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A couple weeks ago, they rescinded their offer for her to speak.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