American Atheists Hate Harassment!

Earlier today, a group of bloggers and I spoke with Amanda Knief, Dave Silverman and AJ Johnson regarding their upcoming Minnesota Regional Atheists Conference.

They’ve been working hard to put a code of conduct in place and asked us to take a look at it and give them feed back to help them finalize it. And we did. And they took our minor criticisms to heart. I haven’t seen the official final policy posted yet, but when I do, I will edit to .

I am really happy with what they’ve put together. They wanted a sex-positive policy that, at the same time, allows for a safe and comfortable conference for everyone. I think they accomplished that quite well with clauses like “Yes means yes. No means no. And maybe means no.” Sex should come with enthusiastic consent… why would you even want sex that doesn’t? 

(4:25PM 6/26/12EDT) Edit: The newest version of the AA policy has been posted! And, if you notice, it now specifically addresses gender and gender identity.

Also, I would like to make not that American Atheists considers this to be a living document and it will change over time and as conferences go by because they realize this is something that needs to be taken seriously, and needs may change.

Their press release and the policy follow:



American Atheists’ President Dave Silverman announced today that the organization was implementing a comprehensive Code of Conduct for all sponsored and hosted regional conferences and the annual American Atheists’ National Convention.

Dave Silverman said, “The Code of Conduct will allow all conference attendees to know that American Atheists’ events are safe, fun and informative. We want people to enjoy themselves but know there will be consequences for harmful behaviors.”

The Code of Conduct addresses conference attendees’ behavior during speaker’s sessions, access to sessions for ability-challenged attendees, respect for families who attend, as well as sexual and other types of harassment.

The Code of Conduct also provides direction for American Atheists’ staff and volunteers who will take reports of harassment and inappropriate conduct.

Silverman continued, “We are training our staff and volunteers to be able to take information from our attendees who have been harassed. These reports will be given directly to one designated senior staff member at each event to be assessed and to determine what action should and needs to be taken.”

“The Code of Conduct is a living document. We will adapt it as we learn from what works and what needs improvement. But the overall goal is to create fun, enjoyable, and safe conventions and conferences for everyone,” Silverman added.

The Code of Conduct will go into effect immediately and be used first at American Atheists’ regional conference in Minnesota, August 10-11.

AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a non-profit 501(c)3 national organization that defends civil rights of Atheists, Freethinkers and other nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church-mosque-temple and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.

Code of Conduct:

American Atheists, Rev 1.1, 6/26/2012 – This revision supersedes all previous revisions.


American Atheists’ Conference Code of Conduct


American Atheists is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion.

We expect participants to follow this code of conduct at all conference venues and conference-related social events.

Yes means yes; no means no; and maybe means no. Please take no for an answer for any request or activity. You are encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent for all activities during the conference. No touching other people without asking. This includes hands on knees, backs, shoulders—and hugs (ask first!). There are folks who do not like to be touched and will respect and like you more if you respect their personal space.

We have many different folks attending this conference: sexualities, genders, races, ethnicities, abilities, beliefs—these are just a few. Blatant instances of racism, sexism, homophobia, or other stereotyping and harmful behaviors should be reported to conference staff immediately.

Please do not wear heavy fragrances—including perfumes, colognes, scented shampoos, etc. Some of those attending have allergic reactions to scented products. No one will object to the smell of your clean body!

Please respect the sessions and the speakers. Turn off cell phones and other electronic devices, take conversations and noisy children outside the session room, and move to the center of your row to make room for other attendees.

There are chairs and spaces at the front and back of the room that are marked “reserved.” The front row chairs are reserved for attendees with vision or hearing impairments. The back rows are reserved for attendees with mobility accommodation needs. Please leave these chairs and spaces free throughout the conference for those who may need them.

This conference welcomes families with children and expects all attendees to treat these families with courtesy and respect. Parents or guardians bringing children are responsible for the children’s behavior and are expected to remove disruptive children from the session. Parents or guardians should be aware not all language may be suitable for children.

American Atheists does not tolerate harassment of or by conference participants, speakers, exhibitors, volunteers, or staff in any form. Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately. Anyone violating this policy may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference (without a refund) at the discretion of the conference organizers.

