Anti Discrimination Support Network

The Anti-Discrimination Support Network (ADSN)
Established in 1993, ADSN is a committee of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia (FSGP) which is a 501(c) 3 non-profit educational organization.  ADSN receives, evaluates, and responds to reports of negative stereotyping of the Atheist/Humanist community.  Under the FSGP umbrella, ADSN operates with temporary Non-Govermental Organization consultative status through the United Nations Freedom of Religion and Belief Committee.  With this status, ADSN has been able to play a significant and constructive role in helping shape policy by articulating the Atheist/Humanist perspective at international conferences and in national forums.  Since 1995, ADSN has collected discrimination narratives from the Atheist/Humanist community and has provided counseling, legal referrals, support, and advice to those in need.
 
For further information or questions please call ADSN Founder, Margaret Downey.
Phone: (610) 793-2737
Cell: (610) 357-9482
 
Get your ADSN forms here.

Morally Straight . . . and Intolerant?

Members and friends of the Anti-Discrimination Support Network (ADSN) are appalled by the June 28 5-4 U. S. Supreme Court decision allowing the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to discriminate openly against whomever it chooses.

BSA now joins the ranks of disgraceful private clubs that promote bigotry and prejudice. Ethical members of the BSA should be outraged to know that an organization established to teach Scoutcraft is condoning ostracism and bigotry.

Inasmuch as the BSA has been declared "private" and entitled to exclude on prejudicial grounds, there will be unintended consequences. Corporations, agencies of government, and the United Way cannot fund an organization that is merely private and openly discriminatory. As a result, boys across the country will no longer be able to enjoy the extent and quality of activities they enjoyed before.

By getting itself declared "private," the BSA has defeated the rationale for it to have public support, government gratuities, and a congressional charter. No longer will it be legitimate for BSA to receive money from United Way's unallocated fund, or to go into public schools to recruit, or to be given military and other government gratuities. BSA will have to rely on private donations exclusively. This will work against the troops and the boys.

Prejudiced zealots have seized control of BSA and will destroy all that has been good with their fear and loathing toward the gay and nontheist community. The BSA victory is hollow. Concerned citizens will insist that BSA no longer be active in public areas. To declare a constitutional right to discriminate is shameful. The U.S. Supreme Court decision means that intolerance will continue to flourish at the hands of the world's largest youth group. The BSA will lose the respect of people who hold dear the moral tenet of nondiscrimination. It is a terrible loss of an opportunity to teach values such as tolerance, brotherhood, and reverence to the religious as well as the nonreligious.

Recently BSA ruled that Unitarian Scouts will no longer be eligible to receive religious emblems. Unitarian values do not fall in line with BSA's selective membership policy. Unitarians are too tolerant and too sympathetic toward gays, girls, and the godless. Now that the U. S. Supreme Court has sanctioned BSA's discriminatory policy, it is just a matter of time before other religions, families, and individuals are deemed unacceptable. The BSA witch hunt has begun. The U.S. Supreme Court has given BSA the green light to decide who is good enough and why. Parents must choose if they want their children taught morals by a group that promotes prejudice, intolerance, and separatism.

 

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Challenging the discriminatory practices of the Boy Scouts of America

In December 1992, nearly seven years ago, I filed discrimination complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) against the Chester County Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for rejecting the applications of my son, Matthew Schottmiller, and myself. Matthew, then fourteen years of age, had attempted to reinstate his Boy Scout membership; he'd previously been active in Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops in two states over a seven-year period. At the same time, I had applied to become a BSA adult volunteer. On the forms provided, we'd each crossed off the word God in the BSA's "Declaration of Religious Principle." Such honest clarification of our philosophical views was, in the eyes of BSA officials, enough to disqualify us. For we were told outright that it was necessary to "acknowledge the existence of God as a condition of becoming a Boy Scout or an adult volunteer."

After filing our complaint, matters in Margaret Downey-Schottmiller v. Chester County Council of the Boy Scouts of America progressed slowly, with the BSA denying that its discrimination against nontheists was unlawful. The BSA argued that membership in the organization was "not an accommodation, advantage, or privilege of a public accommodation" and emphasized that "the Boy Scouts are distinctly private" within the meaning of the law. Thus, the BSA held that it could enforce its rule "that all persons seeking youth or adult membership must agree to observe the Scout Oath and Scout Law," each of which includes reference to God. We, on the other hand, argued that, pursuant to its federal charter and bylaws, the BSA is mandated to make Scouting available to all boys who meet entrance age requirements--irrespective of race, religion, or ethnic origin.

