John Halstead, ContributorActivist, Blogger, Earthseed Shaper
02/06/2017 03:30 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2018
Patheos is an interfaith media platform that hosts hundreds of blogs on different faith channels. I have been writing on the Pagan channel of Patheos for about four years now, that is, until this past Monday.
A few months ago Patheos was purchased by Beliefnet, which is owned by an evangelical organization. There were concerns among many of the Pagan writers over what this would mean for them. At least one Pagan blogger, Gus DiZerega, said he had been censored by Beliefnet when he wrote for them. In that instance, Beliefnet summarily deleted a conversation on his blog criticizing a Christian who had condoned the abuse of African witches by African Christians. When DiZerega complained, he was told it was their site not his, so he left. Calling all HuffPost superfans!Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapterJoin HuffPost
The Patheos Pagan editor, Jason Mankey, assured the Pagan writers that nothing would change because of Beliefnet’s acquisition of Patheos. But on January 30th, the writers at Patheos suddenly received new contracts their mailboxes. This was not a contract renewal; it was Patheos unilaterally changing the terms of the existing contracts. The contract was due by February 1st, less than 48 hours later, giving writers little time to consider the contract or consult legal counsel. (You can read the contract here: pages 1, 2, 3, 4.)
The most problematic part of the contact had to do with new editorial controls. The new contract allowed Patheos to edit any of posts “without limitation.” Writers were explicitly prohibited from using profanity (with some exceptions). The contract required that the “tone” (a very subjective term) resemble that of other online media with which Patheos compared itself, like Slate and Huffington Post. The contract also prohibited advertising or “self-promotion” (another vague term). And Patheos could delete any post it deemed, in its sole discretion, to be “offensive” (yet another ambiguous term).
The contract also prohibited “disparaging” of Patheos or any “related” company. A little online research revealed that Patheos is one of three companies owned by BN Media, LLC. One of the other companies is Affinity4, which is associated number of right-wing organizations, including the NRA, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, the American Family Association, and the American Center of Law and Justice.
To take just one example, the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) promotes conservative Christian laws in Africa, including support for a bill in Uganda that would have implemented the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”. The connection between Patheos and the ACLJ is not hard to trace. Jeremy McGee is President and COO of Patheos, and also also on the 4-person board of Affinity4. Also on the board of Affinity4 is Jay Sekulow, who is is Chief Counsel for the ACLJ.
Under the new contract, ACLJ and the other organizations listed above could be considered “related” companies that Patheos Pagan writers not permitted to “disparage.” Concern over these terms spread to other Patheos channels, including the Progressive Christian channel.
When writers appealed to the Patheos Pagan editor, he said there was nothing he could do. So, the following morning, I wrote a post on my blog on the Patheos Pagan channel entitled, “Read This Before Patheos Delete It.” (You can read it here, where it has been reposted.) The post reviewed the terms of the contract and set forth my criticism of Patheos for sending the contract, knowing that many of the writers would sign it without reading or understanding it. The post also put these events in the context of the recent election, after which we have seen many right-wing organizations growing bolder.
After posting the article, I was contacted by the editor. I reiterated that I wanted him to renegotiate the contract for us. I also told him that I did not intend to sign the contract as written, but that neither was I voluntarily leaving Patheos. I told him I would await Patheos’ response. An hour later, the post was summarily taken down and my access to my entire blog (almost 1000 posts) was blocked. This was done without any further notice from my editor or Patheos.
All this was done before the new contract period began, which means that the terms of my original 2013 contract were still in effect when Patheos blocked my access. The 2013 contract (which you can read here) had no editorial limitations.
Pat Mosley, another Patheos Pagan writer, also wrote a critical analysis of the new contract, entitled “What the Fuck Just Happened at Patheos?” Mosley’s post focused on the relationship of Patheos, via Beliefnet, to the above-mentioned right-wing organizations. Pat posted this on this personal blog, not on the Patheos site. Nevertheless, he was also banned from Patheos without notice.
Subsequently, I and another Patheos writer contacted Jeremy McGee, the President and COO of Patheos, to attempt to renegotiate the contract on behalf of the Patheos Pagan writers. McGee had initially said that changing the “no limitations” clause was a non-starter, but he agreed to look at the alternative contract which we had drafted. The next day, Patheos sent out a new contract to all of its writers, which had incorporated some, but not all, of the changes we had requested. In the new contract, Patheos still retained considerable editorial control, but the disparagement clause was limited to Patheos and Beliefnet.
Ultimately, in spite of the changes to the contract, over a dozen Pagan writers left Patheos, representing approximately a third of the active blogs at Patheos Pagan. For some who left, it was the relationship between Patheos and right-wing groups that was the most problematic. Others who left were most bothered by the contract terms or Patheos’ censorship or a combination of all of the above. Some who have chosen to stay have adopted a “wait and see” approach, to see what Patheos does in the coming months.
Yvonne Aburrow, one of the writers who left Patheos, summed up the feelings of some of the writers: “If there are to be blog aggregators or multi-blog hosting sites, they need to be independently-owned, collective, and egalitarian. I (and many others) are just not comfortable with the corporate world being able to control our content, especially if that corporate world is too closely linked with the evangelical Christian right.”