Would You Allow Your Child to Join the Boy Scouts of America? June 10, 2009

Would You Allow Your Child to Join the Boy Scouts of America?

Reader Tony tells me that he met an atheist couple over the weekend. “Bob” and his wife have tried not to impose their atheism on their son.

Now, their son has joined the Boy Scouts (with their permission).

The Boy Scouts of America have a history of discriminating against gays and atheists. Despite much of the good work they do, they have no qualms about kicking out people who don’t adhere to their interpretation of the Scout Oath. The courts have repeatedly said that the BSA is a private organization that can legally discriminate, but the government does give them money, so BSA isn’t exactly in the clear…

It raises the question: Would you allow your son to join the Boy Scouts if he requested it?

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Would they even allow the son of a gay couple to join? They’d probably be worried my husband and I would molest the whole troop.

  • Shelly

    Absolutely not! I’d explain why and tell him we don’t support organizations who discriminate. I don’t view this any differently from walking in a “Pro-Life” charity walk or going to a “whites-only” restaurant.

  • bill

    it’d be hard not to let him join if he really wanted to, say if a few of his close friends were in it. at that point it’d be hard to deny a child the opportunity to be with his friends. i’d keep a close eye on things though…

  • There are other scouting groups that don’t discriminate. Campfire USA is now co-ed and and all-inclusive. However, here in my town in NW Arkansas, The Boy Scouts and other discriminatory activities (like Upward Basketball) seem to be the only groups available.

    When I was a boy, my parents put me in The Christian Service Brigade. It was a place I could go to once a week to get a black eye and a swirlie. Aren’t Christians great?

  • Robin

    I think that there is a difference between “not-imposing” and “hiding from.” Does this boy even know that his parents are atheists? Does he know that they support the rights of all citizens regardless of sexual orientation? I do think that it’s perfectly ok to inform your children and to guide them in making ethical decisions. That said, I wouldn’t forbid it, because that adds appeal.

  • Bob

    I really have to recommend the Penn and Teller BS episode on the Boy Scouts, you’ll find out all kinds of crazy things about how they’ve come to be a private institution and at the same time a government funded branch of the military.

  • I’m an eagle scout and loved every minute of it. Now I was not an atheist at the time, but religion rarely came up, and when it did it was mostly in various ceremonial oaths and whatnot. We did have an extremely liberal scout leader (who also happened to be my uncle), but I would say that most scouts get to decide how big of a role religion plays in the time there. To me, the benefits (camping and hiking trips, citizenship, camaraderie, education) greatly out weigh the chance of getting kicked out.

  • meotreo


    The Boy Scouts may offer of experiences and learning but allowing your son to be a part of an organization that openly preaches and practices hate and discrimination is completely unacceptable.

    Find an alternative group or go camping with your son and family, learn first aid, learn survival techniques, practice knots, volunteer in your community, and teach open mindedness and tolerance and you’ll be way ahead of the teachings of any boy scout group.

  • JT

    No – my wife suggested our son joining the scouts and I told her why I did not want him there – our daughter is in brownies but I don’t have a problem with the girl scouts. But really all I had to say is “do you want our son hanging around with some strange man all the time?” and she promptly forgot about it…

  • Theophage

    As an Eagle Scout and an atheist, I would probably let my hypothetical son join. The organization discriminates at a national level, this is true, but individual troops can be much more open. My troop, in particular, consciously avoided asking certain questions of the boys in the troop which would force a confrontation of the gay/atheist issues.

    I sympathize with the perspective that a parent should just teach the scout skills independent of the organization, but you have to realize that the BSA has two major advantages over independent teaching – facilities and camaraderie. The BSA has hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of acres of land with millions of dollars in facilities available for scouts to work with. Too, the experience of sharing all that with one’s parents is distinct from the experience of sharing it with age-peers.

    The organization is flawed, yes, and the growing influence of the LDS church within the program may mean that by the time I have children able to participate I might answer this question differently. But for all its shortcomings, the organization provides a unique and valuable experience for young boys and I continue to believe that participation is a positive thing.

  • I couldn’t care less about their attitude to atheists, I’ve got a think skin and their ignorance in that regard is just water off a duck’s back. The blatant homophobia is another matter though, I’d no sooner allow a child of mine to join them than I would have him in the Westboro Baptist Church. Allowing your child to join is just tacit approval of their stance, much better off just to explain to the kid why they’re bad organisation.

  • diz

    My son (age 7) joined the scouts (at the suggestion of my ex-wife) a couple months ago. Of my two children, he’s easily the most willing to believe in god, and he has a really hard time with the fact that I am an atheist when all his friends are Christians. (My daughter [age 9], on the other hand, independently came to the conclusion that all religions are ridiculous.)

    So, I was a little leery of letting him join the scouts, but so far it’s been a good experience for him. The troupe leader is a fairly secular person (and a good friend of my ex-wife’s, who is ‘spiritual,’ but not religious), so I’ve not seen any overt religion being injected into the meetings.

    I WAS very surprised that my ex-wife suggested that we put him in the scouts. She’s a VERY strong proponent of Gay Rights and is the last person that I’d ever expect to support anything related to the scouts. But, at this point, I think she’s of the opinion that the only way to change the scouts for the better is to actually be involved with them.

    Who knows? Maybe if more atheists joined organizations like the scouts, we might actually be able to influence their policies for the better.

  • peregrine

    I was in the Scouts of Canada for several years. I joined Beavers because my parents asked me if I wanted to, and I was too young to care either way, so I just sort of went along with it. Went on to Cubs, because both my parents were leaders of the local pack. It was fun, and I had some good friends back then. When I went on to scouts, it turned sour. I was the victim of bullying the majority of the time, and the leaders were either powerless or complacent to do anything about it. I went along with it because my parents were still involved, and they were friends with the troop leaders, so I felt there was some kind of expectation on me. But eventually, I came to the realization that I was subjecting myself to abuse for no good reason, and walked away.

    Oddly enough, even though I wasn’t very popular, my leaving seemed to spur a mass exodus. By the end of that year, the troop membership was less that 1/3 what it was when I left.

    I’d be extremely apprehensive about exposing my kids to that kind of atmosphere. And that doesn’t even take the religious aspects into consideration.

