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In Amended Lawsuit, Edwina Rogers Accuses Richard Dawkins and Others of Retaliating Against Her

A couple of months ago, I posted in detail about a lawsuit filed by Edwina Rogers (below) against her former employers at the Secular Coalition for America.

The lawsuit alleged that SCA leaders wrongfully terminated Rogers and then made defamatory statements about her to the press. They were motivated, the document said, by “petty jealousies and naked ambition.”The SCA, along with individuals named in the lawsuit, denied the allegations. They would have been issuing a formal response very soon.Why bring this up now?Last week, Rogers filed an amended version of her lawsuit in court.

A couple of months ago, I posted in detail about a lawsuit filed by Edwina Rogers (below) against her former employers at the Secular Coalition for America.

The lawsuit alleged that SCA leaders wrongfully terminated Rogers and then made defamatory statements about her to the press. They were motivated, the document said, by “petty jealousies and naked ambition.”

The SCA, along with individuals named in the lawsuit, denied the allegations. They would have been issuing a formal response very soon.

Why bring this up now?

Last week, Rogers filed an amended version of her lawsuit in court.

Now, in addition to everything she said before, Richard Dawkins is named as a Defendant and the lawsuit includes events that have transpired over the past two months, mostly regarding the withering of the Secular Policy Institute (Rogers’ current organization) since the lawsuit was filed.

Other than minor sentence changes, here’s what the lawsuit includes that wasn’t there before:

1) There’s a claim that the Richard Dawkins Foundation took money that was raised for Doctors Without Borders and kept it for itself:

Plaintiff [Rogers] discovered charitable donations solicited over several years to support Doctors Without Borders’ response to specific natural disasters instead were deposited into the Foundation’s operating account. That account was used for, [among other things], Dawkins’ and his Foundation’s legal fees and other non-charitable purposes.

Plaintiff retained a forensic accounting firm to assure that the converted funds would be repaid and forwarded to the charity. When Plaintiff returned to SCA full time, this work was ongoing.

2) There’s a claim that the Defendants “threatened to incite mass resignations” among organizations/people associated with the Secular Policy Institute unless Rogers “dismissed this lawsuit.”

When [Rogers] refused to submit to Defendants’ blackmail, Defendants made good on their threat: they communicated with major SPI donors and Fellows and urged them to withdraw support and/or resign from SPI. As a result, SPI’s viability and funding base have been eroded, jeopardizing Plaintiff’s position and interfering with her employment agreement. Defendants’ retaliation against Plaintiff is the basis for amendment of her Complaint.

3) Specifically, Rogers says Dawkins “enlisted Daniel Dennett and Michael Shermer to assist in retaliating against [her] by damaging her employment relationship with SPI.”

Dawkins, Shermer, and Dennett communicated in person and by email with SPI donors and Fellows and urged them to resign from SPI unless Plaintiff dismissed this litigation. According to former SPI Fellow Michael Shermer, Dawkins “ordered” him to deliver the same message to other SPI Fellows. Upon information and belief, Dawkins, Shermer, and Dennett did not disclose their affiliation with SCA while conveying disapproval of Plaintiff and implying wrongdoing on Plaintiff’s part.

Beginning on June 11, 2015 Plaintiff received emails from SPI Fellows and donors resigning or threatening to resign as a result of this litigation, including: Dawkins, Dennett, Shermer, Steven Pinker, James Thompson, Rebecca Goldstein, Lawrence Krauss, Carolyn Porco, Ron Lindsay, Stephen Law, Phil Zuckerman, Wendy Kaminer, and Peter Boghossian. Each and every resignation was caused by Dawkins and SCA in retaliation for Plaintiff’s filing and refusing to dismiss this litigation.

In addition, SPI has lost fifteen member organizations due to these Defendants’ actions.

Heavy stuff.

So let’s go through these allegations one by one.

Regarding the Doctors Without Borders fundraiser, the RDF began that campaign in July of 2012 (as part of a larger program called Non-Believers Giving Aid, which began earlier). The website specifically said:

All donations that the Richard Dawkins Foundation receives via Non-Believers Giving Aid will be donated to Doctors Without Borders — nothing is removed for overhead. Please help us with whatever you are able to give.

By November of 2013, donations to Doctors Without Borders were helping those affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Today, the Giving Aid website no longer exists.

