The Controversial Harassment Post at Atheist Revolution

The following post has been cross-posted at Revolutionary Atheist (Tumblr). I thought it was worth sharing since I know there is some interest in what has been happening in the larger atheist community.

I’ve been mired in a bit of a controversy over at Atheist Revolution, and here is a brief summary of what happened:
  • I wrote a post in which I examined the legal definitions of harassment and sought to explore some of the common accusations of harassment I have seen in the atheist community to see which ones fit the legal understanding of harassment.
  • Someone affiliated with Atheist Alliance International tweeted a link to this post.
  • Ophelia Benson and Rebecca Watson expressed their outrage to Atheist Alliance International for promoting a post with which they disagreed.
  • The president of Atheist Alliance International posted a public apology for tweeting my post and removed the tweet from the organizations Twitter tread. The apology incorrectly characterized my post as having “trivialised harassment of women in the atheist community.”
  • I posted a brief response to the apology in which I pointed out that my original post made no mention of the harassment of women and had not trivialized anything. As a few commenters on my blog noted, my original post actually opposed the trivialization of harassment by those who characterize anything with which they disagree as harassment.
  • The president of Atheist Alliance International left a comment on that post in which he explained the contents of his apology.
  • Finally, I posted my reaction to his comment and attempted to clear up any remaining misunderstandings.
For the record, it does not bother me that Atheist Alliance International deleted a tweet promoting my post or even that they issued a public apology in response to external pressure from persons associated with Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+. I do believe that they made a mistake in characterizing what I wrote as being directed at women or as trivializing harassment; however, I believe that this situation reveals a larger problem in our community that is far more important than how Atheist Alliance International handled this situation. I think there is a lesson here:
If any behavior that offends someone or any words with which someone disagrees can be labeled “harassment” solely on the basis of one’s emotional reaction to them, then harassment ceases to have meaning.
I’d like to conclude by saying that I really appreciate the outpouring of support I have received from many in the atheist community. Your words of encouragement have been heard and had an impact.