  • Would you patronize a business you knew had helped fund the Prop 8 stuff? When you ‘do business’ with a org that has such a black track record on discrimination and hatred, you are basically letting them know you support their behavior.

    There’s a reason why before we accept new clients for computer work, we always do background research.

    It’s peace of mind, if anything.

  • Bart Mitchell

    As an Eagle scout with palms, I would like to add my own personal irony on this.

    I learned more about atheism and disrespect for religion at our scout meetings in the Presbyterian church basement than anywhere else during my childhood.

    That being said, I think Oregon is much more friendly to atheism than other states. I also think that scouting is becoming more radicalized than it was during my time.

    To the question, I would let my child join scouting if she wanted to. I have no fears of others converting her, as I have equipped her with the tools of critical thinking. Any child so equipped can easily avoid the pitfalls of faith.

  • Tom in Iowa

    Like Bart I too was an Eagle Scout from Oregon, and my troop met in the Presbyterian church. (25 years ago, alas)

    To be honest other than the usual teen age boy talk there was really no issue with homosexuality, and even the religious aspects were a vanishingly small part of it. It was all about the camping, hiking and merit badges. On of my best scout friends came out as gay in high school, but we didn’t really care since he was pretty cool. When we had “religious services” during camp outs I just sat quietly and enjoyed being in the great outdoors.

    I agree that the group has become much more radical with time.

    None of my children were interested in scouting past cub scouts, but I wouldn’t have trouble with them joining.

  • Josh Stone

    I grew up in the Boy Scouts, and I was always troubled by the religious aspects. I didn’t exactly call myself an atheist at the time, but it did feel wrong to me to talk so much about a God that I didn’t really believe in. At least I had an understanding scoutmaster though who would fudge some of the religious advancement requirements for me. Still, now that I’m more aware of the organization’s discriminatory policies, I don’t think I could condone it today.

    Why not look into a more secular organization like 4-H?

  • Muzakbox

    My son has asked and I told him no. I felt that supporting a group that discriminated against both atheists and homosexuals was not an acceptable place for him.

  • John

    In Utah the mormans control it in almost a cult status.

  • Claudia

    Hmm I can imagine a situation where I’d allow it, but it would be rather narrowly defined.

    First there would have to be no other alternative and inclusive group in the area. I know they exist and if at all possible I’d want my child to be in an organization that wasn’t officially bigoted.

    The second condition would concern the troop itself. I know that official orthodoxy and local orthodoxy are not always the same. If the boy scouts were the only available group and I could be personally assured that he would not be exposed to sanctioned homofobia or religious indoctrination then I’d consider it. I’m sure there are troops out there that quietly ignore the more stupid aspects of the scout rules.

  • TXatheist

    I’d explain that Camp Quest doesn’t discriminate but if he wanted to he could as long as he understood his Dad was an atheist and he needed to reveal that in a fashion he felt comfortable.

  • I think there are plenty of other kids’ clubs that are more appropriate. My daughter wanted to join the Girls’ Brigade because some of her friends were in it. I was happy to let her have an after school club with friends. When I found out they sang Onward Christian Soldiers at the end of each meeting, I pulled her from it. No Christian Soldiers under my roof. Thankfully, she wasn’t too bothered about it and found the whole experience rather dull.

    We enrolled her into Judo instead.

  • littlejohn

    I too am a former Scout. My father wasn’t an outdoorsman and I would never had learned the pleasures of hiking, camping, building a campfire, reading a compass, and, yes, shooting a firearm otherwise. Religion and sexuality never came up (this was the 1960s).
    I did resent the paramilitary aspect, but otherwise it was fun. I don’t know what the scouts are like today, so I don’t know what I would do.

  • Sebeka

    I don’t think it’s right to take an oath you don’t intend to/can’t follow and I’d explain about that to my (hypothetical) son.

    If he still wanted to join, I’d approach the Troop Leader and ask if my son could use a modified version of the Scout Oath and Law (eg. substituting “respectful” for “reverent” or being silent during the “serve god” parts). I’d also ask if the leader could work with us to find ways for my son to accomplish any religiousy badge assignments from a secular point of view.

    If any Scout Leaders in the area are willing to sidestep BSA rules this way (and many are), I wouldn’t have a problem. If none are, then I’d look for a secular scouting organization in my area.

  • Ron in Houston

    I also think that scouting is becoming more radicalized than it was during my time.

    As a former scout I agree. Does anyone know whether it’s true about the Mormon church radicalizing the Boy Scouts?

  • AnonyMouse


    I don’t have a problem exposing my hypothetical kid to other worldviews. To that end, he can meet people of other faiths, befriend Boy Scouts if he desires, and even attend church occasionally if he desires (not with my parents, though). But I will not support an organization with that level of intolerance, whether certain local groups practice it or not.

    Then again, I give money regularly to the Salvation Army… but only because they have the most efficient conversion rate of donations-to-output.

  • Caitlin

    Absolutely. What you need to know is that individual Boy Scout troops do not always follow what may be perceived as the party line. My family is heavily involved in the Scouts, and my dad describes himself as more of a “pagan” than anything else, and their troops are very diverse. The benefits that the organization can provide are huge, if you find the right group–emphasis on honesty and service, confidence, maturity, a sense of community and history. There are other organizations that do much the same thing, but if a boy wants to be a Scout, then why not let him, and work as a parent to change objectionable parts of the organization from within?

  • JBM

    It really depends on the troop. I’m an Eagle Scout with palms as well, and was inducted into the Order of the Arrow. My troop met at a local junior high school, not in a church. My troop’s focus was more towards camping, outdoor skills, and other recreational activities, and far less on religious matters. In fact, I really don’t remember us doing much at all with regard to organized religious activities. Back to the question, if the troop was like the one I was in growing up, then sure. If, however, the troop was like some others, where everyone had to read the bible and routinely praise a god that’s just not there, then I’d say no.

    While I am disappointed with BSA’s decisions with regard to gays and atheists, I still believe that scouting offers some great opportunities for young men. Looking beyond the religious comonent, I think that it offers many lessons and support systems that are important and helpful.


