Billie Sieg is a sweet 80-year-old lady:
Billie is a friendly person; someone recently described her as the mascot of her neighborhood.
But there was nowhere for her to hang out.
So Billie decided to join the Elks club. She’d been there with friends who are members. “It’s a very nice facility. I wanted the contacts, and a dining room and bar where I could take guests. I remember going there to a Valentine’s dance, and it was lots of fun.”
Some friends sponsored her membership in the club and she was granted an interview. It was during that interview when she learned she wasn’t welcome in the organization:
[The interview] was going fine, Billie says, until the man asking the questions asked if Billie believes in God.
Now, Billie knows the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks requires that its members believe in God. It’s right on their Web site (www.elks.org).
Two women friends of Billie’s had urged her to lie if she was asked about her belief in God.
When the man asked if Billie believed in God, “should I have said yes and avoided problems? How do I know what the term ‘God’ means to them?”
Billie said she did not believe in God. “And his whole attitude changed,” she says. Days later Billie received a letter denying her membership in the Elks club. She had been hoping the requirement to believe in God was “a throwback,” something that wouldn’t be a factor in today’s membership decisions.
She was wrong.
Of course the Elks are a private group, but Billie figured they could see past the discrimination:
The thing that really upsets Billie is the other news delivered in the letter, which was written by the lodge secretary in Brookings, Charles W. Sallander. “You are not permitted access to the lodge facility for any Elks social function, even as a guest.”
Even as a guest.
This means Billie will no longer be able to join friends who are Elks members for a steak dinner or an evening of dancing at the lodge.
The Elks have a history of bigotry. Though they’ve eventually found their way back on the right path a couple times:
Thirty years ago, millions of Americans were “excluded” from the Elks. By national charter, African Americans couldn’t be “brothers” in the BPOE until the 1970s. Women weren’t allowed to be Elks until the mid-1990s.
Atheists are still banned.
“We are a private organization, and we do have certain rights of membership,” Charles says, “and one of those is you have to believe in God. Or if you’re not an American citizen, then you’re not welcome to join us. We’re not saying we’re going to exclude you from our friendship, we’re just going to exclude you from our membership.”
Billie could file a lawsuit in Oregon. She has a chance of winning. A woman won a suit against a fraternal order over sex discrimination only a few years ago.
But she’s probably not going to. She just feels bad that she won’t be allowed to see her friends at lodge functions again.
Still, she’s glad she didn’t lie. “I’m not ashamed of my atheism,” she says. “In fact, I think people need to know we don’t have two heads. We’re good people. We have ethics.”
We know right from wrong, Billie says. And this feels wrong. “I don’t want to cause them trouble. I just want them to rethink this regulation, because it’s not fair. And it will never be changed unless somebody makes it public.”
When I graduated from high school, I got a scholarship from the Elks. A few thousand dollars. It paid for a good chunk of my first couple years of college. I didn’t know (or care) much about their beliefs at the time. And they never asked about mine.
After the money ran out, we all parted ways.
They didn’t care about my atheism then. Granted I wasn’t active about it at the time, but neither is Billie now. She just wants to go about her own business.
I can’t understand how her wanting to dance or eat with lodge members is such a big problem for them.
Maybe if she just asked them for money…
[tags]atheist, atheism, discrimination, Margie Boule[/tags]
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