The AAI is the only atheist organisation with consultative status at the UN.

They continue to deliver disappointments.

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The AAI Files, Part One

You’ve had a long flight where a baby wouldn’t shut up and you’ve been standing in front of the baggage carousel for 40 minutes. You think it’s over. All the baggage has come out and the machine turned off. The screen has your flight details on it, but you wonder if you’re in the right place. Just then, the little light flashes above your head, the beeps start, the carousel engine kicks in and you hear the intermittent muffled thump of suitcase on rubber. You stare with a mixture of anticipation and dread at the end of the belt where you know something is going to appear if you just wait.

Similarly, the tragic carousel of cock-ups, corruption and incompetence at Atheist Alliance International (AAI) guarantees something is always coming, and it never takes too long. The sheer volume and scale of malfeasance since the hotly-disputed Annual General Meeting (AGM) in 2018 will populate several articles. For now, let’s concentrate on the most recent developments.

Current AAI secretary Bill Flavell had an idea last week. He wants to establish a website where anyone can publicly renounce their religion and print out a “renunciation certificate” for themselves. This is not just superficially childish. Among other dangers, it could be fatal to, for example, anyone living in one of the thirteen countries where atheism is punishable by execution.

Yes, this is a real international organisation run by real people who are supposed to represent global organized atheism.

In the strongest language Facebook will allow, I explained my objection, which Flavell unfortunately mistook as an invitation to a debate. The danger snaps into focus in light of ongoing concern for database security. Last year, Flavell presided over a data breach of the entire AAI subscriber list (which included names, addresses and may have contained bank details) by a rival organization, the now-defunct, confusingly-named International Association of Atheists (IAA). In an official blog post, AAI threatened to call the police, adding that supporters of the IAA “have said we will never take this step. Just watch us.” Nothing happened.

To answer the question I hear most often: Yes, this is a real international organization run by real people who are supposed to represent global organized atheism. Yes, they expect to be taken seriously, and they think they’re doing a great job.

Loss of status

For years, AAI boasted (correctly) that they were the only atheist organization with consultative status at the United Nations and the Council of Europe (CoE). In August, the AAI lost participatory status at the CoE because they made no submissions in the last four years. They still have consultative status at the UN where they have made no meaningful submissions in the last four years.

Another wrinkle is a condition for special consultative status at the UN: an organization “must have a democratic decision-making mechanism”. The Council of Europe similarly demands of its members with participatory status “a democratic structure and governance”. The democratic nature of AAI has been controversial since a problematic AGM they held 2018. Many former AAI affiliates strongly feel that a few officers “unlawfully hijacked” the organization at this “very undemocratic” AGM.

If the UN removes AAI’s privileges as the CoE has, there will be no international representation in these organizations for atheists. The world’s major religions will be free to continue making submissions to the UN and the CoE without any counterbalance from a group many religious people regard as their mortal enemies.

Brian Kernick, the current president of AAI (they’ve burned through four so far this year), did not respond to a request for comment. In fact, as far as I am aware, he has not made any public comment of any kind since he become president in July.

Barry Purcell lives in Ireland and writes about religion, philosophy, psychology, politics and language for a variety of paper and online publications. He has been involved in campaigns to counteract the...

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