The Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago vs. Sunsara Taylor November 2, 2009

The Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago vs. Sunsara Taylor

Months ago, the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago invited an acquaintance of mine, Sunsara Taylor, to speak at their November 1st meeting on the topic of “Morality without God.” They publicized it in their calendar of events and everything. Sunsara made travel plans to be here.

A couple weeks ago, they rescinded their offer for her to speak.

According to Sunsara’s publicist, there was some controversy about her other social/political views (she’s a Communist, for one) — some of them distortions of her actual views — and she was disinvited rather quickly. This seems quite… shall I say… unethical? You don’t disinvite a speaker after you invite them — especially when you’re an Ethical Society that purports to be open to different ideas, including ones you may disagree with.

Sunsara wrote them a letter:

This attempt to cancel my talk has clearly been driven by political and ideological disagreements with me by some on the EHSC program committee. This is shameful for any organization, but coming from [an] organization that prides itself on ethical action and promoting intellectual, philosophical and artistic freedom it is all the more disturbing.

Included in that letter were blurbs of support for Sunsara from myself and a few other people you might have heard of (Chris Hedges, Massimo Pigliucci, etc). Later on, there were supportive blurbs from people like anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and author of The Family, Jeff Sharlet.

Let me step back for a moment and say I think this whole thing has been blown up way out of proportion.

I think the EHSC — a group I’ve also spoken to before — did the wrong thing in revoking their offer for her to speak. They should’ve simply done the right thing and let her talk — and if she said anything members disagreed with, allow them to debate and question her afterwards. That’s what they did when I spoke there, anyway.

But that’s about as far as it goes, right? This isn’t life or death. I don’t think many people are losing sleep over this.

It turned out one member of the EHSC agreed with Sunsara and offered to host her at his own home after the EHSC’s normally scheduled meeting time.

Cut to a couple days ago. On Saturday, Sunsara was running an unrelated workshop at the EHSC and made a statement:

Watch the last 30 seconds, if nothing else.

Slight tangent: In the video above and in this letter written to the EHSC, Sunsara makes a strange comparison:

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.

Umm… That’s trivializing a serious issue and just hurts her case. Just like her use of the word “exile.” She’s not a martyr and there’s no need to make her one over this.

But regardless of her rhetoric, she shouldn’t have been disinvited.

So… cut to yesterday.

What happened?

She still wasn’t re-invited to speak, but she showed up to the Sunday meeting as promised. She made a statement similar to the one in the video, while standing near her seat.

One man was videotaping her statement with her permission. Then, chaos ensued.

Sunsara’s personal blog explains:

… plainclothes and uniformed police who had been called in earlier by officials of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) dragged out, maced and arrested a man for videotaping Sunsara Taylor as she stood near her seat and made a statement before the start of that morning’s program about the shameful cancellation of her long planned talk to EHSC that day on the topic “Morality without Gods.”

The shocking incident took place at the insistence of the president of EHSC. About 40 people witnessed the videographer being brutalized by the police in the foyer of the facility. An attorney demanded that the police stop brutalizing him when five officers piled on him as he lay face down on the floor. 6 police cars arrived within minutes.

What. The. Hell…?

For some reason, I feel like the kids on South Park right now… not sure why everybody around me is making such a big deal out of something that’s clearly not one. Somehow, everyone’s getting involved and nothing good can possibly come from this.

Maybe some of you can shed more light on this story, because I’m really only seeing one side of it. The EHSC hasn’t said anything to my knowledge. I’m still confused.

I’d love to know why police were involved on Sunday, why the EHSC really disinvited Sunsara, and what ramifications this issue will have in the future, if any.

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  • Penn

    Wow, just wow. Dis-inviting her was unethical on the part of the EHSC, but could be written off as a stupid oversight. It’s not a huge deal. But, unless they had reason to really feel threatened by Sunsara and/or the man videotaping her the police should not have been called. Let’s face it, this country has a problem with police brutality in response to peaceful actions. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens often enough that EHSC should have been aware of the risk.While the individual police officers are responsible for their actions. It doesn’t completely remove the blame from EHSC.

  • Mark

    The answer was announced during the last ten seconds of the video.

    She tried to stage a walk-out to disrupt the event.

    By the way….

    Since when is changing one’s mind and cancelling an invitation unethical?

  • MutantJedi

    Okay, really, who wrote this script? Unethical behavior from an ethical society… the topic was to be morality without gods? Is there a strong streak of irony here somewhere?

    I suppose it is all just proof one can be nutty with or without gods.

  • MutantJedi

    Mark, two weeks before the date is a little late to make arbitrary schedule changes.

    I expect that there is a lot more to this tale than what’s here before us. … and I’m not particularly interested in knowing more. Trite little squabbles like this are oft best left unremarked… I’m only drawn in as far as this because the irony.

  • I disagree, MutantJedi. There was a little pushback from our members when I invited Sunsara Taylor to be interviewed on Atheists Talk last year, but even the dissenters agreed that we (The Minnesota Atheists) are open to listening to people and talking to them rather than barring them because we don’t like their politics.

    Calling the police was uncalled for, and their actions were indefensible. She was not breaking and entering, nor planning any sort of violence. But, I guess that must be the assumption if one is a Communist/Maoist. I don’t think that this could be considered a “trite little squabble.”

  • sailor

    One can be good, and is probably better, without ethics

  • It wasn’t nice, and it doesn’t reflect well on EHSC, but they do have a right to disinvite any speakers. It is their space and time.

    That said, her presence at the meeting seems vindictive and immature. It’s like she’s saying, “How dare you disinvite ME! I am all women and you have attacked ME!”

  • suzanna

    That said, her presence at the meeting seems vindictive and immature.

    i pretty much have to agree.

    that whole situation has gotten way out of hand over something that is pretty trivial. They disinvited her, so what? she needed to take the higher route and move on. but she didn’t, so if you ask me, it sounds like she’s the one responsible for all the crap that came with blowing the situation out of proportion, including the police brutality. who knows why they police were called, but it was the right of the ehsc. maybe they had to take how petty this woman was going to be in consideration.

    i’m not saying uninviting her was wrong or right. i’m saying that sunsara handling it the way she did was juvenile.

  • Valdyr

    WTF? Why would police mace someone just for holding a video camera, especially if they had permission?

  • Miko

    According to Sunsara’s publicist, there was some controversy about her other social/political views (she’s a Communist, for one) — some of them distortions of her actual views — and she was disinvited rather quickly.

    Sure you do. Happens all the time. Recall the flack about winning the Dawkins award a while back. Once they realized their error, they should have definitely uninvited him. Or if the Ethics society had accidentally invited someone they learned to be a Holocaust denier. Remember that communists advocate totalitarian dictatorship, one of the most unethical and immoral positions imaginable.

    The answer was announced during the last ten seconds of the video.

    She tried to stage a walk-out to disrupt the event.

    So what? Are you suggesting that people don’t have the right to voluntarily choose to boycott an event?

    The real answer is that her political views were outside the mainstream. If you look at the history of police repression of unconventional ideas, they’re lucky that they didn’t experience anything worse than being maced and beaten.

  • Andrea

    Jeez. And i was thinking of attending yesterday. 😮 glad i stayed home.

  • Matt

    Anyone who reads Dispatches From The Culture wars on Scienceblogs ought to be fairly familiar with unwanted police brutality… As a college student right now, I’ve personally seen what happens when people can’t be civil with each other – they call the cops instead of walking next door and asking someone to turn their music down or move the party inside. Let’s just be nice and talk to each other, mmkay?

  • Richard

    I agree that showing up feels sort of petty.

    But, that seems irrelevant when talking about the Ethical Humanist Society’s actions with regard to a photographer. Having someone dragged out an assaulted for videotaping a statement seems egregiously unethical.

    It’s also seems astonishingly stupid to have a photographer assaulted in front of a bunch of Humanists. Why on earth would the director of the Ethical Humanist society want to do such a thing?

    It seems difficult to believe that the events are as described.

  • TXatheist

    Before becoming UU I was a board member of the Ethical society of Austin and some of the stuff they did was really bizarre. My guess is this is similar to the problem down here with the leaders. Too many had this stringent idea of what should happen and would throw a fit if something appeared to not follow their ideology of the ethical society. I quit after 6 months and never returned.

  • I have to agree with William Brinkman on this one. The EHSC either should have let her invite stand or they should have given her more than two weeks notice of her disinvite, but I’d hardly call it an ethical lapse.

    This incident, in my opinion, paints Taylor as petty and immature. As MutantJedi says, though, there’s probably more to this story than what we’ve read here.

    As for Taylor, my only exposure to her was at the AAI convention where she spoke about abortion and I (along with many others in the room) found her positions untenable. She, herself, seemed very pleasant, however, and has a wonderful speaking presence. It was simply her message that many in the room disagreed with… which is not a reason to disinvite her and I’m glad I got to hear her speak.

  • Remember that communists advocate totalitarian dictatorship, one of the most unethical and immoral positions imaginable

    Did one of our respective political science instructors redefine communism? Or, what form of communism is it which she advocates? ’cause my knowledge of the ideal of communism is exactly the opposite of a totalitarian dictatorship. I’d grant that in practice it hasn’t turned out well or as Marx initially thought it ought to, but to say advocating communism is to promote something which was the state of affairs in, say, the USSR is like saying advocating democracy is to promote the ideas of a malevolent dictator who initially rose to power through a democratic process.

    Also, it wasn’t just boycotting the event. If that was the case, she’d have stayed away from the event and used something like her blog or a press release to both publicly state why and to reprimand the EHSC for uninviting her over what was (apparently) just a conflict of ideology. But instead she tried to stage a walk-out, it was intentionally trying to cause a scene. Which I would also say was probably not the best way to deal with it, but I also concur that there might be something unknown about the reasons for uninviting her.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    It’s unprofessional and unseemly to rescind an invitation to a speaker, especially so close to the date of the event. I would hope that the Society could handle some dissent. I think that it is good to host controversial speakers.

    But I have been reading her blog and her statements on this rescinded invitation, and I find her attempt to play the part of the martyr to be sickening and way overblown. She’s trying to milk all this publicity out of this incident by playing the part of the poor little victim, and that is rather ridiculous. Releasing a statement to the effect that she objects to the poorly handled cancellation of her talk would be appropriate; attempting to turn this into another cause for activism, inviting people to call and email the Ethical Society, crashing the event and throwing a public fit over it is all way over the top.

    With that said, I do hope that the Ethical Society has something to say about the involvement of the police, which on the face of it seems to be over the top as well. I have a hard time believing that the police needed to be involved.

  • TXatheist

    I emailed EHSC to see if they had a formal statement of why they uninvited her.

  • muggle

    Overeaction all the way around but she’s the one who mostly blew it up.

    Did the police go too far? Yes, obviously. However, if she was asked to leave and refused, if they asked the camera guy to stop videotaping on their property and he refused, what choice did the Society have but to call them.

  • llewelly

    Sad, but funny. The simplest explanation for the dis-invite is that most members of the program committee didn’t do their homework – probably only 1 or 2 people knew anything about Sunsara Taylor. After they announced she was speaking, their prospective audience probably pointed out that Sunsara Taylor is a little bit crazy. The committee members who failed to their homework the first time probably heard a prior podcast or radio appearance by Sunsara Taylor. Driven by their guilt and the almost comedic strangeness of Sunsara Taylor’s views, they panicked, and insisted she was dis-invited.
    Sunsara Taylor is crazy, but no fool. She knows an opportunity to make a scene. She plans a walk-out. As she’s making her scene, somebody else panics, and calls the police. The police probably grew up during the cold war, their childhoods dominated by stories about World War III, the looming Soviet Apocalypse. Now they’re confronted, for the first time, with a real live communist. They too panic.
    People are much worse decision makers than we like to admit, and sometimes a few seemingly minor errors can quickly add up to shockingly stupid results.

