Without prejuding the specific sequence of events, I begin with Norm Allen's own account of his termination. Debbie Goddard has also issued a preliminary statement, and presumably more background on what will likely become a major scandal will be forthcoming.



Dear Friends:
I am sending this email to notify you that I have been "laid off" by the Center for Inquiry in Amherst. This is not surprising given the poor state of the economy in the United States. However, the
way I was callously dismissed was truly disgraceful. The password to
my computer was secretly changed just as I was doing important work for
CFI. I was rudely bumped from the Internet, and called into an office.
I was told that I had to surrender my keys in a matter of minutes. I
was told to vacate the premises as soon as possible. After 21 years
I received no thanks, gratitude, or even an offer of letters of
recommendation. I was given no opportunity to say goodbye or to give any parting
words of thanks, advice or encouragement. However, I WAS given two small
boxes to pack my belongings.
That is why I am writing this letter now. Thank you all for the help that you have given me in trying to popularize humanism and humanist ideals. My greatest regret is that I will not be able to be of service to you any longer.
There are so many humanists throughout the world that have come
to depend on me for guidance, advice, reading materials, etc. Now, it is
highly unlikely that our international groups will receive any serious aid from
the Amherst office.
But press on anyway. Certainly the current CFI leadership is not ncessary for the growth of humanism anywhere in the world. Please continue to move forward and do your best to see to it thatyour groups survive and thrive. They
are counting on you and I know that you will not let them down.
Your Brother in Freethought,
Norm R. Allen Jr.  

Views: 328

Replies to This Discussion


I didn't know. The way it was done is the worst forms of corporate dispassion. I am familiar with it, but that makes it no better. No one wants to dirty their hands. It's like the killing scenes in the Godfathether where Mrt. Corleone is attending the christening of a child while his boys assassinate his enemies. I am truly heart-rendered because I believe you are one of the people the world needs more of for its own health, especially our world where superstition seems second nature. Whatever I can do to help, assist or build--I am available. I'll do another e-mail with contact info. I am serious, your work is needed now more than ever in the black community where the spawn of capitalism is making millionaires and draining financial resources from the very area that needs them. I mean it! If there is anything I can do to help--I'll do it. Hang tough.

Donald R Barbera
As soon as I determine which of Debbie Goddard's statements is for public consumption and which not, I will post the appropriate content here. However, paraphrasing is permitted, so I will say that by her account and my paraphrase that she is going to be taking over Norm's responsibilities and that CFI is working her to death. As I say, I can't take a position on facts to which I am not privy, But I have to seriously question CFI management even if these layoffs are unavoidable, for example, the dependence on large donors who beneficence can be withdrawn at any time.
Thanks for posting this Ralph. I'm curious to read Debbie Goddard's public consumption statements. These are the sorts of things I need to know when I decide to join national/international groups.
sounds like standard employee lay-off procedure to me. and i know that does not make this situation any easier. ive been involved in the terminating process on both sides, many times. seems to me, and i am nobody and know nothing, that there are other factors involved relating to the relationship mr allen had with this organization. maybe this should be openly and directly addressed as im detecting there has been conflict or "drama" with mr allen and CFI or something.
Thanks for posting this, Debbie. It wouldn't be ethical for me to jump to conclusions in lieu of access to all the facts, but there is no way this won't become a more public issue, and it probably needs to become so.

There are other recent events and controversies surrounding CFI, which perhaps cannot be discussed by the principles in public with full candor; nevertheless the future of CFI may be dependent upon a fuller accounting.

Just before this round of layoffs, the DC office of CFI announced its closing due to the funding crisis. The immediate cause was a funding shortfall due to a the lack of an expected donation of a very large sum from a regular donor. No reasons for this withholding of funds was given, the donor could not be contacted, and any putative connection between this and the recent public tiffs within CFI is purely speculative.

The ideological conflict in question involves Paul Kurtz's dissension with the "new atheists", which has been countered as a red herring by other influential people in the organization. I, like others, do not find Kurtz's position convincing. (I was completely uninspired by CFI's participation in National Blasphemy Day, but for entirely different reasons.)

There seems to be another story behind this that is not being told: the real organizational issues behind Kurtz's decommission from his prior guiding position in CFI. Eventually, someone is going to have to come clean about this, as CFI's reputation already hangs in the balance.

I'm guessing that at issue is a combination of management style, dependence on large donors, and the disposition of existing funds. I have not visited the CFI office in many years, but I am told that the physical plant (which then looked plush enough for my tastes) was enhanced in certain ways which do not suggest wise prioritizing. I was told, for example, that a great deal of money was expended on a piece of sculpture near the entrance of the building. If this is true, I question the value of expending scarce resources on luxuries, the type of gesture that is typical of corporate America but hardly befits a struggling movement.

