Boy Scouts

Word is that the Boy Scouts will discuss removing restrictions on sexual orientation. That is a good thing.

Currently, you also have to believe in God to be a Boy Scout. We know because the younger son tried to join. He went to the meetings, made some friends, earned some badges.

Then he had to earn a religious badge. “But we aren’t religious,” I told the Scout Master, leery to use the “a” word. “It can be any God, any religion” he said as he went through his list of acceptable religions.  I finally told him we don’t worship any god.  To which he replied, “We gave up our tax-exempt status so that we could require that our members worship a god.” Oh. I said. I presented this to my son and asked him if he wanted to earn a badge from any religion of his choice. “They shouldn’t force me,” he said.

So it is OK to be anything but homosexual and agnostic/atheist. According to Chief Justic Ronald M. George in California,  “The Boy Scouts is an expressive social organization whose primary function is the inculcation of values in its young members.”  Ah, that pesky word values. I wonder if their definition of values includes love, tolerance, acceptance and open-mindedness. Or perhaps it includes teaching children how to discriminate, exclude and marginalize people who have the same hopes, dreams and feelings as everyone else.

Hopefully, the Scouts will change their anti-gay policies. Perhaps the next step to a new and improved Boy Scouts will be admitting nonbelievers.  Seeing that the Nones are on the rise, this would not only be a good thing but a necessary thing.


62 responses to “Boy Scouts

  1. I haven’t put my son in Boy Scouts for this exact reason… our local Cub Scout pack holds meetings at a church, and is extremely Christian bent. My son, completely of his own mind, has talked about “God” since he was extremely little, and God has always been decidedly female to him. We don’t have any specific religion in our house. This is just him, and his view of the world as he sees it at his young age. I would hate for him to join Scouts only to be told that is personal beliefs are “wrong” or “bad” (of course, told in the name of “moral teachings”). And I’d hate for him to grow up thinking it’s ok to demonize or belittle someone else’s beliefs in the name of “moral teachings”. And I know that’s exactly what would happen.

    • @Shanan Winters Shanan That’s interesting your son came up with the idea of God as a woman. He would certainly be “set straight” by other kids, I’m sure. Too bad. I think the idea behind Scouts is good…

  2. Don’t get me started on scouts… I haven’t even signed my girls up for girl scouts because to me to have it separated in a boys and a girls version makes no sense at all! In Sweden there are scouts, no gender requirements! So I don’t know if the girl scouts have similar restrictions, does anyone know?

    • @maria5125 Funny…I was talking with someone from Sweden a few months ago and they said the boys and girls are taught early on just to be friends first. There is not all the pressure there (as there is here) to be boyfriend and girlfriend. I thought that was interesting.

  3. @maria I wish that there was a good scout program that was co-ed. I LOVED girl scouts and I was disappointed that my sons were… sons. I like the idea of scouts, and being involved in something that teachers you things – but I don’t want them involved in something my values don’t mesh with. I love and include everyone, and I want my children to do the same. BSA currently doesn’t hold with that.

  4. @maria – also GS is a very inclusive organization – they even allow transgender child to join because he identifies female. I think there are lots of conservative people who are against GS because they feel it promotes abortions .

  5. When our son started as a Tiger Cub years ago, we were still believers. Now that we are not, the cognitive dissonance required to keep him in Boy Scouts is just too great. Kudos to you for standing up and saying something. We just sort of left, partly because he was losing interest, partly because of their stance on the issues you list, but mostly because we really just don’t see the organization instilling our son with any positive values or lessons we can’t teach him ourselves (and conversely instilling ones we don’t agree with). Hmmm, sounds an awful lot like the reasons we left church …

    • @MichaelB LOL…You’re right. Does sound similar to the church. I just liked the tradition they had of teaching the boys about the art of being boys and young men…

      • That’s what we liked about it too: ideas like self reliance, sense of accomplishment, leadership, etc. Things I never got being raised by a single mom. But I guess we all have to draw boundaries for ourselves and our kids as best we can.

