The Humanist Dilemma: Dare I Join the Daughters of the American Revolution?

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Not the Daughter They Think I Am: I’ve been looking for the perfect place to voice my concern and think your column may be best.

I am an openly atheist, humanist chaplain and recently applied to join the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). I have three patriot ancestors, and given my fascination with genealogy—along with having a bachelor’s degree in history—I figured I’d apply.

I have seen some really great social contributions made by chapters of the DAR and joining together with others to do good certainly appeals to me. I have yet to be accepted but did attend one gathering at the nearby chapter to which I would belong upon being accepted. I also joined other DAR members, both prospective and current, from all over the US in an online, social media chat group.

At the gathering in-person, I found the women to be young, energetic, and seemingly progressive. I admit not having been fond of the prayer and oath that the chapter meeting opened with as it contained religious references (not surprising as the DAR motto is “God, Home, and Country”). And I noticed, when online, a lot of references to Christianity by women in the chat group. A few of them remarked that atheists have no place in DAR, but I have been reassured that they welcome women of all religious backgrounds—not so sure about those with no religion.

Is there a place for atheists in the DAR? Some may say no, but I say that change must come from within and if being one of few (albeit unwelcome) atheists makes a difference, then I am all for joining. I am also mother to a transgender daughter who, following in my footsteps, may one day wish to apply. I wonder how the Daughters of the American Revolution will respond to that. I have inquired and was told there would likely be no problem. What are your thoughts on atheists and humanists in the DAR?

—I Prefer “Good, Home, and Country”

Dear Good,

Groucho Marx didn’t want to be a member of any club that would accept him as a member. I tend not to want to join any club that doesn’t want me as a member. I’m also not generally inclined toward single-gender organizations, although I do understand that they can serve a purpose. And my immediate mental picture of the DAR is a group of women as white as the Queen, more exclusionary than inclusive. But you clearly have a better-informed and up-to-date perspective than I, and you’ve seen a lot to like, a little not to like, and a bit you’d like to change from within. That sounds like a great plan. Atheists and humanists should be wherever they want to be.

Do your due diligence, if you haven’t already, to be sure the bylaws don’t explicitly require a religious faith, or define daughters as assigned female at birth (I suspect the foremothers never foresaw that). Then go ahead and join. Perhaps you can soft-pedal your atheism until you’ve cultivated the respect and friendship of your fellows (fellas?), and then start expressing your nonbelief, as well as suggesting a more inclusive opening for meetings. Perhaps you can advocate redefining the “D” to embrace Descendants of the American Revolution, regardless of gender. Good luck!