David Silverman, president of American Atheists, at the Reason Rally on March 24, 2012, on the National Mall in Washington. RNS photo by Tyrone Turner

American Atheists places president on leave pending investigation

(RNS) — American Atheists, one of the most prominent of the half-dozen national freethought activist organizations, has placed its highly visible president, David Silverman, on leave after an unspecified complaint.

Nick Fish, national program director for American Atheists, who has taken over daily operations while Silverman is on leave, said in an email that the complaint was in relation to "alleged violations of the American Atheists code of conduct and staff handbook."

READ: American Atheists leader wins fight for ‘ATHE1ST’ license plate

On Tuesday (April 10), the New Jersey-based organization issued a statement about the move.

"The Board takes very seriously the concerns expressed and, in accordance with organization policies, the Board has placed Mr. Silverman on leave while an independent investigation is conducted," the statement reads. "Mr. Silverman has pledged his full cooperation with the investigation."

The statement says board members received "a complaint" on Saturday about Silverman. It did not describe the nature of the complaint. Silverman is receiving his salary while on leave, Fish said.

Hemant Mehta, a popular atheist speaker, announced the sidelining of Silverman on his blog, Friendly Atheist.

"On a personal note, this is disturbing news in part because we don’t know the specifics of the allegations (and critics will inevitably use that to their advantage) and in part because I’ve known Dave in a professional context for about 15 years and think the world of him," he said on the blog. "I sincerely hope the investigation comes up empty."

Silverman, 51, has been with American Atheists since 2004 and became president of the 6,000-member group in 2010. He is famous beyond atheist circles for his multiple appearances on Fox News to debate the "War on Christmas" and the removal of religious symbols from public property.

The group made national headlines under his leadership when it placed billboards denouncing Christmas as a religious holiday in New York City's Times Square.


  1. I suspect the complaint was just the last straw. From what I have experienced and seen about their fights he has done more harm to the cause of Atheism and it is time he was removed.

  2. Uh-ohhh, baby! You just know this messy backslidden nation is about to fall directly under God’s divine judgment, when the ATHEISTS start having prime-time scandals!!

  3. I’m surprised. He violated no moral principle from atheism.

  4. He did not violate any atheistic moral principles.

  5. You used the words ” experienced and seen “.
    Would you provide more details.

  6. Atheism does not come with a set of ethics – it just means a lack of belief in gods. Each individual must formulate his/her own beliefs.

  7. News flash – all groups and organizations have scandals. I doubt very seriously that any atheist organization can compete with the scandals of christian organizations. What is the scandal, BTW? It didn’t say.

  8. Is it a cause? To me its a private decision reached over time through conscious effort. I do not wish to or care to convert anyone. I will defend my belief but I don’t see the need to join any group.

  9. I exchanged emails with him a few years back arguing over the installation of the beam in the shape of a cross at the World Trade Center memorial museum as well as some other issues of the time.

  10. The American Atheist organization has made it a cause.

  11. That’s right and Silverman has his own ideas what his ethics should be. Thus, he did nothing wrong by his standards.

  12. In our current #metoo moment, the “complaint” received likely relates to something sexual.

  13. He is known to deliberately court controversy to make a point. That works for some people but not everyone on his side thinks it’s a good idea. He also describes himself as an “ex-Jew,” which came as a surprise to many Jews that consider themselves atheists or at least non-religious. Ironically, he’s married to a Jewish woman and they apparently sent their kids to a secular Jewish school, one that identified with the secular, progressive Yiddish culture of groups like the Workmen’s Circle (Der Arbiter Ring) — a culture Silverman disavows.

  14. Everybody’s used to us Christians messing up bigtime. (Really wish that weren’t so, but that’s the truth.)

    But folks ain’t used to Christianity’s opponents likewise messing up bigtime. THAT’s when you suspect we’re all livin’ in the last days!!

  15. I am surprised you recognize the words “moral principles” at all.

  16. No, that would be what you do. By your own admission any act is OK if someone else did it or you say, “God says so”

  17. That’s what happens when you support a reality show host as leader of a nation.

  18. You do not know what moral principles are. Let alone those of others.

  19. i suspected we’re all livin’ in the last days when trump got his finger on the bomb–no religious allusion needed or intended .

  20. Many yrs ago, I met Jon, Robin and Frank Zindler – this was obviously pre – 1995.
    Ellen Johnson, interestingly, was removed as president, unwillingly, without a reason being given around 2007.
    I saw Silverman on TV a few times and have seen some of his debates on youtube.
    Along with the likes of Hitchins, Krauss and Harris, Silverman took no prisoners.
    He objected to the shape of the beam at the WTC memorial for obvious reasons.
    What was the reason for your objection to his fight to prevent the cross-shape and his objection to having holy-men bless it ?

