American Atheists fails to enforce conference policy

During the last few months, heated discussion throughout the blogosphere eventually lead various atheistic and skeptic organizations — American Atheists being one of the first — to adopt various conference policies including codes of conduct and anti-harassment policies which, on some accounts, were required for people — particularly women — to feel safe at conferences.

Opponents and critics of conduct policies argue that conduct policies provide a false sense of security, infantalize adults, and create a culture of fear at conferences (in addition to the false narrative that the atheist and skeptic communities are hostile, unwelcoming, and unsafe places for women from many of the same people who support such policies).

American Atheists’ “Harassment Policy for Conventions and Conferences,” put in place on June 26 2012, “provides direction for American Atheists’ staff and volunteers who will take reports of harassment and inappropriate conduct” and lets people “know there will be consequences for harmful behaviors.” What are some instances of “inappropriate conduct” and/or “harmful behaviors” within the policy which notes “We expect participants to follow this code of conduct at all conference venues and conference-related social events?”

The conference policy states, “Please respect the sessions and the speakers. Turn off cell phones and other electronic devices…”

This is very interesting considering that pictures taken — by cell phones and electronic devices — are scattered throughout the aacon13 hashtag on Twitter which is monitored by an American Atheists account which frequents the hashtag. Flash photography, no doubt, can also be seen in the conference hall. Here are just same examples of pictures taken during conference sessions. More can be found on the aacon13 hashtag.

If conference policies stipulate rules for conduct at conferences, attendees do not follow these rules, and conference staff do not enforce the rules when they are so clearly violated, what can be said of the conference policies?

Perhaps the conference policy were poorly written and it ‘does not really mean’ people can take pictures? Tough. The policy should be understood as it is written; cell phones and electronic devices should be turned off during conference sessions. Apparently, American Atheists does not care to enforce their own policies and rules even though some of the most fervent proponents of conference policies — including David Silverman, President of American Atheists, one of the first to implement such a policy — are in attendance. Can we really take such policies and organizations seriously if people will not even enforce the most minor of provisions set forth in conduct policies?

Do I personally care about whether people take pictures at conferences? I don’t, but I can’t help but point out the hypocrisy on behalf of American Atheists — an organization which implemented its own conference policy — to fail to enforce its own policy even though it was apparently so necessary to have this policy to begin with. I’m simply holding American Atheists to their own standards they imposed on themselves following the implementation of their conference policy.

The conference policies are so necessary, but conference staff apparently does not care to enforce the policies when the rules are violated not only once, but time and time again as evidenced by the Twitter feed, at ‘The Atheist Experiece’ blog on Freethought Blogs [frozen page], and elsewhere. Once again, conference policies are shown to be a joke and, as it seems, public posturing. What’s the point of a conduct policy if not all of its provisions are enforced?

Update: American Atheists has responded – further showing their lack of enforcement of its conference policy and either misunderstanding of what the policy actually says or their willingness to change a written policy mid-stream:

The policy clearly says “Turn off cell phones and other electronic devices.” As Karla Porter notes in the comments, “The fact remains, conference policies are an ineffective means of conduct policing.” American Atheists does inadvertently make a good point, though. The conference policy would also forbid live-Tweeting because electronic devices and cell phones are to be turned off…and there is certainly much live-Tweeting going on. It’s time to scrap the poorly thought out policy altogether or do a rewrite.

Update 2: Greta Christina is also allegedly masquerading as a member of Pussy Riot alongside, if not holding, a sign that says “Fuck the Pope.” I wonder what reaction there would be if the sign said “Fuck [insert conference speaker name here].”

So much for

American Atheists is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion.”