Ron Lindsay Apologizes

As many of you know, Ron Lindsay, CEO of The Center for Inquiry made some opening remarks at Women in Secularism 2 that shocked and offended a large portion of the audience, a majority of the speakers and many feminists and onlookers in the secular community. He also lashed out directly at Rebecca Watson while doing some strange things at the event such as avoiding the fundraiser dinner but taking the time to welcome a known harasser who attended the event. It was a disappointing series of events particularly for those of us directly involved in fundraising for the event and those of us emotionally invested in seeing WiS2 succeed. The actions had such a direct impact that many people, myself included felt they could no-longer support the organization. Rebecca announced a boycott as did Greta Christina. Many other people pulled their support and severed their ties.

Yesterday, Ron Lindsay issued the following apology.

It has been a few weeks since I have said anything in public about the controversy over my remarks at the Women in Secularism 2 conference. As CFI announced via Twitter, this pause was to enable the board to have time to consider the matter. The board has issued its statement. It is now an appropriate time for me to make some remarks.

I am sorry that I caused offense with my talk. I am also sorry I made some people feel unwelcome as a result of my talk. From the letters sent to me and the board, I have a better understanding of the objections to the talk.

I am also sorry that my talk and my actions subjected my colleagues and the organization to which I am devoted to criticism.

Please accept my apologies.

I can’t speak for Rebecca or anyone else from this network as to whether or not this is fully acceptable but I can say that I appreciate this gesture. I think it’s a great place to start from and I hope that we can now open up a dialog with CFI and the people directly affected by Lindsay’s words and actions. I am optimistic that we can move forward from here. I am not saying that this in itself is a complete solution by any means but I am hopeful that we are at a place where the community can potentially work together again. So thank you Ron Lindsay for your apology.

Now we wait and see how this unfolds. One good step would be an announcement from CFI that there will be a WiS3.

*Featured image of Ron Lindsay from his blog linked above.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. This is the line that I like the best: “From the letters sent to me and the board, I have a better understanding of the objections to the talk.”

    It gives me hope that his apology is coming from a place of understanding rather than out of fear or desperation or obligation.

    I am really hoping that this is an example of good skepticism. He initially defended himself against a highly emotional backlash in kind, but with time to consider and in the cool light of reason, he seems to have come to understand the objections and has come around.

    That’s the sort of thing we like around here right?

    1. He could demonstrate that be understands by letting us know what the problems were and how to avoid them in the future. It’s good that he says he’s listened, but it would be much better if he could show it. Right now, this just seems hollow.

      1. delphi_ote: I think he knows he would sound foolish to comment on these issues especially in light of what happened. I don’t think we can avoid these problems in the future, so much as learn from mistakes and strive for ‘better’. Social issues are hard for people to understand and support. I too wait to see how his future actions will coincide/or not with apology.

        1. But there are all kinds of specifics he could list if he was sincere:

          “I’m sorry I didn’t welcome the conference attendees. That should’ve been my first priority.”
          “I’m sorry my talk came across as criticizing the attendees.”
          “I’m sorry for reacting so strongly to Rebecca’s criticism. We might disagree, but some of my rhetoric was out of line.”
          “I’m sorry for welcoming to Vacula at this conference.”

          If he actually wanted reconciliation, it wouldn’t be that hard to show it. If you can’t even demonstrate you understand WHY you’re apologizing, you’re clearly not really sorry.

  2. Call me a, ahem, skeptic, but I would prefer some actual proof to back up Ron Lindsay’s claims of having had a change of heart and that they’re not mere words designed to placate critics and deflect responsibility. So I’ll save the forgiving and forgetting until such time that I see some effective change in the entire patriarchal systems and structures which allowed this to happen to begin with: Ron Lindsay can speak all he wants for himself, however wrong he may be, but it’s unconscionable that the male skeptics around him, his colleagues within the organization, didn’t speak up or speak out about it, and the onus and burden was once again placed on women like Rebecca Watson and her supporters to have to speak out. That this all occurred at a Women in Secularism conference ironically speaks to the very issue of male privilege that continues to fester in some very influential parts of the skeptic community.

    1. My take is that Lindsay’s probably unbent as much as he can *for the moment*. People often take months or years to dig through their own entrenched biases – just look at how often many of us still catch ourselves saying sexist/racist/ableist things without realizing – and the more invested folks are, the longer it can take. At this point I’m more interested in CFI making a commitment as an organization than in one person’s change of heart.

      but it’s unconscionable that the male skeptics around him, his colleagues within the organization, didn’t speak up or speak out about it, and the onus and burden was once again placed on women like Rebecca Watson and her supporters to have to speak out.


    2. _Wow_, now Ron’s ability to say things is an example of male privilege… gee, why not just make it a women’s only conference next time. I wonder why no one stood up and said “this very incident of people talking about abusing the term privilege at a /women in secularism conference/ is an example of male privilege!” and shut him up? I’m sure someone was itching to. What would these people do if a woman said it? Why is the fact it was a WiS conference relevant? Is this person that women would disagree with Ron because they’re women or what?

      I think Ron had a point. He never said everyone who talks about privilege in any context is using it this way – so people that feel they were being talked about are clearly worried about using it in the way he described. I myself have run into people trying to say “shut up, you’re a man” or “shut up, you’re white.” in conversations… the hilarious thing is I’m 1) not a man and 2) not white, but it pisses me off regardless. I wonder why people want so badly to assume I’m a man even when signs point to No, even when the only implication of my sex points to WOMAN.

      I think the apology is probably bullshit too. I think some people know it’s bullshit because they know inside that there’s no way he could say that and then find himself wrong. I think some others “accepting” it just don’t want to continue with the conflict.