  21. Your first 2 statements probably apply to everyone offering comments on RNS.

    You mentioned ” his side “. Which means ?

    As to the rest – he lives his own life.

    You use the word Jew. How many definitions can you give me for that word ?
    You appear to use it in multiple contexts.

    You seem to know a lot about Silverman’s personal life – are you Mossad or Shin Bet ?
    Or a devotee of Kahane ?

  22. His side meaning the organized secular community.
    There are many different kinds of Jews. It is an ethno-religious identity.
    Thanks for the flattery, but I got the info about his family from online news sources and my knowledge of the Jewish community.
    Kahane was a terrorist. I am baffled why you’d ask me something like that.

  23. QUESTION: Can bad things at home and negative domestic situations lead to “violations of the American Atheists code of conduct and staff handbook”?

    If yes, then the following human interest story may shed some light on what’s going on here. I hope not.

    “David [Silverman] met a young woman named Hildy at Brandeis [University]. It was an unlikely match: A ba’alat teshuvah, she had attended a Chabad high school, and in college she was fully observant. … ‘FOR OBVIOUS REASONS, WE DIDN’T SEE THERE WAS GOING TO BE MUCH OF A FUTURE,’ she said. … Silverman is not afraid of CONFLICT. … Those close to Silverman say that in his personal life he is quite comfortable around people of faith, including his sister Jodi and his magazine publisher wife, who, though she is now closer to Reform in practice, attends Orthodox services at Chabad on High Holidays. ‘SHE STOPS ME FROM GOING TOO FAR,’ Silverman said of his wife. ‘SHE IS DEFINITELY A MODERATING FORCE.’ ‘The odd thing is that we agree far more than WE DISAGREE,’ Hildy told me in a telephone interview. … ‘[His] work ‘protects everyone. It protects Muslims, it protects Jews, it protects Scientologists. As far as I’m concerned, he is a hero.’ A chapter of Silverman’s book is devoted to MANEUVERING A ‘MIXED MARRIAGE.’ The key to a successful interfaith relationship, he writes, is to refrain from TRYING TO CHANGE EACH OTHER and to define the rules in advance: ‘Once, she asked me to convince her of my position and I refused – she will get where she is going on her own.’ … Hildy told me that despite THEIR CORE DIFFERENCES ABOUT RELIGION, ‘I don’t force my views on him and he doesn’t force his views on me.’ Their daughter Rayanne, now 16, was raised with a choice, attending the secular Workmen’s Circle Hebrew school, but she decided she was an atheist and quit the lessons before her bat mitzvah – though she still attends High Holiday services with her mom. SILVERMAN TAKES PRIDE in the fact that his daughter came to the same conclusion as he did, but he claims he never tried to steer her in either direction, ‘I gave a Bible to my daughter,’ he said. ‘I told her to read it. I think everyone should read the Bible – the Old and the New Testament – then read Dawkins, read Hitchens, and decide for yourself.'”

    Source: Rachel Silberstein, “Can You Be an Atheist and a Jew at the Same Time? David Silverman Says No: The activist behind those anti-Christmas billboards says Judaism is incompatible with the views of nonbelievers – like himself”, Tablet, December 9, 2013.

  24. Messing up is human – nothing wrong with that unless you’re a hypocrite, holier-than-thou or hiding your mistake; then people enjoy the fall of those kinds of people.

  25. Surely as distasteful as you find the current chief executive, his election is not to the point of floydlee’s comment or the article, and as your own comment demonstrates (reinforcing floydlee’s), the problem does lie with the nation not the specific leader.

  26. My 1st thought, but then based on the text of the story, maybe it was simply about poor administration and internal politics, though I suppose there must be some ethical construct involved. Perhaps we should all stay tuned.

  27. Thank you for your response.
    I was trying to determine where on the religious panorama you might identify yourself. I probably have more friends who are Jews than any other self-identifying group.
    One of my strictly-observant Orthodox friends doesn’t even consider Liberal Jews to be Jews at all. Each to his own.
    I mentioned Mossad and SB for the same reason I threw-in Kahane – to try to better understand the bent of your comments.
    Silverman is a brilliant debater and is quite effective in bringing reason to a nation which is in peril of losing it.

  28. My point is that the supporters of the current president are reluctant to address what he does. What little they say implicitly is tacit support for his more objectionable actions.