I asked Robyn Blumner, the current Executive Director of RDF, and Dawkins himself about these allegations. But before I post his response, it helps to understand the other points made in the lawsuit.

What’s the deal with the allegations that Dawkins directed people to leave the Secular Policy Institute?

Over the past couple of months, I’ve contacted several of the Fellows who resigned from SPI. A number of them told me their primary motivation for resigning was not that Dawkins told them to leave, but that they never agreed to join the SPI as Fellows in the first place. Once they realized this, they asked to be removed from the list.

Why the confusion? It appears that at least some of them said yes to becoming Fellows of the “Secular Global Council” (an SCA program) when Rogers was the Executive Director there… but they were unaware of the Secular Policy Institute and did not agree to join a group that was separate from the SCA. (A lot of the policy recommendations at the Secular Policy Institute were identical to the SCA Policy Guide, which Rogers also oversaw, which may explain the confusion.)

Daniel Dennett told me: “I didn’t know I was a Fellow of SPI until I saw my picture and name on the website.”

Dawkins added: “I have no recollection of how I [came] to be on the [SPI Fellows] list in the first place.”

You can read more of the backstory about SCA, SPI, and the Secular Global Council here.

While I can’t speak as to why more than a dozen member organizations left SPI, one of them was American Atheists. The group’s Legal and Public Policy Director Amanda Knief told me, “American Atheists ended its affiliation with the Secular Policy Institute for reasons having nothing to do with Richard Dawkins, the Richard Dawkins Foundation, or because of the Secular Coalition for America.”

In response to the amended lawsuit, the Secular Coalition for America’s current Executive Director Kelly Damerow told me:

We look forward to replying in full when we file our response by the end of the month.

She also reiterated what she said a couple of months ago:

The SCA is disappointed that Ms. Rogers chose to file this complaint. The SCA denies Ms. Rogers’ allegations that it has taken any unlawful actions against her. SCA has retained legal counsel and intends to vigorously contest this lawsuit.

But what about Dawkins and whatever was happening with those donations? He issued this statement to me earlier today:

I am being sued in federal court in Washington, DC by Edwina Rogers, the former executive director of the Secular Coalition for America and the former interim executive director of and paid consultant for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. She posits a number of allegations with regard to my resignation as a fellow from the Secular Policy Institute (SPI) where Rogers works as CEO.

In fact, I never agreed to be a fellow of SPI in the first instance. Who knew that in America a person could be sued for leaving an organization of which one was never a willing part and telling close friends about it?

My concern is and has always been the wellbeing of the secular movement. I have devoted a substantial proportion of my personal resources and, of course, my time, to ensuring the movement’s health, and any action I took with regard to SPI was in furtherance of that goal.

I will be defending against this lawsuit and its baseless claims with all vigour. But there is an element of the suit I would like to directly address. It involves a former program of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science.

Non-Believers Giving Aid was a program of the foundation from 2010-2014. Since 2010, the NBGA program resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations sent to NGOs devoted to providing humanitarian assistance around the world.

During a period of transition for the foundation in 2013-2014, Rogers served as interim executive director until we brought on Robyn Blumner as our permanent executive director in Feb. 2014. During this time the NBGA program was ended for three primary reasons, 1) Concerns arose about the program’s management that had to be further reviewed, 2) Another organization, Foundation Beyond Belief, was effectively doing the work of NBGA, and 3) The organization decided to focus on its core mission, the promotion of scientific literacy and secularism.

Under Blumner’s leadership, we hired a team of accountants and legal counsel to answer our concerns about the NBGA program. The team’s job was to ensure that the foundation fulfilled all its legal obligations under NBGA and ethical obligations to its donors and NGO beneficiaries. We followed the team’s advice, with me personally providing whatever resources were needed, and are confident we are in full compliance with all financial, legal and ethical obligations, and that we run the foundation in accordance with sound fiscal management practices.

Since the start of 2014 the foundation has launched the Openly Secular campaign with other secular groups, to reduce the social stigma surrounding nonbelievers by getting secular people to be more vocal about who they are, it launched the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, to help middle school teachers teach evolution to their students, and executed a number of other groundbreaking projects to promote science and secularism.

I am deeply proud of the foundation’s work, look forward to continuing it and do not intend to allow a baseless lawsuit to divert my attention or focus.

A formal response from all the Defendants is expected soon.

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