Disclosure: the photojournalist talked about below is a friend of mine. Even still, though, this would be very disturbing to me and should disturb many others. What kind of a society are we becoming if we allow those who claim to be "ethical humanists" to do this to someone? This fact sheet was authored by the ad hoc committee named below, but I'm posting it to help spread the word.
The facts speak loudly for themselves:
1) The Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago1 invited Sunsara Taylor2, a widely respected and outspoken critic of the status quo, to lecture Sunday, November 1, 2009, on the subject Morality Without Gods. She was to receive a lecture fee. Ms. Taylor has an extensive published, televised, and recorded track record that makes abundantly clear her positions on a wide variety of important issues relating to ethics and humanism.
2) Less than two weeks before her scheduled, and advertised, Sunday lecture, she was informed that the Ethical Humanist Society Program Committee was cancelling it, apparently because they disapproved of what they believed Ms. Taylor would say. Ms. Taylor objected, saying plans had already been laid, reservations made, and that the Committee was mischaracterizing what she had said in the past and planned to say. The Program Committee remained resolute and the Ethical Humanist Society Board called an emergency meeting on October 26, 2009 at which time the cancellation was affirmed.
3) The Ethical Humanist Society Adult Education Committee invited Ms. Taylor to speak without an honorarium on Saturday, October 31, 2009, to discuss women's liberation and emancipating humanity. This meeting was attended by approximately 50-60 people, including members of the Ethical Humanist Society Board, Ethical Humanist Society members, and the general public. The discussion was friendly, thought provoking, and generally very well received. Questions from members of the Ethical Humanist Society resulted in an informative give and take. The independent photojournalist recorded the entire lecture in a professional, unobtrusive manner. For all intents and purposes, the meeting was a success and a credit to the Ethical Humanist Society’s stated purpose of, among other things, providing inspiring talks and encouraging ethical action.
4) Before the start of her Saturday lecture, Ms. Taylor announced that the she would make a brief announcement prior to the start of the Ethical Humanist Society Sunday meeting, objecting to conditions under which her scheduled lecture had been cancelled and inviting all interested parties to the nearby home of an Ethical Humanist Society member, who had graciously provided an alternative informal venue. Ms. Taylor was not advised that making such a statement on Sunday would be unacceptable. (Note: Many wanted to hear the lecture Ms. Taylor was originally scheduled to give and this alternative venue meeting the following day, Sunday, was attended by a crowd of 50-60 people.)
5) By the end of the day on Saturday, and behind the scenes, some members of the Ethical Humanist Society Board had arranged for the Skokie police to be present on Sunday. Some of the police were to be in essentially plain clothes and were apparently to be paid by the Ethical Humanist Society. The children’s regularly scheduled Sunday School had also been moved to a different location.
6) On Sunday, Ms. Taylor, the independent photojournalist, many Ethical Humanist Society members, and the general public entered the Ethical Humanist Society building, were handed programs, and welcomed in a routine fashion. During the same period, a number of Skokie police cars and uniformed Skokie police officers arrived outside the building.
7) The president of the Ethical Humanist Society Board approached Ms. Taylor in the meeting room and began a conversation. When the photojournalist turned his video camera toward them, the president grabbed his camera and told him to stop filming. The photojournalist stopped recording with his video camera. As well as anyone can determine, the president did not tell Ms. Taylor she could not address the assembled group and he did not tell the photojournalist to leave the meeting.
8) As promised, Ms. Taylor rose and stood by her chair to address those present before the regularly scheduled meeting. She attempted to make her brief statement over background music that became uncharacteristically loud. The photojournalist was documenting her statement with a cell phone. Ms. Taylor was finishing her statement and preparing to leave for the alternate venue, when an officer in plain clothes and one in uniform approached the photojournalist and immediately dragged him roughly from the meeting room and into the hallway.
9) In the hallway, the photojournalist was not given an opportunity to have a civil discussion regarding what was taking place. His clothes were ripped. He was slammed against a wall. He was thrown face down to the floor. He was handcuffed as 4-5 officers kneeled on his back. And he was maced in the face after he was handcuffed.
10) The independent photojournalist was taken to a Skokie Police Station in handcuffs and charged with criminal trespass, resisting arrest, and simple battery. After his release a few hours later, he was taken to the hospital where he was treated for his significant wounds, which resulted in a $996 hospital bill. The charge of criminal trespass is being pressed by the President of the Ethical Humanist Society, as a representative of the Society. And criminal trespass, which could carry a jail sentence, is not a laughing matter; the photojournalist’s court defense could cost him many thousands of dollars in legal fees.
There are dozens of witnesses to these events.
Was the meeting open to the public – YES. Were Ms. Taylor or the independent photojournalist warned that they were trespassing when they entered the Ethical Humanist Society building on Sunday – NO. Did the independent photojournalist’s actions interfere with the owner's use of the property – NO. Did any identifiable official of the Ethical Humanist Society ask either Ms. Taylor or the independent photojournalist to leave the building, prior to the initiation of the arrest of the photojournalist – NO. Was there any suggestion that police action was necessary to resolve what was essentially the exercise of free speech – NO. Was it possible that the precipitous and clearly heavy-handed action by the police might have caused panic and many injuries – YES. Did any member of the Ethical Humanist Society Board, who was present on Sunday, make a noticeable effort to defuse the situation – NO.
– SO –
If you were the independent photojournalist, what would you hope for?
As an ethical person, what would you do to defuse this situation?
Ad Hoc Committee for Reason and Dropping the Charges
1 Ethical Humanist Society, 7574 Lincoln Ave., Skokie, IL 60077 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
2 Sunsara Taylor (contact in Chicago at email@example.com)