Exclusive Scouting and the Defamation of Atheists

MarthaMartha Knox is a long time supporter and volunteer for Camp QuestHer article below discusses Camp Quest in relation to other scouting options and the challenges of nontheistic parenting. This article is reprinted with permission from the July/August 2014 Freethought Society newsletter. www.ftsociety.org

A year ago the Boy Scouts of America adopted a resolution to end the ban on openly gay scouts. Many cheered, despite the fact that the BSA – the scouting group with the greatest resources and prominence in American society – still won’t allow openly gay leaders and continues its ban on atheist leaders and scouts.

In response, Herb Silverman, founder of the Secular Coalition for America, lamented, “There is no similar step forward for atheists. This modified policy would still require local groups to discriminate against atheists, apparently because the Boy Scout Oath implies that an atheist can’t be ‘morally straight’ unless he can do his ‘duty to God.’” 

Using this twisted logic, a number of courageous and honest atheists have been kicked out of the Scouts for rejecting all supernatural beliefs. Among them was my friend Darrell Lambert, an Eagle Scout, who had been supported by his entire troop.

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What Camp Quest Means to Us: Gregory and Valerie Keithly

Val and Greg acting silly in front of a mountainBrother and sister Gregory and Valerie Keithly, ages 21 and 17, have been attending Camp Quest for 8 years. Gregory is entering his third year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a major in physics focusing on astronomy. Valerie is entering her senior year of high school. Both have participated in Odyssey of the Mind since elementary school and in Marching Band in high school, with Gregory continuing at the university level. This past year Valerie’s Odyssey of the Mind team went to the world finals competition in three problems, the first team in North Carolina history to do so. Gregory served as assistant coach to the team.

Gregory and Valerie first attended Camp Quest Smoky Mountains in 2006, and have attended 13 Camp Quest sessions at 7 different locations as either a camper, CIT, or counselor.


 Greg getting pied

For 51 weeks out of the year, our lack of religion is not something we like to talk about with others. Because we live in the Bible Belt, our nonbelief is something we have kept to ourselves for fear of being insulted, degraded, or bullied. However, for one week out of the year (or two, or three, or however many we’re doing that year) we can be open. We can be ourselves.

Val and friends

It all began in 2006 when our mother was reading through The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and saw a reference to Camp Quest. After reading more information online, our parents figured it would be a great way to get us out of the house while they prepared for our move from Florida to North Carolina. 

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What Camp Quest Means to Me: Tristan Ginn

Tristan at 8

Nineteen-year-old Tristan Ginn has been attending Camp Quest Ohio since 2006, this year was his first as a counselor. In the fall, Tristan will begin attending Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis where he plans to major in non-profit management and become active in the campus LGBTQ movement.

Tristan looks forward to returning to Camp Quest every summer to share his passion for Camp Quest's values and to continue his work guiding young campers as they discover the power of critical thinking and the joys of community. Below, Tristan shares his story growing up with Camp Quest. 

Camp Quest is one of the most wonderful events in my life every year. I started going to camp when I was nine, a small child in a big world. But camp made that big world a little smaller, and that community of wonderful, loving people grew on me as I went back each year. All of the activities that I experienced as a camper were phenomenal and each pushed me outside my comfort zone. This is what makes the Camp Quest experience a magical one.

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What Camp Quest Means to Me: Azure Hansen

Azure ziplining

Azure Hansen stands out in a crowd. She's the one rocking two side buns and talking about quantum mechanics. When she's not at camp, Azure is in her lab experimenting with lasers or researching for her doctorate in super cold physics. 

Azure started with Camp Quest in 1997, when she was a camper. Now she's teaching the next generation to appreciate the sciences with her awesome programming on smart things like visual optics, Tesla coils, and snacking on bugs! 

It is somewhat contradictory to describe what we do at Camp Quest as creating magic. We are, after all, primarily a group of freethinkers and skeptics. Having experienced Camp Quest both as a camper and a volunteer, I can not find a better word. For one week, passionate volunteers and incredible young people come together for a unique blend programs and fun. Thanks to CQ, I have helped create an environment where young people feel safe to discuss intellectually or personally difficult subjects, challenge their minds and bodies in new ways, go beyond their perceived or self-imposed limitations, and make life-long friends.


Seventeen years ago, I joined a fledgling community founded by an incredible couple, Helen and Edwin Kagin, along with other members of FIG. In 1996, there was no freethought movement, nowhere online or otherwise for young people to find like-minded peers, no way to safely explore our developing worldviews outside our (hopefully) supportive families. Camp Quest filled a serious void for a handful of kids those first summers in Ohio. Since then CQ has become one of the major forces in the youth freethought movement and has helped thousands of kids (and adults!) find their voice and a place. 

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What Camp Quest Means to Me: Sarah Henry

Sarah running

Sarah Henry just graduated from high school in June. Most kids Sarah Henry's age are focusing on what subject they are going to study in college. And she's doing that too, but Sarah Henry also writes for the Foundation Beyond Belief, co-founded her high school's Secular Student Alliance, took first place in this year's Robert Ingersoll Oratory Contest and We the People's Regional Competition, and just spoke at the Kentucky Freethought Convention

Since 2006, Sarah's been attending and volunteering for Camp Quest. In 2014, she'll be volunteering with three different Camp Quests, including being the youngest assistant camp director to date. Read on to hear what Sarah has to say about her camp Quest experience.  

