It’s been over four months since American Atheists president David Silverman was fired after allegations of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault, came to light. He denied any wrongdoing.
That came just days after other allegations including financial conflicts of interest were reported. An independent investigation of those claims was completed over the summer, according to the organization, but it won’t be made public on the advice of their attorney. However, they told members that “the results corroborated the board’s decision” to fire Silverman.
We will likely hear an announcement of the group’s next president within a couple of weeks.
Other than a few follow-up questions and answers we posted on this site, there hasn’t been much more to report about his situation.
But this afternoon, Silverman posted an “open letter to the broad atheist community.”
An open letter to the broad atheist community:
Now that time has passed, I’d like to personally address the issues surrounding my exit from American Atheists — an organization for which I volunteered for 14 years before I was elected President in 2010.
During my time at American Atheists, I have done many things of which I am very proud, but I’ve also made some bad choices that stemmed from my position of power. As the president of an organization that tends to attract people who have more liberal views on sexuality, I was in a position to receive more attention from women than in my previous life at Bell Labs. Over time, I let this get to my head to an extent which I assume is similar to how rock stars feel.
I made decisions regarding personal relationships at a time when I, as well as the rest of the world, still had a lot to learn about power dynamics, and viewed some women who flirted with me at conferences as “groupies,” as opposed to the more appropriate President/activist mentality I’ve had in more recent years as my awareness matured. For my actions surrounding this very real power dynamic issue, I offer anyone I may have made uncomfortable in those early years my wholehearted apology.
Consent, in every relationship, has always been essential for me personally. I live by the principle that every encounter with a partner must be “safe, sane, and consensual” – I now realize that even when someone gives unpressured, enthusiastic consent, other factors must be taken into consideration.
While I admit to getting into situations where, on the surface, my behavior could appear inappropriate for the office of President of American Atheists, I am very disappointed that I was not allowed to defend myself or provide any explanation of the mitigating circumstances.
Also, let me be very clear to the membership and supporters of American Atheists:
1) I was never inappropriate in any way with any employee or board member of American Atheists
2) I never acted knowingly to the detriment of American Atheists, it’s membership, or our mission. I managed the budget well (as verified by yearly Board Finance Subcommittee reports, and in fact 2017 was operationally positive for the time in at least 20 years), and had our numbers audited by a third-party accounting firm every year (and had the results posted online).
3) I obeyed both the letter and spirit of the Conflict of Interest Policy and provided regular detailed financial reports to the board regarding my book.
So yes, I’m very proud of my involvement at American Atheists and wish them well in their mission.
I am also very proud of the work I’ve been doing on myself over the past three years in cognitive therapy, in which I enrolled toward the end of 2015, to work on my self awareness. In therapy, I started addressing my own behavioral issues and I continue to work on my personal growth.
Since then, I’ve changed substantially (many of my friends have noticed) and am proud that I see sexuality, love, power, integrity, and personal responsibility in a new, more enlightened light.
Facing forward, I have been looking at the broad atheist movement from the outside over the past few months and realized that there have been many changes over the past 20 years since I started with American Atheists. We’ve grown from a fringe movement into the mainstream, especially for the millennial generation. We need to concentrate more on broadening our message and diversifying our appeal and I’ve been working on a way to address this reality.
Finally, I’d like to say thank you to the members and donors of American Atheists for all your support throughout my two decades of activism, and thank you to the many of you who have expressed support and love over the past several months. I appreciate you all, so very much.
I don’t even know what to add. It’s one of those “I’m sorry if you were offended” kind of statements. I doubt his victims’ concern is that he made them “uncomfortable.” Whether people will accept the apology, or even if they should accept it, is another question.
He also says “I’ve been working on a way to address this reality,” which suggests he plans to continue as an activist. I don’t know how that will work when the various church/state separation groups as well as many fellow activists have basically cut all ties with him.
When the organization announces a new president, it would be smart for that person to make explicitly clear how the group will prevent any of these problems from happening again as well as how they plan to make sure women are respected in and out of the organization.
(Update: For clarification, I’ve reworded the first paragraph to reflect the wording used in the initial allegations.)