Loss of respect for atheist Larry Darby

I really didn’t want to post this entry today but feel that I must.

The focus of this blog is to “expose the myths about secularism” that dominate the culture. Most of the time this takes the form of responding to some article I read where the writer is totally wrong about secular people. Usually the writer is a theist.

Today I have to call out one of my own for perpetrating a myth about being secular.

Larry Darby was a respected “hero” in the Atheist community. He has fought the good fight against the religious right in the buckle of the Bible belt in Alabama for many years. He made a name for himself by taking on Judge Roy Moore, who ignored Federal court rulings to remove a 10 Commandments monument from the State Supreme Court building, by organizing demonstrations and giving the Atheist point of view to all the media watching the court case. Moore eventually lost his job over the issue. He also founded the Atheist Law Center and was a state director for American Atheists.

It now appears that Darby has thrown all the years of work away over David Irving.

In July of this year, Darby invited infamous “historian” David Irving to speak at a meeting of his Atheist group. For those who may not know Irving is an admitted Holocaust denier. He lost a libel case several years ago in the UK in which the judge determined:

“Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-semitic and racist and that he associates with right wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.”

– Justice Charles Gray, QC

Irving not only was shown to be wrong about his view of the Holocaust but during the trial it was shown that he had misrepresented many things in his various books. He not only lost the libel case but his reputation as a historian was destroyed. Writing about history is as much a science as discovering theories about the universe. There are specific ways to do it and one way NOT to do it is to make things up.

Larry Darby wrote in the blurb for the meeting:

“When individuals do find the courage to challenge politically correct notions involving Judaism, they are often met with knee-jerk responses of name-calling, such as ‘anti-Jew’ or ‘anti-Semitic’ or, in the case of Irving, ‘holocaust denier.’ Such vicious personal attacks have an effect of quashing free expression of opinion and free inquiry into a religion or faith-based practices, even when such practices have a bearing on U.S. national security.”

Basically Darby is supporting Irving because Irving speaks out against Judaism. It seems he thinks being an Atheist is to support anyone or any idea that goes against religion.

Austin Cline, who writes about Atheism on about.com put it this way:

It’s entirely proper to dispute “knee-jerk responses” from people who accuse one of anti-Semitism merely for criticizing Judaism and Israel — there is plenty in both that merits criticism. What is not proper, however, is to take up with genuine anti-Semites and noxious Holocaust Deniers because they are attacked by the same people. The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend, and that’s the kindest spin that can be put on Darby’s actions.

Atheists, Anti-Semitism, and Holocaust Denial

Although Darby is wrong to support Irving or invite him to speak at a meeting simply because he speaks out against Judaism, I wouldn’t even suggest that Darby be forced at any time to not have Irving speak. I just don’t have to like it or support it. I don’t support Judaism and I can be critical of Israel when need be, but I’m not foolish enough to ignore the historical facts of the Holocaust just as I can’t ignore gravity because it might be inconvenient.

Matt Cherry of the Institute for Humanist Studies commented:

Some people would deny Larry Darby and David Irving their right to question the Holocaust. I am not among them: I defend their right to express their opinions and I oppose laws against holocaust-denial, which exist in Germany and elsewhere. I believe it is important for freethinkers to fight for the right of unpopular opinions to be expressed; even the odious views of Nazi sympathizers. But fighting for someone’s right to speak is very different from inviting them to speak at your meeting or supporting their opinions.

The First Amendment prevents government from censoring speech, but it allows private individuals and groups to make their own choices about who to publicize or ignore. Just as freedom of religion includes freedom from religion, so also freedom of speech includes freedom not to listen.

I know where I draw the line. I defend Larry Darby’s legal right to promote Holocaust deniers and anti-semites, but he has earned my contempt for doing so.

Drawing the line: Freethought and Holocaust Denial

It is always a bit difficult to see a once respected “hero” of the movement do something that loses that respect. It is a shame.

See also:
Mailbag: Atheists, Holocaust Denial, and Ideology, Part 1
Mailbag: Atheists, Holocaust Denial, and Ideology, Part 2
Mailbag: Atheists, Holocaust Denial, and Ideology, Part 3
Mailbag: Atheists, Holocaust Denial, and Ideology, Part 4
Strange Bedfellows


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  1. Doug Berger
    October 20, 2005

    Thanks Austin for the other links. I’ll update the entry and add them in for further reading.

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