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NYT Journalists Should Not Suggest Atheists Remain Nominal Christians

Robert Worth offers an interesting profile in the New York Times of a former pastor who became an atheist leader, but I wish he had skipped this editorializing toward the end: “I did later wonder if all the public atheism had done DeWitt more harm than good. Couldn’t he have remained a nominal Christian, as so many others have? … Open confrontation with faith, some would say, just provokes angry gestures from the faithful.” It’s like suggesting gay people should pretend to be straight to not anger homophobes.

And the failure to recognize that it’s the same unacceptable intolerance is part of the problem.

The dialogue on this issue continues to revolve around the idea that atheists shouldn’t “provoke” religious people by daring to admit their beliefs (the audacity!), rather than challenging the discrimination and hatred directed toward atheists by some hostile religious people.

I hardly think that, in 2012, a NY Times journalist would ask whether a gay person couldn’t just act publicly straight, so as to not upset certain religious persons, but atheists don’t receive the same consideration (yet). Yes, Worth reports the argument as “some would say,” but (aside from being a lazy journalistic statement) gives no indication that he disagrees with this vague group. It’s a transparent mask to disguise his own editorial voice.

If Worth needed to wonder aloud in his article, “From Bible-Belt Pastor to Atheist Leader,” he could have responsibly followed up his musings by recognizing that public atheism doesn’t “just” provoke anger from “the faithful.” Worth might have acknowledged that social justice movements require brave individuals standing up for their beliefs, especially those who live in conservative religious areas and face the most difficult environment, like former preacher Jerry DeWitt, the article’s subject. It clears a path for those still in the closet to one day come out safely — because they shouldn’t need to hide.

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Tell the Grammys: No, You Were Not the Victim of Chris Brown’s Domestic Violence

Brett Simon thought that when Chris Brown beat up then-girlfriend Rhianna right before the 2009 Grammys, that the victim was Rhianna herself. You know, the person with all the bruises.

But then he heard: Grammy Executive Producer Ken Ehrlich thinks that the awards show was the victim “of what happened.”

“I think people deserve a second chance, you know,” Ehrlich said. “If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened.” When Brett saw that Chris Brown was back performing on the prestigious show last night, while still on probation for the domestic assault, he was upset. When he heard that the Grammys thought they were the real victims, he really had to do something. That’s when Brett started a petition demanding an apology.

Ehrlich’s statement suggests that Brown was barred from the awards show not as a consequence of physically harming his girlfriend, another Grammy performer, but because the Grammys were upset with him for — what? making them scramble to find replacement performers with Rhianna healing and Brown under arrest?

“I started this petition because I realized that something was not right in this country when women beg to be beaten by someone just because he is a good looking Grammy winning performer,” Brett explained, commenting on a slew of “Chris Brown can beat me” tweets. “Those tweets along with Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich’s comment insinuating that he and the Grammys were the victims of Chris Brown’s abusive behavior are proof of a disconnect between society and the reality of domestic violence. The Recording Academy, the Grammys, and Ken Ehrlich need to demonstrate to the public that they understand that domestic violence is not something to be ignored, tolerated, and rewarded.”

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Nigeria Attorney General Demands Investigation of Gang-Rape

In September, a horrifying video came to light at Abia State University in Nigeria, depicting five men gang-raping a young woman as she begged them to just kill her. Concerned citizens in Nigeria and around the world, activists, and bloggers called for the “ABSU5” to be brought to justice, denouncing the culture of impunity that led these criminals to believe they could get away with taping and distributing their assault. Yet University and Abia State officials refused to take action, denying the violent act occurred in their jurisdiction without investigating. The Assistant Commissioner of Police, J.G. Micloth, even claimed that the brutal attack looked consensual — or was punishment for the girl somehow shaming her boyfriend — to excuse their failure to act.

More than 90,000 members worldwide signed a petition by Adetomi Aladekomo, a Nigerian rape survivor now living in Canada, calling for these men to be arrested and prosecuted. Finally, last month Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mohammad Adoke intervened in the case, demanding that the Inspector-General of Police investigate the assault. Carol Aije, a Nigerian lawyer who deals with sexual violence cases across the country and has collaborated with the campaign, directly petitioned the Attorney General’s office urging this action, adding to the protests occurring online and on the ground.

This is significant progress. But the campaign isn’t over. Though Attorney General Adoke ordered a full investigation, it hasn’t happened yet. And Nigeria’s law enforcement has been all stirred up, with former Inspector-General Hafiz Ringim removed from his position for incompetence dealing with terrorism. For the campaign to succeed, international attention must continue to make sure that the new Inspector-General, Mohammad Abubakar, follows through with the investigation, and the Attorney General keeps an eye on the proceedings.

