LAPD Cuts Ties with Boy Scouts Because of Their Bigotry October 31, 2009

LAPD Cuts Ties with Boy Scouts Because of Their Bigotry

Go, LAPD!

The Los Angeles Police Department wants to stop working with the organization that runs its Explorer program for youths because the group is linked to Boy Scouts of America, which bans gays from becoming members.

The organization, Learning for Life, was spun off from Boy Scouts of America.

A department official told the Police Commission Tuesday that the Boy Scouts policy is “inconsistent” with the city’s policy of non-discrimination. He suggested that the department manages the Explorer program itself.

Learning for Life officials say the organization does not discriminate and does not take funds from the Boy Scouts.

They ban atheists, too, even though that’s not mentioned in the piece above. And that that last comment from Learning for Life officials skews the truth. There may be no funding from the Boy Scouts directly, but there is definitely a connection with them.

Robert M. Saltzman supports the LAPD decision and explains why it’s the right thing to do:

Unfortunately, there is one significant problem with the Explorer Program. In Los Angeles, the Explorer Programs are administered by a city contractor that in turn subcontracts with the Boy Scouts to administer the programs. The problem is that the Boy Scouts openly proclaim their right to discriminate based on sexual orientation and religion. I know first-hand the significant value of the Explorers Programs to the LAPD and for the young men and women who participate. But no matter how valuable the programs, that value is no justification for them to be administered by an agency that does not comply with the city’s non-discrimination laws.

This is an easy issue for the Boy Scouts to fix. Just revoke any policy that forbids gays and atheists from joining and leading the troops. That means changing their Oath and Law. It should’ve happened a long time ago, but it’s not to late to fix their misguided ways.

Until they do, however (and I’m not holding my breath), they should be constantly referred to as a discriminatory group and government organizations should refuse to work with them.

Individual parents would be well-served not to let their children join such a group, either.

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  • Matt D

    I’m really curious as to how the Boy Scouts communicate these exclusionary policies. is it in the Boy Scout handbook? Is it on some plaque on the wall? Seriously, if anyone knows please share.

    and just how do you screen a 10yo for “gayness” and “godlessness”?

    i can almost see the little brown shirts, right hand raised in salute to the Fuhrer.

  • Erp

    A few thoughts but first a brief description of the Boy Scouts of America organization (some of this may not be entirely accurate).

    At the national level is the Boy Scouts of America and in parallel the national Learning for Life program. Each of which has its own tax id.

    The United States is divided into geographic regions which are administered by councils each of which has its own tax id (and in some cases a separate one for the Learning for Life program though in many councils there is no separation).

    At the local level for the Boy Scouts side are the troops and packs that are sponsored (aka owned) by another organization such as a church, PTA (though supposedly no longer public schools), or some other entity usually non-profit. They receive a charter from the BSA (which will be revoked if the group fails to abide by BSA rules such as publicly stating they won’t discriminate). Membership fees go up to the council and a chunk is passed along to the national organization. The council owns and manages campgrounds and other facilities for use by scouts (national manages places like Philmont and every four year national Jamboree). On the Learning for Life side participants are not officially ‘members’ but still pay fees that go to the council and a chunk on up to the national Learning for Life program.

    Explorers are a subset of the Learning for Life program so if the LAPD wanted to administer their own program for youth they will have to come up with a new name.

    1. Probably true that Learning for Life didn’t receive funds from the BSA, but, what about Learning for Life transferring funds to the BSA? In general Learning for Life at the council level is not separated for tax purposes from the Boy Scout Council itself. At the national level the funds seem to be mingled even though they have separate tax ids. See
    http://www.scoutingforall.org/data/layer02/articles/2006031301.html

    I’ve checked out the 990 form for one case where the Learning for Life program at the council level did have a separate tax id and filed a separate 990 form (Orange County). In 2005 they listed a Revenue of $501,803 (and no expenses except for two fundraising campaigns) and they transferred all of that to Orange County Boy Scouts of America. My guess is it was set up so it didn’t look like donations to Learning for Life were funding the BSA.

    2. Learning for Life officially does not discriminate except that it is managed at the council and national level by BSA employees who cannot be known gays or atheists. Participants in the program do not take the BSA Scout oath or agree to abide by the Scout law.

    3. I doubt the BSA would go as far as the Czech or Israeli scouts who don’t invoke duty to God in the promise (the BSA almost alone among Scouting organizations calls the ‘promise’ an ‘oath’) especially as the World organization requires a duty to God as part of the promise (the Czech are grandfathed in, not sure how the Israelis did it). But the World organization has a broader definition of duty to God than the BSA (not that it explicitly allows all atheists but it does use wording that explicitly allows Buddhists). The BSA could follow the Girl Scouts of the USA and permit alteration in the promise by individual member to reflect their beliefs. The law is probably fine as it is though we could have a debate about that. More importantly the Declaration of Religious Principles which all BSA adult leaders have to agree to must change as it denigrates non-theists.