  • Joseph

    Anyone who reads Dispatches From The Culture wars on Scienceblogs ought to be fairly familiar with unwanted police brutality

    Is there ever a case of wanted police brutality?

  • Epistaxis

    Let me step back for a moment and say I think this whole thing has been blown up way out of proportion.

    By Sunsara’s people (the Revolutionary Communist Party), specifically. They can be a little pushy. All the more reason not to pull a stunt like a last-minute cancellation, though. I don’t know if the EHSC decided it didn’t like her beliefs or if they just decided they didn’t like her, but plenty of other nonbelievers have steered clear of her just because she’s a Communist, which is shameful and a touch ironic.

  • Siamang

    She and that group can have each other. They deserve each other.

  • ethanol

    muggle says:

    Did the police go too far? Yes, obviously. However, if she was asked to leave and refused, if they asked the camera guy to stop videotaping on their property and he refused, what choice did the Society have but to call them.

    According to Sunsara, the police were called ahead of time. She also says:

    At no point during her brief statement was Sunsara asked to stop speaking or to leave the premises. And at no point was anyone who was there to support her, including the photographer, asked to leave.

    Now I have to say that her actions, including this stunt, and writing blog posts about herself in the third person, don’t cast her in the best light. However, especially living in Chicago, the EHSC should know that YOU DON’T CALL POLICE TO DEAL WITH NON-THREATENING DISPUTES. Frankly if what Sunsara wrote is correct, this action by the EHSC far overshadows their previous unethical actions with respect to the invitation, and the immature behavior on the part of Sunsara.

  • I think I can see part of the reason for misunderstanding. Sunsara Taylor writes on her blog:

    The letter from Anil Kashyap that justifies his decision to attempt to cancel contains gross mischaracterizations of my views. … 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.”

    From the description of her talk, also from her blog:

    We live in a time of moral crises. These crises are NOT, as the Christian fascists like to constantly insist, because of “abortionists, the ACLU, homosexuals, and science instructors who teach evolution.” These crises exist because the stability and way of life of millions of people are being disrupted by the effects of imperialist globalization. Around the world: massive global migrations, the rise of a transnational sex slave trade consuming millions of young women and girls, the wars and widespread use of torture by the U.S., and the increased disparity between the obscenely wealthy and the billions who have been cast into desperation, poverty and disease with no hope of a decent life. Here in the U.S.: the loss of millions of stable middle class jobs, an influx of immigrants from around the world, the entering of women into the work force in the last generation, and the development of a violent and bigoted movement with Christian fundamentalism woven into its core.

    I can see why Kashyap would look at the description and think, “Oh, crap!”, since an influx of immigrants and the entrance of women into the workforce are listed as examples of “effects of imperialist globalization” along with things that are obviously negative, such as sexual slavery and violent movements within Christian fundamentalism. It’s not hard to read that description as anti-immigration and anti-feminist, and even the later part of the description that talks of “a world without men oppressing women” doesn’t entirely erase the anti-feminist impression, since even those who advocate for women to stay in the kitchen don’t recognize their views as oppressive. The description was poorly written.

  • Claudia

    I think we’re putting too much attention on the dis-invitation and her later attendance and too little on the police action.

    If we are to assume she was dis-invited for her views then I would have to say that it does not speak well of the Ethical Society in terms of their willingness to hear differing opinions. However the fact that we may be missing data about possible conflicts unrelated to her views and my personal ignorance of those views (they may be so totally out there as to warrant dis-invitation. Someone found to be a creationist would be dis-invited from an Evolutionary Biology conference) makes everything before the event harder to judge. Where they unethical? Maybe, but possibly they were just a tad rude.

    However the event itself is a whole different story. There were plenty of witnesses and hopefully they will give an honest account of what happened. Keep in mind that the person assaulted was NOT Sunsara but a man recording her, so the issue does not seem to be that Sunsara was being thrown out but the fact that the thing was being taped. Unless someone can show how this man was being disruptive and that he was publicly asked to leave and refused, calling the police was unwarranted and yes, unethical. You don’t call the police because someone you don’t like is at an event. The police are for dangerous and disruptive individuals, not passive-aggressive attendees.

  • Tim Stroud

    To paraphrase my mom “This is why we atheists can never have good things.”

  • David D.G.

    … plainclothes and uniformed police who had been called in earlier by officials of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) dragged out, maced and arrested a man for videotaping Sunsara Taylor as she stood near her seat and made a statement before the start of that morning’s program about the shameful cancellation of her long planned talk to EHSC that day on the topic “Morality without Gods.”

    The shocking incident took place at the insistence of the president of EHSC. About 40 people witnessed the videographer being brutalized by the police in the foyer of the facility. An attorney demanded that the police stop brutalizing him when five officers piled on him as he lay face down on the floor. 6 police cars arrived within minutes.

    If this account is accurate (and I note that it is provided by someone who is not exactly unbiased in this situation), then it would seem that the EHSC were expecting trouble of some kind and were prepared to squelch it if the need arose, but it also suggests that the police are the ones who really escalated things themselves.

    Five officers piled onto one guy, maced him, and arrested him, all because he was filming a woman speaking?!? And six additional police cars arrived to provide backup “within minutes” against a drama queen and a guy with a video camera (who by that time was already subdued)?!? If this account isn’t severe hyperbole, then the officers involved (and possibly the Chicago PD itself) need to suffer severe sanctions. However, I think that the odds of that happening are slim to laughable.

    ~David D.G.

  • Evan Kane

    I am a member of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago and one of the members who initially supported Sunsara Taylor. It is now clear to me that from the moment she was dis-invited Sunsara saw an opportunity for a confrontation she could blog about.

    The program committees decision to change speakers for the November 1st platform was, at worst, ill informed and rude but hardly unethical. We are a society, not a public speakers corner and the decision to change speakers, at any time, is well within our rights both legally and ethically.

    Did you happen catch where Sunsara made her statement in the video? It’s at the EHSC. The society sponsored a workshop with Sunsara on Saturday; and yes, another member did host an alternate Sunday lecture at her own home. And what unreasonable demand did the EHSC ask in return? That Sunsara and her group not disrupt the Sunday program.

    Even after an apology letter was sent to Sunsara, the Saturday workshop confirmed and held, and the alternate lecture planned, there were members in the society that were afraid that Sunsara and her group would disrupt the Sunday program. That’s why the Sunday school children were moved off site for the day and the Skokie police department was asked to have an officer at the society.

    Fools like me thought this was unnecessary and defended Sunsara up until Saturday evening. Why? Because just like she did at minute 9:27 of the video, Sunsara said she was only going to come to the society on Sunday prepared to give her talk and if she wasn’t given the podium she would leave to give her talk at the private home. But that’s not what she did. Instead, as I suspect was always her intention, she caused a disruption until it became an altercation, and I say better with the police than one of our members.

    The man who was arrested resisted the police officer when he was asked to leave private property. He was not kicked, beaten, clubbed or tazered; he was subdued with mace, handcuffed and taken into custody. The police officer that the man resisted was however bloodied in the altercation. Calling this an act of police brutality is not only unfair to the Skokie police department but is offensive to people who have actually suffered police brutality.

    Even though the path to this unfortunate event was long and complicated in the end had Sunsara decided to not disrupt our event inside our building or even if she had just left when she was asked, there would have been no mace, no arrests and no blood.

    Sunsara Taylor should take a hard, introspective look at her own actions before continuing to lecture others on morality.

  • Rowan

    I like the “drama queen” characterization of Sunsara Taylor. I think EHSC, on the face of it, made some mistakes. However, I do not think they were made with malice.

    I do wonder at Ms. Taylor’s actions. It is well within a private organization’s right to not want someone there to speak, to “dis-invite” them. If it is seemingly against their internal rules, bylaws, etc. to do so, then it is the place of the membership to deal with the issues and/or violations, not people who have not made that commitment. IOW, it is perfectly acceptable to be upset and write letters, but it is going a little far to show up and heckle the lay leadership and membership.

    Still, the police overreacted. Public safety is not a toy, but a rather blunt instrument, that should only be used in emergencies.

    It seems to me that like most bad situations, there was a perfect storm of mistakes, malice, and lack of forethought.

    ~ Rowan

  • Mark

    I’m guessing that the usual and expected law enforcement scenario unfolded that night. The cameraman was asked to leave the room and refused. Since the room was private property, he was then guilty of criminal trespass. The police then proceeded to arrest him for his crime. He resisted and was maced into submission and then taken out and stuffed into the squad car like the criminal he was, all the while sporting a shiny new set of handcuffs.

    I have always had a bit of a chuckle over so-called “rights activists” who seem to be concerned about the rights of everyone except those of the property owner.

  • Lisel Burns

    I think that the conversation here is the democratic response- back and forth – that the incident and situation call for – and not much more is helpful.

    The RCP has strong positions e.g. revolutionary dictatorship as a positive) that defy the liberal, pluralistic, humanistic tenents of local Ethical Societies as I know them across the country, but those extreme positions in no way disqualify a person holding them from participating in a program, as long as folks know what they are being presented. sounds perhaps like this part of the presenters’ biography wasn’t in the foreground when the plan was made, and was later a rationale for withdrawing the program offer.

  • Carol

    Disinviting Taylor from speaking at the EHSC meeting may have been distasteful and unprofessional, but it was within the EHSC’s right to do so. It’s their meeting. But Taylor’s subsequent actions were also unprofessional, even childish, and have resulted in the whole thing being blown out of proportion. Staging a walkout? Insisting that she give her speech “in exile?” Gimme a break.

    The worst part is that all this media attention will spotlight her as another extremist atheist without morals. People will say “She was going to talk about morality without God?” and laugh derisively.

    Oh great, just the kind of media attention we need… I sure wish she’d taken the high road. She just reinforced many people’s view of atheists: disrespectful extremists, disrupters of society, immoral without god. Fair or unfair, her bad manners hurt our image. Too bad…

  • I went over to Sunsara Taylor’s blog to read what she had to say and see some of her other posts. I saw that she was hauled out of Ebenezer Church for yelling at Rick Warren in January, and, in a bit of irony, that she doesn’t allow comments on her blog posts.

    I agree with those who said the EHSC shouldn’t have withdrawn the speaking invitation on short notice, and that six police officers dogpiling on the photographer is overkill. I also agree Taylor shouldn’t have created a scene at the meeting, but it seems like that’s her modus operandi as a response to perceived oppression–and I would guess, based on the fact that EHSC had an officer on scene, that they figured something like this would happen based on her past record, and it’s probably part of the reason her invitation was withdrawn.

  • Board Officer EHSC

    As an officer on the Board of Trustees of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago, I would like to proffer a few observations.

    We have been around for over 125 years and we have had 1000’s of speakers covering a vast array of topics. Topics chosen to inform, make this a better world and bring people together. That’s why we have had people like Hemant Mehta speak at our building.