  • Erp

    I believe many of the local level leaders ignore the national leadership on the issues of gays and atheists and are working to change things (though being too publicly outspoken even if straight and christian will get you kicked out also). However I would still oppose a son (if I had any children) joining since I would not be allowed to be a leader.

    Note the Girl Scouts are a totally different organization with different policies in regards to gays and god. However they don’t admit boys. Campfire is another option but they are much smaller and not present everywhere in the US.

  • flatlander100

    Tom and Bart above have pretty much got it right, I think. It can be, and for thousands of kids [I was one — got me out of the city and into the forests and mountains and so gave me a life-time recreation I still now in my mid-sixties enjoy often]. I became a Scouting volunteer and an assistant scoutmaster when my own kids wanted to join. At no time when I was a scout did anyone ever ask me if I was gay or straight. At no time did anyone challenge me to avow I had been saved, or much of anything at all about religion. And I never, in about a decade as an adult leader, asked a kid if he believed in god or about his or anyone else’s sexual orientation. Never heard anyone else do it either.

    The thing is, “national” is largely composed of extremely conservative right-wing holier-than-thous. The troops I was associated with generally ignored “national.” Most ignored “council” much of the time too. Spent most time getting the kids off to the mountains, out on rivers, and working on instilling as much self-reliance in them as we could.

    Are there wing-nut troops and councils? Sure are. But there are also hundreds of troops run by sane and sensible people who have the intelligence and integrity to take what’s valuable in Scouting and make it available to the kids, and to flat ignore the rest. It’s what the troop I was in did and I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world. It’s what the troops I worked as a volunteer in did as well. If you have a child who wants to join the Boy Scouts, find one. It’s worth the hunt.

    “No! No! Never! No child of mine!” seems like throwing out the baby with the bathwater to me.

  • Brian

    Caitlin wrote:

    What you need to know is that individual Boy Scout troops do not always follow what may be perceived as the party line.

    Certainly the case. The local council in my area has issued public statements disavowing the discriminatory practices of the national organization. People don’t necessarily leave a company or a state or a country because of discriminatory rules imposed by some particular administration. Sometimes people think it best to work from within.

    Nonetheless, I would not encourage my son to join Boy Scouts, and I would explain why. (Not that he ever did express interest.) The biggest issue to me, as pertains to the individual boys in the program, is “reverent” bit. (I was briefly a Cub Scout, and I refused to say the “God” part of the pledge.) The whole quasi-military patriotic thing bothers me, too, but not as much. I don’t think I’d forbid it, but I would make sure he is aware of the situation and my feelings about the organization.

  • I’m a regional director of Scouting For All (which opposes the BSA’s discriminatory policies) and this is a perennial question.

    On a day-to-day basis, scouting only operates at the pack/troop level, so it’s pretty much a reflection of whoever is running your particular group. Some ignore the exclusionary rules, some enforce them, so your mileage will vary. And if the local leadership changes, it’s another roll of the dice.

    As has already been mentioned, there are other groups like CampFire and 4H that don’t discriminate, which might be an option. But they might not be active in your area, or your son’s friends might already be in scouts.

    And yes, much of this idiocy can be laid right at the Mormons; they use the BSA program for their own youth program (basically requiring all Mormon boys to join) so they can get the BSA into doing anything they want by just threatening to pull out and start their own program. So no gays, no atheists, no recognized religious award for pagans, etc. The Catholic church is also partially responsible, though to a somewhat lesser extent.

    A lot of members think the BSA will change eventually, but a lot of the damage is already done. They lost their largest sponsor (public schools) in 2005 when the ACLU threatened to sue any public school that excluded atheists; they are leaving Fort AP Hill after the next Jamboree and moving to their own property (in spite of winning a lawsuit challenging the government’s support on a technicality); they’ve lost nearly 1/4 of their cub scout age membership since the Dale decision 10 years ago; and with the recent economic problems, their nondiscriminatory Learning for Life program lost 1/4 of their membership just last year, probably due to school budget cuts.

  • Plainfieldrob

    Nope – my son is 6 and I ruled it out long ago. Homophobia (to put it mildly) and anti-antitheism are just two of the main reason I said no.

    Now the Girl Scouts is entirely different. Encouraged my daughter to join up.

    And sadly, no way to explain all of this to a 6 year old who has friends in the Scouts. Just glad I can drop the ‘hey wanna go swimming?’ to quickly change the subject.

    Someday we’ll have this conversation, but not yet.

  • James H

    I was in scouting for a few years myself before I discovered other interests in high school. (One of those other interests was named Lisa, but that’s beside the point)

    I would echo what a lot of others here say. A lot of it depends on the troop. A number of local troops take a don’t ask don’t tell approach to gays and to atheism. They don’t really care about it and leave each to his own devices.

    Apart from the dogma that atheists protest, Scouting (when done right) can teach very useful lessons about friendship, leadership, teamwork, and all sorts of skills that may be later useful in life.

    I want to add three more points.

    First, allowing your son to join a Boy Scout troop at his own request gives him a little bit of power in his life and signals to him that you’re ready to let him make some of his own decisions, esp. if he’s 12 to 14 years old. That empowerment can be very important to an adolescent.

    Second, the Scouting experience itself can be an object lesson in life. In real life, you can’t go around refusing to associate with others because of such piddling matters as religious ideology. Diversity of all things, including belief, is part of the fabric of human society. If an adult runs around rejecting participation in local camping, hiking, and sewing clubs because they’re insufficiently atheist, that’s going to be one lonely atheist.

    Finally, what if your child’s religious beliefs are different from yours? What if your child actually is a Christian, whether of the evangelical or non-evangelical stripe? For that child, participating in an organization that rejects atheism is no more unnatural that his wanting to be part of his church youth group? A number of atheists — myself included — “discovered” atheism at a young age and no doubt expected parents to respect that belief. Why should a child who “discovers” religion expect any differently?

  • Joel

    As an Eagle Scout, I can say scouting does a number of wonderful things for young boys; fosters appreciation of the out doors, ecnourages hard work, and emphasizes honesty. However, I can never bring myself to support a group that endorses the type of exclusionary tactics they do.

    While the enforcement of these regulations may be at the disrection of the local leadership, I still can’t bring myself to lend any support. I would liken it to donating money to a liberal church. They may do good work, but the underlying message is contemptible.