  6. We left Scouts for the same reason, and I was even a Den Leader. My son was getting to the age where the religious aspect was becoming an issue, and we weren’t going to pretend in order to belong. My younger son was sad to stop attending, but I didn’t see the point anymore when the same thing was inevitable for him. Living in a small community, there aren’t many groups for young kids to belong to. In light of the cover-ups of pedophilia, denial of gay leaders, and their strong stance against the non-religious, it looks like we made the right choice. I just wish there was a similar alternative to Scouts without all the nonsense.

    • @Anonymous…I was thinking the same thing. I wish there were a similar alternative. If the Scouts had known, I’m sure they would not have let you be a Den Leader. That’s just wrong…But I don’t want my son being part of an organization that you mentioned….

  7. It’s funny how you mention about Sweden’s approach to the opposite sex should be friends. We have taught our children that very thing from an early age. Our eldest daughter told me the other day that she was glad for our approach because it kept her from dating guys that turned out to be jerks.

  8. @all: since I am not familiar with the differences between boy and girl scouts, i found the attached link somewhat of a surprise. The girl scouts are way ahead of their time…

    Not sure if the link works, but this is the paragraph that I found most interesting:

    The Girl Scouts were founded in 1912 as the Girl Guides by Juliette Gordon Low of Savannah, Georgia, after she met Baden-Powell in England (and renamed a year later). Up until the 1950s, most Girl Scout troops were segregated (as the Boy Scouts were), but an early push toward integration led Martin Luther King Jr. to deem the organization “a force for desegregation” in 1956. Increasingly, Girl Scout policies emphasized social justice (including the formation of special troops to serve girls living in poverty, serving time in detention centers, or at risk for domestic violence). In 1993, when a prospective scout refused to vow to “love God” as stated in the Girl Scout promise, the national organization issued a ruling that any scout could substitute whatever words fit her individual belief system. (This change prompted the 1995 formation of an alternative group, the American Heritage Girls, a fervently Christian organization whose website touts its partnership with the Boy Scouts, which it more or less mirrors in its values.) It’s perhaps obvious by this point that the Mormon Church does not support the Girl Scouts as it does the Boy Scouts.

  9. My kids are too young yet to be involved in Scouts (yay the things I have to look forward to!) but I dread the situations which are bound to arise because we’re atheist. Add activities that involve god unnecessarily. Ugh.

  10. “The Boy Scouts of America has accepted Buddhist members and units since 1920, and also accepts members of various pantheistic faiths. Many Buddhists do not believe in a supreme being or creator deity, but because these beliefs are still religious and spiritual in nature, they are deemed acceptable by the BSA since their leaders subscribe to the BSA Declaration of Religious Principle”

    Maybe a possible alternative?

    • @flyingcardboard Hello & thanks for taking the time to write. Good point. I think Buddhism is probably the least innocuous of the belief systems. Our particular den leader said you had to worship a single God, no matter the faith. It sounds like other leaders are more flexible though.

  11. Our oldest (now 10) joined boy scouts last year. After reviewing the book and the multiple pages talking about the religion badge, we had to discuss this with the den leader and told him that we do not worship any god nor do we go to church. I think my husband actually used the a-word in the conversation. He had no problem with that and respected our view. At this point we are just sort of going with it. Though the meetings are held at a church, we don’t feel that religion has been brought up – usually either my husband or I attend, so we know what is going on.

  12. In Finland there are just Scouts – no gender separation. There are also co-ed groups as well as boys-only or girls-only groups.
    Both our kids have been involved in scouting – the older left when he was 12 and the younger just started. We were weighing the pros and cons and decided that there is so much good in the hobby that we can live with the things we don´t like. Hopefully my daughter will never have to hear anything negative for not being a churchly person.

  13. @dam…When you say, “Seeing that the Nones are on the rise, this would not only be a good thing but a necessary thing.” I see how you logically get to it being a good thing, but not why you say it would be necessary to admit non-believers. Can you elaborate?

  14. @dam … But they (I don’t think, as I never was one so maybe you can correct me) are not a profit making business. I was always under the impression that their goal is to instill certain moral values upon those they accept as members in order to build what they deem to be a more stable and grounded society. To accept people, contrary to what they see is required to accomplish that goal, would be counter to their endgame. Therefore, if they truely think that having “God” as part of their societal norm, then it would in fact be necessary for them to continue to discriminate against people who do not believe in God, even if is means a smaller organization.

