After Pushback, The Satanic Temple Will Revise Its Non-Disparagement Clause September 4, 2018

After Pushback, The Satanic Temple Will Revise Its Non-Disparagement Clause

The Satanic Temple, which has courted plenty of controversy in its fight to defend church/state separation while keeping a foot firmly planted on the “church” side of the aisle, is now asking all chapter leaders to sign a non-disparagement clause that would remain in effect even after they leave the organization.

At least they were before we reached out to them about this post.

The contract prohibited chapter leaders from making “any critical or negative statement, whether written or oral” about anyone associated with the organization, including its founders, employees, donors, and contributors.

It came on the heels of a private disagreement that went very public. The Satanic Temple recently began working with a lawyer, Marc Randazza, on a case involving alleged religious discrimination by Twitter. Some members of the group were furious at Randazza’s involvement because his other clients include members of the alt-right, but The Satanic Temple’s founder Lucien Greaves said that Randazza was the only lawyer willing to work pro bono on their behalf. We also noted on this site that first amendment attorneys (including those at the ACLU) often represent unsavory clients with abhorrent views because they believe free speech rights apply to those voices, too. It’s the principle of the matter, not an endorsement of those ideas.

In any case, that public disagreement led to a number of articles in the media about a “civil war” within the group. In some cases, there were statements made by former Satanic Temple leaders that Greaves believed were patently false (or didn’t explain the whole situation) and hurt the reputation of his organization.

That’s what led to this new contract.

A former leader of one of the group’s chapters sent me a copy of the contract, concerned that it went too far in preventing any legitimate criticism of the organization by the people who are helping run it. It was a far cry from transparency, the person implied, adding that if “the Catholic Church had this same rule in their contract, TST would likely be up in arms over it.” The concern was that current leaders were “signing away their rights to free speech,” something that this person said was “manipulative,” “abusive,” and — wait for it — “unsatanic.”

Here’s what the contract originally said regarding non-disparagement:

Recipient agrees that Recipient shall not make any statements, or take any other actions whatsoever, that disparage the goodwill, name, brand, or reputation of the Disclosing Party or its current or former founders, directors, employees, independent contractors, volunteers, donors, supporters, or contributors. For purposes of this Section, “disparage” shall mean any critical or negative statement, whether written or oral, about the foregoing parties. Examples of disparaging statements include, but are in no way limited to, statements that the aforenamed parties have been dishonest, acted fraudulently, misused funds, or otherwise engaged in unethical or dishonest behavior, or are associated with parties who engage in such behavior. This obligation shall be in effect at all times following the Effective Date of this Agreement, both during and after the termination of the Recipient’s relationship with Disclosing Party (in whatever capacity).

It certainly seemed like that clause prevented all criticisms of the group in perpetuity.

When I contacted him for this article, Greaves told me that he had no desire to stifle criticism. This “intentionally broad” clause, he said, was “boilerplate” wording they used at the advice of a lawyer — not Randazza — and the goal of the entire contract was to “stop people from putting forward these false insinuations about the organization at large.” (For example, one article stated as fact that “at least 90 percent of any profit from local events and fundraisers” went to the Temple’s national headquarters… but Greaves insisted that’s not the case at all. Indeed, the new contract specifies a much lower number for local events that utilize the group’s name/logo/etc.)

Greaves also mentioned that there were larger concerns that prompted the revised contract. Members of the organization, including leaders of the various chapters, were worried that people who were leaving the group on bad terms — but who had access to confidential information — might dox them at some point, revealing personal things like their real names. The contract prohibited the release of such confidential information.

All of that is sensible to put in writing. The non-disparage clause, then, wasn’t even the point of the contact, but it’s become controversial on its own.

Not long after I contacted him for this post, however, Greaves told me the lawyer was revising the contract to permit criticism of the organization. This is the message that was just sent out to all chapter heads a short while ago:

Recently, in response to the need to demonstrate dedication to protecting the privacy and reputations of membership within The Satanic Temple (TST), we distributed Non-Disclosure Agreements. This was an immediate necessity as there was concern that certain bad actors who were scheduled for termination were determined to release personal information related to pseudonymous members and/or leadership, or were otherwise prepared to slander the reputation of TST and the people in its ranks upon dismissal. In recognition of the fact that even statements of insinuation are often taken as fact, when those insinuations come from people presenting themselves as ex-insiders (such as suggestions that dark alliances have been made, or general statements regarding specific types of maleficence) our lawyer suggested a broad, standard “non-disparagement clause” that prevents former chapter leaders from (unsurprisingly) making disparaging commentary related to the organization even, or especially, upon their departure from us.

While the language of the Non-Disparagement Clause is general to the point of seeming overly prohibitive against any and all criticism, the lawyer explained it to be unenforceable regarding non-damaging disgruntled and justified claims, but meant to prevent elaborate conspiracy theories and persistent insinuations premised upon an illusion of proprietary insight.

While we’ve confirmed the perspective of the author-lawyer’s NDA with other legal counsel, we can’t ignore the layperson’s reservations against seeing any provision that appears to limit legitimate and factual criticism. We value open inquiry, constructive criticism, and uninhibited dialogue that can help us learn and grow together.

As the NDAs were an immediate emergency measure against specific bad actors whom we have since parted ways with, we have revisited the NDAs, and the Non-Disparagement provision, and decided to resubmit it for revision to our lawyer so that the Non-Disparagement provision is clearer in its intended function, and nobody is made to feel that criticism, dissent, or open dialogue are inhibited, or even in any way discouraged.

New, revised NDAs will be distributed, nullifying the last, hopefully clearly illustrating for anybody (like myself) not entirely versed in legalese, that we have all of our membership’s best interests at heart, even, and especially, the ability to express legitimate grievances.

Hopefully, when the final wording is given to them, it will resolves the immediate concerns from chapter leaders.

(Image via Facebook)

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