  • Russell

    The Boy scouts were a positive influence for me in my youth, so I have encouraged my boys to participate (they are young, so it’s cub scouts for them now). One has enjoyed it, the other dropped out after a few months.
    We did switch dens early on, because the first one was run by a fundie who wanted to use the meetings as his personal church.
    opened and closed each meeting with a prayer
    made the kids remove pauses when reciting the pledge and scout law….
    not “one nation (pause) under god (pause) indivisible”,
    but “one nation under god (pause) indivisble”.
    Also, not this “on my honor (pause) I will do my duty (pause) to god and my country”,
    but “on my honor (pause) I will do my duty to god (pause) and my country”. This modification throws the whole rhythm out of sync.
    When we left that first meeting, my son said to me that it was too “churchy”.
    So we switched to a different den, but he lost interest a few months later, and I was not going to force him to participate.
    My other son has stayed active, and is benefiting from the experience. The scouts do instill the traits of responsibility, friendship, team work, goal setting, etc.

  • Brian

    I just wanted to throw my experiences into the ring as well– Despite being another scout who met in a church basement, our troop made sure homosexual and atheist members were welcome even though the official line from “upstairs” was that they weren’t welcome. I think it really matters which troop you’re thinking of joining, so check it out first and make sure the leaders are responsible, reasonable people who won’t be bullied. Or better yet, become a leader yourself! That is the best way to make sure Tony’s son and his friends’ sons have the great experiences that the Boy Scouts provide.

    Even so, if you are too uncomfortable about the BSA organization’s intolerance, then check out some other similar organizations (if they’re nearby and active). But remember that the real core of the experience is with the troop– you can safely ignore anyone else if your troop leadership is strong.

  • There are plenty of alternatives that do not indoctrinate or descriminate. If people choose to send their kids to these organisation above the scouts then the scouts will either disappear or change.

    Also America is too far to commute to send my son to BSA.

  • I was initially going to say something like, “I might consider it, despite his parents being lesbian atheists,” but then I looked at our local troops’ website and found that they work closely with the Archdiocese for the area. And regardless of differences in individual troops, I can’t get over the number of times God is invoked.

    My son is 6 right now, so it will be a resounding no when they send their flyers home next fall. I might consider it when he’s older and I feel that he’s had a chance to think about these issues a bit more (and would be able to articulate his views).

  • everettattebury

    My experience with Boy Scouts was something close to Lord of the Flies. Bullies with knives and sharp sticks and troop leaders who thought they were the drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket.

    It was never my choice to join, and I was glad when my parents let me quit.

    There’s a whole lot more wrong with this organization than their discrimination.

  • matt

    As an Eagle Scout liberal atheist, I would say absolutely let him join. The “morality” of a troop really varies from troop to troop, and even then in a troop 60% filled with hard-line-ish conservative types I didn’t have a problem – they were the ones always getting in to trouble.
    The trick is to try and change scouts. There’s a group that’s trying to change scouting from within.

  • Heidi

    Where are you people getting the idea that girl scouting is any different? My friend’s daughters joined girl scouts, and my friend was told in no uncertain terms that girl scouting was a Christian organization. And they met in a church. My daughter did not join girl scouts.

    My son was a cub scout from Tigers through Arrow of Light, and did a year or two of boy scouts before deciding he’d lost interest. They met at the American Legion hall and never did anything in a church. They did have services at boy scout camp, which did not impress my son in the least. And at least one of the other kids who was boy scouts with him is gay.

    The only difference I see in the mottoes is that girl scouts hem and haw about “When reciting the Girl Scout Promise, it is okay to replace the word “God” with whatever word your spiritual beliefs dictate.” (Copied directly from their website.)

    It really does just depend on the group. Obviously if there had been any hate spouting going on, I would have pulled him out of scouting. But he had fun for a while, met some friends, and then grew out of it.

  • My older son is in the boy-scouts. I’m on the fence about whether I want to start my younger son with the cub-scouts next year. I know of one other scout family in our troop where the father is an atheist (mother Unitarian). Of course, we don’t go to scout meetings wearing atheist t-shirts. I guess our troop kind of has a “don’t ask don’t tell” philosophy. If you make a big deal out of your atheism or sexual orientation, perhaps they would be forced to act (and kick you out). Although, they don’t seem to go on any witch-hunts looking for people.

    That said, the general rank-and-file in the troop is more to “the right” than the general population where I live.

    Interestingly, I live near (and am good friends with) a family that has immigrated from Germany a while back. They told me that scout-like organizations are NOT popular in Germany because kids wearing uniforms remind Germans too much of the old Hitler Youth.

  • John Larberg

    Maybe having members and their parents who disagree with some of the BSA’s views would be the best thing to help change those views. All in all there is good things about the BSA and we don’t necessarily want to eliminate the organization.

  • Andy G

    I think it depends on the kind of troop that is in your area. As an Eagle Scout I have scene a wide spectrum of troops, ones that endorse the public views of the BSA and others that simply choose to ignore them. Really it depends on the people that are involved.

    To be fair there was a lot of praying in my troop, but I just chose to ignore it quietly. However, there was never any discrimination against homosexuals. Ever.

    I have had such a good experience with the Boy Scouts that it is impossible to dismiss them outright, but it is extremely disappointing that their policies are deterring young boys everywhere.

  • ScottishExScout

    As an ex-Scout, I don’t think the stuff in the oath about God had a particularly detrimental effect on me!

    Now, as a father, my daughter has joined the Brownies. Interesing that, here in the UK, they promise to:

    I promise that I will do my best:
    To love my God,
    To serve the Queen and my country,
    To help other people
    To keep the Brownie Guide Law.

    The “my God” leaves plenty of scope for the Flying Spaghetti Monster, so I’m not worried 🙂

  • I would explain to my son the other side of the Boy Scouts of America, (having been a Boy Scout myself), and explain that they are a very religious organization, and at the whim of a very religious Southern Baptist scout leader, my troop was often led in prayer during meetings and meetings often disentigrated into sermons. However, on the other hand, I feel being a boy scout was a valuable experience and gave me many life lessons and real-world experiences that I still use (and I can tie like 60 different kinds of knot)

  • Tina

    I think it depends on the local group’s opinion of homosexuality and atheism. I really think it varies depending on what part of the country you are in. I would try suggesting other activities that maybe his friends are into as well. (because friends is probably the motivation, not the scouts themselves) But if he still really wants to be, it might be beneficial for his socialization.

