Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

You can't use the built in player: download the episode.

The American Cancer Society

YouTube Video

YouTube Link

Note: A lot of show notes on this one, you’ll want to read the full article.

This week, join Sam, Mike, and Scott as we talk to Todd Stiefel of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation and Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta, chair of Foundation Beyond Belief. We are discussing the American Cancer Society’s recent decision to turn down a potential half million dollar donation to the ACS’s Relay for Life program, and what that means to the Atheism Visibility Movement.


We would like to thank Todd and Hemant for their dedication to the cause of free thought and atheism, and for their cooperation in this episode.   We hope to talk to both of you again very soon.

We would also like to thank Greta Christina for her help in producing this episode and for her recent article on AlterNet.

To help make your own decisions, here is the full release we received from the American Cancer Society:

“The American Cancer Society did not turn down a $250,000 donation from Foundation Beyond Belief. Todd Stiefel, a humanist philanthropist and supporter of Foundation Beyond Belief, offered a $250,000 matching gift in 2012 if Foundation Beyond Belief teams could raise $250,000 at 2012 Relay events. In 2011, Foundation Beyond Belief had one team participate in Relay For Life.

The matching gift offer from Todd Stiefel was dependent on his and the Foundation Beyond Belief’s request to become a Relay For Life National Team Partner as part of Relay’s National Team Partner program for clubs and organizations. The American Cancer Society eliminated the National Team Partner program for clubs and organizations program at the end of our fiscal year (August 31, 2011) in order to put more resources into community-based efforts.

We have notified the former clubs and organizations which were National Team Partners of this decision and are working with each of them to ensure their continued participation in Relay For Life and the Society’s mission. For this reason, we respectfully but regretfully declined Todd Stiefel’s and the Foundation Beyond Belief’s request to become a National Team Partner.

The Society maintains a National Team Partner program for commercial entities. We do not have a National Team Partner program for youth organizations. We do have some existing relationships with nationally recognized youth academic, honorary, or fraternal organizations. Collegiate/university student groups are welcome to participate in Relay For Life through collegiate Relays or community Relays across the country.

Our representative offered alternatives to the National Team Partner program that are consistent with the way Relay For Life is working with other clubs and organizations across the country that do not meet the criteria of the National Team Program. Our representative encouraged participation by Foundation Beyond Belief in Relay For Life at the community level and offered to make introductions to local Relay events in communities wherever the Foundation has affiliates across the country. The Society has similar working relationships with many clubs and organizations nationwide.

There are some recognition benefits available to commercial organizations who are National Team Partners that are not available to clubs, organizations and other similar groups. We regret profoundly that some people may feel offended that the Foundation Beyond Belief would not be eligible to take advantage of those benefits.

We have remained committed to discussing with Todd Stiefel and the Foundation Beyond Belief ways in which we can work together. We have and continue to encourage the group’s participation in Relay For Life. We are grateful for Mr. Stiefel’s and the Foundation’s interest in saving lives from cancer. In managing Relay For Life, with thousands of community events and millions of passionate participants nationwide, we strive to deal fairly and consistently with everyone.”

For more information about Kiva, the micro-loan charity organization, caller Jeff in Japan emailed us soon after the show with more information:

Hi guys, this is the requested follow-up to my call today about Note that I do not represent Kiva and if anybody reading this does and needs to correct me, please do.

To summarize again, Kiva is an organization that provides micro-loans to people in developing countries who need a small (small to us, anyway) short-term loan to start or expand a business. As you are no doubt aware, even if a person in the developing world has a business idea, they may not have the money needed to say, buy initial inventory. Sometimes it’s a guy in Lebanon who wants to open a shoe store, other times it’s a farmer in Uganda who wants to buy some chickens so he can start to sell eggs.

Lenders typically give $25 for each loan they want to support, and unlike most charities, the money actually gets paid back to you! The payback rates are typically in the high 90% range, so when you get paid back you can re-loan the same money again or even take it back for your own use.

