Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why, American Cancer Society, Why?

Guess what, everybody? The atheists are blowing up the Internet again.

This time, though, it's not our own in-fighting. This has to do with the American Cancer Society.

Now, at my high school, and maybe yours too, every year near the end of the term there was a thing that happened called the Relay for Life, a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. I was too busy being an unpopular misanthrope to ever participate, but essentially what would happen is teams of students would form and raise money to be entered into the event, and then spend a night on our track/football field hanging out and participating in non-competitive relay events for the cause. I seem to remember it being cold and rainy every year, but those involved kept on keeping on to cure cancer.

A few months ago, Todd Stiefel, the founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, a philanthropic organization that provides finances to various secular causes like Camp Quest, Reason Rally, and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, offered to make a matching donation $250,000 to the American Cancer Society so that secular groups all across the world could participate in the Relay under the heading of the Foundation Beyond Belief. This meant that half a million dollars would be going to the American Cancer Society.

But, this never came to be. Phone calls went unanswered, e-mails were ignored. Stiefel relayed this to AlterNet:

Reuel Johnson of ACS was completely disinterested in the matching gift. He made no effort to try to gain the money and attempted to ignore that the offer was even made. When I brought it up to him, he referred to it as merely "fine" and then started complaining about how it was a hassle to ACS to have to try to track the challenge. Of course, it should not have to be a hassle; they have an automated system to track team and individual performance. I don't know why he acted like this, but something clearly was amiss.
Stiefel was given a whole host of flimsy excuses, none of which held water, to deny them participating under the Foundation Beyond Belief banner. Now, the ACS was still happy to take the money, just as long as there was no overt atheist presence in Relay for Life.

If you want the rest of the story, go read Greta Christina's post over at AlterNet.

The ACS is never going to come out and say "we didn't want these dirty atheists representing our name." They'll continue to throw out the legalese and procedural nonsense. The only conclusion to be made seems to be that the ACS is well aware of the stigma associated with atheism in America. We are not well-liked here, that is not up for debate. But, the only way to change that is to do things like these massive activism campaigns, showing people told all their lives that nonbelievers are evil and immoral that we're actually kind, conscientious members of society, just as generous with our money and time as religious institutions have been for decades.

In the end, the ACS turned down a huge chance to help swing public opinion in a better direction for us. Let's hope that the next organization that Todd Stiefel and Foundation Beyond Belief choose to support are more open-minded and less skittish when it comes to our movement.

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