    Before letting my child join, I would make sure to talk to the leaders and confirm no discrimination, teasing, or preaching will be done to my child. A child is vunerable and soaks up information like a sponge. I feel the need to protect them. As soon as I heard one negative story, Poof!, they will be pulled!

  • skinman


  • Caitlin

    Girl Scouts is definitely different. The only connection the two groups have is that they were founded originally (a hundred years ago) by a husband and wife in Britain. Girl Scouts welcomes gays and lesbians, and you are never required to say anything that disavows your personal beliefs. (As an employee, I remain silent during that part of the promise, and teach the girls I work with that "serving God" can mean many things to many people) Many troops meet in churches because that is just where there is space--it can be hard to get clearance and time at public schools. Any troop that told you Girl Scouts was a Christian organization was lying,or perhaps meant that their group was largely Christian. Most groups that I've encountered are nondiscriminatory and welcoming, and I'm very sorry that yours was not one of them.

  • My son just had his Eagle Court of Honor. He is a member of the Order of the Arrow as well.

    Although I questioned my decision to allow him to be a Boy Scout, every time I thought about it I came to the same conclusion – I will equip my son with the tools to allow him to think critically and he will ultimately have to make the decisions that will guide his life.

    Ironically, though, I found that most troops have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude toward BSA policy – and I live in the back yard of the national office. My son came out of scouting a stronger young man and, contrary to the beliefs of some, he isn’t out to convert the world to scouting.

    I don’t regret my decision to allow my son to be a Boy Scout. Sometimes it got a little hairy for me, but hey – if you can’t handle hairy situations involving your kid you don’t have any business being a parent.

  • No. I also refuse to buy the girlscout cookies or the boyscout popcorn, even when it’s my best friend asking me to for the troop that she leads.

    The popcorn tastes terrible, BTW, but even if it were the yummiest popcorn on the planet, I would not buy it.

  • Curtis

    Does any one have any suggestion on how to determine the attitude of the local organization? It seems confrontational to ask the scout master if he supports bigotry. Even if they were accepting, it would not make a good first impression.

  • I would allow it, after making it clear why I thought a group that discriminates in that way is not something I am at all happy about.

  • Polly

    If I had a kid who still wanted to join after hearing about their position on atheists and gays and there were no alternatives around, I would not stand in his way. I’d just reinforce freethinking ideals all the more to combat any voodoo he might pick up.

  • Bryan

    Well, I was in the Boy Scouts and although my troop had religious leanings, I still turned out atheist.

    I say explain your grievances with the son but still allow his own choice in the matter.

    Come to think of it… I became an Eagle Scout in the BSA, do you think they would take it away if I told them I have become an atheist?

  • Brian A

    My wife and I have already had a discussion about this, even though our son is only 4 years old right now. She grew up in Girl Scouts and has nothing but good things to say about the experience. I was never personally involved in scouting growing up, although I would have had no problem with the religious stuff then.

    Now, I just can’t see myself allowing my son to join an organization that is so religious and so homophobic. I realize the local troop may not follow the national organization’s stance on things, but that seems like a gamble to take every time the local leadership changes. I also don’t like the idea of having to remain ‘in the closet’ about my atheism and support for gay rights. I couldn’t just sit by and ‘ignore’ the religious aspects. If my son were to want to join, then I would want to be involved. That fact alone prevents me from thinking that joining BSA would be allowed.

    There are other options for kids to get involved in, that are not discriminatory, that I would feel much better about letting my son be a part of.

  • This is one of our hurdles at the beginning of each school year. The Boy Scouts come into the school and tell the kids how fun it is and they throw a party full of fun activities. Our son gets really excited each year, but we’ve explained to him that the Boy Scouts is not an organization that we want to support. I’ve explained that the organization tells people who don’t believe in god and boys who love boys that they are not welcome. This subject was actually one of our first conversations about discrimination that he could relate to. I’ve offered to look into alternatives for him, but he usually loses interest once the Boy Scouts have finished their yearly recruiting.

  • Danny

    This is a very tough answer for me. When I was in Boy Scouts those topics never came up and my friends and I knew nothing about them. While I don’t like the BSA and I don’t support them, I also don’t think it’s fair to stop your child from spending time with his friends and learning some things about camping and survival. Once they get a little older or if it were to ever get brought up at a meeting then it might be wise to discuss it with your child.

  • Sandra

    My son asked to join, because his friends were in scouts, and I pointed out that they support hunting on their flier. He (chose to be a vegetarian because he doesn’t want to kill anything) then decided that he wanted nothing to do with BSA after that.

  • Vincent

    Don’t you have to pay something to belong? I would not give the BSA any money, even indirectly through buying a uniform, and in fact I wouldn’t let my (hypothetical) kid join because I wouldn’t let him wear the uniform. Kids have to learn that some forms of speech are disapproved of, and as far as I am concerned, wearing that uniform is tantamount to wearing a shirt that says “gays and atheists are inferior humans.”
    If he wants to do it on his own dollar, then fine but I’m cutting his allowance.
    Free speech does not equal consequence-free speech.

  • Yes, with a big caveat.

    I attended a rather lackluster troop that met in the basement of the 1st Congregationalist church I attended as a kid in MA. Even with the apathetic leadership, I made it to Life before I got sick of the apathy.

    Now twenty-five years later, I’m a liberal atheist living in the great state of VT.

    This past year, I’ve been kicking around the idea of seeing if I can volunteer with my local troop. Why?

    Maybe to fight the good fight from inside, lead by example and such.

    Maybe because nothing is perfect and what is the ratio of good:bad? If scouting actively promotes things like environmental awareness, community service, racial equality and a good work ethic is it possible that it could offset a policy of discrimination against gays and atheists? As was said many times by former scouts: “each troop is different”. I don’t think that the BSA has an active hate program is churning out goose-stepping homophobic fundamentalist zealots by the truckload.