    To my knowledge and to the knowledge of every member I know, we have never “dis-invited any proposed speaker. One must at least consider the possibility that our open, transparent, democratically member run program committee by a 7 to 2 vote had valid reasons to reject the program of Ms. Taylor. That decision was based on the committee’s judgment that the program she eventually submitted was not in line with the program originally considered (which dealt with leading a moral life). This committee’s decision was validated at an open board meeting.

    Speaking personally… I can imagine a dis-invited speaker sending an angry letter, making an angry phone call, or sending a bunch of objecting emails. But actually coming into our home to disrupt a Sunday Program of young people giving a program on the Peace Corps is another matter.

    Bear in mind that the day before, for over two hours Ms. Taylor spoke to our members and visitors at our Society’s Auditorium. Not one voice interrupted her as she chose to vilify our Society. Not once were any negative statements issued publically by our Society in reference to Ms. Taylor, nor did we discourage participation at her Saturday workshop or at her offsite Sunday platform.

    No one mentions that the President of our Society personally called her and her tour director asking each to speak via phone to try to lessen tensions. These calls were rebuffed ….only email communication was permitted. She refused to accept the fact that she was told multiple times she was not going to speak Sunday.

    Some of our members set up an alternate speaking site at a member’s home for those who wished to hear Ms. Taylor on Sunday. At no time did our Society attempt to stop or interfere with notification of that alternate meeting being sent to our membership; directions were even provided to the site prior to our Sunday platform.

    It is not mentioned that our President tried to greet and speak to Sunsara as she entered our parking lot with the simple intention of requesting that she not enter our auditorium, but if she did, please to not interrupt our program. He was totally ignored and Sunsara and her entourage stormed into the building… our members, many of whom are older and frail viewed this as threatening.

    Because she had so clearly signaled that she intended to create a scene, our board hired an off duty officer to ensure our members’ safety if any altercation took place; keep in mind, Ms. Taylor considers the Peace Corps to be a tool of U.S. imperialism.

    Ms. Taylor was coming not matter what was asked nor said…. she would not respect our Society. Would she respect our members’ safety? Our board chose protection, not provocation.

    As a court case is pending, I cannot go into details, but if Ms. Taylor had not forced a confrontation or had her companion followed polite police instructions, he would not have been arrested and charged with trespassing, resisting arrest and possibly assault on a police officer…. another first in a century and a quarter of history.

    I am proud to be an officer of this Society …we acted ethically, democratically, responsibly, and within our rights… others can judge Ms Taylor’s actions and intensions.

  • muggle

    Evan, thanks for posting. That is pretty much how I suspected the whole thing went down.

    They were hellbound and determined to demand the podium. The classy thing to do would have been to leave and go to the private home.

    And, sadly, Carol’s right. If she gets any attention out of this from the mainstream media, we will once again be painted as pinko, commie, amoral, egotistical, spoiled brats. Ms. Taylor did us no favors.

  • Principles

    First, if you watch the video of Sunsara from the day before, she explains that she is NOT going to stay and disrupt, but leave and give her talk elsewhere. She explains that if she did not object to the decision to dis-invite her, she would not be someone consistent in her own morals and ethics and she would not be worthy to speak on such subjects.

    If you look at what Sunsara Taylor has done in the past, it includes objecting to the silencing of other dissident voices. She writes for Revolution Newspaper which did some of the most extensive and thorough coverage of the politically motivated campaigns to get Ward Churchill fired as well as to suppress and silence other dissident academics. They also did excellent coverage around the attacks on Norm Finkelstein and tremendous exposure of David Horowitz’s attacks on liberal and progressive professors nation-wide.

    So, when Sunsara objects to her own dis-invitation, it is in keeping with her principles and ethics.

  • Principles

    One further thing…

    Someone cited the fact that she called Rick Warren a bigot as if this were “proof” that Sunsara was looking for a confrontation. Hello? Does someone here really want to argue that Rick Warren is NOT a bigot? He opposes gay marriage, thinks women are inferior and should obey their husbands, and believes the Bible is the “inerrant word of god”!!

    Anyone who has seen her speak knows she may be controversial, but she is very thoughtful and she is looking for a real exchange and engagement.

    I was there when she spoke at the U of MN last year and while a lot of what she said was new to people and controversial, everyone seemed to enjoy it and appreciate the openness of exchange.

    At one point during the program, a young guy in the audience got all flustered trying to get his point out. He was really nervous and so he just blurted at her, “You are just full of shit!” Most of the audience laughed at his outburst, but Sunsara calmed people down and encouraged the guy to take a little time to work out his point. He did (and this included a lot of strong disagreement) but Sunsara very fairly responded to the substance of what he said, rather than going for the cheap dismissal (which would have been rather easy to do).

    A group of thirty of us, including her and a bunch of students, went out for food and drinks afterwards. We had a great time, discussing, debating, her asking a lot of questions and listening — including to Christians and other believers.

  • Rowan

    sailor says

    One can be good, and is probably better, without ethics

    That is an oxymoron. Logically, how would you be good without an internal and external framework in which decide what is best? Values, ethics, morals or whatever you might call them are guides to our future behavior and the method by which we judge past behavior.

    ~ Rowan

  • postscript

    “she caused a disruption until it became an altercation.”

    I was at EHSC on Saturday for Sunsara’s workshop on the Liberation of Women and on Sunday. On Sunday Sunsara stood up by her chair before the program started, she did not disrupt the program, she said she was planning to leave and give her talk in exile if EHSC did not reverse its decision. She was never asked to stop speaking and was never asked to leave. She did not cause an altercation in any sense of the word.
    The photographer who was documenting her words was grabbed by undercover and regular police, who were already at EHSC, at the direction of the society’s president.

  • carla

    First, the camera man was NOT violent in any way. He was simply filming. Silently. He was piled on by five police, cuffed and THEN maced.

    Read that again: he was cuffed and THEN maced.

    Second, if you actually take a look at how much Sunsara’s words have been intentionally distorted by some members of the EHSC (which she documents in her Open Letters to the EHSC — which, by the way, they NEVER addressed the substance of), and if you consider that despite Sunsara’s clear statement that if the EHSC did not reverse their decision to dis-invite her, that she would leave and give her talk elsewhere and YET THE EHSC STILL called the police before she even arrived and moved their Sunday school and had whipped themselves into a self-created frenzy… Then it makes PERFECT SENSE that Sunsara would want what she actually did (and what she didn’t) say at the EHSC that morning to be documented. SO NO ONE COULD DISTORT IT.

    But, in what is actually quite revealing a move, the President of the EHSC never asked Sunsara to leave or to stop speaking, nor did he ask the camera-man to leave. He simply told the police to go after him and then they did.

    Even just judging from the EHSC President’s actions, what Sunsara was doing was not a big problem. BUT, having a clear record of what she was doing, that proved that what she was saying was well-reasoned and exposed a LOT of dishonesty and political censorship on the part of the EHSC Board, WOULD BE A PROBLEM for the image of the EHSC. So, he singled out the camera man. If he didn’t have anything to hide or distort, if Sunsara had actually been doing something that was out of keeping with reasonable and ethical behavior in the face of such a shameful and dishonest and politically driven dis-invitation, then he would have been eager to get Sunsara out of there and keep the camera-man documenting every second of it — not the other way around.

  • postscript

    I found this illuminating response to Evan Kane’s letter at Rational Response Squad.
    http://www.rationalresponders.com/Ethical_Society_Woes

    Submitted by darth_josh on November 2, 2009 – 9:27pm.
    Evan K wrote: I am a member of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago and one of the members who initially supported Sunsara Taylor. It is now clear to me that from the moment she was dis-invited Sunsara saw an opportunity for a confrontation she could blog about.

    Yep. Is one to remain silent when disavowed by people they consider fellow ideologues?

    Evan K wrote: The program committees decision to change speakers for the November 1st platform was, at worst, ill informed and rude but hardly unethical. We are a society, not a public speakers corner and the decision to change speakers, at any time, is well within our rights both legally and ethically.

    Hmmm. I’m trying hard to see it from your perspective. Is your ‘society’ ethical with regard to the society or everyone?

    Evan K wrote: Did you happen catch where Sunsara made her statement in the video? It’s at the EHSC. The society sponsored a workshop with Sunsara on Saturday; and yes, another member did host an alternate Sunday lecture at her own home. And what unreasonable demand did the EHSC ask in return? That Sunsara and her group not disrupt the Sunday program.

    Wow. I didn’t see a group. Did you see a group? Did you invite a group or just Sunsara?

    How many people were in attendance at this Saturday meeting? I gather that more are present on Sunday. Correct?

    Evan K wrote: Even after an apology letter was sent to Sunsara, the Saturday workshop confirmed and held, and the alternate lecture planned, there were members in the society that were afraid that Sunsara and her group would disrupt the Sunday program.

    Wait. Apology letter? You called it an apology letter. Does anyone write apology letters for ethical actions?
    Here’s that ‘group’ word again.
    One begins to wonder if the society is afraid that its Sunday program might not meet with ethical standards. I’m pretty sure that the aforementioned ‘group’ only protests those things which merit protests such as they have engaged in the past.

    Evan K wrote: That’s why the Sunday school children were moved off site for the day and the Skokie police department was asked to have an officer at the society.

    A dainty woman and a cameraman scared the children and warranted police presence. IN CHICAGO????!!!! Even Palantine housewives are strong-willed enough to tolerate a woman and a cameraman.

    Evan K wrote: Fools like me thought this was unnecessary and defended Sunsara up until Saturday evening. Why? Because just like she did at minute 9:27 of the video, Sunsara said she was only going to come to the society on Sunday prepared to give her talk and if she wasn’t given the podium she would leave to give her talk at the private home.
    Don’t incorrectly paraphrase here, fucker. ‘giving the society up until the last minute’ and ‘ask for you to leave with me as I give my talk in exile’ is apparently what you misconstrued as ‘leave for the private home’.
    What part of “Leave with me as I give my talk in exile” did you miss?

    Evan K wrote: But that’s not what she did. Instead, as I suspect was always her intention, she caused a disruption until it became an altercation, and I say better with the police than one of our members.

    She did exactly as she said she would do. She gave the society until the last minute to do the right thing, ‘the ethical thing’.
    I find your callous observation of ‘better with the police’ to be reprehensible, nay disgusting.

    Evan K wrote: The man who was arrested resisted the police officer when he was asked to leave private property. He was not kicked, beaten, clubbed or tazered; he was subdued with mace, handcuffed and taken into custody. The police officer that the man resisted was however bloodied in the altercation. Calling this an act of police brutality is not only unfair to the Skokie police department but is offensive to people who have actually suffered police brutality.

    You’ll have to pardon my skepticism. I’ve watched people get maced, cuffed, and charged with resisting arrest because they tripped while being escorted from a place by police. Skokie police are not sui generis.

    Evan K wrote: Even though the path to this unfortunate event was long and complicated in the end had Sunsara decided to not disrupt our event inside our building or even if she had just left when she was asked, there would have been no mace, no arrests and no blood.

    And if she had been permitted to give the presentation she was INVITED to give, I’m sure the outcome would have been as rosy.

    Evan K wrote: Sunsara Taylor should take a hard, introspective look at her own actions before continuing to lecture others on morality.

    Oddly enough in my 37 years, the people that have said this are more in need of their own advice than anyone they speak to in public.

    I must say you have my gratitude because this has piqued my curiosity about your ‘ethical society’.

  • Bacopa

    So they mistakenly invited a nutbar: Why not just let her do her thing and go away?