    The point I am trying to make is that there are organizaitons in this world that claim their goal is to advance some aspect of objective truth. While I may or may not agree with their conclusion on what is objectivly true, I have to respect the fact that they are honestly trying to follow some objective standard. So to say that it would be necessary for them to disregard that objective standard just to maintain membership would be contrary to what makes me respect them to begin with.

    • @Joe K I consider them a business just as I consider the church a business. I think you raise a good point, and yes, some organizations should be allowed to discriminate on certain basis (i.e. an organization for CPA’s or a certain IQ). Can you give me an example of an organization that advances “some aspect of objective truth?”

      This gets back to the same argument that atheists and agnostics cannot hold the same moral values as believers. IMO, that is not only unfair but intolerant. It is judging, and if I remember correctly, I’ve been told that there is only one true judge.

  15. My son is a Boy Scout. He came home so excited one day because they had a Boy Scout Recruitment pitch at his school, I couldn’t say “no”. Still I know I’ll be faced with the same issue you describe eventually. Still, I had three daughters before I had any sons, and I’m just about sure they wouldn’t have let me be a Girl Scout Leader so until they remove that “exclusion” they shouldn’t remove the other. We shouldn strive for equality, yes, but not just for minorities. “=” affects both sides of the equation.

    • @Chris H. They also had a Boy Scout recruitment meeting at our school. Doesn’t seem appropriate if all are not welcome. I’m not sure I understand what you are saying about the Girl Scouts…

  16. My kids are too young for scouting organizations, but from what I’ve seen the BPSA (Baden-Powell Service Association) are a great alternative. They are a traditional Scouting style program and are coed and inclusive. They are just getting started and have a handful of group’s across the country. Here’s their web site:
    Hope this helps!

    • @tylerartz Interesting. THank you for this information! I just tried the link, but it is not opening up. It might be down for maintenance?? I’ll try again in a little.

  17. @dam – I’m in MD, 20 minutes outside Baltimore. I don’t think everybody here is as tolerant, so that (den leader’s reaction) was a positive surprise.

  18. @dam

    To answer your question, the Catholic Church is a perfect example of an organization that advances an understanding of objective truth.

    That is NOT to say that they are right, after all, in any disagreement there are only 3 options.
    1. They are wrong, you are right
    2. They are right, you are wrong.
    3. You are both wrong.
    That doesn’t however change that fact that there is an objectively true answer to what ever the discussion is covering. The bottom line is that their goal is to advance objective truth.

    I almost agree with you when you say that atheists and agnostics CANNOT hold the same moral values as believers is unfair and intolerant. I would agree if we throw unable to be reasoned (a.k.a. unreasonable) in with unfair and intolerant.

    What I wouldn’t agree with however, is that just because someone is on the opposite side of 1 and 2 of the 3 point disagreement concept above, they are intolerant and unfair.

    As to the “business nature” of the BS or churches

    1. an occupation, profession, or trade: His business is poultry farming.
    2. the purchase and sale of goods in an attempt to make a profit.
    3. a person, partnership, or corporation engaged in commerce, manufacturing, or a service; profit-seeking enterprise or concern.
    4. volume of trade; patronage: Most of the store’s business comes from local families.
    5. a building or site where commercial work is carried on, as a factory, store, or office; place of work: His business is on the corner of Broadway and Elm Street.

    Churches and Boy Scouts don’t really fit this category. I may be wrong, but I think your distrust of religion is clouding your views on that assessment and you are viewing churches from a purely materialistic (materialistic in the Aristotelian philosophical sense, not I want my new TV sense) premise. Churches deal in the metaphysical realities of this existence (again not metaphysical in the crystal shop down the corner, but the Aristotelian “On Metaphysics” sense). Whether you agree that there is a Metaphysical reality to this existence is another thing all together but it doesn’t change the objective fact that Churches act as if there is and should be viewed in that light is they are to be understood for what they really are.

    • @Joe K I don’t at all feel distrustful of religion. Not in the least. I do believe that it is a business, however. The church relies on the intake of funds. You can call it charity; I call it earnings. There is a service given and a payment received.

      As for “objective truth,” how do you define that? How are you suggesting that the Church strives for that? Are you using the Bible as a definitive guide?