    “The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.’ The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.”
    http://www.bsalegal.org/duty-to-god-cases-224.asp

    Matt, officially they don’t discriminate against gay youth members (though gay/lesbian adult leaders are forbidden) though some troops will make it hell (others couldn’t care less). Atheist members either out themselves by refusing to say part of the oath or upon cross-examination about religion when going for Eagle Scout.

  • This was something I struggled with while my youngest son was a Boy Scout. However, I raised my children to look into everything and make their own decisions, and he decided that there was an intelligent force in the universe and he remained a Boy Scout.

    He is an Eagle Scout.

    I am very proud of his accomplishment despite it being related to the Boy Scouts. He does not agree with the Boy Scouts’ stance on gays and atheists, but if he can work it out in his mind that is fine. He’s an adult and as such needs to make up his own mind and decide what he can and can’t live with.

    If this is the only thing in his life that forces him to compromise principles he will have lead a charmed life. 🙂

    I hope everyone had a safe and happy Halloween and got lots of candy. 😀

  • It’s about time.

  • Ash

    I was a Boy Scout for many years, very nearly earning my Eagle (long story there). Back then none of this was an issue and I absolutely hate that the Boy Scouts have elected to go down this route.

    There are a few alternatives, but the only one that is truly secular is not fully up and running. However, Navigators USA looks like it has a lot of promise:

    http://www.navigatorsusa.org/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navigators_USA

    Their oath is:

    As a Navigator I promise to do my best
    To help create a world free of prejudice and ignorance.
    To treat people of every race, creed, lifestyle and ability
    With dignity and respect.
    To strengthen my body and
    Improve my mind to reach my full potential.
    To protect our planet and preserve our freedom.
    Not too bad…

  • Valdyr

    Wait, the LAPD is against discrimination?

  • littlejohn

    Wow. At least the oath as changed. The original, or at least the one I remember from the early 60s, contained “for God and my country.” The most prestigious decoration, apart from the rank of Eagle, was the God and Country badge. This was earned through meetings with a clergyman, during which, I assume, one professed great faith. The Scout Handbook at the time even warned against the medical risks of masturbation. You can imagine how well that worked with a bunch of 12-year-old boys. Homosexuality was simply unmentionable. Also, the last in the list of attributes a Scout should exhibit, along with “brave” and “clean,” was “reverent.” I enjoyed the camping and hiking, and we often camped with a “junior assistant” scoutmaster named Thorny, who was 18. Thorny would always stop for cold beer and he always brought his gun collection. It’s amazing any of us survived. I don’t mean to brag, but after several tough years, I attained the rank of Second Class. But by the time I was 15, I sure could hold my liquor. If this all sounds a little Hee Haw to you, bear in mind I grew up in West Virginia.

  • Epistaxis

    I, for one, really don’t care about the Boy Scouts. I know a lot of people see them as a fundamental American institution and that’s why they want the Boy Scouts to change internally, but in my mind they’re more than welcome to remain a “No Gays and No Atheists” club as long as they do it privately and avoid entanglement with anything my taxes paid for, like this.

  • Beijingrrl

    I just started a Camp Fire group for my son because I found out I couldn’t lead a Boy Scout troop without signing a statement affirming belief in God. I really didn’t want to part of their organization anyway due to their attitudes on homosexuality, but was considering it b/c my son loves being in that sort of group.

    Camp Fire is coed and openly welcome toward people of various sexual orientations.

    While they do mention God in their Law, the exact wording is: “Worship God – Respect all people, places and things as gifts of love. Share friendship and warmth as gifts to be given to others.” I can live with that definition. 🙂 And they explicitly state that they require no oath or participation in rituals that may create barriers to inclusiveness.

    We live in an area where there is no Camp Fire council, so our small group is part of virtual council and has all of the flexibility we could ask for. So far, we’re very happy.

  • Jen

    My cousin was an Eagle Scout, and he had a fantastic experience in the BSA. However, once I became aware of their policies (this was after my cousin went away to college) I decided I can’t support the organization. I feel a little guilty refusing to buy their popcorn, since I sold Girl Scout cookies and think I learned from the experience, but I can’t. Sorry, Children Hanging Outside of my Grocery Store, but your organization is bigoted, even if your troop isn’t.