Adetomi also hopes to see a law strengthening violence against women legislation, which would also help victims such as Franca Ogbu, a student deeply disfigured by an acid attack whose assailant remains at large. To add your voice to Adetomi’s campaign and help bring the gang-rapists to justice, you can sign the petition here.

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How Facebook Can Really Help Women Connect

Facebook recently launched a “Women Connect” app, calling it “an online platform for organizations and causes to connect and share information with supporters about issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment.” Apparently, it’s a part of Facebook’s “Diversity campaign.”

Taking action to further gender justice is admirable, but some people see Facebook’s internal actions as out of step with this stated mission. The top comment to greet me on the Women Connect page, ranked up through users hitting the “Like” button, reads: “I’m glad that FB is supporting this but they also need to get their own house in order – for example by taking down misogynist & pro-rape pages and dropping their stupid censorship against images of breastfeeding.”

The almost 200,000 people who signed the petition demanding that Facebook remove pages promoting sexual violence and violence against women would most likely agree. As would the thousands of members telling Facebook to leave breastfeeding pictures alone.

In November, Facebook took some action after a #notfunnyfacebook Day of Action on Twitter denounced their excuse for pro-rape pages: “what one person finds offensive another can find entertaining – just as telling a rude joke won’t get you thrown out of your local pub, it won’t get you thrown off Facebook.” A number of pro-violence pages were removed, but Facebook still missed the point, permitting the hate content to remain live if the tag [Humor] or [Satire] was simply added in front of the page title. Facebook users can report content as abusive internally, however when the policy is to protect rape apologism, that won’t get rid of the pages.

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San Francisco Threatens to Tear Down Pro-Choice Posters, Block Walk

Victory! After 100 people signed the petition in just a few hours, the Department of Public Works quickly came to an agreement to allow the Walk for Choice to take place Friday and the banners to remain up until Saturday evening.

Anti-choicers rip down posters for a “Trust Women” event. Women’s rights advocates complain about the vandalism. What does the city do?

Threaten to tear down the rest of the banners.

Somer Loen, an organizer for the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights (BACORR), has launched a petition on calling on the San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW) to “protect free speech for pro-choice organization.” In preparation for Trust Women Week (Jan. 20-27) the Silver Ribbon Campaign — of which BACORR is a member organization — put up banners to raise awareness, featuring slogans such as “Fix the Economy — Support My Autonomy” and “Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights.” Loen reports that they had a permit for the banners and an event on Jan. 20th, but the anti-choice Life Legal Defense Fund filed a “bogus” complaint with the city.

Loen and her fellow organizers were looking for a way to deal with vandals destroying their posters when the DPW shockingly invalidated their original permit for a Friday walk, refused to issue a new one requested for Sunday (so as to not overlap with a Friday Occupy event), and announced the remaining banners would be removed.

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U.S. Women’s Football Players Say: Let Girls Play!

More than 35,000 people have joined a popular campaign on calling on the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association (NCISAA) to allow girls to play football.

Members of the U.S. National Women’s Tackle Football Team launched the online petition on after they heard that starting linebacker Mina Johnson, a student at Southampton Academy in Virginia, was forced to sit on the sidelines when an opposing team threatened to forfeit rather than play against a girl. The opposing school was a member of the NCISAA, which prohibits girls from playing on boys’ varsity teams.

“The members of the U.S. national women’s team and I felt it extremely important to support Mina in her desire to play football,” said Adrienne Smith, who launched the campaign on on behalf of her teammates. “At one time or another, everyone on the U.S. national team has faced similar discrimination. We wanted to show unanimous support for Mina and her teammates, as well as her coach and community, by speaking as one voice through our petition.”

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Victory! FBI Acknowledges That Rape Really Is Rape

Happy New Year — out with the old, and in with the new!

More than 140,000 members signed a petition launched by Ms. Magazine demanding the FBI recognize that rape is rape — and it worked. On Friday, the Obama administration approved a new nationwide definition of rape, the first change in 80 years. Goodbye and good riddance to the FBI’s narrow Uniform Crime Report definition: “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”

And a hearty welcome to the new definition: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” For the first time in decades, this federal definition of rape includes victims of all genders, forced oral and anal sex, and drugging or unconsciousness. “With a modern, broader definition, FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics will finally show the true breadth of this violence that affects so many women’s lives,”  said Ms. Executive Editor Katherine Spillar. As these statistics are utilized to understand crime rates and trends, which in turn influence decisions about funding and prioritization, this change can have a real impact in reducing sexual violence across the country.

