Has the American Cancer Society Been Caught Covering Up a Rejection of Atheist Money?

The ACS has been stung by accusations of anti-atheist bigotry in its fundraising. Is it making things worse by trying to cover its tracks?

“What really hurts in matters of this sort is not the fact that they occur, because overzealous people in campaigns do things that are wrong. What really hurts is if you try to cover it up.” — President Richard M. Nixon, August 29, 1972

The American Cancer Society is not happy. It insists that it is not discriminating against atheists. It insists that its recent decision to deny the Foundation Beyond Belief a national team in their upcoming Relay for Life — and its decision to reject the $250,000 matching offer that would have gone with it — had nothing to do with the fact that the FBB is a non-theist organization. It insists that it had already decided to do away with non-profit participation in the Relay for Life on a national level, and that the FBB’s request just happened to come at the time when it had made that decision. And it really, really wants atheists — and believers who are equally outraged by this controversy — to stop bugging them about it.

The problem is this: The facts don’t match their story.

Actually, the facts strongly suggest a cover-up. An online trail clearly shows non-profit organizations with national teams in the Relay for Life, and shows the ACS actively soliciting non-commercial organizations to participate in the program — right up until the original AlterNet article about the FBB controversy appeared. At which point, the national teams of these non-profits abruptly had their status changed to “Youth Affiliates.” And the online trail clearly shows that several non-profits are still participating as Youth Affiliates with national teams in the Relay for Life — a form of participation that is still being denied to the Foundation Beyond Belief, with no explanation from the ACS. (Supporting documents for this story are available on the author’s personal blog.)

What’s more, the American Cancer Society’s attempts at damage control have included contradictions, distortions, deceptions, and flat-out misinformation: about the Foundation Beyond Belief, about Todd Stiefel (the atheist philanthropist whose family offered the $250,000 matching offer in the first place), even about AlterNet. And their attempts at damage control have turned into an ugly attempt to blame Stiefel and the Foundation Beyond Belief for raising the issue in the first place.


Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Has the American Cancer Society Been Caught Covering Up a Rejection of Atheist Money?. To read more of this follow-up on the ongoing controversy — with serious concerns about the ACS’s actions in the wake of the story, and their baffling refusal to respond to direct questions about it — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Has the American Cancer Society Been Caught Covering Up a Rejection of Atheist Money?

15 thoughts on “Has the American Cancer Society Been Caught Covering Up a Rejection of Atheist Money?

  1. 1

    Just finished reading it. This was very thorough, well-explained, and well-documented.

    I also like that you took the time to point out that, the ACS isn’t necessarily averse to receiving atheist money(because after all, beggars can’t be choosers), it just doesn’t want to admit that they take atheist money, or to allow us to openly participate in fundraising and public awareness events.

    Yeah, they’ll churlishly take our money, then tell us to piss off.

  2. 2

    Also, the ACS has recently decided to start deleting wall posts related to this controversy, opting, instead, to confine the entire conversation to this page.

    At the American Cancer Society, we have historically embraced all points of view and value open and vibrant dialogue. We believe we have demonstrated this consistently throughout our 98 year history and particularly during the past several weeks when some folks have been unhappy with us. We will continue to support open discourse on the FBB matter within the structure of this note or the one below. However, this week we will begin removing posts on this subject from our Wall. To be clear, you are still welcome to post on this subject as a comment to this Note. We must allow the natural conversation to take place between ourselves and those who are coming here for support in the fight against cancer.

    Greg Donaldson

    National Vice President, Corporate Communications

    American Cancer Society

  3. 4

    According to a comment directed at someone on their page, the reason FBB can’t partner as a youth affiliate is because its a reward for past participation and since only one group participated last year they don’t qualify. Obviously if this is true, than its understandable but why didn’t they just say that from the beginning? It would have saved them a ton of hassle.

    I’m starting to think Hanlon’s Razor (never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity) applies here and they just have major organizational and public relations FAIL.

    Either way, I have no interest in working with ACS in the future. Are there any plans for FBB and Stiefel to partner with another charity?

  4. 5

    I recently attended (well, actually I was working the event) a charity auction for the ACS. I was struck by how much religiosity was imbued throughout the event. I was disgusted enough when they started things off by having everyone stand and sing God Bless America (I f***ing hate that song!). But then throughout the night they were saying prayers and quoting berbble passages.

    In light of the whole situation with FBB, I’m really starting to think that the ACS is a religious organization, much like the Boy Scouts.

  5. 7

    I’m starting to think Hanlon’s Razor (never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity) applies here

    Clarke’s Correlary to Hanlon’s Razor is that any sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.

  6. 8

    I am encouraged by the fact that the internet is making it very difficult for dishonest folk to hide their dishonesty. Once upon a time, liars could rely upon censorship to hide their misdemeanors. The internet is pretty much impossible to censor, in fact, attempts to censor it almost always backfire so badly that those who attempt it end up wishing that they hadn’t. Their issue would hardly have been noticed had they not attempted to hide it, instead it went viral.

  7. 9

    It should be obvious that lying about a mistake or misdeed only makes things worse when the lies are uncovered. But this lesson never seems to be grasped.

    Oh what a tangled web we weave
    When first we study macrame.

  8. 10

    If this is all ‘just a misunderstanding’, that means that the ACS is so bad at communication that they should not receive the money on the grounds of sheer incompetence.

  9. 11

    This exchange appeared on ACS’s FB site (link in your article, above):


    Paul Prescod So just to clarify this situation: If a national atheist student organization partners with Todd’s organization, you’ll take the money and treat them the same as any other student organization? (assuming Todd’s organization wishes to work in this way)
    Sunday at 10:14am · Like · 2

    American Cancer Society Hi Paul, our Relay Youth Partners/Affiliates are partnerships that we have negotiated over time with organizations that have proven themselves in Relay and through supporting other areas of ACS. Recognition as a Youth Partner is a reward for prior participation. We have several ways that Youth teams can get started with Relay. http://bit.ly/sdIJKl
    Sunday at 10:40am · Like

    end quote

    So, you can only be a Relay Youth Partner if you have “proven” yourself as a previous Relay participant, but FBB isn’t allow to participate in the Relay because the Relay for Life suddenly became the Youth Affiliates program right after FBB applied, so FBB can never “prove[]” itself, hence it can never be a Youth Affiliate.

    Greta, you were right and I was wrong.


  10. 14

    […] You'll recall that I wrote something about the American Cancer Society and fundraising a few weeks ago (here). That was a response to something Greta Christina wrote, and now, Greta has updated us on the situation and has this post that you must read: Has the American Cancer Society Been Caught Covering Up a Rejection of Atheist Money? […]

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