American Atheists, the flagship of organized atheism in the U.S., has sacked its combative president, David Silverman, after two women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct.
One of the women, whose name has not been revealed, said Silverman assaulted her in his hotel room after a 2015 convention of the American Atheists in Memphis, Tennessee.
“He physically pressed me to the wall and began to kiss me forcefully, grabbed my breasts, and put his hand into my leggings where there was actual penetration of my vagina,” she stated in a written complaint to American Atheists, which she sent along with photos of bruises allegedly caused by Silverman.
The second woman, Rose St. Clair, claims that Silverman sexually assaulted her in 2012 when she was a college student at the annual convention of the Secular Student Alliance, held in Columbus, Ohio.
St. Clair said she met Silverman at a bar, became intoxicated, and accepted his invitation to his hotel room, where they had unprotected sex.
“I don’t believe I was in a position to be able to give consent. I was very intoxicated,” she said.
St. Clair said she was hoping for an internship at American Atheists and Silverman used this against her.
“I felt my interest in working for the organization was used as a way for him to have power so that I would have sex with him,” she said.
Last Friday, the board of American Atheists announced their decision to terminate Silverman just hours before BuzzFeed published a story chronicling the accusations of the two women.
In a statement posted online, the chair of the American Atheists Board of Directors, Neal Cary, said that the board “has reviewed internal documents and communications related to the initial complaint as well as evidence relating to the additional allegations brought to the Board’s attention.”
The announcement to terminate Silverman “is based on these findings,” the statement read.
“We take our obligation to create safe and welcoming communities for our staff, volunteers, members and supporters very seriously,” Nick Fish, American Atheists’ national program director, said in a separate statement. “We have zero tolerance for the type of behavior alleged in these accounts. We will continue to demand the highest standards and accountability from our leaders, staff, and volunteers.”
Silverman has denied the charges, posting on Facebook: “I want to make this perfectly clear: I categorically deny any wrongdoing, legally or ethically.” His lawyer, Sebastian Ionno, has declared that he “has never had a non-consensual sexual encounter.”
This is not the first allegation of misconduct, however.
Prior to Silverman’s termination, American Atheists had said it was placing him on paid leave while investigating his financial conduct concerning the promotion of his 2015 book, “Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World.” Silverman had also allegedly appointed a woman he was sexually involved with to a senior position at American Atheists.
As noted by Religion News, organized atheism has faced serious struggled with “charges of sexism and discrimination.” In February, for instance, popular atheist writer and speaker Lawrence Krauss was accused of sexual misbehavior at Arizona State University, which included “inappropriate behavior, groping women, ogling and making sexist jokes to undergrads,” as well as telling an employee the university that he was going to “buy her birth control so she didn’t inconvenience him with maternity leave.”
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