    As for the earlier quip about “unwanted police brutality”; it is sometimes necessary for police to use extreme levels of force, up to and including deadly force. When these highest levels of force are used to achieve legitimate ends according to reasonable policy, no wrong has been done and no one should call it brutality. When there are no legitimate ends and force is used contrary to well-designed standards, any force at all is brutality.

  • EHSC Member

    I am a member of EHSC and wanted to respond to some of the rantings from Ms. Sunsara Taylor. First off – she was dis-invited because she refused to present the topic/subject matter that she had initially agreed to. Despite that breach of professionalism, she was still allowed to present her Saturday workshop in our building, regardless of her shameful, unprofessional antics – protesting in our parking lot with her group handing our flyers comprised of cut/paste email making her case that we had no “right” to disinvite her, speaking negativley about our group and it’s actions duing her workshop that was hosted in our building. Next, she was asked again, not to come on Sunday (She had repeatedly stated that she would come on Sunday to speak even though she had been asked not to – under the guise of “giving us a chance to do the right thing”) as we had lined up another speaker – she instead showed up in our parking lot with her crowd of 20+followers (cameras at the ready) marched past our board president who had asked first to speak with her and then as she pushed past him into the building – requested that she not disturb our meeting. She then proceeded to stand up in the audience and begin her rant again. Just to remind everyone that we are a private organizaiton run by volunteers. There was no “right” to speak just because she disagreed with our decision to rescind our invitation when her talk did not match the title she had agreed to.
    Lastly, we had asked the police to be on alert on Sunday as her previous behavior had led us to believe that she intended to disrupt things and we did not know how far she and her followers would go. Our group consists of people of all ages kids through seniors and it is our responsiblity to ensure their safety to the best of our ability when they are in our building. As for the action of the police, they attempted to get the ‘photographer’ to leave peacefully – he would have none of it and fought with them as the other “followers” stood near by snapping pictures. One police officer was injured by this person as he resisted the police efforts to remove him from our building. The Skokie police behaved professionally and efficiently. It was an ugly scene brought on by Ms. Taylor’s arrogance and quest for martyrdom. The Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago has a long history of peaceful action and a reputation for presenting speakers espousing a wide range of views. I am appalled at the actions of Ms. Taylor and sickened that she brought her chaos into our midst. I thank you for your invitation to clarify this situation.

  • BC

    The EHSC are clearly at fault here. Sunsara Taylor’s position should’ve been easily understood by anyone who can search her name on YouTube — She regards the rise of the religious right in the US as occurring not simply because ‘suthernerrs rrar dum’ (everyone with a college education have a good snicker), but, correctly, because the fears of the religious (the ‘other’, the immigrants, the rising power of women) are exploited by corporatists in order to seed support for the Repuglican party.

    Surly, if atheism is worth anything, then it has to become the force that frees humanity from its blind, slavish following of ‘authority’. If all we’re doing is replacing the make-believe Yahweh or Allah for the make-believe Invisible Hand of capitalism, then why bother?

    In any event, no one in their right mind could possibly regard Taylor as racist or anti-feminist. Either the EHSC were played by Repugs, or they heard the word ‘communist’ and ran around screaming like a bunch of chicken littles, or they were simply too stupid to work out that bloodying the nose of a woman who eats big-hitters like Rham Emmanuel and Bill O’Reilly for breakfast might not be a smart move.

    Whatever. Shame on you, Hemant. You’re witnessing what is, literally, a modern-day McCarthyist witch-hunt (albeit on a very small scale), and you’re sitting on the fence.

  • Evan Kane

    @ Darth_Josh

    Wow. I didn’t see a group. Did you see a group? Did you invite a group or just Sunsara

    I am assuming you were not there on Sunday otherwise you would know that there were about 40 of Sunsara’s people at our building.

    Hmmm. I’m trying hard to see it from your perspective. Is your ’society’ ethical with regard to the society or everyone?…. Wait. Apology letter? You called it an apology letter. Does anyone write apology letters for ethical actions?

    We are a society of people that value deed over creed. We aspire to lead our lives based on humanistic ideals. We do not march lock step to the beat of one voice, we are individuals and we are human. We make mistakes, both individually and as a group. When we make mistakes the best among us apologize and try to find compromise, as we tried to do with Sunsara. To think that apology and compromise is not consistent with an ethical life is yours and Sunsara’s shortcoming, not ours.

    Yep. Is one to remain silent when disavowed by people they consider fellow ideologues?

    If you think we are ideologues, much less fellow ideologues of Sunsara, you are gravely mistaken.

    Don’t incorrectly paraphrase here, fucker. ‘giving the society up until the last minute’ and ‘ask for you to leave with me as I give my talk in exile’ is apparently what you misconstrued as ‘leave for the private home’.
    What part of “Leave with me as I give my talk in exile” did you miss?

    The only thing I missed was the part were Sunsara says she will disrupt our gathering until she gets her way or gets removed by the police… oh wait she doesn’t say that… ever… Fucker.

    I find your callous observation of ‘better with the police’ to be reprehensible, nay disgusting.

    I find your suggestion that elderly men and women get physical with young agitators stupid.

    And if she had been permitted to give the presentation she was INVITED to give, I’m sure the outcome would have been as rosy.

    She was then UN-INVITED. Have you never broken a date or canceled plans? We canceled our date, she showed up anyway.

    Evan K wrote: Sunsara Taylor should take a hard, introspective look at her own actions before continuing to lecture others on morality.
    Oddly enough in my 37 years, the people that have said this are more in need of their own advice than anyone they speak to in public.

    I do my best to do this all the time. In fact, this is how I went from a supporter of Sunsara to a denouncer of her actions.

  • Drew

    I honestly don’t like Sunsara, after meeting her in Burbank during the AAIC.

  • TXatheist

    postscript, thanks for posting that. What a fiasco.

  • BC

    I find your suggestion that elderly men and women get physical with young agitators stupid.

    Awww, poor baby. If I’d only known that Sunsara Taylor and her Commie Shock-Troops had informed you they intended to challenge the EHSC to a fist-to-Zimmer-frame, boot-to-bathchair fight to the death — If I’d only known that you poor, old pensioned-off-excuses-for-free-thinkers had been threatened with violence, then I would have rallied to your defence …

    … Only, here’s the thing. Much as I understand how old people get scared by those young uns and their loud noises (like everything else, neural nets deteriorate with age) — Much as I understand this, what puzzles me is how anyone self-identifying as an ‘ethical humanist’ can hear this:

    (paraphrasing from Sunsara Taylor’s actual statements) I’m going to stand up and walk out of here. Anyone who agrees with me, please, feel free to join me in leaving this room

    How anyone can hear this and interpret it as:

    (paraphrasing from your delusional fear of Teh Commies/teh young uns) Hahahahhah! We’re all evil communists! We’re going to GET YOU ALL. Bwahahahahah!!

    Also, for added hilarity, you say the following:

    We do not march lock step to the beat of one voice, we are individuals and we are human.

    Yet, confronted with a ‘voice’ you don’t agree with, your first reaction is to scuttle up to the nearest cop, begging them to mace the crap out of any ‘ethical humanist’ whose free speech (or free camera-work) frightens/threatens you.

    Pathetic.

  • That_which_doesnt_destroy_us

    I am a long-time member of the EHSC and appreciate Hemant’s skepticism over Taylor’s characterization of this whole event. For the record, I am not on the program committee nor the board, but have followed these events closely. I’d like to address a few issues that Hemant and some commenters have raised.

    First, with regard to the ‘last-minute dis-invitation’. Despite speculation by some commenters on this blog, the committee involved was aware of her political views and agreed to proceed with the proposal to have her speak on morality from an atheist perspective, explicitly stating that they were not interested in a talk about her political views. We ask all speakers to provide a 2-3 sentence description of their talks as part of our internal process – this information is included in our formal invitation to speak and in our monthly newsletter. A description of Taylor’s talk, initially requested this summer, was not received until mid-October, at which point the committee voted 7-2 to reject the proposed talk and extended an invitation to another speaker. As result, she never received the formal invitation on Society letterhead specifying the particulars of her talk that we always send to our speakers, but rather was informed about our decision to have a different speaker on Nov 1. [Despite Hemant’s assertion in his blog above, her Nov 1 talk was NOT widely publicized in our events calendar – by the time our Nov. newsletter came out, the Peace Corps program had been finalized and was listed. .I forgive him this one error and again appreciate his circumspect treatment of her claims. The Oct 31 workshop, which emerged through a different process within our community, was advertised and proceeded as planned]

    To the extent that the decision appears to be last minute, it reflects the late receipt of information from Ms. Taylor. The fact that she persisted in asserting her ‘right’ to talk on Nov 1 on her blog after the committee told her their decision led our Board to send a second note clarifying the Society’s decision to have a different speaker on Nov 1, to which she also responded with renewed calls for her supporters to come on Nov 1 to hear her talk. Finally, those EHSC members who helped run her workshop on Oct 31 clearly stated that a member (who was present at the workshop) had made her home available for Ms. Taylor to talk on Nov 1, and she again repeated her intention to come speak in our main auditorium and encouraged her supporters to come hear her. I think it speaks volumes that we allowed her to come on Oct 31 despite her clear disregard for our Nov 1 program and that she used our podium as a platform from which to criticize us and to encourage her supporters to disregard our announced plans.

    Second, with regard to the question of asking for police support. I encourage any of you who have been responsible for a group of children and a number of elderly and frail friends to think about what you would do when, despite clear communication on your part that you have made alternative plans, someone has publicly announced her intention to come and speak in your space and encouraged her supporters to come hear her. How could we responsibly NOT have told the police about the situation and think about strategies for insulating the kids from any potential conflict? I would MUCH rather have been proved wrong for worrying about this stuff than having been proved right that these people had no regard for our community’s well being and right to self governance.

    Third, the question of the police’s treatment of the videotaper. Despite repeated requests that he stop, he continued taping so we turned to the policeman present for support. The videotaper reacted aggressively, causing the police officer to call for back up. By the end of the episode, one of the policemen was bleeding and required medical attention. As a result this incident, our program was delayed by about fifteen minutes and the audience included a number of upset and distracted people. The longer-term cost to our community remains to be seen.

    I understand that some posters on this blog believe that the presence of the police officer may have created this outcome, but what if they hadn’t been there and Taylor’s supporters acted this aggressively anyway? If they had hurt one of our members, would those of you blaming the police be willing to hold the instigators responsible? I’m personally willing to value police officers as I try to value any person — they don’t deserve this sort of treatment any more than you or I. I also believe that people are responsible for their behavior and it strikes me as disingenuous to blame the policeman for the videotaper’s behavior. The videotaper may be free to behave how he wants but I don’t think that absolves him from responsibility for the consequences of his choices and actions.

    Which brings me to a bigger point. The EHSC is a community committed to bringing out the best in ourselves and others, hopefully making the world a little better through our efforts large and small. We choose to act as stewards of a long tradition, a building bought with a member’s bequest, a growing Sunday school, a broad mix of programs, including our Sunday platform, and two huge ideas: that we should each act so as to elicit the best in ourselves and others; and that a volunteer organization like ours can run effectively through democratic processes. A month ago, I had never heard of Sunsara Taylor but, given the crash course I’ve just been through, I find myself wondering what she is a steward of.

  • BC

    Here’s the speech that everyone is having kittens over.

    It’s actually a powerful defence of prochoice principles.

