United Nations Millennium Forum
Requests Input from ADSN
GREATER PHILADELPHIA STORY-July 1999
Since 1995, Margaret Downey, the president of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia has participated
in United Nations sessions concerning freedom of religion or belief. As a representative of the nontheist community
she has attended a World Conference in London, England, submitted reports of discrimination against nontheists
to the United Nation's Special Rapporteur, and has spoken on behalf of the nontheist community at United Nations
meetings in New York City.
On May 17, 1999 Downey was requested to contribute her perspective to a report being formulated by the Millennium
Forum, a thematic group on religion. The Millennium Forum was asked by the Secretary-General of the United Nations
to provide input into the Secretary-General's report to the Millennium General Assembly. The goal of the Millennium
Forum is to make creative and innovative recommendations on the issues that need attention by the United Nations
in the next century. On August 13, 1999
Dear Mr. Lee,
On behalf of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia's Anti-Discrimination Support Network (ADSN),
I thank you for inviting me to contribute to the report being prepared through the Millennium Forum.
The issues of concern to the ADSN may seem to some minor, compared to what is happening in Africa and The
Balkans. We see the issue of discrimination against the nontheist community in the United States of America as
the beginning of major problems.
As indicated by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance Professor Abdelfattah Amor
in his March 1999 report, ADSN receives and tracks cases of prejudice and discrimination in an effort to pacify
volatile situations. Cases range from economic and political inequality to simple stereotyping.
ADSN concludes that prejudice will increase unless legal cases are pursued, respectful and positive media
coverage is demanded, and education about the nontheist community is offered.
Teaching tolerance at formative ages is a key element needed to resolve potential conflicts. After seven
years of activity, ADSN concludes that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) poses the largest single threat to the safety
and acceptance of the nontheist community. In spite of an outcry to end the persecution of the nontheist community,
BSA continues to send slanderous literature through the mails labeling nontheists as members of a 'special interest
group' who have 'outrageous demands.' A plea for tolerance is certainly not 'outrageous' and the only interest
nontheists have is equality, respect for individual belief systems, and an end to bigotry.
BSA literature also claims that should a nontheist be given the right to join, 'a whole generation of youth
is at risk...and ultimately the future of America.' BSA propaganda and other similar statements from fanatic religionists
are responsible for the wave of hatred against nontheists that appears to be spreading across the land.
During the McCarthy era of the nineteen fifties, Congress allowed Ceremonial Deism to flourish. Ceremonial
Deism has caused citizens of the United States of America to assume that this country is a Christian Nation. Ceremonial
Deism is harmful to nontheist citizens. The phrase 'In God We Trust,' along with other public religious ceremonies,
has been used to justify the prevailing intolerance toward the nontheist community. We fear a worsening of the
situation unless views espoused by opinion makers change. We hope our involvement with the United Nations will
bring acceptance and respect for all nontheists.
We ask the Millennium Forum and the Millennium Assembly not to neglect the concerns of the nontheist community.
In the nineteen thirties, the world could not foresee that minor intolerances towards the Jewish community could
lead to a holocaust situation. We hope history will never repeat itself and that the nontheist community does not
suffer tragic consequences from being a persecuted and scorned minority.
President, Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia
P.O. Box 242
Pocopson, PA 19366