Foundation Beyond Belief in the New York Times

As the media relations coordinator for the Foundation Beyond Belief, my job is to get FBB as much media attention as possible. I wish I could take credit for the fact that the New York Times just did a story about FBB and our grant to the Baptist Joint Committee, but I can’t. Dale McGowan had spoken to the reporter for another story and I had nothing to do with it. But I’m certainly thrilled with the exposure. The story focuses on our Challenge the Gap grant, which goes to religious-based charities that are doing effective work on issues important to humanists.

The gap to which Mr. McGowan referred was more perceived than actual, and perhaps even more pernicious for that reason. To his consternation, issues including same-sex marriage, climate change and school prayer were commonly portrayed as secular versus religious. In fact, religious denominations and advocacy groups were themselves divided on all those matters.

“One thing that’s always bothered me about group memberships is that they tend to be polarizing,” Mr. McGowan said recently by phone from his home in suburban Atlanta. “When we’re in like-minded groups, there’s a tendency to pull toward the extremes in our group and minimize common ground across the line. Though it’s moderating, that’s something that’s exasperated me in the atheist and humanist community.”

Challenge the Gap puts money behind that analysis. Since 2011, the initiative has given several thousand dollars each fiscal quarter to a different religious group. The recipients have been Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and interfaith, and their primary issues have included hunger, reproductive rights and medical aid in Afghanistan. The only requirement, Mr. McGowan said, is that the organizations not proselytize.

Appropriately enough, the Foundation Beyond Belief will be releasing its next donation in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision this month in a case from Greece, N.Y., allowing official prayer before a public meeting of the municipal government. And the foundation’s gift of about $10,000 will be going to the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, one of a number of religious groups that filed amicus briefs opposing the concept of formal public prayer…

Materially, a $10,000 donation is relatively modest, considering the joint committee’s annual budget of $1.4 million. Symbolically, it packs a great impact.

“Our receiving the money does not form a lasting partnership,” Mr. Walker said by phone from his office in Washington. “But it is a way we can cooperate for ends we both believe in. It shows there are people who believe in religious liberty even though they don’t participate in religion. We think religious liberty comes from the hand of God. They come at it philosophically, from ideas of personal autonomy, freedom of conscience.”

The way this all works is that individuals pledge to donate a certain amount of money per month to charity and FBB does the vetting. Each quarter we choose four organizations in four issue areas, plus the Challenge the Gap category. Each member can decide each quarter which of those charities will receive their contribution (they can split it up as well). So if someone would rather their donation not go to a religious charity like the BJC, they can send it to one of the other charities.

Momentum is beginning to build on this. Last quarter, for the first time ever, every charity received at least $10,000. You can join up on the FBB website for as little as $5 a month.

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