    As long as the troop does not actively rail against gay rights or atheists, I would have no problem with it. I’d be willing to bet most troops have an unspoken ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. If any of the leadership crosses the line, they’d get an earful before I stormed out.

    Does the BSA need to change it’s outdated and stupid policies? Hells, yes! But, change can happen best from within and also you must be careful lest in casting out our demons we exorcise the best thing in us(apologies to Nietzsche).

  • I am also an Eagle Scout, and like some of the other posters, my troop once met in a Presbyterian Church. So make of that what you will.

    I was not yet an atheist when I was in the Scouts, so I don’t really know what it feels like as an atheist in the Scouts. My troop was sort of religious, in that we usually prayed at times, but we were much more focused on camping and shooting and things like that. We had a scout earn the Hindu Religious Emblem while I was involved, which was cool.

    I have a lot of ambivalent feelings about the BSA now. I am saddened that they discriminate against gays and atheists. I am not sure what I could do about it – they do seem to be in the pocket of the Mormon Church, just like California, but even more so.

    I don’t know whether I would allow a child of mine to join the Boy Scouts. It really helped me mature by giving me leadership skills and providing me with new experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

    As many of the other Scouts wrote, the way things are run varies by troop and your mileage may vary.

    I really like Scouting and what it does, but I cannot tolerate their discrimination. I would not advise my son to join BSA, but if he really were strongly interested, I would try to find a troop that is more tolerant of religious diversity. I am hopeful that BSA can be changed from within, but I am not optimistic.

  • Stephan Goodwin

    IF I have children, I couldn’t let any of them join…it would just be setting him up for later rejection when they find out about the nature of his family. I wouldn’t want that to happen. This is what Scouting for All is for…

  • I wouldn’t, and it has nothing to do with “imposing my atheism” on the child. It has to do with not having the anti-gay, anti-atheist bigotry and RRRW Christianity-centric themes imposed on the child via the Boy Scouts. There are plenty of other activities the boy could engage in that don’t discriminate and insist on shoving religion on participants.

  • Karun R

    My son is in Boy Scouts – we joined up before we knew much about the negative aspects -anti gay and the religious aspects. However, this troop has been much more liberal even in this conservative areas. I would put this all down to the scoutmaster. There are a lot of good things . I do worry about some of the other adults who may decide to take the troop further right ..

  • JD

    Former Life scout, was too lazy for eagle. I really think this has gone a bit to far. The benefits, skills, and friendships I took from scouting I still use today almost a decade after I last participated. I had never ONCE at a meeting heard anyone discriminate against gays or atheists or anyone else for that matter. Sure, every now and then a Chappy would do his thing, but even at 14 I just decided to shut off for that section. I decided not to say reverent or things mentioning god. We met in a church for a year while the Elementary school was being renovated and still no mention of God. I think you should give the kids a little more credit here to think for themselves.

  • WayBeyondSoccerMom

    My son has been in Boy Scouts since 2nd grade, and will make Eagle in two years. I agree with a lot of the positive comments in this post, that’s it’s been mostly good. Yes, there are religious elements at times, but nothing we can’t shrug off.

    We have had more issues of our son being vegetarian and eating properly on weekend camping trips and week long Boy Scout camps than any other thing.

    We looked at other groups that he could join, and Boy Scouts has been one of the best organizations he could belong to, that allowed him to grow, learn and become a better person.

    And, here’s something really important.

    Yes, my husband and I are atheists, but we are using Richard Dawkins’s parenting concept of: my son is the child of atheists. He isn’t one, himself. He can make that proclamation when he is an adult, but for now, there is no hypocrisy of his involvement with Boy Scouts.

    Also, my husband and I have been always very active within his troop. That’s the best way to make sure he is having a positive experience.

    BTW, this summer will be the third time my son has been to a weekly Boy Scout summer camp and Camp Quest, within two weeks of each other. Talk about contrasts!

  • Miko

    Yes. While I may disapprove of certain aspects of the organisation, my hypothetical son is more than capable of making decisions for himself.

  • beckster

    4-H. Still a lot of fundies involved in it, but the national, state, and local organizations are not religious and kids (boys and girls) can choose from a wide range of projects ranging from cake decorating to showing horses. When I was in 4-H, I did projects in entomology, vet science, photography, leadership, public speaking, and several others. There are also tons of opportunities to attend camp. I can’t say enough about it. 4-H is a wonderful alternative to scouting.

  • Dhruv Karunakaran

    I’m 15, and in Boy Scouts. I understand what it means to be somewhat discriminated. If you can be a closet atheist, it may work. The experience in camping is very useful and fun. Boy Scouts does have freedom of religion, but not freedom from, which is my problem. I just keep quiet about it from the adults, and the major leaders, but I can see that joining Boy Scouts, though fun, may create some problems and alienation among the son and the other scouts.

  • Greyfox


  • Absolutely not. If I had children I would not let them join any group which has discrimination against the non-religious and LGBT written into it’s rules. There are plenty of other organizations that can give kids some of the same experiences while still adhering to my values, 4-H, Outward Bound, Campfire USA, etc.

  • Freak

    Whether the local leadership is friendly or not, IIRC, National will shut down any troop that has an openly gay leader. (Presumably, also an openly atheistic leader.)

  • Tom

    Here is one reason I believe no responsible parent should allow their child to join Boy Scouts:

    Bluntly, I view it as child abuse.

  • Rob Varey

    This is a tough question for me. My Nana was very strict with religion when my Father was young. So when I was a child he gave me the choice of going to church and ccd and all that fun stuff. Of course as a kid, i did what any kid would do and chose…absolutely not! It worked out well for me, but he didn’t give me a choice when it came cub scouts and then a boy scouts…I had to join. When I was around 12-13 I realized I did not believe in god and I was an atheist. I told my scout leader and he was actually fine with that. I learned so many values, and skills in boy scouts that have helped me through difficult parts of my life and grew a love for the outdoors and camping because of it. I learned how to swim, and plenty of first aid skills along with cpr and other lifesaving techniques. So I think I would not only allow my son to join the boy scouts, I would encourage it. They teach you more than most parents could teach a child. I would just keep a close eye on him and make sure they weren’t forcing religion on him and that he was honest with them about what he believed in. If they kicked him out for not believing in god, so be it. Atleast my son was honest, and it shows how religion can be cruel and intolerant sometimes

  • stephanie

    I have no children so this is a moot point. But I would simply research the groups in the area. My mother was both a girl scout troop leader and a den mother so she could volunteer equally with both children and I doubt she ever actually learned a prayer much less led one, so all the kiddies in her troops were pretty safe.
    If the local troops are open minded, I wouldn’t deny my child an experience s/he wanted. But. like my own mother, I’d probably take an active role just to make sure there was no funny business.