    I honestly don’t like Sunsara, after meeting her in Burbank during the AAIC.

    Then again, we could always just forget that we’re rationalists and start judging one another on emotional impressions. You know, as opposed to the actual words we use and the actual arguments we present to the world. Easier, to be sure, than all that tedious reading and listening that old-style new-atheists used to think was so important.

    Hey! I get it now. We can be the new- new-atheists. Instead of arguing our viewpoint like adults, we can just run up to a cop and whine:

    I don’t like her. She’s mean! And she’s a Comnunist. Pleeeeze make her go away, nice mister authority figure.

    Then, when godbots whine:

    I don’t like those billboards. They’re mean! And atheists paid for them. Pleeeeze make them go away, nice mister authority figure.

    Well, we new- new-atheists will be able to agree that, while freedom of speech is fine and dandy, nothing should ever, ever threaten to push someone out of their comfort-zone.

    Amiright?

  • I’m just having a hard time wrapping my mind around rudeness being considered part of ethical behavior.

    I don’t know how much time passed between her submitting a program and the ESOC saying “no thanks”, so it’s possible they weren’t as rude as I think. Sure, they didn’t tell her no until less than 2 weeks prior, but if that was the day after she submitted her program that’s her fault, not theirs. But if they waited an unreasonable time, then it’s on them.

    I’m a little disturbed by Evan K saying “the decision to change speakers, at any time, is well within our rights both legally and ethically” without admitting to it being a shitty thing to do, particularly on short notice. Part of being ethical is admitting your errors.

  • EHSC Member

    Just to note – as a business owner, I regulary contract with a variety of speakers and a 2 week cancellation clause – that goes both ways – is standard in many contracts that I receive from them.

  • Evan Kane

    @Vincent

    The formal description of Sunsara’s program was not received by the program committee until October 13. Sunsara was contacted about adjusting her talk to fit what the committee originally thought they were getting. She understandably refused to adjust her talk and the cancellation was emailed on October 19.

    From that point on Sunsara was hell bent on getting her way no matter what.

    Part of being ethical is admitting your errors.

    I am not sure how many times I have to repeat that multiple apologies were sent to Sunsara.

    Inviting her without completing our due diligence was a mistake. Dis-inviting her (in my opinion) compounded that mistake. But unethical? Come on! If one needs to be perfect, never making a single mistake, every day of ones life to be ethical, then there is not an ethical person in the world.

    Attempt after attempt was made to find a solution that, although not ideal for either side, was palatable for both.

    The society bent over backwards to appease this woman. She did not budge an inch.

  • Richard Eis

    -When these highest levels of force are used to achieve legitimate ends according to reasonable policy, no wrong has been done and no one should call it brutality.-

    Basically what you just said is that the ends justify the means. Nice.

    I am amused that one little woman and a camera man scared an entire group of humanists and needed 5 police officers to be restrained…from erm…speaking…holding a camera provocatively….

  • Marion Delgado

    Mr. Kane:

    I don’t think it’s a “mistake” at all to invite someone that Anil Kashyap is going to have the vapors over. Telling him to try putting humanism ahead of his Fed-trained market fundamentalism would have made that decision even better. Actually allowing people to hear from an actual leftist for once would not have caused Mammon the market god to shake the timbers of your unethical corporatist society’s Sunday meeting house.

    Nor is it a “mistake” to disinvite her then arrest her videographer. It is, as people have plainly told you, unethical. So is your PR flak attempt to soft-peddle that behavior.

  • Iwasthere

    I’d like to address the assumption that Miss Taylor somehow was looking to create a scene or looking for attention. As laid out in her blog post the cancellation of her speaking engagement two weeks before it was to be given was based on anti-communist hysteria. While the EHCS had chosen days prior to the event to hide behind it’s bureaucratic policies it does not erase the poor principles upon which the EHSC made it’s decision to dis invite Miss Taylor. Miss Taylor and others recognized this for what this was…an attack on critical thought and dissent.

    Instead of doing what so many others have done when forces seek to repress critical thought and dissenting ideas which is to silently accept this repression and walk away. She, along with others, decided that this decision needed to be challenged given the atmoshere of repression and a relativism in response to that repression that has satuarated so much of our society today. This relativism in the face of blatant repression has allowed the horrors of racism,misogny and patriarchy,homophobia, and nationalism etc. to be perpetuated throughout U.S. society and around the world.

    Take for example the story of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Black Harvard Law Professor, who was arrested at his home even after he identified himself as the owner and resident of the home. Because he rightfully expressed his anger and indignation the officer decided to arrest him. Gates was absolutely right to say “This is what happens to Black men in America” He was absolutely right to point out that what happened to him was racism. However, the forces who run this system, could not have that truth uncovered lest this be a spark among the people to challenge and resist this racist system.
    So Gates was slandered, blamed for being an angry Black man. People in their relativism asked, “Why didn’t he just cooperate” In effect what they were saying was “why didn’t he keep quiet and just go along”.

    Obama was maligned for having said that what the arresting officer did was stupid. Controversy erupted. My God people were beginning to talk about race and racism and what it means to be a Black man in America. People were starting to wonder if we really do leave in a post racial divide society Or was that just wishful thinking. Well the powers that be couldn’t have that. So Obama had to get a lid on this. He acted as moderator and peacmaker between Gates and Officer Crowley… to show America that “Hey, we are past all this racism stuff and people don’t get arrested because their skin is dark”. And the majority of America, including Gates, including Obama went along with this charade. Meanwhile, young Black men are still getting shot dead by police in the streets of America because they are Black. This is one of many horrors that the formula of repression and relativism in response to that repression perpetuates.

    Miss Taylor and others see that this is a deadly formula for many around the world and she wasn’t going to go along. Perhaps people are not use to seeing people challenge the status quo that they easily fall into this relativism that I’m talking about and reduce this to Miss Taylor seeking attention. What Miss Taylor did was stand on principle and it made people uncomfortable. We need to see more of that…people need to feel uncomfortable these days.

    The actions of the EHSC on Sunday is shameful. Calling in the police to enforce it’s repression is unethical.

  • Marcel Kincaid

    Watch the last 30 seconds, if nothing else.

    That is seriously bad advise that helps explain some of the ignorant statements made here. Better to start no later than 8:22, where Ms. Taylor explains the moral basis for her action.

  • Marcel Kincaid

    From that point on Sunsara was hell bent on getting her way no matter what.

    You’re a transparent liar. She announced, twice, that if the Society did not finally choose to do the right thing and invite her to speak, that she would leave and give her speech elsewhere. Being hellbent on getting her way would be standing up and giving her speech until she was dragged away.

  • Marcel Kincaid

    The society bent over backwards to appease this woman.

    Your lack of ethics is transparent in such hyperbolic statements. The society did not honor its commitment, and it would not have been bending backwards to do so.

  • Marcel Kincaid

    I honestly don’t like Sunsara, after meeting her in Burbank during the AAIC.

    So what?

  • Marcel Kincaid

    She was then UN-INVITED. Have you never broken a date or canceled plans?

    Your lack of ethics is evident in this disingenuous comparison.

  • Marcel Kincaid

    “Even though the path to this unfortunate event was long and complicated in the end had Sunsara decided to not disrupt our event inside our building or even if she had just left when she was asked, there would have been no mace, no arrests and no blood.”

    This isn’t just unethical, it’s evil.

  • Brian Macker

    There are two kinds of communists, political and non-political.

    Nothing wrong with the non-political kind. If you want to join a commune go ahead.

    The political kind is another matter altogether. They advocate the forced destruction of property rights. In other words they want to steal everyone’s stuff. They are therefore advocates of crime.

    Perfectly valid to ban such speech the same way we ban incitement to crime in other cases. Especially since political communism has resulted in the deaths of nearly 100 million people.

    Not sure if Taylor is the nice Hutterite kind of communist or the evil Marxist kind. Yes I said evil. Taylor might as well be a Nazi if shes a Marxist. Marxist killed even more than the Nazis.

    Yeah, now we’ll here about now nice she is. I’m sure there were lots of sweet polite Nazis girls too.

  • Principles wrote: “Someone cited the fact that she called Rick Warren a bigot as if this were “proof” that Sunsara was looking for a confrontation. Hello? Does someone here really want to argue that Rick Warren is NOT a bigot? He opposes gay marriage, thinks women are inferior and should obey their husbands, and believes the Bible is the “inerrant word of god”!!”

    No, no one cited the fact that she called Rick Warren a bigot as evidence for anything. I made the only mention of Rick Warren in the comments here, and I wrote: “I saw that she was hauled out of Ebenezer Church for yelling at Rick Warren in January, and, in a bit of irony, that she doesn’t allow comments on her blog posts.”

    My comment didn’t have anything to do with the content of her speech, but the time, manner, and place of it.

  • Chicago Atheist

    The central question seems to revolve around why she was dis-invited. A post claiming to be from an EHS representative says:

    To my knowledge and to the knowledge of every member I know, we have never “dis-invited any proposed speaker.

    So why was Sunsara dis-invited at the last minute (an event planned months in advance is not canceled 2 weeks ahead of time).

    What’s so freakin’ scary that they had to pull this at the last minute?

    She’s a COMMUNIST, that’s what… and that’s supposed to be ruled totally out of order… see Brian Macker’s ridiculous assertion that “marxists are worse than Nazis.” Absolutely ahistorical BS; but this nonsense is used by the other C-ists (capitalists) to frighten everyone into line. Don’t question the fundamental validity of the way humanity organizes itself right now, because we all know the free market will eventually work out for us all… this international food crisis is just a little bump in the road.

    We’re just supposed to keep singing cumbaya, drinking the Obama-Ade, and feeling all snuggly about our wonderful “peace corps” while half the planet starves to death on less than $2 a day?

    If you ask me, living in an era where robot “drone” bombs killing penniless people in Afghanistan is bought and sold by GOOD people as the only “realistic” option to a world wracked with war, poverty, and other terrible things, I want to see more chaos, rabble rousing, and people foaming at the mouth to stop it! Given the problems she discusses, I’m amazed Sunsara is able to keep such a reasoned, respectful tone as she does!

  • Evan Kane

    @Principles
    @postscript
    @carla
    @BC
    @Marion Delgado
    @Iwasthere
    @Marcel Kincaid

    I just want to thank you guys.

    Your ad hominem attacks, rabid cries of oppression and puerile adherence to the idea that Sunsara Taylor and her cameraman were hapless victims are fantastic! You expose your true character better than I ever could. You have saved me invaluable time and I appreciate it.

    How wonderful it must be to live in your Robespierreian world! A world where your own infallible perceptiveness gives you unrestricted sanction to pass judgment on others and personally castigate those you have grievances with. I blushingly admit I am jealous!

    Viva le Revolution my friends!

  • Marcel Kincaid

    Evan, your intellectually dishonest protestations won’t change the fact that the EHSC has embarrassed and humiliated itself.

  • Marcel Kincaid

    Brian Macker’s ridiculous assertion that “marxists are worse than Nazis.”

    Only slightly worse that proponents of AGW in Brian’s world.

  • sailor

    “you can be good without ethics”
    That is an oxymoron. Logically, how would you be good without an internal and external framework in which decide what is best? Values, ethics, morals or whatever you might call them are guides to our future behavior and the method by which we judge past behavior.”

    Well when attending an ethics society meeting ends up with someone maced and bloodied on the floor, I think my point is made.

