I just read this, and maybe so, but it strikes me as being mostly on the right track.]
Another part of the policy really ought to be removed. This is just plain silly:
You are encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent for all activities during the conference. No touching other people without asking. This includes hands on knees, backs, shoulders—and hugs (ask first!). There are folks who do not like to be touched and will respect and like you more if you respect their personal space.What exactly is wrong with negotiating these things as we do the rest of the time--by paying attention to non-verbal cues? It's better that way, most of us think. We don't go through life constantly asking "I haven't seen you for a long time--may I hug you?" Or "I'd like to show solidarity and sympathy--may I touch your arm as I say this next sentence?" We don't, because (let us count the problems)--
(1) If we explicitly asked, then we'd put the person we want to touch/hug in the awkward position of having to say "no" if they don't want to be touched/hugged. It would have been so much more thoughtful to notice the cues and not call attention to their sensitivity.
(2) If we had to explicitly ask, we'd ruin spontaneity--so most of us would just do less touching and hugging.
(3) If we asked, it would highlight what is better left subterranean--that touching has some mild sexual undertones, touching is ever so slightly intimate, touching can be gross to some people, some people may find me in particular gross.
If I were thinking of going to an American Atheists convention (to be honest, I am not), I'd find it off-putting to be told how to negotiate touching ("no touching other people without asking") or even just be "encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent." This crosses the line from what's the conference's business (all the stuff in the box above) to what's not. It's up to me, I think, how I handle the vast number of decisions that are in the realm of etiquette, not law or even ethics. I'd be appalled if a conference organizer issued instructions about what to say after belching, whether and when to hold doors for other people, when to address someone by their first name, etc. It's paternalistic and infantilizing -- suitable for managing a bunch of 10 year olds, but not for running a conference attended by adults.
And no, it doesn't help that David Silverman has added that he wants people to have sex at American Atheist conferences. There's something a little weird going on when it's seen as GRRRREAT!!!! for people to have casual hook-ups, but a serious infraction (worthy of being addressed in a conference policy) to touch someone without first asking permission. Yes, sexual touching without permission is a serious infraction (the boxed policy is all to the good), but mere casual touching and hugging between acquaintances?
I'm struck by the contrast with religious communities. In a religious community, there is constant touching between acquaintances. For example, the reform Jewish temple I attend (infrequently) is an extremely touchy place. Before, during, and after the service you see constant physical interaction. Ask permission? You've got to be kidding. There is also a lot of synchronization--people stand up and sit down at the same times during the service. All this synching and touching is part of feeling collective joy, sorrow, etc.--all feelings evoked at times by a religious service. But sex? Well, it's kind of a special thing, reserved (at least ideally) for special relationships. It's a strange inversion to make a big deal of casual touching, putting it on a verbal-permission-only basis, while encouraging casual sex. That sounds like a recipe for killing off solidarity in a community while ramping up private titillation. With rules like that, I should think, "things fall apart, the center cannot hold."
Supreme court decision is now out. It looks like ... YESSSSS! Good news. More on that later.