Finally, on January 18, 1996, the PHRC issued a Finding of Probable Cause. The commission concluded:

Probable cause exists to credit the Complainant allegations that both she 
and her minor son were unlawfully discriminated against, in violation of
Section 6 (i) of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, because of religious
creed when Respondent [the BSA] advised the Complainant that belief in the
existence of God was a requirement to obtain the accommodations,
advantages, facilities, and/or privileges offered to Boy Scouts and adult
membership volunteers.

The BSA was then ordered to immediately advise us of our right to apply for membership at the appropriate levels; to notify all administrative personnel and volunteers in writing that " individuals who are unwilling or unable to acknowledge a belief in God for religious reasons may nonetheless apply for and be accepted as scouts and/or volunteers"; and to post and exhibit prominently the commission's public accommodations fair practices poster, advising people of the rights guaranteed under the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act. (By then, however, my son had turned eighteen, making him too old to continue as either a Boy Scout or Varsity Scout; only the Explorer and adult volunteer programs cover young people his age.)

Did the BSA comply? No. Three more years passed as the organization stood in opposition to the ruling and refused to cooperate with any conciliation negotiations. This culminated in a pre-hearing conference on January 20, 1999, at which the PHRC determined that its only recourse was to take the BSA to the next phase of forced compliance: a public hearing.

That hearing was held this past May but, unfortunately, we didn't prevail. On June 28, the decision of the full commission was seven to two against us. Our complaint was dismissed and the BSA was declared a private organization not subject to the anti-discrimination laws of Pennsylvania. Since then, however, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken up our cause and we have filed an appeal.

Similar results have occurred elsewhere. Randall v. Boy Scouts of America failed to prove that the BSA was a business subject to the Unruh Act, a California anti-discrimination law. Cases in Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, and Oregon failed to identify the BSA as a "place of public accommodation" because of the technicality that local Scout troops don't operate at a fixed and permanent location. As a result, a new strategy for dealing with the Boy Scout issue has emerged.

This past April, the Chicago branch of the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against schools, military bases, and other publicly funded groups entangled with the BSA. Filed on behalf of five taxpayers, the suit specifically names the Chicago Public Schools and the United States Transportation Command, headquartered at Scott Air Force Base in southern Illinois, as defendants. But these two defendants represent all federal agencies as well as any local agencies in Illinois that receive state funding.

The argument in this case is that, if the BSA is indeed a private religious club, as it claims, then publicly funded groups that aid or support Scouting are in violation of the church-state separation provision in the U.S. Constitution. When the suit was filed, ACLU attorney Roger Leishman declared, "Government agencies simply cannot spend tax dollars on programs that exclude people because of their religious beliefs." In saying this, he was following up on the ACLU's 1998 success with a suit against the city of Chicago over the BSA's discrimination against atheists and gays. The city had sponsored Scout troops but has since ended that affiliation.

Taking a similar approach, the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union (MCLU) filed a lawsuit in May against the St. Paul School District. The suit is on behalf of David Perry, a second-grade teacher employed at Dayton's Bluff Elementary School in St. Paul. The suit alleges that school officials required Perry to yield classroom instructional time to allow BSA representatives to recruit new members from his class. Perry subsequently complained to the school district, explaining that the BSA is a religious group that discriminates against atheists, gays, and bisexuals. Getting no satisfaction, he turned to the MCLU.

"This lawsuit has nothing to do with whether the Boy Scouts have the right to discriminate or whether they have a right to use school facilities like any other community group," says MCLU Executive Director Chuck Samuelson. "This case is about government sponsorship and promotion of a religious group that conditions membership on a religious oath. Public schools have no business putting their official stamp of approval on such a group."

Meanwhile, an older case in Oregon may finally be moving forward. It began in 1996 when a Boy Scout recruiter, during class time, placed plastic wrist bracelets on public school boys. The bracelets, removable only by being cut off with scissors, read: "Come Join Cub Scout Pack 16! Round-Up for New Cub Scouts for Boys in Grades 1-5 ... Scott Elementary School." Nancy Powell, mother of one of the boys, who is an atheist, complained to school authorities because of BSA religious discrimination policies. When her effort failed, she turned to the ACLU of Oregon, which in 1998 represented her and her son in a complaint filed in the Multnomah County Circuit Court.

