Camp Quest

Camp Quest

Camp Quest, founded in 1996, is the first residential summer camp in the United States and Canada specifically for irreligious children or the children of nontheistic parents (including atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, skeptics, (nontheistic) rationalists, freethinkers, brights, antireligionists, and others who hold a naturalistic worldview). The camp is offered as a godless alternative to traditional religious summer camps, such as vacation Bible schools.

Programs and activities

The camp's programs and activities introduce campers to the history and ideas of freethought. Campers also learn about science, the scientific method, critical thinking, world religions and church-state separation. Biblical stories and metaphors are discussed in the context of cultural literacy. Campers are taught that ethical behavior is not dependent on religious belief and doctrines, that religious belief and doctrines are sometimes a hindrance to ethical and moral behavior, and that irreligious persons are also good and fully capable of living a happy and meaningful life.

The camp's programs and activities also include what is usual for summer camps: campfires, canoeing, crafts, drama, games, nature hikes, singing, and swimming. Sometimes, however, a spin may be used, such as the telling of an ancient mythical tale around the campfire or the debunking of creationism on part of a nature hike or fossil hunt. Both competitive and cooperative sports are used. Past activities have included how to make a crop circle and visiting old cemeteries to use tombstones as clues to the mores of the past.

The centerpiece of the camp's approach is encouragement of critical thinking and an introduction to logical fallacies by retelling the story of two invisible unicorns that inhabit Camp Quest. Campers are told that two invisible unicorns inhabit the camp, that cannot be seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted, that they cannot hurt you, that they do not eat and leave no mark. An ancient book handed down for countless generations offers proof that the unicorns exist, though no one is allowed to see this book. Any camper who can prove that the unicorns do not exist will win a godless one-hundred dollar bill (printed before 1957, when the U.S. Congress mandated that "In God We Trust" be printed on American fiat currency.) Since offering this challenge in August of 1996, the prize remains unclaimed.

Purpose and identity

Camp Quest's mission statement declares that the camp is "dedicated to improving the human condition through rational inquiry, critical and creative thinking, scientific method, self-respect, ethics, competency, democracy, free speech, and the separation of religion and government guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States" [] . The overall purpose is to provide interested children, regardless of their personal beliefs, with a residential summer camp free of religious dogma. The camp is dedicated to the advancement of tolerance, empathy, self-respect, self-expression, rationality, critical and creative thinking, cooperation, and ethics.

The camp's logo is based on an idea of Edwin Kagin and the original artwork of his daughter, Kathryn. the letters "C" and "Q" are combined into a sort of infinity symbol. The letters "CQ" are usually accompanied by the Morse Code for those letters, which is code shorthand for "does anybody want to talk?"


In November 1995, a meeting was hosted by the Council For Democratic and Secular Humanism (CODESH, now the Council for Secular Humanism), focusing on ways to promote secular humanism. A member of the Free Inquiry Group of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky (FIG), attorney and Eagle Scout Edwin Kagin, presented the idea for a secular summer camp to counter the exclusion of nontheists from the Boy Scouts of America.

Though many participants were skeptical of the feasibility, and a few opposed it in principle, Paul Kurtz encouraged Kagin and FIG to create the camp.

The first camp began August 11, 1996 as a project of FIG, with Kagin as camp director. For the first two years the camp was held at a facility owned by the Bullitsburg Baptist Assembly in Boone County, Kentucky. Despite minor complaints from both Camp Quest and the Baptist group, the sessions went smoothly.

For the camp's third year, FIG had decided to relocate to a nearby YMCA camp. The Northern Kentucky Baptist Association then sought the legal right to restrict the use of their campgrounds based on religious beliefs. At their request, then-Kentucky Representative Tom Kerr sponsored legislation (House Bill 70) exempting religious organizations from the common anti-discrimination requirements of public accommodation laws. That bill passed over the governor's veto in 2000. []

In 2002, Camp Quest moved to its present location, another YMCA-owned facility, Camp Campbell Gard, which is located in Hamilton, Ohio, approximately 40 miles north of Cincinnati. It then became Camp Quest, Inc., an independent non-profit organization. Edwin Kagin, with his wife Helen, continued as codirectors of the camp until their retirement after the summer of 2005. Current Camp Director August Brunsman IV is also executive director of the Secular Student Alliance. Program Director Fred Edwords serves as director of communications for the American Humanist Association.


* [ Camp Quest of the Smoky Mountains] , a project of the Rationalists of East Tennessee, held its first camp in 2002.
* [ Camp Quest of Michigan] was incorporated in 2003 and, after several setbacks, held its first camp in August 2006.
* [ Camp Quest of Minnesota] held its first session in July 2004.
* [ Camp Quest Ontario] held its first session in August 2004.
* [ Camp Quest West] , a project of the Atheist Alliance International, held its first session near Sacramento, California, in July 2006.
* [ Camp Quest UK] hopes to start in late July 2009 [] .

In Popular Culture

Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" made a satirical reference to Camp Quest as a threat to America's security and moral identity in the "Threat Down" section of the show:

I'm talking about Camp Quest, a network of summer camps dedicated to sunny day fun from a strict atheist and agnostic perspective. As their catch phrase says, "It's beyond belief!" Though Camp Quest provides regular camp activities like hiking and horseback riding, according to the "Cincinnati Enquirer", children also "learn about the canons of rational thought, critical thinking and scientific inquiry." And in one activity, " [Campers] must try to prove that invisible unicorns, as a metaphor for God, don’t exist." The campers are also given other untenable philosophical challenges like proving tetherball is fun. Well, Camp Quest, here's another activity: How about canoeing on a lake of hellfire for all eternity? [graphic of campers canoeing on lake of hellfire] Sleep tight, kids!

External links

* [ Camp Quest]
* [ Camp Quest UK]
* [ Free Inquiry Group]
* [ "Camps sign up freethinkers"] . USA Today, July 27, 2006.
* [ "Summer Camp That's a Piece of Heaven for the Children, but Please, No Worshipping"] , Susan Hansen. "New York Times", June, 29, 2005. (Requires login)

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