    Just trust your feelings and empathy. You don’t need a theoretical framework.

  • Chicago Refugee

    The EHSC dis-invitation of Sunsara, whether because she is a Communist or for whatever other reason, is certainly a serious “faux-pas;” it reflects an unprofessional failure to research the background of the putative invited speaker! However, such stupidity on the part of those within the EHSC who initially invited her, does not in itself justify her rabid response to the dis-invitation! A better response on Sunsara’s part would have been to hold a press conference at some other venue and there excoriate the EHSC for its lack of respect for the commitment that it had made to her! In invading the property (Yes, we still have private property rights in this country!) and the meeting of the EHSC, Sunsara demonstrated a similar lack of respect for others and commitment to ethics on her part! Her particular citation of “Communist Ethics,” are ethics shared by all progressive people, but those that she neglected to mention, such as the right to form alternative political parties, practice a religion if one so chooses and express opinions contrary to the edicts of the state apparatus are of course not honored! In this instance, I can only say “a pox on both their houses!” No ethical person should have any interaction with Sunsara, her mentor “Railroad Bob,” or the EHSC!

  • postscript

    Some are saying Sunsara this “dis-invitation” from EHSC has been blown out of proportion, or is trivial. Or that Sunsara is pulling a stunt, is pushy, or “blowing things out of proportion”.

    This misses what’s really going on here and why it matters. Many are asking the question — what was the reason for the dis-invitation? In Sunsara’s Youtube video she says the motivations for this cancellation were overtly and hysterically anti-communist, whipping up fear, spreading rumors and slander, wrenching her words out of context so as to convey their opposite meaning. This is what the EHS Board did not address, and what is unethical about the dis-invitation.

    This “dis-inviting” of people who have unconventional, radical or communist political views is happening all the time. Just in the past week, the screenwriter of of Milk was disinvited from Hope College in MI because his gay advocacy was considered divisive and not educational.

    In her Oct. 29 letter Sunsara said, “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.”

    And, “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.”

    This is what Sunsara is doing. This is why it matters.

  • postscript

    Letters to EHS on Sunsara’s blog also raise alarms about the broader implications of such censorship.

    From Tim Wise author, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son and Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama:

    “For people who call themselves ethical and humanist to dis-invite Sunsara Taylor–or frankly, any speaker whom they had previously invited–suggests that they may well be neither. Though I have many disagreements with Sunsara, she is nothing if not thoughtful, fair-minded and, importantly for this matter, ethical. What is most disturbing about this decision is its lack of transparency. Surely the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago must have known of Sunsara’s views before inviting her to speak. As such, their decision to withdraw the invitation would seem to indicate that they backed down after pressure was applied by those unwilling to countenance the introduction of communist ideas into the humanist debate. Such content-based censorship is inappropriate and frightening, and this kind of red-baiting has never served the progressive-left community well.”

    From: Mark Crispin Miller Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University
    [To EHS]
    “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.”

    From Massimo Pigliucci
    Professor of Ecology and Evolution at State University of NY Stonybrook
    “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 democracy.”

    From Paul Eckstein, MA Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Bergen Community College, Paramus, NJ*

    “I expect better behavior from those one would ordinarily consider either natural allies or at least reasonable persons. This would be amusing if the crisis we are facing today weren’t so serious. I can’t help but suggest that you reflect on the history of mistakes like this carried out by organizations with otherwise respectable track-records (for example, see the historical example of what the ACLU did to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn). Whatever the motivations for your actions, appearances count for a whole lot. This cancellation has a ‘bad odor’ about it; now is the time to reverse the error, and allow Ms. Taylor to speak as scheduled.”

  • Proud Member of Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago

    I am a member of the programming committee of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago and I voted to cancel Ms. Taylor’s appearance on Sunday, November 1st.

    Here are my reasons.

    See “That_which_doesnt_destroy_us” comment above re: the circumstances and the nature of the invitation extended to Ms. Taylor. In mid-October, the committee finally received the description of her talk.

    When I read the description, what I saw was a recitation of the usual suspects—globalization, American imperialism, Christian fascism (and a few odd bits as well–movement of women into the work force and immigration). Next, I saw Ms. Taylor’s answer to all that ails the world—communist morality. We asked for “atheist morality.” We got “communist ideology,” which was precisely the talk we said we did not want.

    I then watched several videos of Ms. Taylor, read her blog, and listened to a recent interview (http://mnatheists.org/content/view/320/163/) the title of which is the same as the talk she was planning to give at the Society. I concluded that Ms. Taylor had replaced one god with another—her faith in communism is complete and not susceptible to critical examination on her part; that her evidence that communism is the “solution” rests largely on the denial of the historical record (“you have been told lies”) and wishful thinking about the malleability of human nature; that she is an incoherent thinker; and that she is a poor speaker.

    Our speakers should and do represent a broad range of diverse viewpoints. However, what we hope for is that they offer insight into the challenges of our time and at least attempt to address them with rational, evidence-based and well thought-out arguments. Ms. Taylor’s talk would have been an ideological rant.

    That is why I voted to cancel Ms. Taylor’s appearance on Sunday, November 1st.

  • Bacopa

    -When these highest levels of force are used to achieve legitimate ends according to reasonable policy, no wrong has been done and no one should call it brutality.-

    Basically what you just said is that the ends justify the means. Nice.

    What else would? Ends justify means. Period. That’s all there is to it. Consider the example of deadly force. I am sure that you agree with me that police officers are sometimes justified in using deadly force. I am also certain that you agree with me that taking a human life is a matter of great import and should not be done on a whim. What then justifies the use of deadly force? A necessary part of the answer must be the ends the officer is trying to achieve. The SWAT team sniper is entirely justified in going for the head shot after hostage negotiations have failed. Surely police can use deadly force when their lives are threatened. Keep in mind that I also specifed that these actions must be guided by sound policy, and I would also add, adequate training. Can’t have cops just doing whatever just because they believe they are justified. No, police must be held accountable to strict rules and trained to discern what level of force is merited in each situation. That’s how you stop police brutality.

    But I think I’ve made my point: Ends justify means. Nothing else ever could.

    I am not some whacko Kantian retributivist who believes that harming others is sometimes good in itself. Harming others is never good in itself. Every case must be justified by appealing to some higher good, and when the connection beteen that higher good and the harm caused cannot be made, the harm is wrong.

  • Richard Eis

    -But I think I’ve made my point: Ends justify means. Nothing else ever could.-

    No, you didn’t. You just threw straw men at me and waffled about hostages.

    You basically said originally that maximum force (as long as it is within the police’s regulations) is allowed, regardless of the situation. “The end justifies the means” implies exactly that.

    I would ask whether 5 police officers piling onto a camera man and macing him counts as police discerning correctly “what level of force is merited in each situation”

    Ahhh but police are allowed to use mace so thats ok. It’s in the rule book.

  • carla

    Evan Kane argues that the EHSC asked Sunsara to adjust the topic of her talk and she refused. This is untrue. As she documents in her open letter to the EHSC below, her words were distorted by members of the Program Committee of EHSC so as to invert their meaning. Then, the EHSC ignored the substance of her letters to set the record straight on the actual meaning of her words. Since the distortions were what were used to disinvite her, this seems something they should have addressed.

    The fact that the EHSC “apologized for any acrimony” is just them further avoiding the substance of the controversy. Its very much like politicians who, caught doing something unethical, say, “I apologize to any who might have been hurt by what I did…” but don’t actually address or correct the substance of the wrong.

    Below, in this excerpt of her open letter there is documentation of at least two examples (my understanding is that there quite a few more to choose from) of where the EHSC distorted Sunsara’s words and where she WAS willing to adjust the subject of her talk according to their input (things that Evan above lies about).

    FROM HER LETTER:

    The letter from Anil Kashyap that justifies his decision to attempt to cancel contains gross mischaracterizations of my views. If for no other reason, this alone would be reason enough why people in EHSC should have the opportunity to hear my views and analysis without a distorting lens. It certainly makes me wonder, did any of these individuals even listen to any parts of my talks or writings which are available on line before trying to cancel this presentation?
    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 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.

    Kashyap then objects to my use of the term “Christian fascism” as if this reflects some kind of blind rejection of all religious people on my part. Quite the contrary, using those two words together is precisely a way of specifying that I am NOT referring to all Christians. My use of the words “Christian fascism” is well considered, though it hardly seems that remarkable when describing far right-wing Christian dominionists who murder abortion providers and impede women’s access to birth control, apply biblical literalist interpretations to their excoriation of gay people, speak of illegal wars of aggression as god-ordained crusades, deny the solid scientific fact of evolution, and wish to impose Old Testament Mosaic rule as the law of the land. Further, I am hardly alone in describing this phenomenon this way.

    If anyone in the Society has sincere doubts as to whether this description fits, please attend my talk as I have reported live from some of the hottest flashpoints of the Christian fascist offensives in this country for years – from Terri Schiavo’s hospice to stadiums filled with Christian youth being trained as shock troops by Bush appointees and Navy SEALS to Dr. George Tiller’s besieged clinic and funeral and beyond.

    The description of my talk clearly states that I will explore countering this with a secular morality. My views on this are informed by my experience and study of how society could be organized differently, by a vision of a world without oppression, mass ignorance, or exploitation, and by a communist morality “rooted in and serving to get to a world without men oppressing women, without a handful accumulating vast wealth at the expense of the many, without white people lording it over people of color, without one country trying to run the whole globe, and a world where critical thought and the scientific pursuit of truth, as well as artistic and intellectual ferment and the flourishing of individuality, are fostered.”

    This is the farthest thing from the bigoted anti-immigrant, anti-woman picture Prof. Kashyap implies as a reason for prohibiting this talk.

    As a second reason to try and cancel my talk, Prof. Kashyap writes

    “Second, instead we had been hoping that you could help us think about how moral, ethical behavior need not depend on a theistic outlook. We did not anticipate that a discussion of this question would look anything like the description you sent. I understand that you have thought further about the talk and not seen any obvious way to adjust it while staying true to your beliefs.”

    In fact, the title and focus of my presentation is “Morality Without Gods.” Clearly this is about morality that does not depend on a theistic outlook.

    Prof. Kashyap is not correct in saying that I was unwilling or unable to adjust what my talk was about.

    In exchanges with other members of the program committee over my talk we discussed whether the focus of my presentation could be shifted to “human nature” but then agreed to stick with the original title on “Morality without Gods. In the course of this we clarified that this was not a talk on the topic of Revolution and Communism. As I wrote committee members:

    “Obviously, while focusing on morality without gods, human nature will come up, it would be wrong to bill something as covering BOTH with real substance. So, I went back to what we had originally arranged — and this title ‘Morality Without Gods’ is exactly that, a talk about morality without gods (not about communist revolution).”“The only reference to communism in the description is in regards to my orientation — not in terms of what I am explicating in this discussion.”

    At the very last minute, on the basis of these and quite a few other mischaracterizations of the facts, on the basis of fear that was whipped up on an unprincipled basis about my presentation and the supposed harm it would cause EHSC, some people have tried to cancel the speaking engagement. This is not an ethical way to handle disagreements.

  • carla

    Also, Evan K suggests that the EHSC arranged for Sunsara to speak at the private home of one of their members — as if they were really making an effort to find a format for Sunsara to still give her talk.

    My understanding is that the EHSC had NOTHING to do with arranging this and that the person who hosted Sunsara’s talk on Sunday was considering quitting the EHSC over this whole incident.