  • allison

    No, my sons are not allowed to join the BSA even though the nifty required recruiting meeting during school hours really made both of them want to join, as did the fact that many of their friends are in the organization. Much of that is because of their national policy of discrimination, and not just against my kids should they happen to be atheist. Until they change the policy, they don’t get a dime from me and they don’t get my kids. Our local troop (you know, the one with all their friends) meets in the local Baptist church and is run by a fundy, so it’s not friendly to kids of atheist parents anyway. There is a more liberal troop I know of, but there are still presentations on your family’s religious traditions and such that make it kind of hard to hide AND it’s not the one their friends are involved with anyway.

    The boys still volunteer (oldest gathered a group of his friends, open to both genders, for that purpose), camp, and so on. The oldest will be able to join the school’s 4H group come fall. Another awesome thing they can do with their friends if they want to earn cool badges and stuff — the national park system and many of the state park systems have programs kids can participate in to earn Junior Ranger badges.

  • No. I would find an alternative organization, or let him pick a different hobby.

  • Let the kid join whatever group he wants. There are plenty of benefits to belonging to the Boy Scouts of America, and he should make his own decisions. If you stifle his participation, he might hold lifelong regrets and a hatred of his parents’ atheism.

  • There are other scouting organizations that accept gays and nonbelievers. We shouldn’t settle for the BSA and their bigotry.

  • Anne

    Well, my son and I just had this talk when a flyer came home from school. I told him he’d have to believe in a god to join the boy scouts and asked which one he believes in. He laughed and said “none” so that was the end of that.

    At least for now. He’s only 6. LOL

  • Wow! Lot’s of replies on this one. Thank you everybody.

    The parents are both atheist and have not hidden this from any of their children. When their children have asked to attend church events with friends they let them go. They’ve always felt it was important to let their children experience as much of life as they can withouth forcing them one way or the other.

    Bob’s biggest concern now is to find a way to teach his son about spirituality in a way that the son can relate to in scouting and yet maintain an atheist/humanist view. It’s going to be a challenge. I’ve told him to never be afraid to look at his children and say “Remember, you do not need god to be good.”

  • Allison (or anyone else), can you tell me which school(s) in your area have Scout presentations where attendance is mandatory?

  • gothgate

    no way. nor would i let him join a segregated country club, a gentleman’s club that discriminated against women, the kkk, or any other organization that had as one of its basic precepts the discrimination against others in society.

  • Erp

    As far as spirituality, many scout troops probably don’t deal with it beyond the words in the oath. You might want to check out the Unitarian Universalist religious programs since the UUA accepts atheists. Note that their are two sets of awards. One approved by the Unitarian Universalist Association but not the Boy Scouts of America and one approved by the Boy Scouts of America but not by the Unitarian Universalist Association. The latter is available online at http://www.uuscouters.org/awards.htm but has probably bowed to pressure from the BSA on removing implied criticism of BSA’s policy on gays and atheists. The former has to be ordered.

  • K

    My son is 9. We live in the heart of Mormondom, so BSA is probably a bit different here. I know there are specific “duty to god” awards they work for. I don’t know if that is a Mormon-specific thing or not.

    I personally can not bring myself to give money to an anti-atheist/gay organization. I let him attend the activities because all his friends do, and a friend of mine is the cub leader. (I don’t even know if that would be allowed if I wasn’t friends with the leader). But we never go to pack meeting, and make sure to talk to him about what they discussed or did at scouts. So he gets to spend time with his friends without me directly supporting the organization. Win-win for now.

    As he gets older, we’ll discuss in greater detail the reasons we, as parents, don’t agree with the BSA. If he still wants to attend, maybe we can make something work. In the mean time, we are sending him to a local YMCA camp this summer.

  • I will soon be faced with this question and highly pressured by it.
    I live in Utah, where Scouts and the LDS Church have married in a secret Temple ceremony of Church donations and support of the Scout Loath.

    I wrote this post on LDS Scouts after a friend approached me for my opinion on this issue, so I did a little research to find where the scouts stand worldwide in relation to the Boy Scouts of America.

    As it is, the BSA is falling behind the rest of the free world and the Mormon church has much to account for this.


  • Christy

    I’m childfree, so it’s a moot point, but I think I’d allow my hypothetical son to make the decision for himself at a certain age– not 5 or 6, more like 9 or 10. I’m a lifelong Girl Scout, and I believe that scouting can be a positive force in a kid’s life, but I’d want to wait until my hypothetical kid was old enough to stick up for his own beliefs.

    Also, I agree with this, above: my son is the child of atheists. He isn’t one, himself. He can make that proclamation when he is an adult. I guess I’d also be okay with it if my hypothetical kid decided that he was going to become a Christian, as long as he was old enough to know what he was saying.

  • cathy

    What about our daughters? (Sorry to rip off someone else’s title) The Boy Scouts explicitly discriminate based on sex as well. Girls are not welcomed as members. And no, I would not let my child be a member or a group that discriminates based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, and religion (I’ve heard nasty stories about discrimination against the disabled as well, but as far as I know it’s not an official policy).

  • Brooks

    I don’t have any kids, but if I had any, I would say no though it would depend on how liberal the local group is. If the local group isn’t too religious and is relaxed on the anti-gay and anti-atheist rules and it’s the only scouting type group in the area and he really wanted to go, then I might consider it. I would be really hesitant about it however. But if they’re a highely fundie group, absolutely no even if all their friends joined. If the child honestly wants to join the BSA because of what the group is and there are alternatives available that don’t discriminate, then you can send them to those alternatives. If the child just wants to join because all their friends are joining, then don’t they see their friends enough at school and can’t they see their friends in other times?

