Tag Archives: discrimination

Atheist former Boy Scouts say ‘Shame on BSA’


Right Photo: William Dusenberry. Left Photo: William van Druten.  

Two atheists active with their FFRF chapters who are former Boy Scouts have had it with Boy Scouts of America. They are encouraging other former Boy Scouts to speak out, return medals to BSA or otherwise protest BSA bigotry.

William Dusenberry, a retired professor who helped found FFRF’s Tulsa chapter, is sending his BSA shirt and three merit badges, “none for bigotry,” to Jimmy Carter, a member of the BSA Advisory Council. He sent a letter on July 4 asking Carter to publicly resign. He encourages all former Boy Scouts who are nontheists or who are disgusted by BSA’s most recent repudiation of gay members, to do likewise.

Dusenberry says he’s “miraculously” kept the BSA paraphernalia with him through moves in seven states. He was “the only non-Roman Catholic in my troop. I had to stand quietly while the opening ‘Holy Marys’ were recited,” he recalls.

William van Druten, M.D., who founded Lake Superior Freethinkers, a chapter of FFRF in Duluth, Minn., was part of Troop 88, San Francisco. He sent a photo of himself to BSA pictured with his Eagle Scout medal and the words “ashamed.” Van Druten called BSA’s stance against nonbelieving members and its recent decision to reaffirm its stance against gay membership “a gross disgrace.” For van Druten, it will not be “once an Eagle, always an Eagle” after BSA‘s reaffirmation to ban openly gay members. The discrimination against nontheists is apparently so entrenched BSA didn’t even bother to reaffirm it.

Van Druten recalled being “proud” when he earned his badge. “Nobody bothered us with what superstition we had or did not have, whether we were straight, gay, black, white, yellow or grey. We learned lashing, tenting, knotting, truth telling. We hiked the Califonria coastal mountains, learned the trees, shrubs and birds. We backpacked the High Sierra. Yet now I discover that my youth’s delight is captured by bigots. So I am now ashamed of my badges and of my Eagle award, too.”

Van Druten’s daughter, a high school teacher, wrote BSA that she will no longer be writing “recommendations for young men who are pursuing an Eagle Scout Badge. I will be telling them that there is nothing wrong with being gay, there is nothing wrong with being an atheist, and there is nothing wrong with being black. Yes, I equate them all. It is a hateful policy, and I refuse to help you perpetuate it.”

Dusenberry said he was inspired by Tulsa World’s Mike Jones’ June 22 column, “It’s not the Scouts I remember.” Wrote Jones:

“All of my fond memories are somehow tainted by the decision of the BSA to exclude a part of our society that has suffered enough discrimination over the decades.

“The Scouts had the chance to live up to their code. To set a good example for the youth of this country. Instead it chose the wrong path. It ought to turn in its hiking merit badge.”

FFRF is creating a “Badge of Shame on BSA” webpage to house photographs of FFRF members with their rejected BSA paraphernalia, etc. Send large JPEG photos with identification, etc., or other responses to: FFRF News

To reach BSA:

Robert J. Mazzuca (retiring Aug. 31, 2012) 
The National Boy Scouts of America Foundation
1325 W. Walnut Hill Lane
Irving, Texas 75015-2079 
Email Contact Form: http://aplacetogive.scouting.org/contact-us/

AHA files Supreme Court amicus brief opposing employment discrimination law exemption for religious organizations

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center has filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the American Humanist Association and other allied organizations with the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court is hearing an appeal of a case that turns on the question of whether religious organizations have a constitutional right to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age or disability in violation of employment laws.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution does not give religious defendants a special right to violate any law that they feel infringes in some way on their freedom of religion,” said Bill Burgess, attorney and legal coordinator of the American Humanist Association’s legal arm, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “We are all equally required to comply with the law, secular and religious alike, and this includes federal statutes banning employment discrimination. These laws embody and protect a critical and hard-won democratic value: equality for all Americans.”

The special religious exemption at issue in this case, called the “ministerial exception” by those lower courts that have adopted it, has never been considered by the Supreme Court. The right of religious employers, such as churches and related institutions, to require that employees to be of the same religion as their employer is not at issue in this case.

The amicus brief argues that recognizing the ministerial exception would place religious institutions above the law, unjustly denying to their employees their day in court when they have been subject to illegal discrimination by their employer. The brief also argues that courts themselves violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of the laws to all, when they act to throw out an employment discrimination case against a religious institution because in so doing they become complicit in the employer’s discrimination by denying its victim any legal remedy.