    • Joe K,

      When it comes to Boy Scouts, based on my personal experience I would tend to agree with you, as nearly all of the leaders are volunteers and the money raised at the local level goes towards activities and supplies. There are yearly dues and other forms of income that I’m sure go towards paying salaries of those in the highest levels of the organization, but I never got the sense that Scouts was about making money. I can’t say the same for some churches I have been to, where a sermon on tithes and offerings just happened to coincide with a time when funds were getting low.

  19. I just wanted to comment that while I really, really, really dislike the BSA stance on homosexuality (let’s not kid ourselves, anything other than heterosexuality) and their instance on members being religious, I think it’s super-duper great of you to have left the final choice to your son. That must have been really hard for you, and I think it’s great that you did that.

    • @Melissa That is nice of you to say. Thanks. I knew he liked Scouts and he had made friends. And I didn’t care if he did want try out other religions. I leave the decision to him and ask him periodically if there is a church he wants to try out. I’m not a believer, but it does have its benefits.

  20. @all…some buddies of mine sent me this link. It is an opinion piece from Jimmy Carter.

  21. I was all excited to learn that the BSOA might be dropping their restrictions on sexual orientation so that I might feel comfortable allowing my son to join. Sadly I forgot about the religious aspect, darn!

    A friend of my in a den leader and what I’ve learned from him is that each den is “owned” by it’s supporting organization which is often a church. There might be other den with less religious bends out there….

  22. @dam…the link I just left, could be a very good topic of discussion that you may want to add to this blog. I would love to read some of the feedback. I wasn’t sure what topic to put it under, so I put it under the most recent post.

  23. The interesting thing is that Buddhism is acceptable to the BSA. Buddhism does not worship a “creator god”. It’s more about spirituality (correct me if I’m wrong Buddhists). Yet, you can earn a medal for Buddhism.

  24. My son has been in the same situation & he decided that since he believes he is his own God, that was good enough!

  25. @dam

    To answer your question, I will stick with the example at hand:

    My assertion that religion is not a business is a statement of objective truth.

    Your assertion that religion is a business is also statement of objective truth.

    One of us however is wrong, but that does not change the nature of objectivity associated with our individual assertions, nor does it change the objective nature of the conclusion we can obtain through logical argument(not in the hostile sense). There is an answer that is actually and objectively true.

    This principle of objective truth is in opposition to the popular notion that truth is subjective. Those adhering to the principle of subjective truth would say that, “Your assertion that religion is a business is equally valid to my assertion that religion is not a business.” This is contrary to logic and is one of the most detrimental aspects of our current society. If there is a fault to religion, it lies in the fact, not of subjective truth, but for so long people accepted beliefs without understanding the underlying “reason”-ableness of those beliefs. That reason for belief with out belief from reason resulted in a mindset where reason isn’t needed. To that I say BUNK!

    As another example, there are people that say, “For Jimmy god exists and for Johnny god doesn’t exist and both are equally valid statements because truth is subject to the individual.” To that I again say BUNK. One of them is has to be wrong. Either God exists, or god doesn’t exist, there is no way of saying that god both exists and doesn’t exist, it’s logically ludicrous.

    The problem is that Johnny and Jimmy are too irrationally attached to themselves and their ego to admit that….

    1. Jimmy is right, and Johnny is wrong.
    2. Johnny is right and Jimmy is wrong
    3. In some cases, they’re both wrong and someone else (probably one of your kids, as you know they are always right) is right.

    ….and still treat each other with respect.

    Did that answer your question as to what I mean by objective truth? I was not trying to say that the Catholic Church is correct in their interpretation of objective truth, just that they promote what they believe to be objectively true with frightening consistency. For that, consistency and conviction I have to give them respect.

    • @Joe K….I’ve been blogging for more than 8 years, and I have had this discussion several times. I wanted to listen to your POV, and you make a good case. I’m personally not swayed, however, as I subscribe to the idea that there are a few Truths and a whole lot of truths. God might exist, god might not exist or god might exist in another form or way that no one ever thought of. The example of the Catholic church? According to the IRS, it may not be a business, but according to civil law it may be. Of course all religions believe they have found the Truth or they would not be a religion. And in order for their followers to be members they have to reject all other possibilities and just subscribe to the one Truth. As I said, I’ve had this discussion several times before, and I know that we’re not going to sway each other. But I do hear you and understand what you’re saying.

