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Is Atheist Money Too Controversial for the American Cancer Society?

The American Cancer Society may have turned down a potential half-million dollar donation because it came from a non-theistic organization.
 
 
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I'll say this clearly, right up front: The American Cancer Society did not explicitly reject a massive donation offer from a non-theistic organization on the basis of it being a non-theistic organization.

That was not the stated reason given for rejecting a matching offer of $250,000 from the Foundation Beyond Belief and the Todd Stiefel Foundation to sponsor a national team in the upcoming Relay for Life. (An offer that, as a matching offer, was likely to bring in a total of half a million dollars for the American Cancer Society.) Nobody at the ACS has ever said, in words, "We don't want our organization to be associated with atheists. It's too controversial. We don't want atheist money." And when asked if this was the case, they have denied it.

It's just difficult to reach any other conclusion. In the place of clear explanations, there has been an ongoing series of evasions, imprecisions, conflicting answers, moved goalposts, apathy, and even hostility.

Here's the deal. A few months ago, Todd Stiefel -- philanthropist and founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, which provides financial support to atheist and other nonprofit and charitable organizations -- approached the American Cancer Society with an offer. He wanted local atheist groups around the world to participate in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life program, as a national team, under the banner of the humanist charitable organization Foundation Beyond Belief. In order to make this happen, he made a generous offer: a $250,000 matching offer from the Todd Stiefel Foundation, which, as a matching offer, was likely to bring in a half million dollars to the American Cancer Society.

And he was stonewalled.

The offer was initially approved, and the Foundation Beyond Belief even brought on an intern to manage the program. But then the American Cancer Society stopped responding. Repeated emails and phone calls from Stiefel were not returned for over a month. And the eventual responses from the ACS ranged from apathetic at best to hostile at worst. As Stiefel told 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. 

After many go-arounds, Stiefel was finally told no. He was told that the Relay for Life program was focusing on corporate sponsors for the National Team program, and was no longer including nonprofits in the program. Despite the massive size of the offer from the Stiefel Foundation -- and despite the fact that several nonprofits are currently participating in the program, including Girl Scouts of the USA, Phi Theta Kappa and DeMolay International -- the ACS insisted that nonprofit participation in this program wasn't cost-effective, and would no longer be welcome.

Every attempt to find an alternative form of participation for the Foundation Beyond Belief was stymied. Stiefel offered to participate as a corporate team, since the FBB is a 501(c)(3) corporation. This offer was rejected. Stiefel asked if they could simply be put on the drop-down list of national team partners (which, again, does include several nonprofits). This offer was rejected. Stiefel even offered to have the FBB participate as a National Youth Partner -- they have a network of hundreds of non-theist youth groups who were eager to participate. This offer was rejected, in an especially contradictory series of statements, first telling Stiefel that the youth program was being accelerated, then saying it was being de-emphasized.

 
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