    What ever that individual decides to do, the fact that Evan tries to credit this private invitation to the EHSC is just dishonest.

  • Evan Kane

    @Chicago Refugee

    A pox on our house? Really?!

    Not sure if you know anything about our organization. It’s an organization that is so evil that 10% of our weekly collections go directly to charities. It’s a group of horrible people who regularly volunteer at soup kitchens and shelters, and attend protests on environmental and political issues. We even have the nauseating practice of having our kids pack bag lunches for the hungry on a regular basis.

    This notion that with one bad decision an entire organization and all of its individual members are worthless, unethical monsters is infantile.

    I am done trying to engage the Sunsara agitators on this site as I am finding it as useful as engaging a creationist.

    But for anyone who is really interested I challenge you to compare the EHSC and its history of actions against any other organization, church, or group. We might have equals, but there are none better.

    I am proud to be a member the EHSC even with its human shortcomings.

  • teammarty

    Well, now I know to never view the EHS as anything other than a joke. Or am I too much the Left of the Left to be allowed to be an Atheist. I mean, the Democrats have driven me out for not believing and being too far left.

    Bacopa- What force, let alone “deadly” was used other than by the pigs?

  • Brian Macker

    Most Marxists today are about as dangerous as your average teen aged NAZI member of Stormfront. Some Marxist however are still out there bombing things like their Islamic brethren. They have quite a problem with Marxist bombers down in Mexico right now.

    Marxists were quite active in bombings and police killing when I was a kid.

    Back in their heyday they killed tens of millions in the U.S.S.R, tens of millions in China, millions in Cambodia and Vietnam, etc. Marxist death tolls exceed those done by the Nazis by one order of magnitude.

    Yeah, they are worse. You ahistorical idiot.

    … and AGW proponents have turned science into religion. It disgusts me. At least they haven’t caused mass deaths … yet. Let them stop use of fossil fuels and the death tolls caused by Mao will look tiny in comparison.

  • I Was There

    I am one of the few people who has been active in both the Ethical Humanists and Sunsara’s group, World Can’t Wait.

    As such, I believe that my involvement in both groups gives me a certain insight.

    I was at the Ethical Humanist Society meeting on Sunday when the photographer was arrested. A few days earlier, I received a call from a friend who, like me, is active in both groups. She told me about the Ethical Humanists’ decision to disinvite Sunsara Taylor because of her involvement in the Revolutionary Communist Party, and about how Sunsara was planning to be there on Sunday morning even though EHS had already replaced her. I decided to go.

    I arrived at the Ethical Humanist Society building at about 10:15. To my surprise an unmarked police car was sitting outside the building, on the street. As I drove into the parking lot, I recognized some people from World Can’t Wait who were standing outside.

    I parked my car and went over to talk to the World Can’t Wait people. They were handing out literature, including a long letter by Sunsara protesting EHS’s decision to disinvite her. I chatted with some people I knew from World Can’t Wait. I learned that Sunsara was actually there, and a WCW member pointed her out to me and offered to introduce us. I passed on the offer and hurried inside so I could get a good seat.

    Inside the lobby, I talked to some of the EHS people. One woman told me that Sunsara had already spoken at EHS on Saturday. A man I talked to told me that he had come specifically to hear Sunsara speak. He didn’t know she’d been replaced on the program by a presentation from two Peace Corps volunteers, and was surprised to learn this.

    Then, at about 10:20, the WCW people came inside as a group and headed for the auditorium. I followed them.

    Normally the EHS holds Sunday School for the children in the auditorium between 9:30 and 10:30. Sometimes adults come in and sit in the chairs, watching the Sunday School, perhaps singing the songs if any songs are being sung, and waiting for the main program to begin. But on this day there was no Sunday School. Instead recorded music was playing and adults were sitting quietly in the chairs, waiting for the program to begin.

    The World Can’t Wait people headed down the center aisle to the front of the auditorium, and took seats in the front row. I hesitated to sit down. I had planned to meet my friend, the woman who called me and told me about Sunsara, but she wasn’t with the WCW people and I couldn’t see here anywhere. I didn’t know where to sit. Should I sit with the people I knew from WCW, or should I sit with some of my friends from EHS? I stood at the back of the auditorium, uncertain of what to do.

    Then Sunsara stood up from her seat and began talking, attempting to make herself heard over the sound of the music. She was a short, petite, and very attractive young woman with a dark complexion, dark hair, and black plastic-frame glasses. While she spoke, a short guy with a bald head and a funny-looking goatee photographed her with what appeared to be a cell phone camera.

    Sunsara protested the EHS decision to disinvite her, and said that it is part of a general crackdown on opinion in academia and elsewhere, citing the removal of Norman Finkelstein from DePaul University as an example. She admitted that the EHS had the “right” to disinvite her, “but their decision was not ethical!” she said. And at that moment, the police came in.

    There were two policemen. One was wearing the uniform of the Skokie P.D.; the other was in plainclothes but I figured out he was a policeman from his behavior. I expected them to grab Sunsara, but instead they grabbed the photographer, one on each arm. They then took him down the center aisle, straight toward me!

    The cops and the photographer passed within two feet of me. As they passed, I heard the plainclothes officer say in a low voice, “If you resist, you will be maced. Do you understand?” The photographer turned to the cop and said, “Why don’t you mace me right here and now, you motherfuckers?” And then the plainclothes officer slammed the photographer against the back wall, knocking him down.

    Pandemonium erupted in the auditorium. The WCW people jumped from their seats and started shouting “Let him go! Let him go!” This quickly turned into a chant in unison. One EHS regular tried to start a chant, “Go in peace! Go in peace!” but no one joined him. Meanwhile people were jumping out of their chairs and following the two cops. EHS members began to protest the behavior of the police. The two cops who had the photographer dragged him out into the hall. The WCW people followed the policemen out into the hall. More policemen came in.

    In the hall, things started to look more and more like a riot. A huge knot of people formed in the hall, and forward movement became almost impossible. At the center of the knot was the photographer, on the floor, with the cops all around on top of him. I couldn’t see the photographer clearly. Surrounding the cops were the WCW people, maybe a dozen of them, shouting that the photographer had been maced, he’d been beaten, and all this was just for taking pictures. Crowding in behind the WCW people were the EHS people.

    As I tried to get closer, to see what was happening to the photographer, a WCW woman I didn’t recognize got in front of me and said, “Why didn’t you stop them?” And I said, “What are you talking about?” She said, “You saw what the cops did to him. They beat him just for taking pictures. Why didn’t you try to stop them?” And I said, “I’m not going to stop a cop.”

    The woman then left me, but by that time the police had moved out into the lobby. I followed, but more and more police were coming in. I heard police sirens and through the glass windows I saw more police cars pulling up outside the building. The police began herding people–the WCW people were herded outside, along with the photographer and the arresting officers, while the EHS people were held inside. The trouble is, since both groups consisted entirely of white people who did not wear clothing establishing their group identity, the police had trouble telling the two groups apart. So the police began to get in front of people and demand to know if they were with the “Ethical Humanists,” or with “them.” If you were with the Ethical Humanists, you stay inside. If you were with “them”–outside.

    A young girl I knew from EHS came and asked what was going on. She hadn’t been in the auditorium. I told her about Sunsara’s demonstration, and about how the police had arrested the man photographing her. The girl was very upset, and demanded to know why the police would do such a thing. I speculated that they went after the photographer rather than Sunsara because if you’re going to use violence, it doesn’t look as bad to do it to a man.

    Some EHS members overheard me and got very angry. A short, bearded, middle-aged man cut in and told the girl a slightly distorted version of the events. Then a big middle-aged man with a gray mustache and a backwards golf cap cut in and demanded to know whether the girl and I were members, or whether we were with “them.” The girl replied that of course she wasn’t a member, since she was a “junior.” (To be a “member” of the EHS, you have to pay dues). Then the man turned to me and demanded to know what I was doing there. I thought I was about to be thrown out, but a friend of mine at the EHS said, “He’s OK; he’s with me.” And so I was not thrown out of the building.

    I didn’t know what to do. Should I go outside and stand in solidarity with my comrades in World Can’t Wait, or should I go inside and sit with my friends in the Ethical Humanist Society? In the end, I decided to go back into the auditorium, since this seemed the place where I would be least likely to be arrested. Also, the man who had prevented me from being thrown out was in there.

    Inside the auditorium a couple of Ethical Humanists were leading the audience in the song, “Keep on the Sunny Side.” I sat through this, though I did not sing.

    After this, the moderator spoke. He tried to make a joke about the “excitement,” which elicited some nervous laughter. He then explained that Sunsara had been originally scheduled to speak, but EHS had decided to cancel her presentation because her speech “would not reflect the values of the Ethical Humanists.” The moderator also mentioned Sunsara’s use of the term “Christian fascists” as an example of the intolerance that they didn’t want to encourage.

    Then the lecture began. It was two young men discussing their experiences in the Peace Corps. I couldn’t really concentrate on the lecture, so I decided to call my friend, the woman who had originally encouraged me to go to EHS. I went out into the hall to make the call on my cell phone.

    She didn’t answer her home phone or her cell phone, so I called a mutual friend who has also been active in WCW, and who occasionally attends EHS meetings.

    I walked into the parking lot to talk to him, so I wouldn’t disturb the Ethical Humanists, and so they wouldn’t hear my conversation. To my surprise a police car was still waiting in the parking lot. Not wishing the police to hear my conversation, and not wishing to appear “suspicious,” I walked back into the building and went into the men’s room, where I locked the door.

    Then I told my friend what I had seen at the Ethical Humanist Society meeting. He suggested I try to find out more about what’s going on, specifically whether the police had been ordered to eject the photographer, or had decided to go after him first on their own.

    So I ended my conversation with my friend and returned to the auditorium, where the lecture was now over and the question-and-answer session had begun. And here I noticed something unusual. At prior EHS meetings questions had always been asked just by raising your hand, whereupon the moderator would call on you and the lecturer would attempt to answer your question. But now all questions were to be submitted at the beginning of the Q&A session, in writing. Since I had missed the beginning, there was no way for me to ask a question.

    After the meeting, I stuck around, helped myself to some of the free food and coffee, and talked to some of the people at EHS. From conversations with various people I learned the following:

    * Sunsara’s invitation was rescinded when members of EHS found out she was a communist.
    * The program committee asked Sunsara for a verbatim transcript of her speech before she would be allowed to speak. She would provide a summary but not a verbatim transcript, so they cancelled her.
    * The EHS monthly newsletter was issued twice. The first time it listed Sunsara as the speaker for November 1; the second time it listed the two Peace Corps volunteers.
    * The first newsletter, with the announcement of Sunsara’s speech on 11/1, went out before her speech was cancelled.
    * Sunsara still got to speak on Saturday afternoon on a different topic. She just wasn’t allowed to speak on Sunday.
    * A member of EHS had offered, on her own, to let Sunsara speak at her home, and have anyone interested go there. I didn’t know about this beforehand.
    * The President of EHSC called the Skokie PD and asked them to be at the EHS building on Sunday morning to arrest Sunsara and her associates, if they showed up.
    * EHS also arranged for the children to have their Sunday School at the home of one of the members, rather than at the EHS building. This is the reason why the children weren’t at Sunday school when I got there. The people who decide these things didn’t want the children to see anyone being arrested.
    * Supposedly the President asked the WCW people not to come into the building when they entered, but they ignored him. I was with the WCW people when they entered the building, however, and I didn’t see this.
    * After the WCW people entered the building, the president of EHS asked the police to throw them out.
    * Supposedly, no one at EHS specifically ordered the police to go after the photographer. Apparently the police decided to do this on their own.