  • Jesse

    hmmm I guess my family never looked that closely into the Boy Scouts when I was a young man. We didn’t get past the separation of acceptable projects for boys and girls. As someone who went on to qualify for State Fair for woodworking and home ec. projects in 4-H, Boy Scouts just didn’t cut it 😉

  • muggle

    Fantastic!

    It’s the oath that gets you. Girl Scouts has it too but they don’t seem quite as strict. Found this out the hard way when I enrolled my daughter and the first troop meeting was the oath and formalities. When I asked the troop leader if my daughter could just skip the phrase about God because we were Atheist, she said sure, no problem, but a couple of the other mothers were sure hostile about it.

    I’m sorry but all this prejudice does rather put you off scouting all together and it should not get a plumb nickel from the government or free advertising (worth more than a plumb nickel) in our public schools.

    4H is cool and I too liked the absence of gender bias when I was a kid. Hmmm, got to google if there’s a 4H in our town though I think my grandson may be too young yet (not sure what their starting age is).

  • CG

    I was typing up what turned into a lengthy essay. I decided there was little point in writing 10 times as much as our Friendly Blogger does! 🙂

    (… so only 2-3 times as much instead, meh – it’s shorter than it was.)

    But as a life long Scout (from the age of 5, up to and including the entirety of my adult life), Eagle, and nontheist, the BSA does a disservice to itself and the country by maintaining discriminatory policies.

    My health limits my involvement, for the time being. But one thing I’d hope to accomplish in my lifetime is to see the removal of the discriminatory policies.

    As a Scout (albeit not one that sets policy on any level, certainly not Nationally or Regionally), for the reasons below, I’m also, and have been, of the mind that the BSA is, and needs to be considered as, a discriminatory group.

    What kicks, though – there’s nothing in the Oath or Law that speaks to homosexuality, and even the Oath shouldn’t be a stumbling block in regards to theism or nontheism (that is, “God” should be optional, if present at all – consider that the BSA accepts Wiccans, Buddhists, Taoists, and Hindus, among others, any of whom have good grounds to reject the term).

    In other words, the BSA is much like Wiley E. Coyote – after running off the cliff, it doesn’t realize it has no ground(s) to stand upon.

    (On the Law’s “Reverent”: National officials who feel the need to trumpet religion will insist that this does, and only can, apply to deity, but any thinking Scout will tell you we teach and learn to revere nature and each other – Scouting could, and should, be humanistic.)

    Legalistic policies that discriminate, only to please certain factions (eg LDS, ie Mormonism, is a major player behind the BSA scenes, but certainly not the only one), are entirely against the spirit of both: as above, the BSA does a disservice to Other(s) and Country by discriminating, and is hardly Friendly, Courteous, or Kind in enacting the policies.

    Ignoring the beliefs and principles of some religious bodies (say, accepting nontheistic Buddhism, but maintaining “God”), or of irreligion, is not Reverence, but irreverence.

    And kowtowing to doctrinaire regressivism from the more vocal elements of some prominent religious bodies is the furthest from Brave one can get.

  • sc0tt

    I hear a lot from Eagle Scouts that they disagree with national BSA policies, many scouts are atheist, etc, scouting experience is not about any of that but none of them write letters to request change. I also didn’t know how much the Mormons control and influence BSA; apparently they’ve got a spin-off group waiting to go active if BSA ever changes to allow atheists.

  • Maggie

    One option for teens in the USA is the Civil Air Patrol – they’re an Air Force Auxiliary, but are not constrained by the Code of Military Justice. (ie: screw ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’)

    The Pledge:

    I pledge that I will serve faithfully in the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program, and that I will attend meetings regularly, participate actively in unit activities, obey my officers, wear my uniform properly, and advance my education and training rapidly to prepare myself to be of service to my community, state, and nation.

    Please note that there is no mention of God, or Sexual Orientation. Just sayin’

    So – if you’re interested in Aerospace or Aviation, Search and Rescue, or just being a part of a group that teaches leadership, aeronautics, and personal responsibility…. this is a good one.

    There’s also an adult program too. I had good times, as did my father when he was a kid and when he was raising my brother and I.

  • Matt

    I was formerly an Eagle Scout, but I decided to leave the organization after learning of its discriminatory policies. I can deeply love my country without being religious or fitting into their list of what orientation is “acceptable”. It’s a shame that the Boy Scouts must do this, since it was a fun experience before I saw the discrimination against perfectly fine members first-hand.

  • S. Almafeta

    No change to the Scout Oath needed: when I was a scout, before Scouting invoked this policy, I was allowed to say the second line as “To do my duty to my country.” “Reverent” of the Scout Law is inoffensive, when taken in its sense of giving respect to all due respect.