If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff immediately. Conference staff can be identified by t-shirts/special badges/other ID.
Conference staff will be happy to help participants contact hotel/venue security or local law enforcement, provide escorts, or otherwise assist those experiencing harassment to feel safe for the duration of the conference. We value your attendance.


[Email address for organizers] [Phone number for conference security or organizers] [Phone number for hotel/venue security] [Local law enforcement] [Local sexual assault hot line] [Local emergency and non-emergency medical] [Local taxi company]

Great work, AA!

I’m really excited to see all the progress our community is making towards creating an environment that’s comfortable and safe and still fun.

And, I want to note that the JREF is also apparently in the process of drafting a new code of conduct for this year’s TAM as their conference FAQ has been updated to include the following:

How does JREF handle safety concerns?

The Amazing Meeting, while a private event, is held at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, which is open to the public. The safety of our attendees and speakers is a priority. If an attendee encounters a problem within the conference area, they should report the situation to TAM staff or hotel security. JREF has also engaged an independent consultant on these issues, with decades of experience handling security, boundary and safety concerns, to assist us in dealing with any matters should they arise at the event.


Hopefully we’ll see something as comprehensive as the American Atheists’ policy.

Featured image, Amy Davis Roth.

(ETA: edited title because “American Atheists Hate Harassment, Too” made it sound like I thought they hate lots of things when my intention was that they agree with us that harassment sucks. Apologies for the ambiguity.)


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. Good news at last. I really hope this forward momentum continues and other conferences follow suit. Things are looking up, let’s continue to encourage this kind of thing in order to have safe and enjoyable conferences.

  2. I’d also like to see the “elevator pitch” version of this. The official policy is probably too long to be read by everyone (although it should be available to everyone). It would be helpful if something more concise was widely distributed to hopefully prevent some instances of harassment.

    1. I think the elevator pitch version would be “Yes means yes. No means no. Maybe means no. Treat everyone with respect. If you are harassed or see someone being harassed, tell a grown up wearing an American Atheists staff shirt.”

      1. Probably better than my idea of “Don’t be a dick. For more details, read the full policy”.

        1. In a comment (I think) on one of the recent posts on this topic, someone posted a link to Geekfeminism’s sample anti-harassment policy. It has a short version (slightly more specific than DBAD), a medium version and a full version, plus an internal version for staff members, telling them what action to take if an incident occurs. They go into some specifics about where and when each version should be posted.

          Repeating it in case anyone missed it and for emphasis.

  3. It’s too bad you have to regulate common sense. But I feel this is long overdue. Whether or not someone is being harassed is not a debate, it’s an automatic problem, warning, then out the door you go. End of story.

    For those who think they are above the rules *cough* MARTY KLEIN (sorry I had a bug in my throat) well now they know where that door is and what will get them there.

  4. This is excellent news, and a way to take on this issue, I think.

    It ought to be standard issue.

    Be nice if the title also read “American Atheists Hate Sexism!”

  5. The language in the “Taking Reports” section is pretty impressively strong and detailed. Kudos.

  6. It’s worth noting, specific mention of gender identity has also been added to the very latest iteration of the document. I was very impressed with their lightning turnaround of public comment on that omission. :)

  7. On one hand this is great and awesome and well done.

    On the other hand, shouldn’t all organizations be able to do something like this with a minimum of fuss? It feels strange congratulating an organisation for doing something that most responsible organisations should have been doing anyway.

    1. In a context where everybody WAS in fact doing this without fuss, sure. But the last couple of weeks have been an Internet Shitstorm driven by one prominent organization publicly and spectacularly failing to, amidst a sizeable minority of the skeptisphere loudly speaking against the very idea. That kind of context makes calling out the successes important.

  8. Well that is obviously a very good development and they are to be congratulated for putting common sense rules about sexual harassment in place. I agree that it is very strange that something everyone else takes as a matter of course for any convention meeting causes so much controversy among atheists. Very perplexing that.

  9. This is great, and when you read it simple and obvious. Making the last few weeks insanity even MORE nuts. So, yeah, agree with @brenda and @luna.

    The best thing for me though is how this changes conferences long term. There are so many now that, as an organiser, if you ignore harassment, attendees are not going to return. It is business 101: have a better product and develop customer loyalty.

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