t any worse than the candidate he beat to be outside the bounds of the wished-for discussion.

  22. Steve says:

    I would say that nobody should be shut out of any conversation, and that any person being silenced is always a bad thing. All it does, as can plainly be seen in the article AND this comments thread, is create resentment from those told that they are not welcome in the conversation. And all that does is divide the sides even more and prevent any actually productive conversation between the sides.
    How can you ever convince someone of your point of view if you refuse to speak with them?

  23. Daz says:

    Well for starters I see nothing wrong with “divisive.” Any stance on politics, religion, or any other social matter is potentially divisive, after all. Human beings aren’t ants—we disagree and, if the disagreement is strong enough, are divided on certain points.

    If you run a debating society, then yes, virtually any topic is up for grabs.

    Boston Atheists is not a debating club. It is an organisation which collectively wishes to pursue certain goals.

    If you actually want to pursue goals, have an effect on society, then it is perfectly reasonable to exclude from discussion, so as not to end up in endless distraction and hence inaction, topics which do not pertain to those goals. And a discussion of how awful the candidate who lost is does not in any way advance the cause of an organisation who want to deal with how awful the presidency of the candidate who won will be. (This is true even if Clinton is considered as bad as or worse than Trump.)

    If you need to build flood defences, endless talking about how bad a drought would have been in comparison to the rainstorms you know are coming, is not useful behaviour.

  24. Steve says:

    I agree that the conversation shouldn’t be changed from the reality to the potential, but thats not what I see this as.
    I see no problem with a conversation about a topic including voices asking if its even worth having the conversation. I honestly don’t understand how it could be any other way. Rational people MUST be able to rationalize why something is true, or worthy of discussion. There is nothing that is true simply because it is true, or common knowledge. Thats the kind of “because my book says so” nonsense we’re supposed to getting away from.
    I’m sorry, but excluding people may be a way to remove distraction, but when the people you’re removing from the discusiion are the very people you want and need to convince of your point of view, you’ve not only removed them from the discussion but removed them from your audience.
    If Boston Atheist and its specific members want to convince people that Trump is a bad thing for America, and Secularism, John is EXACTLY the sort of person they need to be able to convince. He is (or was) one of their own, and valuable first place to start in changing hearts and minds. But instead of talking, and rationalizing, they removed him.
    Sure, they are now no longer “distracted” by his opinion, but now they also can’t talk to him about THEIR opinions, and try to demonstrate why they are right. Worse, they create a situation where resentment sets in (as can be infered from the article) and John no longer has ANY reason to listen to ANY member of Boston Atheists on this topic, and perhaps a bias against anyone else with similar views. Instead of convincing him he’s wrong, they’ve pushed him further away.

  25. Trevor Blake says:

    What part of ‘free thought’ is confusing?

  26. Sean l says:

    Skeptics who get their news from Lou f’ing Rockwell and antiwar.com are not skeptics, they’re tin-foiled twats. Hillary was 99.9% rotten but there isn’t a number adequate to explain how rotten Trump is.

  27. Cali Ron says:

    “To conclude: Atheist groups should be concerned with atheism, not partisan politics. ” I agree so I can’t understand why you politicized it with pro-Trump propaganda, which has nothing to do with atheism, and then got angry because some in the group disagreed. Your comments belonged on a political site or group and now you are behaving like a petulant child (just like Trump). Really, what did you think would happen bringing up Trump after the most divisive election in recent history in an area known to lean democrat. Start a Trump fan club and I’m sure all the members will love you and assuage your hurt feelings.

  28. Cali Ron says:

    Steve: What makes you think John ever listened to any of his fellow members? The tone of his whole piece is condescending, feigning ignorance as to why his inflammatory political comments were problematic and simultaneously claims persecution. If I didn’t know better I’d think he was religious the way he plays the persecution card.

  29. Casper Naegle says:

    It is unfortunate that this person is unable to voice their opinion in a forum for free thinkers. It really sucks that people that are open to alternate ideas are so close minded about other things. As a more conservative voter it frustrates me that most Atheist forums are very liberal in thought and very non-tolerant of other stances on issues.

  30. Cali Ron says:

    “It is unfortunate that this person is unable to voice their opinion in a forum for free thinkers.” What? The Freethinker gave him a forum by putting his article on the opinion section. He didn’t actually have an alternate idea, he just had a political opinion, which others obviously found inappropriate for their group. You lament his not having a forum even though this site gave him one and then complain that other people posted their opinion. So he should get to state his opinion and anyone who disagrees should not voice theirs? Does that seem like an open forum to you?

  31. Steve says:

    “What makes you think John ever listened to any of his fellow members?”

    Nothing. We have no information on that one way or the other. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. We only have one testimony to base our responses on, which is I have to respond with “what makes you think he didn’t? ” and if course “how do you know his ignoramce is feigned?”and “how do you know he had done anything else disruptive?”
    We inly have one testimony, and based in THAT we can not make any assumption as to the reasins he was kicked out. We can only respond to the information given, and that information so far is that John did nothing else disruptive aside from disagree politically with another member of the group.

  32. Daz says:

    The reason he was kicked out was, and I quote, “… we reached a consensus that your participation tends to be disruptive rather than constructive.” Since this is a judgement made on an assessment of how he chooses to express himself, and upon what topics he chooses to do so, we may also take into account the tone of his piece above, which seems self-entitled and whiney, along with the posts on his linked blog, which show something of an obsession with and dislike of feminism (a movement with which many US atheist-groups have chosen to align themselves) on one hand, and some rather dubious reasoning on the other. (Mary Shelly cannot have written Frankenstein, because she wasn’t a good enough writer? Really?) Couple that with his (wilfully?) ignorant conflation of the right to free speech with the right to a free platform (the former is a right, the latter isn’t), his willingness to argue from authority (his own authority, to boot), and his insistence that he has the right to choose, against what appears to be the majority’s wishes, the direction and agenda for the discussion, and yes, we do have information.

    I do not find it at all difficult to believe that such a person’s input into a discussion might well tend to be more disruptive than productive.