My point is, that even allowing for the inevitability of the layoffs and the downsizing, the fact that this turn of events came so suddenly and disruptively suggests that there is something very wrong that has not come to light. For all the issues that the upper middle class deems important, they had best take heed of my issue: the exploitation of labor.
I meant "principals" not "principles", but I was unable to edit my message. I have no intention of complaining yet again about the technical difficulties I experience in writing posts to this site. I don't have the time. But should someone else take it upon him/herself to address the problem, go right ahead.
I am not in a position to verify any of the assertions made by anyone, but you can follow this Facebook discussion:


I will reprint here some of the more interesting responses:

Barry F Seidman
Thanks Simon.. I talked with Paul myself some months ago. Can't say he did not create the conditions for the problems at CFI.. mainly by overreach and hiring some pretty devious people in the past. Again, I am not surprised the Frankenstein he created and let go so astray is now attacking him and purging itself... then again, a humanist org build on capitalist hubris can not last long.

Barry F Seidman
I agree Olga. CFI became a New Atheist, Libertarian, Dogmatic Skeptics group slowly after 9/11 as it floundered in understanding the real causes of that horrible event. It became a atheist pitbull group and put atheism, Skepticism and religion-bashing on the top of it's list, and left Humanism in the dust. When CSH was a more or less autonomous ... See Moreentity, and not watered down to it's least common denominator (atheism) under the CFI umbrella, humanism as a real living philosophy ended. For the record, this was Kurtz's doing because he wanted to get more donors and listened to DJ Grothe and Austin Dacey who designed the CFI of today and then baled out when it began to collapse. Again, I was there in deep meetings with Kurtz, Allen, Koepsell, Flynn, Buckner, etc from 1999-2006 and saw it happen up close. I warned Paul, but he didn't listen.

Barry F Seidman
I agree with Tim (not about the real problems with the message he misses, but..) about the fact of the circumstances CFI was operating with. In the old days when CSH/CSICOP were more true to their message(s), they were mostly ignored. So they tried to get attention, too often by retreating from humanist ideals, but did so in a society where ... See Morehumanism is out and capitalism is in.

THAT is why they have failed thus far MEANING anything to the world (including the humanist world looking for more than an elitist atheist club), NOT because of "human nature." Remember, we humans are also operating currently under capitalism and dominance hierarchies, and until we change THAT we can't expect organized humanism to do very well.

Then again, IF we change that, we may no longer NEED organized humanism :)

Barry F Seidman
Listen guys.. I knew Kurtz fairly well. He set himself up with his goals of creating CFI palaces, spending money on constant expansion, and watered down his various messages so as to appeal to a larger potential donor base. He did this because he fell for the nonsense some of his staff were feeding him, and he ignore lots of sage advice from others... See More. This always happens when an empire grows too big for it's britches. Kurtz began as a man with an ideology (secular humanism) and an interest in science (and skepticism) and decided about 7-10 years ago that THAT wasn't good enough... that what he created wasn't having as large an impact as he wished or as big a rep as he hoped. So he gave up ideology for empire and it's all crumbling around him. He quit because he saw that the opportunists he hired were in control of the game, and he was being sidestepped and sometimes used. He lost lots of good people and friends this way, and in the end, the creeps he put his money on up and left anyway. Norm is just the latest victim.
June 6 at 11:38pm

Barry F Seidman
I am not sure how this plays into Norm's firing.. but I am sure that is just part of the blow back from a mess PK let happen as soon as he began to realize he wasn't gonna be around forever....

PK never really picked his successor. His original idea was to have a team with him, the CSH Dir and the CSICIP Dir (who was one time David Koepsel & ... See MoreBarry Karr) co-run CFI. Dacey did not like that idea and tried to wrestle power (thru his proxies.... mainly Grothe) to usurp power from Koepsel and Karr while PK was still around.. which set up battle lines and folks taking sides.

Dacey went as far as, again thru proxies, tell donors in private that PK has selected HIM to succeed him when he died! This brought the donors into the battle, if less obviously than staffers.

PK seemed to be playing all sides against each perhaps understanding that CFI would collapse or change dramatically when he died, or perhaps he even wanted that to happen so he could be seen as a one in a million re his legacy.

The bottom line here is that PK changed his several organizations, melding them into one and therefore watering down humanism, in an effort to.. well I am not sure. But he was certainly influenced by a few bad apples to do exactly the wrong things with the already loosely held together empire he created.

None of what is happening today therefore surprises me. I saw it coming as early as 2003.
Monday at 10:30pm

Olga Bourlin
There are jobs ... and then there are jobs with history and personal connections, and the plowing up and enriching of new soil to watch the slender shoots of accomplishment just starting to grow. Such was Norm Allen's historic achievement for humanism in places around the world "Where no man has gone before." The "we have no money" issue seems ... See Morelike an excuse (no, I don't know for sure - I'm only speculating).