The case went to trial and, on August 31, 1999, the court found that the BSA discriminates on the basis of religion and bars membership to boys and Scoutmasters who don't acknowledge the existence of God. But the court paradoxically held that BSA recruitment activities in schools still don't violate Oregon's constitutional requirement of separation of church and state. The ACLU may appeal.

These recent efforts seem to have in common a kind of unhappy resignation--a capitulation to the BSA's position that Scouting is both private and religious. And thus, the only appropriate response under the U.S. Constitution and the various state and federal anti-discrimination laws becomes one of doing everything possible to remove government benefits and privileges formerly granted to Scouting. This, of course, can only hurt the program and, more importantly, hurt a new generation of Scouts who will increasingly be denied many of the wonderful adventures and opportunities that former Scouts had so frequently enjoyed.

Can there still be hope for the position taken by myself and so many others: that Scouting is a program more than worthy of public support--so worthy, in fact, that it should truly be open to all boys? Thankfully, James Dale has answered that question with a resounding "yes."

James Dale became a Cub Scout in 1978 at the age of eight. Graduating to the Boy Scouts, he remained in the program until his eighteenth birthday in 1988. He was an exemplary member, ultimately earning the coveted Eagle Scout honor. Then in 1989, Dale sought adult membership. His application was approved and, for sixteen months, he held the position of Assistant Scoutmaster.

During that time, Dale became a student at Rutgers University. It was there that he first acknowledged to himself, his family, and his friends that he is gay. Eventually, he became co-president of the Rutgers University Lesbian/Gay Alliance. And in that capacity, he was interviewed by a newspaper reporter whose story, with Dale's photograph, was published on July 8, 1990.

Within a month, Dale received a letter from the Monmouth Council of the BSA revoking his membership and asking him to sever all relations with the Boy Scouts of America. When Dale inquired as to the basis for the termination, he was informed in writing that he had violated "the standards for leadership established by the Boy Scouts of America, which specifically forbid membership to homosexuals." After futilely seeking a BSA review hearing, he turned to Lamda, the gay and lesbian legal defense fund, through which he filed a six-count complaint in state superior court against the BSA for violating the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. This was in July 1992.

In 1993, the court ruled against Dale and in favor of the BSA. Dale appealed the case and, in 1998, the appellate court reversed the lower-court decision and ruled in Dale's favor. It was then the BSA's turn to appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Finally, on August 4, 1999, that court ruled unanimously against the BSA and in Dale's favor. The arguments stated in the decisions of the justices are illustrative of how strong a case there still is that the BSA is, in fact, subject to anti-discrimination laws.

The justices found the BSA to be "a place of public accommodation," in part because of its broad-based membership solicitation and the organization's historic partnership with various public entities and public service organizations. Specifically cited was the fact that, in New Jersey alone,

public schools and school-affiliated groups sponsor close to 500 scouting 
units, comprising approximately one-fifth of the chartering organizations
in the State. Other governmental entities, such as law enforcement
agencies, fire departments, city governments, and the military, sponsor
approximately 250 scouting units in New Jersey.

The BSA didn't meet the requirements for being a private club because its membership wasn't sufficiently limited. This was particularly the case with regard to homosexuality. The court found that "BSA members do not associate for the purpose of disseminating the belief that homosexuality is immoral; BSA discourages its leaders from disseminating any views on sexual issues; and BSA includes sponsors and members who subscribe to different views in respect of homosexuality." It was also the case with regard to religion. The court found:

BSA also does not espouse any one religion, explaining in the Scoutmaster 
Handbook that "It]here is a close association between the Boy Scouts of
America and virtually all religious bodies and denominations in the United
States" ... Consistent with its nonsectarian nature, BSA Bylaws require "
respect [for] the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion."
Boy Scouts "encourages no particular affiliation, [and does not] assume[]
[the] functions of religious bodies," ... indeed, in a training manual
entitled Scoutmaster Fundamentals prepared "for Scoutmasters, Assistant
Scoutmasters, Troop Committee members, and parents," BSA categorically
states: "Religious instruction is the responsibility of the home and
church."

The court went on to say:

We acknowledge that Boy Scouts' membership application requires members to 
comply with the Scout Oath and Law. We do not find, however, that the Oath
and Law operate as genuine selectivity criteria. To the contrary, the
record discloses few instances in which the Oath and Law have been used to
exclude a prospective member; in practice, they present no real impediment
to joining Boy Scouts. Joining requirements are insufficient to establish
selectivity where they do not function as true limits on the admission of
members.... Here, there is no evidence that Boy Scouts does anything but
accept at face value a scout's affirmation of the Oath and Law.