      1. I wonder why no one stood up and said “this very incident of people talking about abusing the term privilege at a /women in secularism conference/ is an example of male privilege!” and shut him up?

        Could it be — because women in secularism are not in fact in the business of interrupting and shutting up men who shoot their mouths off about strawfeminism? They went to criticism and attempts to educate instead? Rather disproves the thesis of Lindsay’s speech.

      2. “_Wow_, now Ron’s ability to say things is an example of male privilege”

        Actually what krantzstone said was that the lack of retort from male colleagues of Ron’s was indicative of an internalized sense of separation from the actions of fellow men. This form of privilege is similar to what non-whites claim that whites have, in that for instance when a white person commits a mass murder, nobody assumes there’s anything wrong with the white population in general. The same is not the case for people of color; hence, privilege. And so it is here – it’s not a new application of the concept.

      3. The issue is not whether Ron had a point, it is that the way he raised it – the same way that Fox News approaches discussions of racism (Rupert Murdoch would have people believe racism is only ever a problem faced by white people).

        Ron didn’t seem to have noticed that Feminism has moved on since the 70s and 80s. Which is kind of a problem if you are introducing a conference on Feminism in 2013.

  3. I’m so cynical at this point that I don’t really believe this is anything more than a forced apology from someone who is apologizing just to try to smooth things over, not because he’s sincere. I guess I’ll change my mind once I see it followed through with some action and some clear demonstration that he is taking the criticism to heart and making an effort to better educate himself.

  4. I admit that I was very skeptical upon first reading his apology (call me cynical). I’m still hesitant to entirely chalk this up to a win, but Melody’s words on the matter have given me hope:

    “Ron Lindsay has apologized to CFI staff for his actions at Women in Secularism 2. He has written an apology here. I’m sure it will not be satisfactory to everyone. I know that I wish more was said. I know Ron. I know that not everyone does, though. This was written after an day and evening of intense discussion and debate. Sometimes there was yelling and tears, but I think we made a breakthrough. I believe this type of personal apology doesn’t come easy to him. I believe that he is sincerely sorry for his speech and further actions at Women in Secularism 2. This is coming from his harshest critic.”

    I do believe that further action is necessary to prove this isn’t just a publicity thing – but I’m tentatively giving Ron the benefit of the doubt for now.

  5. The guy above may be correct. I can’t see how someone can say that and then “realize” they were wrong. It’d be like someone saying that it’s mean for… I don’t fucking know, for someone to take their waiters tips and then “see the light” and “realize” it’s okay. (Not meant to be parallel in any way or form except that in both situations one can’t be right and then steer the wrong way). Face heel turn.

    As for the whole “Why is Blackford commenting on things in America when he’s in a different country stuff” it’s pretty nationalist. What does that have to do with anything? Did anyone say that when /others/ were commenting on Atheist Ireland? Nope. But of course, people will just ignore this.

  6. I’m a bit disappointed that this says, “I’m sorry I offended people” instead of “I was wrong to say offensive things” but I do hope that eventually he’ll have a real change of heart and changes that demonstrate it.

    P.S. I think it’s unfair to say Ron Lindsay welcomed Justin Vacula because Vacula trotted up to him and asked if he were welcome, putting Lindsay on the spot, socially. Of course he could have said, “Yes, if you behave yourself” but most of us aren’t that quick.

    1. I think you need to read the apology again a little more carefully. “I’m sorry I offended people” is not what Lindsay said nor implied. It is not the strongest of apologies, but it is an apology. Had he said what you think he said it would not have been an apology.

      1. It’s a formal apology with very carefully chosen words from a CEO who angered organization and community members. We’ll just have to see where this all goes, but I can understand why people would take issue with that apology. Sure, he is apologizing for saying words that are offensive, but how often is the significance of the word “offense” diminished in these kinds of discussions, used as a synonym for over-sensitive or over reaction, as a silencing tactic — “You sure are easily offended”?

  7. From a certain perspective, Lindsay’s sincerity doesn’t really matter that much either way. If you support CFI, you need its CEO to behave professionally and respectfully towards its members and staff. He doesn’t have to be your pal, but he DOES need to check his ego at the door when he’s wearing his CEO hat. If he can do that, his personal views become a secondary issue.

  8. I’m willing to accept his apology at face value, but I’m not the one he called a North Korean propagandist. However, the true test of his contrition will be how he behaves in the future.

  9. I accept Lindsay’s apology. However I’ll be watching him and CFI and they have to take some position actions like announcing WiS3 before I’ll be opening my checkbook for them.

  10. Ron didn’t need to apologize. He was trying to point out a problem he thinks he saw in the movement. If you agree or disagree, make a strong argument for or against. Discussion is that simple. I give Amy credit for accepting the apology.

  11. I take it for an apology. Without speaking for anyone else, I appreciate this and accept it. I have great respect for people who take on the challenge of changing their social views. It is hard. I hope that is what is happening here. His apology would be best served if it is followed with action and words that coincides with his apology. This is not a one size fits all situation. Individual apologies should go out too and this will affect my decision of supporting Lindsay in the future as a leader, along with a change in behavior. There is now the role that CFI played too and their non-statement. I want the skeptical movement to be more aware of social issues and I think it should be a priority.

  12. Realizing that I am not one who was specifically wronged in his opening remarks (a woman), I am willing to accept the apology at face value as an earnest one. As CFI publicly declined (refused?) to acknowledge that there was a problem, on the face of it this wasn’t “necessary”. I won’t speculate that it was a political trade off without actual evidence.

    So we’ll have to wait to see what he has learned as he incorporates this into future statements and actions.

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