Observe, in Leo Igwe's recent letter, where he brings up a good point: "... give me a break if paying Norm Allen was such a problem _why didn't they say it and possibly we set up a special fund for him for the sake of humanism in Africa. Look the current CFI leadership has done incalculable damage to humanist programs in Africa._"

Full excerpt: "(From Leo Igwe) "This is a reply I sent to Ron and Derek I am still very sad and angry to get you know the damage they have done to the humanist cause in Africa. Who at that Center could have risked coming to Africa on October 8 2001 less than a month after September 11 to attend our humanist conference? it was Norm Allen. Who at the Center would help put African humanist thought in books and magazines? it was Norm Allen Who at that Center would risk coming to Nigeria to march on the streets against Caste System, it was Norm Allen Who at the Center would travel to villages in Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal Uganda to meet with witch doctors and capture the dynamics of African humanism it was Norm Allen Who at the Center would send books and magazines in an matter of days to any contact in Africa It was Norm Allen. Who would promote humanism in Africa with passion, vigor and commitment, it was Norm Allen. I mean give me a break if paying Norm Allen was such a problem why didn't they say it and possibly we set up a special fund for him for the sake of humanism in Africa. Look the current CFI leadership has done incalculable damage to humanist programs in Africa."

So, did CFI bother to explore other avenues to keep Norm connected to AAH - for a time, maybe for a few years? Even if new leadership inevitably followed (new leadership inevitably follows), Norm could have spent some time with the new leader(s) in making certain the ties to Africa (and other places) weren't severed so abruptly. The word "abrupt" keeps coming up for me (and I have to admit I have some misgivings because of this, as Ralph does) - due to the suddenness of this move. Did CFI even try or discuss another solution for Norm, before pushing the "bombs away!" button, and smashing so much of Norm Allen's good work. And make no mistake about it, as far as AAH Africa is concerned - from what sources there have been saying - all that hard work and all the goodwill - is in shambles.

As of today (June 9, 2010), Norm Allen is still listed as the contact for AAH:


... and Paul Kurtz is still writing about the importance of AAH:


Does anyone have any more information about why Paul Kurtz has not been able to submit his editorials to "Free Inquiry" magazine? (the irony - in so many ways - would be funny, if it weren't so sad).

All this still doesn't seem real to me ... but to Paul and Norm and all the people who were so affected with the layoffs and resignations, it must still seem like a bad nightmare from which they have not yet woken up.

Ralph Ellectual
I do not subscribe to the coup d'etat perspective, and though I'm an ignorant outsider in CFI matters, I doubt very much that Paul Kurtz can be absolved in this managerial/financial crisis, even though he may not have pulled the trigger as far as the layoffs are concerned. The crisis that resulted in the closing of offices and the layoffs may have ... See Morebeen sudden, but one would think that some forewarning of the personnel to be affected would be in order, even if that forewarning were a matter of days. Apparently, AAH will be continued; I don't have any idea how much available resources could be devoted to Africa while expanding outreach among African Americans, all while Debbie Goddard is being worked to death. Once again, I ask: if it's true that money was used for luxuries such as commissioning a sculpture, even if this was done before needed funds dried up, is this not a profligate waste of resources and a misplaced sense of priorities? Where is the organizational money for rainy days or dry spells, as it were?

Olga Bourlin
Here's an update I just got (there were two PDF attachments, but suffice it to say ... this is very, very interesting - and not for the faint of heart). This is from Toni Van Pelt
former Vice President and Director of the Office Of Public Policy
Center for Inquiry:

Dear all,... See More

I have attached the "standard" corporate agreement sent to me by Ronald Lindsay and Derek Araujo. I call it standard since I have verified this "agreement" has been sent to more than a few staff members who have been terminated by the current management. I checked with an employment attorney, who called it draconian. I am sure it is legal; after all Ron, Derek and two board members, Ed Tabash and David Henehan are all attorneys.

A few highlights include: the provision that my family members and accountants must sign the agreement if they read it;

I may never apply for a job with CFI again

and of course I will be muzzled for eternity.

It is interesting that it includes a provision disallowing discussion against Barry Karr and Ron Lindsay in particular.

Also I would give up any and all future rights.

And some folks on the blogs wonder why, if staff is truly being mistreated as Dr. Kurtz states publicly, abused staff does not speak out about what is going on even after they have been terminated or quit due to stress and unhappiness.

The question for me is "Is the atmosphere CFI staff labor in humanist?

My answer is "No. The organization is now run as a business capitalist corporation, in my opinion, with all that means." Many corporate takeovers end the same way CFI is headed. New management comes in and slashes and burns, ending programs and firing staff. One wonders "Who benefits from this?"

