The 46th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council took place earlier this year. The Irish Ambassador to the UN (Michael Gaffey) contributed to the debate. Other submissions were made by the Catholic Lenten Fund, the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, Edmund Rice International and the International Confederation of Catholic Charities. There was no contribution from any atheist organisation, even though as recently as 2016 it was not unusual for atheist groups to make presentations to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The current lack of atheist voices within international bodies is due to contemporary international atheism resembling, to quote Malcolm Tucker, “a clown running across a minefield”.
From 2015-2017, I was the Secretary of Atheist Alliance International (AAI) which is the only atheist group that has Special Consultative Status at the UN. At that time, it was a busy if rather banal organisation. Since the Members comprised more than thirty national atheist groups from every continent (including Atheist Ireland) there was only so much that we could find a consensus on. Nevertheless, at the end of 2016 the President of AAI reported to their Annual General Meeting that the Alliance had that year contributed to two UN sessions; spoken at 13 secular conferences; issued 35 joint statements with partners; and initiated 4 new projects.
According to the Bylaws, it was mandatory for the AAI Board to arrange such AGMs so that they could be held accountable by the Member Groups; so that the Member Groups could elect new Directors to the Board; and to facilitate questions from Member Groups about the annual accounts. This is the prosaic reality of running any international organisation. The processes may be mundane, but democratic accountability within an organisation is a prerequisite for Special Consultative Status at the UN. Conducting elections with an Independent Returning Officer is hardly exciting, but it is indispensable.
However, the holders of all the Officer positions within AAI changed in mid-2017, with tragically comic results. For example, after a craven capitulation to a tiny woke mob, AAI became the world’s first atheist organisation to discipline their staff for criticising religion. As the Executive Director of AAI, Michael Sherlock had been arguing that in comparison to say scientific ideas, the development of religious ideas had been slowed by doctrine and by dogma. He tweeted that as a result, “Religion is a retarded relic that really needs archiving in humanity’s library of bad ideas”. Michael did not anticipate that any mention of the r-word, even if used to mean ‘slowed’ or ‘held back’, would be too much for Wokus Dei to bear.
Having received a few hyperbolic tweets from some blue ticks alleging woke blasphemy, AAI decided that an auto-da-fé had to be urgently arranged. Even though their investigation accepted that the word was used “without intending any offence to anyone”, AAI suspended their Executive Director for 30 days without pay. Soon after that he was gone altogether.
In fact, AAI cycled through four different Executive Directors in just nine months. This included the regular Bill O’Reilly sparring partner David Silverman, who lost his job at AAI over another non-scandal that caused the woke mob to go berserk. Farcically, the last Executive Director of Atheist Alliance International left with the then President of the organisation, in order to create the rival International Association of Atheists (IAA). At this point in the comedy show, readers are invited to insert their own joke about the Judean People’s Front. Splitters!
The recently shuttered IAA got their organisation off the ground in the first instance, by using a purloined AAI membership list for their initial fundraising campaign. In a puerile tit-for-tat series of duelling press releases between these international organisations, AAI stated as follows about the remedies they were demanding from IAA:
“If you fail to do this by noon PST on Monday 22 February 2021, we will report the case to the police. Some of your supporters have said we will never take this step. Just watch us.”
IAA did not comply. AAI did not make a police report. Unfortunately though, the clown car of international atheism rolled on. Another item on the agenda for AAI was an attempt to get back to the UN. However, the only idea that AAI have brought to the UN since 2016, was their campaign for the Right To Be Secular. Since the UN had already codified the right to be secular during the 1940s, we can only imagine their surprise when an international alliance of atheists turned up in 2019 to demand this long-established right.
It is perhaps no surprise then that the recent 46th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council took place without any atheist contributions. It should be a matter of some concern to atheists worldwide that they cannot muster the competence to even make an argument within international bodies. I would respectfully suggest to the faithful too, that public debates on topics where Church and State might collide (such as abortion, euthanasia, religious education, etc.) would benefit from hearing the strongest positions on the opposite side. However, it is exclusively the fault of international atheism that their democratic legitimacy has been destroyed.
When the delinquent Board of AAI declined to arrange an AGM in 2017, those who tried to rescue the organisation included the Freedom From Religion Foundation in the USA, and Atheist Ireland. However, a small cabal on the AAI Board arranged a secret meeting in 2018 to illegitimately change the Bylaws. This cabal have since admitted that the majority of Member Groups who should have been given a vote at this meeting, were improperly excluded. Comparing the previous democratic Bylaws to the new Bylaws introduced by the cabal in 2018, we can see that all AGMs were cancelled, as were all elections to the Board. Moreover, the Member Groups who paid subscription fees were no longer entitled to see the accounts, and were no longer able to pass motions that would be binding on the Board. In other words, the cabal made themselves unsackable and appropriated personal control of the organisation from the Member Groups. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that those who are unaccountable with respect to their job performance, do not in fact perform in their jobs.
Just this year, under pressure from some former Members who were illegitimately excluded by the cabal, the AAI Board permitted another AGM to take place for the first time in 5 years. The election process for Directors at the AGM was arranged exactly how you might imagine an election in a clown car to be organised. As the Board had removed the requirement for an Independent Returning Officer, the cabal were both the candidates in the election and also the managers of the election process. Their first decision was to dispense with the secret ballot. The Member Groups were asked to email their votes to the incumbent candidates, and then those candidates counted the votes. This happened before the AGM even started, so that there was no possibility to ask questions of the candidates. At the very beginning of the AGM then, the cabal simply reported that they had already been re-elected, and then they moved on without allowing the inevitable objections to be heard. Imagine if Donald Trump had announced in 2020 that the presidential election would involve all citizens emailing their votes to The White House, and then … surprise! … he reported that he had counted all the votes and that he had definitely been re-elected. How would the woke mob have reacted to that?
The respected Greek Helsinki Monitor attended this 2021 AAI AGM and described the re-election of the incumbent Board as “controlled in a totally non-transparent way by the Board”. As an atheist it pains me to admit it, but a conclave of cardinals burning ballot papers in the Sistine Chapel is much more democratic than international atheism … and a clown running across a minefield would probably appear to be better organised too.