When I told my mom, at 10 years old, that I didn’t believe in God, she told me “Well, let’s find some things that atheists do.”  That summer, I spent my first week at Camp Quest Ohio, and it changed my life. 

My first year at secular summer camp brought with it new friends and a new community.  As a kid, the friends and the games were the most important part to me.  Camp Quest works to make sure that every kid is having one of the best weeks of the year, with pool games, arts and crafts, bonfires, and that essential summer camp staple: s'mores.

As I got older, different things became my reasons for returning year after year.  As I faced both personal and religious bullies at school and in my home community, the friends and support system of Camp Quest helped me realize that it was okay not to believe in a deity.  They helped me realize how I looked had absolutely nothing to do with my merits.  They helped me realize that no matter what happened at my home or in my outside life, my camp family would always be there with open arms and an ear to lend. » Read more

Dr. Katie Hladky to serve as Interim Executive Director of Camp Quest

Katie SpeakingAs some of you may have already learned, Camp Quest’s Executive Director, Amanda Metskas, who has been President of the Secular Coalition for America since January, will be serving as their acting chief executive while they search for a new Executive Director. Camp Quest has been a member organization of the Secular Coalition since 2009, and we are proud to lend them our awesome leader! 

Camp Quest is pleased to announce that Dr. Katie Hladky will serve as our interim executive director, assuming responsibility for the daily operations of Camp Quest during our exciting summer camp season. An accomplished Camp Quest veteran, Katie has been volunteering since 2002, most recently serving as Assistant Camp Director for CQ Ohio and CQ South Carolina. During camp sessions, Katie manages staff duties and camper discipline, often enjoying more than the permitted number of s’mores when no one is watching. A collegePie Time Katie professor with a PhD in Religion, Katie has a strong commitment to developing camp programming that encourages critical thinking and global citizenship. Most notably, Katie has spearheaded our signature World Religions programming, designed to expose campers to the diversity of human experiences and worldviews while encouraging respectful, critical dialogue.

As a board member for Camp Quest, Inc. since 2004, Katie has become well-acquainted with our organizational operations and we are excited to have her leadership.

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Monthly Matching Madness!

Join the Camp Quest Party!

UPDATE: We are at 76 out of 100 Monthly Donors as of 11:00pm eastern 6/25/2014

The Stiefel Freethought Foundation has issued a challenge to Camp Quest, and you can help! If we can reach 100 people who are automatic monthly donors to Camp Quest, the Stiefel Freethought Foundation will award us $5,000!

We're at 66 monthly donors right now (as of 11:43am eastern on May 22nd)! You can be one of the 34 more people we need to reach our goal, so join the clubWe even made fun donation levels for you:

At $96/month you join the Founders Club and celebrate Camp Quest's founding in 1996.

At $73/month you are part of the Best Number Club.  Sheldon can explain.

At $42/month you join the Ultimate Answer Club, you Hoopy Frood! » Read more

We will miss you, Edwin Kagin

Edwin Kagin and Amanda MetskasEdwin Kagin, one of the founders of Camp Quest, died at his home at age 73 on Thursday night.  In addition to his work with Camp Quest, Edwin was a powerful advocate for atheists as the National Legal Director for American Atheists.  Many of the traditions that carry on at Camp Quest to this day were Edwin's idea - the invisible unicorns, and the challenge skits to name a few.  He influenced hundreds of campers, many of whom went on to be volunteer counselors and leaders at Camp Quest as they grew up. Should you wish to honor Edwin, consider sponsoring a child to attend Camp Quest.

Amanda Metskas, Camp Quest executive director, said, "Edwin was larger than life, as anyone who met him can attest.  We'll be telling stories about him for a long time - his antics and his achievements.  He was gruff, and generous, and brilliant, and cantankerous all at once. » Read more

A Message from the Chair

Bob ReadyGreetings! I'm Bob Ready, the Chair of the Camp Quest Board.  Since you are reading this, I will make an assumption that you have some interest in Camp Quest. Whether you've come from a facebook post about our monthly donor campaign, you found us in the vast wilds of the internet, or you've known about us for some time, I'd love to tell you why Camp Quest matters and how you can help.

First, I'm going to cheat, though. Here are a couple of videos from Camp Quest South Carolina and Camp Quest Minnesota.  Watch and you'll get a better idea of what camp is all about than I can express in words. Don't worry, I'll wait until you get back...

At Camp Quest, we bring kids from across the country to summer camp. Along with normal camp activities that involve a lot of running around outside and educational activities that focus on science and critical thinking, we specifically focus on creating a safe place for kids. Unlike some other organizations, we don't care what labels society puts on our campers, we want them to feel welcome and understood no matter who they are, what their family is like, where they came from, or what people call them.  » Read more

What One Campership Recipient Has to Say About Camp Quest

If you want to know what a week at camp is like for a camper, we couldn't tell you any better than this camper who attended Camp Quest Minnesota in 2013 with help from our Helen Kagin Memorial Campership Fund.

Letter from a Camper » Read more

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