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Brandon G. Withrow

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Does The American Cancer Society Have A Problem With Atheist Money?

Posted: 10/19/11 08:03 AM ET

If your house is on fire, do you ask the firefighter if he or she is an atheist before you accept his or her help? I doubt it.

Similarly, I'm wondering about the real reasons The American Cancer Society will not work with the atheist charity organization, Foundation Beyond Belief. It appears that the foundation would be able to raise up to $500,000 for the Relay for Life, with $250,000 of that being matched funds from Todd Stiefel of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.

The ACS initially seemed amenable to the idea, but then suddenly decided not to move forward with the relationship. Atheists are not happy with the outcome, reminding ACS that cancer strikes everyone, regardless of one's views on religion.

The ACS response was that they only accept teams from corporate sponsors. Since Foundation Beyond Belief is technically a corporation, the only conclusion some have been able to draw is that the ACS problem is with atheist charities.

In recent developments, atheist complaints have led to a campaign on the ACS Facebook page and a public statement from ACS in the form of a status update. ACS is apparently willing for members of Foundation Beyond Belief to join other accepted national teams, but not create their own.

The story is a strange one. If this is a case of prejudice against atheists, it wouldn't be the only one. According to The Christian Century, the ACLU was once embarrassed when an email went public that the ACLU would not take money from the American Humanist Association because "the majority of Mississippians tremble in terror at the word 'atheist.'"

Prejudice is a strange creature. For example, on more than one occasion, and at more than one school, I've used texts in my classrooms by Diarmaid MacCulloch, the winner of the 2010 Cundill Prize in History Award. MacCulloch is one of the best historians on the subject of the history of Christianity; he is also gay. The latter was apparently enough for a minority of my students to wonder whether this disqualified him as an historian of Christianity. It does not.

Do people ask if their bus driver is gay before riding to their next stop? Does one ask his or her plumber if he's an atheist before hiring him to fix the pipes? No. The question is one of qualification.

The last time I checked, atheists are human beings plagued with all the same ills of humanity; cancer is no respecter of persons. And while most people would likely understand not taking money from recognized criminal and terrorist organizations, this situation does not apply. So is ACS essentially slapping the hand of the Good Samaritan? A half-million dollars can go a long way for cancer research and why the ACS would turn this down is (wait for it) beyond belief.

 
 
 

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