Margaret Downey, President, Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, 2004 Recipient of the
Scouting for All Fran Crawford Volunteer of The Year Rainbow Award
Margaret Downey Bio:
Margaret Downey was born into a multicultural family in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Growing up in a highly prejudiced
southern society in the 1950s, Margaret became concerned about persecution from an early age. She has devoted her
life to ending any and all discrimination against any and all peoples of the world.
Reading the literary work of Thomas Paine and Robert G. Ingersoll enabled Margaret to develop a keen sense of revolutionary
thought. She became an openly declared Atheist and activist in her twenties.
Free from the constraints of religious dogma and patriarchal systems, Margaret became involved with the feminist
movement. Margaret fought for basic rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of choice, personal family leave
for working parents, equal pay, and promotional opportunities for women.
Margaret was also involved in antismoking issues due to her concern with children's health. Being an activist for
controversial issues nearly cost Margaret her job twenty-five years ago. The initiatives Margaret worked and sacrificed
for then are commonplace today. Even as a single mother Margaret was willing to jeopardize her income to demand
respect for women, freedom of choice, freedom of expression, and freedom from religious
In 1980 Margaret became a business woman when she established her own interior design service. The independence
of being the sole owner of a business enabled Margaret to become more involved in modern day issues. She is active
in issues such as maintaining the Jeffersonian wall of church/state separation, freedom from religious intrusion,
freedom of choice, and death with dignity.
Margaret founded the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia (FSGP) and the Anti-Discrimination Support Network
(ADSN) in 1993. In 1994 Margaret founded the Thomas Paine Memorial Committee.
FSGP has taken a strong stand against prayers in public schools, government sponsored invocations, placement of
freethought literature in university and public libraries, and the avocation of rational thinking.
Through city proclamations, Margaret has established "Freethought Week" and "Thomas Paine Day"
in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The City of Philadelphia also recognized "Privacy Week" thanks
to a proclamation submitted by Margaret in March 1997.
Margaret is editor and publisher of the bi-monthly newsletter published by FSGP. The Greater Philadelphia Story,
is a newsletter written by and for the Atheist community.
As a free-lance journalist Margaret pursues stories of discrimination, choice in dying, humanitarian lifestyles,
and family planning. Her newsletter concentrates on activist issues, political and religious satire, separation
of church and state, and the advancement of freethought.
The Thomas Paine Memorial Committee has established proper recognition for the memory of Thomas Paine in various
Pennsylvania cities including Philadelphia, Lancaster, and York. Margaret is also the author of city
proclamations in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and in Garden Grove, California. She also authored the Philadelphia City
Council Resolution that declares June 8th as Thomas Paine Day.
ADSN is concerned with discrimination against the Atheist community. ADSN monitors public office positions and
public schools. In December of 1991 Margaret filed a discrimination case against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)
through the Human Relations Commission of Pennsylvania. After nearly eight years she lost her case against BSA.
In the U.S. Supreme court case James Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, BSA declared itself "private" to
avoid the question of open membership thus ending her appeal and many other court cases against BSA's discriminatory
membership policy. ADSN efforts are responsible for convincing movie producer Steven Speilberg to disassociate
himself from BSA.
ADSN acts immediately upon negative stereotyping by writing letters of complaint that demand the offending party
to cease hate speech and issue a public apology and/or retraction. Injured parties are serviced through
volunteer counselors and attorneys who are sympathetic to the nontheist community. ADSN is compiling a booklet
that highlights incidents of bigotry against nontheists living in America. ADSN's "Erasing Prejudice"
program distributes information and training methods in order to develop a national speaker's bureau that teaches
about tolerance and diversity at elementary, secondary, and university levels.
As ADSN's founder and president, Margaret has represented the interest of the nontheist community (since 1995)
at several United Nations conferences and spoke at the United Nations Freedom of Religion and Belief meeting in
New York City. She attended the 2001 United Nations Freedom of Religion and Belief Conference in Madrid, Spain.
Margaret is a past board member of the American Humanist Association. She is a current board member of the Freedom
From Religion Foundation, The Humanist Institute, the Thomas Paine National Historical Association,
Advisory Board Member of the Robert Green Ingersoll Museum, and the Atheist Alliance. With these connections Margaret
can keep her finger on the pulse of the Atheist community. She has become a proud Atheist spokesperson and media
In the year 2002, Margaret became the first "Secular Humanist Celebrant" in Pennsylvania. Taking advantage
of Pennsylvania's "Self-Uniting" marriage licenses; Margaret performs godless weddings and naming and
Margaret has been a guest speaker on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation and Radio Times. She has also been
featured on radio programs in China, Texas, South Carolina, California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania,
Florida, and Georgia. Always willing to travel, Margaret accepts national and international speaking engagements.
She is regularly featured at Atheist/Humanist conferences as a speaker and is well known for her
fun-filled presentations which always include visuals, door prizes, props, and well prepared complimentary literature.
Statement From Margaret Connected families and individuals around the nation (and some internationally) who have
been discriminated against by BSA. They were able to share resources (lawyers, depositions, evidence), find support
and sympathy (through each other), and remain active in the cause.
Convince Steven Spielberg to step off the BSA Advisory Board (it took eight years, but we did it!).
Organized protest efforts, letter writing campaigns, and phone outreach efforts to stop BSA discrimination.
For twelve years has provided representation of the issue to the United Nations and other government entities concerning
the unfair discriminatory membership practices of BSA.
Has written many nationally published articles concerning the BSA issue.
Acted as host to out of state representatives from various groups who actively seek to end BSA discrimination.
Founder and President
Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia
Anti-Discrimination Support Network
Thomas Paine Foundation
P. O. Box 242
Pocopson, PA 19366
Cell: (610) 357-9432
Phone: (610) 793-2737
Fax: (610) 793-2569