    There were differences of opinion among the EHS people I talked to after the program, about whether Sunsara should have been allowed to speak. Some people thought it was wrong to revoke their invitation after they’d already invited her. They thought we should be open-minded enough to listen to different points of view, even if we don’t agree with them. Others agreed with the decision not to let her speak, and to summon the police in case she showed up. They also applauded the actions of the police.

  • Christophe Thill

    Calling the police in a private meeting is for crybabys. Any normal organisation would organise its own security. A few big, strong, and above all, polite and cold-blooded guys should be enough to keep minimal order. But trusting the police not to beat people up? I suppose it’s a joke?

  • Mark

    LOL! Can I call ’em or what?

    First- here is what I predicted yesterday in this very thread:

    I’m guessing that the usual and expected law enforcement scenario unfolded that night. The cameraman was asked to leave the room and refused. Since the room was private property, he was then guilty of criminal trespass. The police then proceeded to arrest him for his crime. He resisted and was maced into submission and then taken out and stuffed into the squad car like the criminal he was, all the while sporting a shiny new set of handcuffs.

    I have always had a bit of a chuckle over so-called “rights activists” who seem to be concerned about the rights of everyone except those of the property owner.

    And here is what really happened according to an Eye Witness.

    The man who was arrested resisted the police officer when he was asked to leave private property. He was not kicked, beaten, clubbed or tazered; he was subdued with mace, handcuffed and taken into custody. The police officer that the man resisted was however bloodied in the altercation. Calling this an act of police brutality is not only unfair to the Skokie police department but is offensive to people who have actually suffered police brutality.

    Even though the path to this unfortunate event was long and complicated in the end had Sunsara decided to not disrupt our event inside our building or even if she had just left when she was asked, there would have been no mace, no arrests and no blood.

    I agree with the comment that those who stage a crisis and falsely claim police brutality are offensive and insulting to those who have actually experienced police brutality.

    An apology to the Police Department is in order here!

  • TXatheist

    I was there, thank you so much for posting. Christophe, there was only one other guy close to my size when I was a board member of the Austin chapter and that’s it for strong men.

  • Polly

    sailor says

    One can be good, and is probably better, without ethics

    That is an oxymoron. Logically, how would you be good without an internal and external framework in which decide what is best?
    ~Rowan

    Perhaps what is meant is that you can be good according to any ethical framework a humanist would elucidate without consciously formulating – or adopting – one for yourself by simply letting conscience be your guide.

    So while you[general You], yourself, might not conceptualize your actions in terms of good/bad or right/wrong, others might regard your deeds as generally good/right from within their ethical paradigm.

    Of course, I have no idea if that’s what sailor meant. But I don’t think the statement is necessarily illogical.

  • iwasthere

    To: I Was There from (coincidentally) iwasthere
    To be clear this was not Miss Taylor’s “demonstration” or “protest”. This was a woman and the people supporting her standing on principle and allowing EHS the opportunity to change their minds and do the right thing and Miss Taylor extended invitation for people to come here her talk at someone’s home should the EHS not take her up on this offer.
    This was not a demonstration where people were carrying banners and signs or agitating on bull horns. Miss Taylor never once yelled and she delivered her message calmly. I only say this because I think it needs to be clear what the actual tone was.

    And as for anyone who has been taken in by Evan Kane’s account of what happened.

    1.The EHSC had intended for someone to be arrested

    2.The young man did not resist arrest. There was police brutality-macing somebody and piling on top of him is police brutality.

    3. Mr. Kane suggests that the young man assaulted the police officer when he says “a police officer was bloodied” This is a dishonest attempt to vilify the young man.

  • muggle

    Instead of doing what so many others have done when forces seek to repress critical thought and dissenting ideas which is to silently accept this repression and walk away. She, along with others, decided that this decision needed to be challenged.

    So, basically, she was going to force them to host her like it or not. And who’s unethical?

    I’ve got to say that I was open to listening to both sides here even though under the impression Ms. Taylor way over-reacted.

    I come from poverty. I’ve struggled as a single mother and am watching my daughter do the same. I carry her and my grandson now. Naturally, I have my own socialist leanings.

    However, communism is extremist and nothing I’ve seen from Ms. Taylor’s fans here leads me to any other conclusion. She was extreme and repressive (no matter what she and her fan club are claiming) toward the EHS in this mess (and I’d heard of neither her or them before here).

    They may or may not have been rude at worse (even that issue is debatable and I don’t know enough to know); she was tyrannical in her actions. She threw a temper tantrum that amounted in you will host me or else. I seriously wonder if she had irresponsible parents who fed her candy to shut her up when she threw one.

    I was going to call BC on his ageism but seems to be a common thread coming from the commenters supporting Ms. Taylor. So many comments about the EHS seem to be paraphrases of old farts. Unreal. With the way, you’re acting (like spoiled brats, in case I didn’t already make that clear), you’re in the least position to point fingers or throw stones.

    As someone over 50, let me remind you that it is only due to us old farts, er, babyboomers, that you have the freedom to throw your temper tantrums. You owe it to the changes occurred in the ’60’s. And we owe the ability to have affected the changes we did then to those who came before us from the founding fathers to the likes of Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and so many others.

    And before you take this attitude:

    you poor, old pensioned-off-excuses-for-free-thinkers … scared by those young uns and their loud noises

    remember it’s those old farts you owe this much freedom.

    (Disclaimer: I’m at the tail end of the babyboomer spectrum. Meaning I was a kid in the ’60’s who had the good fortune to come of age in the ’70’s after the Viet Nam War ended and reap the benefits of the actions of the babyboomers at the opposite end of the spectrum from me. Thank you to them, I have always appreciated what you did for me.)

    But, from what I see in this thread, the narrow-mindedness, the unacceptance of those of opposing ideas, the tendency to oppress comes from Ms. Taylor’s ardent supporters, not the EHS.

    If I’m getting a wrong impression (and perhaps I’ll waste some time this weekend surfing around the internet reading up on both sides), Ms. Taylor also ought to consider the impression she makes if she wants to get her message across clearly. However, if she doesn’t care about communicating, go ahead, kick those heels and scream. But don’t be surprised if no one gives you a lollipop for it.

  • BMcP

    American communists are such attention needy drama queens, it is the only way to get notice for their pathetic, failed ideology that they desperately cling to like a security blanket.

  • BMcP

    American communists are such attention hungry drama queens. They need to be in order to garish attention for their pathetic, failed ideology, which they cling to like a security blanket.

  • In all honesty, I am astounded by a lack of understanding as to how ethics *works* throughout this entire thing. Everyone is shouting out for everyone else to “do the moral thing”, but everyone is forgetting that each individual’s conception of morality is different based upon what they value. Each person thinks they did do the right thing at the time at which the action was performed!

    The discussion should be about value systems, behavior, and psychology – not people yelling at and provoking each other into doing the “right thing” when the other person perceives the “right thing” differently.

    Just my thoughts, silly though they may be 🙂

  • Don Y.

    Technically, communism is a religion. It has prophets, Gods, churches, priests and bishops. Its adherents practice it on faith alone, and like most other religions, true communism is only for riff-raff; the upper echelons get to enjoy a lifestyle far above that of the true believer. Its prophets are people like Karl Marx, Gods people like Lenin, churches the Kremlin, priests are the Young Pioneers and Komsomol, and bishops senior party members.

    In places where it receives traction, it acts exactly like any other religion, turning established order on its head, suppressing other religions and atheists(of communism, that is) and getting into everybody’s business.

    Having seen every communistic experiment fail worldwide for nearly a century now, I’m frankly surprised there are any people left who still claim to be such. Apparently lessons of history are lost upon them.

  • Wade Julstrom-Agoyo

    I am a sophomore in college and a graduate of the high school program they have at the EHSC. My parents attend regularly and my sister is still in the high school program there. I have basically been brought up in that building. Taught to think for myself and to think creatively and critically of the world around me. I was taught to be a good person and of course, to treat others as I would want to be treated. When I look at the anti-EHSC comments here I am disgusted. It would seem as all of you anti-EHSC people think that the society is going out of its way to be malicious and hateful towards sunsara taylor. Are ethical humanists really the kind of people that would do that? really? And the vast majority of you are so quick to jump to a conclusion. Why are you so quick to believe the person that comes out with their story faster and louder than the other? She was dis-invited because she decided to change what her talk was going to be about when it had already been set in stone what she was going to present about. It’s as simple as that. No anti-communism sentiments, no conspiracies. So quit making a big deal out of nothing. Also, she was asked multiple times not to disrupt the service and not to come in with her supporters (my father was one of them). Any denial of that on her part is only an attempted to squirrel out of a lie she’s created for her own personal gain.

    p.s. Hemant, I thoroughly enjoyed the talk you presented at our society a while back. You probably don’t remember but I asked you to sign one of your books for my dads birthday. We both liked it alot. Thank you

  • Ron Baiman

    For the record, I’m a member of Chicago Ethical Humanist society as well and I substantially agree with Evan Kane’s recounting of events. I also vigorously disagreed with the decision to dis-invite but once that was made had no recourse but to follow the majority. Finally, I wish the Society would drop trespassing charges but apparently an ex-ante informal agreement was made with the police that if we asked for their help we would not subsequently drop charges. Note that the Society’s charges are just one of the charges against the cameraman so this would not get him off the hook but it would help. This incident is very unfortunate on all sides. I believe that the Platform committee members who voted to rescind the invitation made a big mistake but I don’t think it’s fair to tar the Society with a dogmatic “anti-communist” label over this. We and other Ethical Societies around the country have had many socialist and communist speakers over the years!

  • Cal

    I came here to follow up on that which is apparently the so what issue of the war-think collateral damage style physical abuse and arrest of the videographer. Most dispassionate observers will likely view the overall situation similar to me; Sunsara Taylor was a provocative sensationalist and the EHSC was clumsy and utterly tone deaf in its actions.

    That all changed however when EHSC chose to involve the police to harass a third party in the conflict. The police are a blunt tool, their arsenal consists of violence and the threat of violence. According to both accounts; they were lying in wait, acquired the vidographer as a soft but valid target, and used overwhelming and unnecessary levels of force to arrest him. Ron in the post above brings up an even most disturbing point that the EHSC, to gain the use of this tool, had to promise to follow up on the legal abuse of what ever target they chose.

    My questions are simple. Why was the videographer arrested? Does this indicate that the board of EHSC, having shown willingness to use violence to control the dialogue, targeted him to stop descent? How does the EHSC square these actions with with the free dissemination of information in a society, an action we consider a bedrock of our freedoms? How does the EHSC justify relinquishing its rights to the police for their assistance, i.e.: “an ex-ante informal agreement was made with the police that if we asked for their help we would not subsequently drop charges”? In other words, does the EHSC, as its actions show, condone and consider the use of violence a valid method of societal interaction; and if so, how do you ethically differentiate your actions from any other group using violence as a tool of social manipulation?

  • Cal
  • Steve Julstrom

    Following the resolution of the court case, the Board of Trustees of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago has placed its statement on the affair on the Society website for a limited time, at http://ethicalhuman.org/clarifying.html. This should not be considered a re-opening of this comment chain. We’ve moved on.