    Just because all your friends are doing it doesn’t mean you have to do it too. People forget parents have a right to stand their ground and say no to their kids and it’s not shielding the kid or indoctrinating them in atheism if you’re doing it to protect them from harm. And while the BSA may teach many valuable lessons, I think it’s also an important lesson to teach kids that just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do it. There’s a difference between being over-protective and throwing your kids into the lion’s den. Besides, Camp Quest sounds like more fun and almost makes me wish I was a kid again. ^^;; But as a gay atheist, I’m not sure if the BSA would let any hypothetical future adopted kids I would have join anyway.

  • allison

    Brian, I probably overstated by saying it’s mandatory as I’ve not challenged it. However, the recruiting session for the BSA takes place during school hours and parents are not given any warning that it’s coming. It’s sure not treated as an opt-out activity. It takes place at the same time as the similar activity for the girl scouts. While I’d be crazy to give my kids’ school location out to a stranger on a public internet group, I will say that we’re in the state of Georgia. Since I see you said you’re with Scouting for All (good group, btw!), if you’re dealing with my region I could contact you. I’m personally not willing to make a huge stink about it at the school, as I’m already known as “one of those” parents for other reasons (trying to force the school to adhere to state law and district policy on another issue in hopes that it will benefit more kids than just my own). It’s not that I’m against scouting in general, it’s just that I can’t support the discriminatory policies and that I really do worry my kids would ultimately be made to feel unwelcome.

    For someone like Frik, one of the things I want to point out here is that you’re faced with making this decision starting when your kid is five years old. At that age, what they pick up about the group is (1) you get to shoot a bow and arrow (awesome!), (2) they give you food, (3) your friends are there, and (4) it’s the good American thing to do. My oldest’s turning 9 yo soon and I wouldn’t prohibit him from joining at this age if he wanted to do so, although I would make sure he knows about the discrimination policy. My five year old? No, I don’t consider him old enough to make an informed decision on the matter. As I am his parent, you’re going to have to trust that I know about what the level of his reasoning is.

  • Plainfieldrob

    Here’s a question..I am on the record saying my son won’t be joining the Boy Scouts for many of the reasons stated in this great thread.

    But I’m a veteran and the US military has a policy against letting gays & lesbians serve openly. Yet, I will absolutely ask that he consider serving his Country regardless whether that policy remains in force in 12 years.

    I will do this because I think service to Country outranks joining a social organization for young boys & men. However, it raises the difficult question – Am I being morally inconsistent? I don’t think so – but I would like to hear some other thoughts…

  • James H

    I will do this because I think service to Country outranks joining a social organization for young boys & men. However, it raises the difficult question – Am I being morally inconsistent? I don’t think so – but I would like to hear some other thoughts…

    This isn’t moral inconsistency at all. Rather, it’s a resolution of competing moral beliefs. Nothing wrong with that.

    Consider it analogous to a situation with two conflicting moral imperatives. In such a situation you would act on one imperative or the other; as long as you act on one of those imperatives, neither act can be considered objectively more “right” than the other.

  • Kevin J

    I am an atheist, and also a cub scout den leader and father of a cub scout. I have never had any problems with the scouts due to my religious beliefs, and most people know about my atheism. If anything, it allows me to teach about free thinking to the scouts in our den.

    Then again, I live in New England, which is much more liberal than many parts of the US. It could be a different story if I lived in the South or Mid West.

  • Nothing wrong with scouting if you can find the right troop. In Kent, for instance, the local troop is based out of the United Church of Christ. Now, while still Christian, this faction is about as liberal as you can get. Their motto is “God is still speaking” meaning they could give two poops about if you’re gay or not, the local pastor is a gay guy and his partner is very active in the church. They don’t hide anything.

    Second, hopefully if enough people can get active in scouting, it can be taken back from the religious. It’s so unreligious in England, it’s ridiculous. Most troops there still use the traditional law and oath from 1908.

    In any case, yes, there are other great organizations out there. But be careful, you never know what they might be associated with. Like the group Youth for Western Civilization… not cool.

  • Davin

    As an atheist Eagle Scout who has a gay sister – yes I would. The Scout Troop that I belonged to (like most troops) was only loosely aligned with the overall Scouting leadership. No group is totally in line with their leadership’s ideals, and the group that I was involved with certainly wasn’t. I learned a great deal in Scouting, made great friends, and it had a big part in making me who I am today.

    Did I have to visit the sponsor Church on occasion? Yep (well, I didn’t HAVE to), but all atheists should learn how a church service works anyway. I subject my kids to various religious services as it is to teach them about the world the live in.

    That said, it would be highly dependent on the Troop in question. Any parent who has their children join the Scouts without becoming an active participant themselves is doing their children and themselves a disservice. By seeing what you child is learning and offsetting it with your own counsel you are teaching them the most important lesson of all – how to make decisions themselves without relying on being told what to think.

    Don’t allow yourselves to think that the Scouts is a 1 hour a day anti-gay, anti-atheist indoctrination camp. It’s a place for kids to learn how to tie knots, learn to camp, and play in the woods. These are not bad things.

  • Wendy

    NEVER. I would find a similar, but non-bigoted group, and allow my child to join that instead.

  • DaveS

    I think it’s ironic that the first homosexual atheist I ever really got to know was my tent-mate in boy-scout camp.

  • K

    If you raise your kids right, they’ll never request it.

    My boy never asked.

  • I would. I would explain why the BSA discriminates against certain people and ask him to think critically about things that members he deals with are saying, and about the policies of the organization. I would ask him to be true to himself, and to speak out if he thinks the discrimination which is the Scouts’ policy. But if he wants to be a Boy Scout, he gets to be a Boy Scout.

  • Mathew Wilder

    Late to this, but I’d say no. I was an Eagle Scout, but returned my badge with a letter saying I wanted no part of an organization that won’t allow atheists or gays to be members. (I am not gay, but consider myself an Ally.) I think it would be wrong to allow one’s children to be a part of this immoral organization.

  • anonymous

    being a former den leader, i have to say this.scouts is nothing more than a way for the catholic community to push religion on kids who are otherwise content with their spirituality.its a joke. ever see the movie “swing kids”? kinda close in similarity dont ya think?

error: Content is protected !!