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His fortune polishes atheists' reputation

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RALEIGH -- When GlaxoSmithKline bought ToddStiefel's family business for $2.9 billion last April, he began to think about what to do with the rest of his life.

A Duke University graduate, Stiefel wanted his windfall to better society. Like many modern philanthropists, such as Bill and Melinda Gates or Warren Buffett, Stiefel is not motivated by religious zeal. In fact, Stiefel has become one of the country's biggest benefactors of atheist causes.

Last month, Stiefel gave $500,000 to the Secular Coalition of America, a Washington-based coalition that lobbies on behalf of 10 groups of atheists, humanists and agnostics. That's on top of two smaller gifts to two of the coalition's members: a $100,000 matching grant to American Atheists and a $50,000 matching grant to the Secular Student Alliance.

"Not a lot of people are fortunate to have the opportunity to do what I'm doing," said Stiefel, 35. "I didn't want to let that slide."

The gifts from Stiefel, who moved to Raleigh in August, are the largest the Secular Coalition has had. They will allow the organization to step up its lobbying in Washington and to create grass-roots advocacy organizations in every state.

"It's supercharged our ability to move forward," said Sean Faircloth, executive director of the coalition.
But more than anything, Stiefel is interested in dispelling the notion that atheists don't believe in anything and are therefore capable of anything.

"We're equally capable of being ethical as people who are religious," he said. "We just want to be good for goodness' sake."
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