“Our courts should have no role in protecting illegal discriminatory conduct. Their purpose instead is to act as a fair, secular tribunal to determine whether an employee has had his or her legal rights violated and to provide the justice due if they have been,” said Burgess.

Arguments in the case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, will be heard by the Supreme Court in early October.

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center is a project of the American Humanist Association that provides legal assistance to defend the constitutional rights of secular Americans by challenging violations of the separation of church and state guaranteed by the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and seeking equal rights for humanists, atheists and other freethinkers.

New Church of England plans to reduce discrimination in school admissions welcome but do not go far enough

Proposals from the Church of England to reduce religious discrimination in school admissions is welcome but does not go far enough, the British Humanist Association has stated. The BHA was responding to comments from the Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, who said that admissions policies favouring religious children should be changed, limiting discrimination to 10% of admissions from the current permission to discriminate on all places.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson stated: ‘Any reduction in discrimination has to be welcomed but it remains outrageous that 100% publicly funded schools are permitted to discriminate against children and parents on grounds of religion at all. We would encourage all people within the Church of England who believe in social justice, equality and fair access to public services to seek a total end to discrimination in their schools, on other religious groups to do the same, and on the government to end its support of religiously selective and segregated education at the public expense.’

Creationism/ID proponents cry discrimination, but heartened by UK “free” schools

An unintended consequence of the coalition government’s decision to permit “free” schools to be set up in England and Wales is that the teaching of creationism and Intelligent Design (“ID”) is once again in the public eye. The Department of Education recently made clear that teaching ID in science class is prohibited on the grounds that it is unscientific. However this prohibition will not apply to free schools.

Why does the DoE believe that ID is unscientific? ID concludes that some biological systems (such as the blood-clotting and immune systems) are so complex that Darwinian evolution cannot explain them; instead an “intelligent designer” must have been responsible. For many scientists it is outside the role of science to rely on a supernatural intelligent designer.

Michael Behe, Intelligent Design proponent

Dr Michael Behe is the biologist whose theory of Irreducible Complexity forms the so-called scientific basis of ID. He told me that during the many years in which he has worked as a biologist, no one ever asked him about the definition of science.

He continued, “The only time the definition of science comes up is when you discuss matters like this. Philosophers have been trying to define science for a number of years and they’ve given up, so far as I understand. That’s because they can’t find a definition which excludes what they want to exclude and includes what they want to include.” Behe went on to claim that even Isaac Newton’s law of gravity was originally believed to be unscientific, as was the Big Bang theory when it was first proposed.

According to Behe, the definition of science should not restrain an investigation of nature, or it will not serve a useful purpose. He offers a definition of science sufficiently loose to embrace his theory of Irreducible Complexity: “. . . just using physical evidence and reasoning to come to a conclusion about nature.” Yet, as he was forced to admit under oath in the infamous Pennsylvanian court case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area Schools Board, even astrology would fall within his definition.

It is common to hear advocates of ID claim that the scientific community is biased against them, and that this bias prevents them getting a fair hearing. For instance, according to Behe, scientists who apply for funding to carry out research to test Darwinism, will always be refused – especially if they say that they would like to investigate whether ID offers a better explanation. “And if you send an article with the words Intelligent Design in it to a major scientific journal, it’ll arrive back to you in the next day’s mail rejected.”

Professor Steve Fuller is a sociologist in the field of science. His recent ID-supporting book Dissent Over Descent: Intelligent Design’s Challenge to Darwinismwas – perhaps predictably – panned by atheist philosopher AC Grayling in the New Humanist as being “silly and irresponsible.”

Fuller told me, “I think the way to think about ‘discrimination’ [against ID] is as a form of bigotry, a bit like anti-Semitism or (in the US) anti-Communism.”

Fuller went on to tell me that he personally experienced a version of this.

Steve Fuller says he has been discriminated against for promoting Intelligent Design.

During late 2010 a scientific magazine in America, which had previously reviewed one of his books positively, contacted him about writing an opinion piece on the impact of the mid-term congressional elections on the US science policy agenda. He explained, “The editor and I agreed most of the details of the assignment, and everything seemed fine – until he was told 30 minutes later that I could not be commissioned because of my ID support (even though we never even discussed ID as part of the piece’s contents).”