Under Paul Kurtz's management CFI was a joy to work for; creativity, trust and just plain fun abound. CFI was also successful in many ways, including financially. I doubt that we have lost just one large donor. (One large donor who gave over a half a million dollars each year for twenty-eight years)

A few questions to be answered are:

"Have other donors rescinded their gifts, have bequests been revoked?

Has the annual operating budget been reduced? If so by how much?

Has the top tier management staff salary been reduced in this latest round of "reductions". (I have taken a reduction in pay {without my input} last year, my benefits have been cut. I was happy to do so, if it meant we didn't fire anyone.)

Beside these layoffs how has other staff suffered? Have there been non-management staff salary reductions? If so, who and at what level?

How will Mr. Araujo handle his duties as general counsel, UN representative, OPP director, international director, blog writer, amicus brief researcher.

How will these programs function, will they survive or simply be a shell?

I have more to say but even now I am afraid because I know the barrage of accusatory attacks, that I and others have suffered in the past from Ronald and Derek will begin anew. I have no doubt that Melody Hensley and her consort Simon Davis will continue to attack openly and publicly not just Dr. Kurtz and Members who question policy, but will add me to their list of targets (remember when DJ Grothe spoke his truth, Melody and Simon were openly disdainful of him). They also engage in veiled threats to chastise those who are on the boards or leaders of other "competing organizations".

Melody and Simon write that if only people knew the "inside" story they would see the light and right of the current managements policies. People are looking for answers of the reality of inner workings of CFI. Why not tell them the truth of the inside story?

How could a staff member expose the truth, THEIR truth, when staff is forced to decide between putting food on their table by signing the agreement or sacrifice their just severance pay in these very tough economically time to take a courageous ethical stance to speak their truth. I do not fault any staff member who has made the decision to sign the "agreement". I have recommended when asked, that staff sign the agreement for their own good and survival.

I am concerned for Dr. Kurtz; he has been courageous throughout all of this. Contrary to the whisper campaign Dr. Kurtz is robust, sharp as a tack and extraordinarily productive. He has suffered terribly at the hands of those who publicly say they respect and honor him.

All of this begs the question. "What to do?"

Toni Van Pelt
former Vice President and Director of the Office Of Public Policy
Center for Inquiry


I have been highly selective here, but I pulled out the quotes I find most directly bear on the issues at hand. I have not quoted Simon Davis. For the record, Simon and Melody are spouses, not consorts. I find it difficult to believe they would resort to chicanery, and in fact, the DC office has set new records for community outreach efforts. I do believe, however, that people whose bread-and-butter is tied to their organizational behavior are forced to be discrete or selective in their public profiles. However, such discretion will not brook the tide of severe scrutiny of CFI's organizational practices. I cannot believe that the sole factor in all of this is the shortfall accruing from loss of a big-time donor. Nor do I believe that an ideological divide in the humanist movement is of any importance other than possible linkages to power and money. I think people need to put the screws to CFI to get to the bottom of this business.
Some blog posts from around the web:

Friendly Atheist - CFI Budget Cuts Lead to a Number of Firings - June 2

New Oxonian - Tuesday Massacre at the Center for 'Inquiry'? - June 2 (Blog by former CSER chair R. Joseph Hoffmann )

Butterflies and Wheels blog - Update on CFI - June 6

There's quite a bit of back-and-forth between insiders and former insiders in the comments.
The discussion at Friendly Atheist at least gives you something; the other two blogs are useless.
I have added fuel to the fire:

"As an outsider to this organization, not privy to its inner workings, I cannot prejudge the facts surrounding the financial crisis, the closing of offices, and the layoffs. It should be evident, though, that there is something deeply rotten here including a lack of candor about the real situation. Presumably certain parties are not at liberty to tell the whole truth, but if you think the dirty laundry is going to elude airing, and that stonewalling our skeptical inquiry will succeed, you are sadly deluded. Is it not evident at the very least that both old and new management are at fault for the instability of this organization and the precipitous nature of this turn of events?"
the other two blogs are useless.

Of course "utility" is in the eye of the beholder.
George Thindwa, who is head of the The Association for Secular Humanism in Malawi , commented on Hoffman's blog.

We are saddenned by the depature of Norm Allen. At least he could have been given an opportunity to make a contribution to the problem. We are confident that he could have suggested ways of how to contibute to measures to boost the coffer sof CFI so that Humanism continues to grow particularly here in Africa. Norm Allen was our pillar as he understood the African situation better and was doing a good job. Even if the situation was very bad finanacially at CFI, he could have been given adquate notice. A get together could have been organised for him so that he could bid farewell with us his colleagues in Africa.


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