    It is a half baked argument which allegedly decries a double standard but actually demonstrates no standards at all. It is implicitly malicious and condoned immoral and illegal actions.

  29. There are some battles worth fighting and some battles that you can’t win. Things to do with the World Trade Center are those battles you can’t win and actually harm your cause. My point was they needed to act smarter and wiser than their opponents. When there are issues about 10 Commandment monuments they should request that they be allowed to put up a monument that celebrates the wisdom of many great thinkers, Ashoka the Great, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Tolstoy, Hemingway, etc. IF such a request is denied then they have a clearcut case for promoting Christianity over other alternatives. TOO often they come across as simply being crabby people, NOT people really interested in freedom of speech, religion (including from religion).

  30. No he isn’t “quite effective” about bringing “reason to a nation”. He is a good debater but he has little understanding of religion and the part it plays in many people’s lives. He turns people against Atheism not for it.

  31. You’re disgusting for trying to hijack these women’s personal pain to try and score some sort of religious argument that no one but you cares about.

  32. ” Sometimes you have to shock in order to shake people out of their complacency, to get them to think. ”

    ” There are alternatives to New Age Mysticism and the sterility of Science. ”

    Perhaps you recognize these two quotes.

    The first quote partly describes Silverman’s debating technique. He is an atheist. He understands very well the part religion plays in peoples lives.

    The second quote displays a complete ignorance of Nature. Science is the study of Nature. For anyone to think of Nature as ” sterile ” displays a mind lacking in curiosity, or one that is incapable of comprehension.

    Silverman brilliantly presents atheism as a sliver of light in a dark world.

    The author of the above quotes has neither an understanding of atheism nor of the damage that religion does to young, innocent and open minds.

    When I first saw these letters, in caps;
    ” IT “, I thought it was a typo.

    Exploring further, it became obvious ” IT ” is an invention of the brilliant mind of Prof Irwin Corey.

  33. The prefix ” A ” means ” without “.
    Eg – A moral or A sexual.
    A theist means – without theist or without deity.
    Atheists deal in knowledge – not belief.

  34. The Sterility of Science doesn’t refer to nature Patrick. You display a great ignorance. There is a difference between bludgeoning and shocking! Silverman bludgeons. Which is why he causes harm to the cause.

  35. Also Patrick Science attempts, and does a pretty good job of freeing itself from value and emotional judgments. That makes it unfeeling and sterile to many people’s way of thinking. You are the one that shows little understanding of religion.

    I am flattered however that after all these years you have remembered my quotes. That means that my message got through to you and stuck in your craw!

  36. He’s human-I don’t know any from any category who isn’t tempted in all areas of life. So, there is no surprise this could happen.

    April 13, 2018
    Peter Aldhous
    “This Firebrand Atheist Was Just Fired After Allegations Of Financial Conflicts And Sexual Assault: David Silverman raised the profile of American Atheists through billboard campaigns that mimicked the tactics of the evangelicals whose message he opposed. Now he stands accused of financial conflicts and sexual misconduct.”

  38. The essence of Science and the study of Nature need to be dispassionate.

    But Nature is brimming-over with life – and emotion. To speak of Science as “ sterile “ can only come from a gross ignorance of Science, and Nature.

    I tried to be polite by not assigning to you the authorship of two statements quoted at the beginning of a previous comment of mine.

    But you wouldn’t have it.

    Let me see if I can deflate your out-sized ego a bit….

    I research – everything.

    I wanted to get a better handle as to where you were coming from philosophically with your comments in general.

    I googled you.

    I found an article you wrote for

    ” Religious Tolerance “.


    I have rarely come across such infantile nonsense.

    Perhaps I was misreading your text.

    I researched a bit further and found a book you had written :

    ” Searching for Enlightenment : Gnosticism for a new Millennium “ 0th edition, pub 2007.


    With such a weighty title, I expected to be enlightened as though by one
    of the great ancient Greek philosophers !

    With great anticipation – I opened the online text and began to read.

    It was there and then that I found the two quotes, by you, I submitted
    in an earlier comment.

    I hadn’t misread your article. Both it and your book – are inane vapid gibberish – that which one would expect from a grammar-school
    student or a “ challenged ” devotee of Shirley MacLaine.

    I was aghast – which publisher would accept this tripe for publication ?


    A “ self-publisher “ – who you paid to print the book.

    So, no, Ms Humphreys – your quotes didn’t get “stuck in my craw”

  39. There is a difference Patrick between the natural world and the Science about the natural world. It doesn’t surprise me that you miss that difference. You can’t deflate my EGO Patrick your unwarranted attack actually increases it! Thanks

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