Anyway, here is the part that is relevant to us heathens. Kiva allows its members to join a “lending team”, a group of people who share a common interest, nationality, etc. As of right now, the Atheist/Agnostic/Skeptic/Secular Humanist/Freethinker/Non-religious group is the largest on the site. It is the largest both in terms of members and of loans given. Trailing far behind in second is the Kiva Christians group.

This is a concrete example that can be used to respond to any religious claims that infidels have no social conscience or are not charitable. And as the hosts pointed out today, a little arms race with the religious for such a good cause means everybody wins and a lot of good is done. Kiva is a great organization because it doesn’t give people fish, it helps them to fish, sometimes even literally.

While we read the statement in full and without interruption on the show, we are aware that the American Cancer Society’s viewpoint on this subject may not have been fully explained.  The invitation to the ACS to provide and defend their viewpoint on our show remains open.   If you represent the American Cancer Society and would like to communicate with us, please use the comment button at the top of this page.

Without further information about this situation from the ACS, the producers of Ask an Atheist believe that the American Cancer Society will only accept the time, money and resources of the atheist community so long as we remain quiet.   In an environment where the bigoted and privileged religious claim that atheists do not participate in charitable efforts, this is not something the Atheism Visibility Movement can well support.

We believe that all organizations that support the concept of self-determination should stay well away from the American Cancer Society, until such time as they clearly abandon this attitude.   There are many worthy charities in the fight against cancer, and in the coming weeks Ask an Atheist will highlight and support them.

About the Author: Sam Mulvey

Sam Mulvey is a producer and the technical brain behind Ask an Atheist. He is a collector of vinegar varieties, vintage computers, antique radios, and propaganda.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Henry (from San Jose)

As a rule, most churches use less than 15% of donations for charity purposes, and 85% for overhead. Also as a rule, most actual charities use less than 15% of donations for overhead, 85% or more for charity purposes. In the past when I have gotten on my soap box about this topsy turvy arrangement, I’ve named the American Cancer Society as one of the good guys. Not anymore.


I wonder how FBB could, in the eyes of the ACS, meet the criteria to join the national programs?

Could a spokesperson admit to what it would take to include them?


It still seems to me they are trying to back-pedal. A decision to end a program that had the participation of 12 non-corporate national teams absolutely warrants an official statement on the ACS Relay website page. If the decision was made Aug. 31, the statement should have been posted the first week of October. To just delete all evidence of those teams from the website seems beyond rude. The Jaycees alone raised almost $300K last year. Does that desire some recognition and a thank you along with an explanation for ending the program? Honestly, the way ACS is handling this… Read more »

Steve Jones

It would seem the ACS Facebook page is being inundated with posts about the recent refusal of funds from non-believers. Multiple references to the show are in there. Way to go!


I’d love it if someone would contact the other non-corporate teams and get their response on losing their national teams.

[…] Discussed on Ask An Atheist Podcast Posted on October 18, 2011 by Hemant MehtaTodd Stiefel and I appeared on the Ask An Atheist podcast over the weekend to talk about the American Cancer Society’s rejection of an atheist National […]

Doug Reardon

Most of what the religious contribute to charity goes to churches, I do not consider churches a charity.

B. J. Price

Didn’t the cancer society refuse money from homosexuals during the Anita Bryant days?
Agreed, give money to other cancer research groups. I stopped giving to the Canadian Cancer Society many years ago when I found out too much money was going to failing research out of habit.
The most up to date research is being done in medical universities and mostly funded by corporations, not by the Canadian cancer society. Find a university project that looks promising and donate to them.


Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society



oops sorry those comments were supposed to be at Morality without Dogma podcast


Ok, this is an old thread. But just curious: anyone planning to join this?

[…] Steifel spoke about his bewilderment and frustration with the entire situation in a radio interview. […]

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x