The glaring discrepancy between the reality of rape and the FBI’s definition spurred Ms. Magazine to launch the “Rape Is Rape” campaign, spotlighting the stories of and seeking justice for survivors who discovered their violation wasn’t legally considered rape. Once the non-profit organization started a petition on and brought this travesty to the attention of members like you, nearly 150,000 people jumped up to tell the FBI that rape is rape,  making this one of the most popular Women’s Rights petitions of all time.

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Victory! Women’s Professional Soccer Survives With Help From 50,000 Fans

Gooooooaaaaaaallllllll! When the U.S. Soccer Federation announced on November 20 that Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), the national league where World Cup stars like Hope Solo and Abby Wambach train up to rock it on the international field, risked losing sanctioning if it couldn’t add a sixth team in two weeks, prospects looked dim. But a game-saving goal come in the form of outcry from players and fans determined to save WPS — 50,000 of them.

Alex Sahlen, a player for the WPS Team the Western New York Flash, started a petition on asking U.S. Soccer to grant her beloved league a one-year waiver from the minimum team requirement. Her campaign attracted 48,000 signatures, while another petition started by Colleen Kelly, an ardent fan of the WPS Team the Philadelphia Independence, brought the number of supporters to just shy of 50,000. This week, U.S. Soccer announced that it will allow WPS to continue to develop and expand over the next year, recognizing that a sport with such devoted fans has an opportunity to thrive.

“I would like to thank all of the fans for their unwavering support throughout this difficult time and persisting with us to reach our ultimate goal of a 2012 WPS season,” said Alex Sahlen after hearing the good cheer about WPS. “The support has been amazing and really touching and humbling for many of us. We are looking forward to another successful WPS season and will look to build upon this season to keep women’s professional soccer around for many years to come.”

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Today Is the #notfunnyfacebook Twitter Action Day

Over 180,000 of you have petitioned Facebook asking for the removal of pages advocating sexual violence and violence against women, signing your name to a campaign launched by Florida activist John Raines. You’ve pointed out that Facebook’s own Terms of Service ban content that is “hateful, threatening,” or contains “graphic or gratuitous violence.” But Facebook has refused to take action, writing these hateful pages off as humor: “what one person finds offensive another can find entertaining – just as telling a rude joke won’t get you thrown out of your local pub, it won’t get you thrown off Facebook.”

Today, you can join a Twitter Day of Action to tell Facebook that you don’t find pages like “Riding You Girlfriend Softly So She Doesn’t Wake Up” funny. Facebooks knows these pages exist, but has made a decision to permit pages like this one advocating sexual violence — pages like this one, where the admin engages in further hilarity about drugging women and threatening critics with assault — so reporting them isn’t enough. The campaign includes supporters who will be taking action from all around the world, and similar campaigns are being run out of Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, where Women’s View on News (WVoN) has been leading and compiling resources.

Facebook has previously been criticized for being quick to delete inoffensive pictures of same-sex couples kissing and regularly taking down breastfeeding photos/groups. Yet when it comes to hate speech and advocating violence against women, suddenly Facebook is ready to shrug their shoulders and say it’s all in good fun, nothing for them to do about it.

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Don’t Let Women in Your Town Get Tricked by Fake Clinics

Somer Leon decided that she didn’t want one more San Francisco woman tricked by crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). With her volunteer group, the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights, Leon launched a campaign on, calling for truth-in-advertising legislation that would bar these “fake clinics” from claiming non-existent services. The bill passed the local Board of Supervisors with overwhelming support on Tuesday, with Leon’s petition credited for demonstrating support for the bill.

Thousands of CPCs exist nationwide, and the majority — 87%, according to a Congressional report — mislead or lie to patients. These ideological fake clinics lure in pregnant women with false advertising about offering comprehensive reproductive health care, only to pursue a conservative religious agenda. They lack trained medical personnel, don’t provide advertised services, and deceive patients with fabrications about abortion leading to breast cancer, mental illness, and infertility. Many resort to shaming tactics and pressure women to “accept Jesus”; some go as far as telling a patient she’s not pregnant in order to keep her from considering abortion, which can pose a serious health risk.

Similar legislation has already passed in New York City, Baltimore, and Austin. What can you do to make sure that women in your hometown won’t get tricked by crisis pregnancy centers?

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