  26. @dam…Regarding the statement, “God might exist, god might not exist or god might exist in another form or way that no one ever thought of.” Are you agreeing that one and only one of those three options can be correct, even if we may never know? Or are you saying that multiples ones can be simultaneously correct? Just asking so I understand where you are coming from, not trying to sway at all.

  27. My children are growing up without religion. My daughter is in Girl Scouts, and my son is in Boy Scouts. When my son was in Cub Scouts, he completed the requirements for the religious emblem available through the UU church (you can order the materials online). When he completed it, the troop he was in at the time happily awarded it to him at the Catholic Church where his troop was chartered, in a religious ceremony. At the individual level, many troops care more about the boys, and less about the rules.

  28. We are also raising our kids without religion. My son has joined the BoyScouts to hang more with his friends, less about badges. He is an outdoor fanatic and they have some great adventures and experiences. From the beginning he has mentioned that they pray sometimes and that meeting are at Churches etc. so we told him to be respectful-as we teach him to do if he is spending the weekend at another family’s house and is required to go to any service, or at family events where prayer and ceremony is involved. I did not know the Boy Scouts descriminated until the recent news about restricting the Gay Community. Some good conversations came up about that at home and we were pleased to see the Dads also meeting and having discussions. At our town level troop 79 created this and posted it in the local paper.
    Yes it did not include a discussion about non-believers but my son has had conversations with his leaders and the message was he was a valuable member and beliefs weren’t an issue. This was such a great lesson for the boys about tolerance and I think the local communities are what is going to bring about the changes in the Scouts. My knee jerk reaction was to pull him out, I am so pleased instead he had the chance to see logic and tolerance in action!

    • @khaganquigley Wow. What a great statement your troop leader put out–that their pack does not confrom to the Scout’s national policy. Their tolerance is truly inspiring. I have also taught my boys the same as you–to respect, at all times, others religous and cultural views. The thing was our troop required my son to say he believed in god, and that’s where he drew the line. I, personally, was disappointed because I think the Scouts had some great things to offer boys.

  29. My son is a wolf cub in the cub scouts, and I ran into this religion requirement too recently. I confided in my son’s den leader that we don’t attend church as we don’t agree with organized religion. He said that we could achieve the wolf badge without the religious emblem, but there were four other requirements we still need to meet. I am agnostic, was raised that way, and spent 13 years of my adult life thing to be a Lutheran for my then husband. After we divorced, I felt free to be me, until the Boy Scouts of America came into my life. My son just wants to be with his buddies from school, make pinewood derby cars, and camp. He likes his uniform and badges… I wish they would change their policies on religion along with their policies on homosexuality. My son is one of the best behaved, sweetest, most compassionate and just all around good people. To think that he’s not considered a good member of society according th the BSA unless he goes to church is a disgrace.

  30. There are alternative scouting groups formed just for the reasons you state. Check out this one, which appears to be growing rapidly: another is . I’ve been running a co-ed adventure scout team for several years here, it’s been great!

    Depending on what the news is next week, maybe these could be the topic of a blog post?

  31. I am in agreement that the BSA should allow all boys to joint. Faith is a personal choice for parents to make. If we decide not to teach a religion that is our right and the BSA should not punish our sons. Freedom of must include Freedom From too or its a joke. Scouting should be about friends having fun together. I am a nonbeliever and if I had kids, I would let them learn about different faith teachings and decide for themselves as adults. I would teach respect for all people.

    • @David A Morse I think there is just a stigma around what an atheist or agnostic is. Godless is view as evil, but it’s changing. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  32. Looking for a religion free kids organization? 4-H. Ages 9 to 19. It’s not just for “farm kids” as there are lots of urban projects and leadership roles to available.
    “I pledge my head to clearer thinking
    My heart to greater loyalty
    My hands to larger service
    and my health to better living for my club, my community, my country and my world.”
    Check with your county extension office or for more info on groups near you. I was a 4-H’er for 8 years.

  33. Kathleen Quigley

    Just curious, what part of the country do you live in?

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