Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Send a message to the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago

Drop the Charges against Videographer!

Wednesday Nov. 18, the videographer arrested while filming Sunsara Taylor, goes to court in Skokie, IL.

We are calling on everyone to contact the Board of the Ethical Humanist Society-Chicago.

Urge EHSC to drop the charges against the videographer arrested while recording Sunsara Taylor on Nov. 1st.  First, the ESHC acting unethically in disinviting Sunsara after inviting her to speak on “Morality Without Gods.”  Then, in their attempt to cover up and justify their actions, they had the videographer arrested as he was documenting Sunsara Taylor's statement on November 1st before the start of their Sunday program.

Read more about it here

In one of the statements to the Board of EHSC calling for the charges to be dropped, Paul K. Eckstein, Assistant Professor, Philosophy and Religion at Bergen Community College in New Jersey, wrote, "Pressing charges will only compound the errors yet again, and insure that the stain on your record of adherence to humanist principles will not be erased."

As Sunsara herself 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."

Act now:

1)  Contact EHSC and demand these charges be dropped.  Write to or call: 847-677-3334.  (Send copies to so it can be spread more broadly).

2)  Invite Sunsara Taylor to speak in your community, before your ethical humanist group  or campus organization.  Contact

3)  Contribute whatever you can to the costs of the videographer's legal defense by sending a check, earmarked "videographer defense," to Frankel and Cohen, 77 W. Washington, Suite 1720, Chicago, IL 60602

Some of the messages to EHSC Board…

To the Board of the Ethical Humanist Society – Chicago:

I’m very saddened by the reports I have been hearing about your response to Sunsara Taylor and her protest regarding your cancellation of her lecture.  To hear that you invited police officers into your space to beat a person documenting her comments is shocking and makes me embarrassed to have ever referred to myself as a humanist.  I hope you will drop all charges and make a full apology to her, her videographer and the larger community.

Further, you should re-invite her to speak and this time follow through.
Fred Lonberg Holm
jazz musician, Chicago

To the EHSC:

The 'disagreement' about whether the 'disinvitation' to Sunsara Taylor was morally legitimate (a disinvitation I urged you previously to rescind) has now reached a new and most unfortunate stage.  As you well know, bad moral judgments have consequences, and the consequences of yours now include the stain of placing a man in legal jeopardy (not to mention the physical harm he has already suffered).  Once again, I am writing you a letter:  This time to urge you to drop the charges against the videographer, and stop this process before the damages you have done escalate further.

I want to be very clear:  Though, as I previously indicated, I know Sunsara Taylor and have shared a platform with her on several occasions, I am not writing this letter on behalf of any organization, or even on Ms. Taylor's behalf.  I am writing this letter as someone who considers himself a humanist, and who is saddened by the steps your organization has taken that are so inconsistent with humanist principles as I understand them.

You shame yourselves and all humanists by calling in the 'strong arm of the law' to deal with what amounted to a dispute about 'who should speak where and when'.  This act, in and of itself, speaks volumes about your ignorance of the role that the criminal injustice system plays in the United States, a system to which all humanists should be in opposition.  May I remind you that the United States currently has more people in prison than any other country in the world?  This distinction is one we should clearly not be proud of.  Or how about this:  "There are just over 100 people in the world serving sentences of life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles in which no one was killed.  All are in the United States.  And 77 of them are here in Florida....The state's attorney general, Bill McCollum, explained the roots of the state's approach....'Florida's problem was particularly dire, compromising the safety of residents, visitors and international tourists, and threatening the state's bedrock tourism industry'."  [Adam Liptak, "Weighing Life in Prison for Youths Who Never Killed," The New York Times, Sunday, November 8, 2009, p. 4.]  Anyone who doesn't see how this is an example of protecting property at the expense of people is simply naive.  Anyone who knows anything about how criminal injustice works in the U.S. would think twice about calling on 'law enforcement' unless 'lives were at stake' (and, even then, depending upon the political context, with extreme caution.)  If you have any doubts about the political dimension of the system here in the U.S., I urge you to consult the work Let Freedom Ring:  A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners, edited by Matt Meyer, and published by PM Press).  That you resorted to enabling/encouraging police intervention in what was essentially a free speech issue is unconscionable.

Make no mistake:  This was a free speech issue.  Even if your 'right' to determine who gets to speak at your meetings is not in question, this is NOT the issue under discussion here.  The issue under discussion is whether you resorted to an agent of force, which ethically should be used only as a last resort, long before all other options had been exhausted.  Even if you considered Ms. Taylor's presence 'disruptive' (which, from descriptions I've read, I don't see how you could), patience and reasoned conversation to resolve the matter would not have been an inappropriate response from a 'humanist' organization.  Given the way things have turned out, from an ethical perspective, it would have been far preferable for you to allow Ms. Taylor to speak and then to move on, even if there were some at your meeting who would have felt that their 'property' rights (in the sense of their right to decide who gets to speak at the meeting and who doesn't) were being violated.  A first principle of humanism:  People are more important than property.  Apparently, this principle, in your case, doesn't extend to videographers exercising journalistic prerogatives.  That you chose the route you did makes a mockery of all you supposedly stand for.

As a humanist, I am going to urge that this issue be taken directly to other humanist groups throughout the United States, and ask that you be roundly condemned for your actions.  Once again, I urge you to reconsider what you are doing, and stop the compounding of your error because of false pride and emotional investment.  Think clearly, presumably also a humanist value, about what has happened here.  End a sad chapter and move on.  Pressing charges will only compound the errors yet again, and insure that the stain on your record of adherence to humanist principles will not be erased.