Subsequently, in a feature story on Dateline NBC, Dale stated that, in all his years in the BSA, he had never heard of any policy against gays. So he never had cause to interpret the Scout Law--which states that a Scout is "clean"--as being against homosexuality. Nor did he take the Scout Oath--which calls on Scouts to be "morally straight"--as meaning that they are to be sexually straight. Indeed, as was pointed out in the court case, The Boy Scout Handbook defines morally straight as being "a person of strong character" who has relationships with others that are "honest and open" and who is willing to " respect and defend the rights of all people." James Dale wants the BSA to live up to these standards.

Immediately upon the decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court, however, the BSA announced its intention to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. And so the struggle must continue--by those on both the inside and outside--to save the Boy Scouts of America from itself. Filmmaker and BSA Advisory Council member Steven Spielberg is particularly adamant on the matter:

I have spoken out publicly and privately against intolerance and 
discrimination based on ethnic, religious, racial, and sexual orientation.
While I support the principles of Scouting, that does not imply that I
support every current policy. Although I have no direct active role in the
Boy Scouts, I encourage efforts to end intolerance and discrimination once
and for all.

Margaret Downey is president of the Anti-Discrimination Support Network, an organization seeking to end BSA discrimination, and is a member of the board of directors of the American Humanist Association. Her e-mail address is [email protected]

COPYRIGHT 1999 American Humanist Association
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

 

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Hate-based assault at Ryerson university, Margaret helps out

Justin:
Hi all
 
I am sorry to have to report on an incident of a fairly serious magnitude that happened to myself and Peter two nights ago as we were postering Ryerson University around midnight for "God:  The Failed Hypothesis".  You can read the full report in the attachment here that was sent to the police, but here's the gist.
 
Peter and I were postering campus when two individuals saw what we were doing and took offense.  This led to a verbal altercation which finally culminated in a head butting which resulted in my nose bleeding.  We reported this to the Toronto police and on campus security.  The motive behind the assault was purely based on their belief system and my lack thereof, which in Canada at least should qualify this as a hate crime - actually the police just called and confirmed that that is how they are treating it.  This is perhaps the first anti-atheist assault in Canada, and certainly the worst hate-based assault that I've heard of on a university campus.  Lucky me. 
 
I struggled with whether I should let you all know about this incident.  I don't want any of you to think that this is a regular occurence when you're out defending atheism and freedom of speech.  It isn't.  I haven't heard of anything at all like this, and I've spoken with DJ Grothe and Margaret Downey, who catalogue incidents of anti-atheist descrimination.  Actually, DJ promptly e-mailed Richard Dawkins to ask him for his thoughts, since this is so unusual.  So please don't let this detract you from our noble cause - if anything, I hope it will embolden you by making it clear just how much our movement is needed and just how laughable the supposed correlation between morality and religiosity really is.   
 
I will work with Schreiber to send notice of this to relevant on and off campus media.  This will undoubtedly make headlines in the school papers at the very least.  Ironically, those bastards have, if anything, guaranteed us free press and some very well attended events. 
 
Please re-direct any anger or frustration you may feel in a constructive manner to ensure our activities are even more successful then they would have otherwise been.  That would indeed be the most effective means of revenge.
 
Justin

 

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Margaret Downey's Letter to Star Jones

Margaret Downey's Letter to Star Jones

Dear Ms. Jones,

The Anti-Discrimination Support Network (ADSN) receives and acts on reports of negative stereotyping of the Atheist community.

It has come to our attention that on January 21, 2001 you made derogatory and prejudicial remarks during the filming of The View. A review of the transcript indicates that you are harboring misconceptions about Atheists. According to your own statement:

"But everyone was mad when I said on the television that I wouldn’t vote for an Atheist."

The January statement you made is the second time you have been compelled to stereotype and disparaged the Atheist community. We write to you today to prevent a third occurrence. We also write to ask that you reconsider your prejudices.

Prejudice is simply a prejudgment. ADSN’s mission is to educate those who make judgments based on untrue and unproven stereotyping. Please do not close your mind to our pleas for you to view the Atheist community in a new light. This letter may not only open your mind, it may also open your heart.