Michael Reiss, Professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education, London, accepts that it is difficult for someone advocating ID to get funding from a scientific establishment. “It’s like homeopathy – your average scientific funder will think that this is just a waste of money.” However he pointed out that charities will sometimes fund this kind of research.

But are ID proponents unjustly kept out of respected scientific journals? Michael Reiss, who serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of Science Education, told me: “I’m quite confident that if anybody comes up with a well-argued scientifically rigorous article on ID, journal editors would be prepared to publish it.”

However, whether ID is able to find an outlet in scientific journals is perhaps missing the point. According to Behe, “Nobody in the ID movement has to publish anything. The evidence of intelligent design is in the mainstream biology literature already. It’s been published by biologists simply investigating how life works.”

The possible problem with that approach is that without the support of rigorous science (as opposed to pseudo-science), many scientists will surely continue to regard ID as, at best, wrong – and at worst, wrong and unscientific.

Even so, Fuller believes that ID will become more important in British schools as the state exercises less control over the funding of schools, allowing more independent schools to exist. He even added, “Schools teaching ID have good track records in students passing science exams and then majoring in science.”

Similarly Behe is heartened by the situation in Britain. Towards the end of 2010 he gave a lecture tour of Britain. He accepts that “people often use teaching ID in schools to children as some kind of bogeyman to scare people away, saying that somebody will be indoctrinating your child.” But he believes that there is more tolerance in discussing issues concerning religion in Britain than there is in even America.

What’s more, Behe believes that although the scientific community is presently “allergic” to ID, this will change. That’s because: “As scientists retire, the ones who are very antagonistic to ID will be replaced by those other scientists who have grown up hearing and wondering about it.”

Michael Reiss’s response was abrupt. “I think that’s very unlikely to happen and it would not be a good thing.”

But that’s not so much a debate about Origins, as a debate about the future.


Note: “Free” schools are taxpayer-funded schools “set up in response to what local people say they want and need in order to improve education for children in their community”. This includes religious schools. Learn more about free schools here.

New motion puts pressure on MPs to prevent religious discrimination in public services

Humanists have welcomed a new policy approved at the Liberal Democrat Spring conference which commits the Party to ensuring that religious organisations which provide public services may not discriminate in their employment or against service users on religious grounds in the provision of those services.

The clause was included in the ‘Community Futures (Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Policy Paper)’ and states:

c) Ensuring that public services are delivered without unjustified discrimination against service-users or employees, by amending equalities legislation to narrow the exemption granted to organisations with a religious ethos , and in the interim requiring public sector commissioners to include non-discrimination clauses in their contracts with providers.
< http://www.libdems.org.uk/policy_motions_detail.aspx?title=Motion_carried%3a_Community_Futures_(Voluntary_Sector_and_Volunteering_Policy_Paper)&pPK;=b9d8bd84-7989-4a30-917d-b4740763ffe8>

Peter Kunzmann, chair of the Humanist and Secular Liberal Democrats (HSLD), spoke when the motion was being debated in favour of the clause, and urged delegates to welcome its inclusion in the motion.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented: ‘It is the BHA’s firm position that religious organisations which are providing public services on behalf of the state – a policy the government is actively encouraging – should be held to the same equality standards as any other private or state provider. That means that such organisations must not be permitted, as they are at present, to discriminate on religious grounds against employees and service users. Such discrimination is unjustified, unnecessary and wrong.

‘The BHA works closely with others, including religious groups, and we know that our concerns to have fair and inclusive secular public services are widely shared. The policy motion passed at the Liberal Democrat Spring conference reflects that shared commitment to promote real inclusion of all people regardless of belief. We hope that this is an issue that can be taken up and supported by other political parties as part of their policies. At present, parliamentarians have an opportunity through the Localism Bill to make legislative changes that will rule out discrimination by religious organisations when they are working under public contract to provide services. Such moves would finally treat civil society groups equally and fairly in practice.’

Mr Kunzmann said: ‘Public services should be available to everyone who needs them – whatever their beliefs.

‘Ordinary Liberal Democrat members have given their party’s MPs an unambiguous mandate to press for changes to the law, ensuring that religious groups who bid for public services cannot discriminate against service-users or their employees.’

The BHA works with groups across the political spectrum and the Labour Humanists, HSLD and the Conservative Humanist Association (CHA) are all affiliated to the BHA < http://www.humanism.org.uk/meet-up/groups/political-special-interest>.