If you do not drop the charges, I call on your membership to abandon your organization or dismiss its leadership.  Your behavior is simply intolerable to anyone who takes a commitment to humanism seriously.

Paul K. Eckstein
Assistant Professor, Philosophy and Religion
Bergen Community College, Bergen, NJ

Dear Ethical Humanist Society-Chicago,

I am SHOCKED that your organzation would call law enforcement in to BRUTALLY ARREST  someone for VIDEOTAPING your November 1st gathering which censored Sunsara Taylor from speaking. Since when is it EITHER  "humanism" OR "ethical" to use armed agents to enforce censorship and a lack of transparency in an allegedly progressive organization? It was bad enough that you reversed your invitation to and censored Ms.Taylor to speak based on an UN-democratic process. But, to ADD INJURY by having the videographer arrested is a GROTESQUE ECHO of what we saw by THE BUSH-CHENEY ADMINISTRATION AND THE FAR RIGHT-WING. It's certainly NOT in any way progressive, humanistic or ethical.

As a journalist and First Amendment activist, I intend to put the word out on EHSC's actions as far and wide as I can. I strongly urge you to DROP THE CHARGES against the videographer now.
Lydia Howell
journalist, KFAI Community Radio,* Minneapolis, MN

To whom it may concern,

I am a frequent reader of P.Z. Meyer's blog, Pharyngula, where I have been following the story of Ms. Sunsara Taylor's involvement with your organization with regard to her invitation and "dis-invitation" to talk to your members.  I have been reading of the arrest of Mr. Gregory Kroger who was documenting a statement Ms. Talylor was giving at your facilities.  Admittedly, the website where I am getting my information from is opposed to your actions, so in the interest of being fair minded and wanting to be open to hearing your side of events, I visited your web site to see if there was an official response to the events being reported and to read your view of the events.  I have not found anything, so if you have posted something I have missed please point me in the right direction.

I have read your response to Dr. Meyer's on his blog.  If you were so worried of possible disruption/conflict to have requested a plain clothes police officer be present, I am certain you must have videotaped the meeting to ensure your legal and ethical actions were accurately documented.  Please post the video as soon as possible or an explanation as to why you will or can not do so.

At this point, I have seen no evidence to have justified the arrest of Mr. Kroger.  I am not saying it does not exist, I am just saying I have not seen any.  Many people have become interested in this and are deeply concerned that a society that calls itself ethical and humanist at the very least appears to be avoiding acting in an ethical and humanist manner.

I am an American living in Japan and I teach at a small public college.  I sometimes have questions from my students, mostly young adults who on average have a much greater naivete of the world than their American counterparts, about the role religion plays in the lives of people living in the US and I try to present as balanced a view as possible.  I try to present the fact that there is an incredibly varied spectrum of views and beliefs including the view that morality and justice and morality can be achieved with reason based in compassion for people with views that are diverse and even in disagreement.

I encourage and plead for you to present your view and justification for the events that have transpired.  If the information I have read is correct, a Mr. Matt Cole has charges pending against Mr. Kroger.  I truly hope he drops these charges as I can see no positive result of pursuing them, and indeed may horrendously negatively affect a man's freedom and life.  Does Mr. Kroger have a history of trouble with the law.  Go to his blog and he documents it quite extensively.  That does not justify his arrest if he did nothing to provoke it.  Again, please post your video supporting your actions.  Even if he did provoke his arrest, I would like the society to explain what positive results will occur to pursuing the charges against him, not that you wouldn't necessarily be legally justified in pursuing them.  I would just think that an ethical humanist society would be yearning to find room for forgiveness and discussion in the interest of furthering the state of human affairs.

I consider myself a humanist, although I do not belong to a formal society.  I attempt to live an ethical life, although I am well aware that I often fall short of my own ideals.  At this point, however, I am thoroughly disgusted by what I have read of the EHSC and its actions and I feel ashamed and saddened that such a society with which I would presumably share much in common would violate its own principles and standards so openly, blatantly and unjustifiably.  If I am wrong in this accusation, please put me in my place by publicly positing the pertinent information, including your must-be-in-existence video.  if this email in any way contributes to a positive resolution then it was worth the time and effort.
Michael Beamer

To the members and board of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago,

I am taken aback but the blatant hypocrisy of the 'Ethical' Humanist Society in Chicago. That the board-members of this society and those in attendance on Sunday would sacrifice the freedom and well-being of an innocent man in order to cover their own unscrupulous behavior is shocking and horrifying.

The fact that the police sargent on the scene at the arrest of the videographer distanced himself from the actions called for by the EHSC, saying “These people here are doing this. It is not us," says something about the depths to which the EHSC has sunk. (recorded via lawyer's statement of events)

The society has gone to great lengths to exclude and discourage rational thought, critical engagement and principled debate. They are contributing to the current state of US society, one where there is a dire lack of engaged discussion on important ideas.

I join with the demands of others that the EHSC drop the very serious charges levied upon the videographer and extend apologies immediately to both he and Sunsara and to its own congregation for hastily denying them the opportunity to engage with critical and crucial thought on morality without gods.
Dana Harvey
Berkeley, California

* for identification purposes only

posted by Sunsara Taylor at 12:43 AM


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