To justify that Atheists should not and could not hold an elected office you said that the oath of office includes the phrase, “So help me God.” Article 2, Section 1, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution states: “Before he enter on the execution of his office he shall take the following oath or affirmation: ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.’”

So you see, Ms. Jones, an oath to God is not a requirement to hold public office. People are free to affirm while maintaining their duty to conscience. It is disconcerting to hear an experienced attorney such as yourself misunderstand something so fundamental.

Atheists do not need to say an oath to God. We are fully aware that our alliance and duty is to humanity itself. Atheists do not need the promise of a heaven or the punishment of a hell to make ethical and moral decisions. The life legacy of an Atheist serves as the only known afterlife. An Atheist’s life must therefore be worthwhile. Consequently, you will find many Atheists making good life choices and valuing a commitment to honesty. Most religious people do not understand why the honesty of an Atheist should be respected. Because it is more popular and more comfortable for people to say they are religious, it takes a truly courageous person to admit having adopted a philosophical life-stance that does not include a belief in God. You should respect that courage, Ms. Jones, not condemn it.

Joy Behar showed courage when she challenged your comments on January 21. Ms Behar equated your comment that you would not vote for an Atheist to religious discrimination. Behar was correct in comparing your prejudice to that of someone saying that they would not vote for a black man. Surely you see the hypocrisy of your words when you said that it is “Absolutely, not the same thing!” Can you not elevate yourself to a higher standard of tolerance and realize that discrimination against any group or person is wrong?

It is disheartening to think that you refuse to oppose intolerance against Atheists and actually use your media presence to elevate bigotry and prejudice. As a media personality, you have a moral obligation to help end stereotyping, hate speech, and bigotry. We find the irresponsible and derogatory opinions you express about Atheists to be morally reprehensible.

You stated that in your opinion "It is absolutely important for you to be led by a higher power so you feel as if you have some responsibility.” Atheists do not shirk responsibility because we do not follow some type of “higher power.” Most Atheists are leaders, not followers. We believe in the power of human endeavor, science, and technology to better the conditions that surround us. No God or ancient Gods have ever been proven to put an end to starvation, poverty, disease, environmental degradation, war, or human cruelty. It is only though human endeavors that we can hope to improve the world.

Even though you responded somewhat to Meredith Vieira’s reminder to you that a person could be a good person and still not believe in God, you insisted that an Atheist could not, in your mind, be trusted as President because,“you got your finger on the button.”

Ironically, you have this scenario completely backwards. Atheists live in the here and the now. We love and appreciate our life, our planet, our animal life, and our fellow human beings. We know that this is our one and only world. Wouldn’t you feel safer knowing that an Atheist who believes we only have one life would be best to control “the button?” Exactly why do you feel safer with a religious person who believes there is a heaven, forgiveness, and a chance to live again in some other place? The person who holds a belief in heaven, life after death, and salvation could well be more likely to end the world as we know it. Please help ADSN understand why you do not feel safe with an Atheist as an elected official?

You stated that "The best part about faith is forgiveness." You said this after Lisa Ling pointed out that people who profess faith have done some immoral things. Perhaps this is the reason Atheists should be admired. We do not venture into situations that beg for forgiveness. Our prisons are filled with God-fearing individuals who have committed crimes and thought themselves absolved. A twisted thought process indeed but one that you so ardently praise and condone. Atheists seek happiness that comes from a clear conscience, and a life of choices that brings both long and short term gratification. This mindset comes from knowing we have only one life and each choice we make is a crucial one. If others were taught this valuable lesson early in life, we would find a human moral compass that is built upon courtesy, common sense, respect, and a love of life.

The Atheist community has been reluctant to challenge stereotyping and prejudice such as you displayed on national television several times already. With the formation of ADSN we will no longer ignore hate speech and blatant prejudice. We will not let bigotry go unchecked. It is, therefore, important that you acknowledge this letter, issue a public apology, and sensitize yourself about the Atheist community.

We further request immediate reassurance that disparaging remarks against the Atheist community will cease.

Sincerely,

Margaret Downey Founder and President ADSN


As of the printing of this article, no response has been received from Jones or any other representative of The View. When time permits, Downey will vigorously pursue acknowledgment of her request for the discontinuation of bigoted remarks.

"ADSN is working much like the Anti-Defamation League. Just as the Jewish community confronts hate speech head-on, so shall we." - Margaret Downey

 


 

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