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Did the American Cancer Society Refuse Atheist Money?

Charities that depend on donations and fund-raising to survive have it hard enough in the best of times. But in this depressed economy, it must be more difficult than ever. The obvious conclusion, I would think, is that if you represent a charity and a donor gets in touch offering to give you a lot of money, you don’t delay, you don’t put obstacles in their path, you don’t make excuses: you do everything in your power to make that donation happen!

Unless, it seems, the money is coming from atheists.

This story started in early September, when atheist philanthropist Todd Stiefel, together with the Foundation Beyond Belief, contacted the American Cancer Society with an offer. If the ACS would add Foundation Beyond Belief as a national fundraising team in their Relay for Life program, Stiefel would contribute up to $250,000 to match money raised by local groups working under the auspices of the FBB. That’s half a million dollars, and all the ACS had to do in exchange was add Foundation Beyond Belief to the list of national teams on their website.

You can probably guess where this is going.

After an initially enthusiastic response, the ACS suddenly and strangely went silent, and then stonewalled for weeks. Finally, after repeated attempts by Stiefel to contact them, they explained that they couldn’t accept his offer because they were discontinuing their national team program for non-corporate partners. Stiefel pointed out in a letter that the FBB is a legally recognized 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. No response.

Earlier this month, the plot thickened further. As Greta Christina subsequently reported, after intense pressure to explain their actions, the ACS gave two conflicting answers as to why they turned down the money. First they said that they weren’t able to come to an agreement on terms with FBB; then they said that they were phasing out their partnership program with non-profits. As Greta points out, these explanations are mutually exclusive: If you want to explain to someone why you didn’t sell your house to them, saying, “We couldn’t reach an agreement on the terms of sale” isn’t the same as “I decided not to sell after all.”

And last week brought the most stunning development yet. In response to people continuing to mention that the ACS’ own website still lists their partnerships with other non-profit entities, like the Girl Scouts of America, the ACS hid the page on their website that lists them. This created a massive inconvenience for all the other confused non-profits who suddenly couldn’t find their pages on ACS’ website, which they use to track donations.

The only way I can think of to explain this bizarre behavior is that someone highly placed in the ACS is dead-set against taking money from atheists. Given the shifting excuses they’ve offered so far, it’s all but certain that we haven’t heard the real reason. Do they think it would drive away other donors? Are they bigoted against atheists and don’t want to give us an opportunity to do good because it would tell against their own stereotype? We may never know the truth.

Of course, if the ACS doesn’t want to take our money, it doesn’t harm us. All that happens is that they get some well-deserved bad publicity and some other worthy cause will get the money instead. But still, this is emblematic of how much prejudice still exists against atheists: some people are so convinced that atheists are bad, wicked and immoral, they turn us away even when we try to do something good because they can’t tolerate the idea of being associated with us. As Foundation Beyond Belief explains, this isn’t the first time they’ve been turned away by a charity they offered to support.

There’s no easy solution to this problem, but in the meantime, we should keep donating, volunteering, and partnering with worthy charities. It’s the right thing to do for the sake of this world, and it also helps dispel the senseless prejudices that prevent religious believers from cooperating with us even to do good works. The more visible we can make atheist generosity, the more ignorant and prejudiced those who snub us will come to look.

Postscript: If you want to help, contact the American Cancer Society and ask them why they turned down the FBB’s offer. You can also leave a comment on their Facebook page.


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