    The spirit of Scouting isn’t what needs changing – it’s those in national management.

  • Erik

    But no matter how valuable the programs, that value is no justification for them to be administered by an agency that does not comply with the city’s non-discrimination laws.

    Wow, this is one of the most level-headed and direct statements I’ve ever heard from a city official! Good job, LAPD.

  • Josh

    I am an Eagle Scout and the BSA was a wonderfully influential force in my youth. As an adult who is now an atheist, however, I can’t in good conscience attend scouting events or offer my assistance in the leadership of local troops. To do so would either require me to lie about my opinions or to commit a lie of omission and hope no one asks me a point-blank question.

    The experience of each scout with the discriminatory, bigoted policies of the BSA varies a great deal depending on which troop they are in. Other commenters have pointed out that it is the national leadership that pushes the hard line, and the boys are only affected by it if the local leadership decides to tow it, too. I never, for instance, experienced it in my troop. My best friend, however, never got to Eagle because he was cast out at the rank of Life Scout (the level right before Eagle) for admitting to being an atheist. He was in Texas at the time, while I was in Alabama. So, you see, it really varies depending on how much the local leaders agree with and want to stick to the national policies.

    I applaud the LAPD in taking the correct stance. No government organization should actively support the BSA until and unless they change their backwards, unacceptable, and entirely (wait for it) un-American policies. ;P

  • shelfoo

    Just thought I’d mention that these policies don’t necessarily apply to the world-wide Scouting movement. It’s true that sponsorship etc is typically via church organizations, but having been a scout leader in Canada, there were simply no policies forbidding atheism, and nothing around sexual orientation whatsoever.

    I had issues around the undertones originally, but it became clear that the leaders at all levels were not interested in pursuing any religious agenda, and were there to guide kids regarding respect, rules, and how to do things (fires etc). In talking with one of the more senior leaders, there were proclaimed atheists in various troops, and as far as she was concerned religion should play no part in scouting, and it didn’t in our “section”

    Having said that, during one training session for the leaders the religious stuff got a little over the top. In the end it all comes down to the individual leaders of the “lodge/pack/troop”. It would be a shame for people to keep their kids out of Scouting entirely because of this misguided policy in the states.

  • Doubting Thomas

    My wife told me that I should be a scout leader when our son is old enough to join, and I told her that I would but can’t be due to their policy against atheists. I don’t know if our son will want to join in the future, or hopefully BSA will have changed their policies by then.

    I don’t really feel too guilty about not buying their popcorn since it’s outrageously priced anyway. I hate to be giving that much money to an organization that is against what I believe in.

  • Keith Hardine

    Question for Robert M. Saltzman, concerning his column about:
    “THE LAPD DOING THE RIGHT THING ON DISCRIMINATION.”

    Go to, http://www.laobserved.com/visiting/2009/10/robert_m_saltzman_is_a.php

    Are there any Police Officers or young Explorer members presently in the program who are either Atheists, or Gay?

    Secondly, Declaration of Independence Signer SAMUEL ADAMS once declared that:
    “In a state of Nature, all men are equally bound by the Laws of their Creator.”

    This moral obligation of men is what determines how ‘We the People,’ must govern our conduct towards our fellow men-according to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

    The Founders of our country adopted and Declared this Creed long ago, that:
    “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain Unalienable Rights among which are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

    The Boy Scout Oath which states: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and My country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other People at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight-in this context, violates no moral duty of Scout-Explorers, “to do to others’ what they would have others’ do to them,” commanded by Jesus in Matthew 7:12. (NIV Bible)
    Neither does it fail to “Promote the General Welfare,” or secure the Unalienable Rights that Atheists and Gays now already enjoy, along with everyone else under “the U.S. And State Constitutions.

    In fact it is the City of Los Angeles’s so called, non-discriminatory law Policy that is denying the Boy Scouts equal protection in their belief, that it is their Mission to provide a service to the community that is NOT “LICENTIOUS, OR INCONSISTENT TO ITS OWN PEACE AND SAFETY.” [See: California Constitution, Article 1, Section 4].

    http://friendlyatheist.com/2009/10/31/lapd-cuts-ties-with-boy-scouts-because-of-their-bigotry/#comments

    Contact info:
    Keith Hardine
    Self-Defense/Civil Rights Consultant, 323 7084647
    keith1@att.blackberry.net

  • Jacob

    As an Eagle Scout, I can tell you that the Boy Scout program has done nothing but helped me grow as a person. I still reflect on the Scout Laws and the Scout Oath, not to mention all that I have done in the Order of the Arrow (scouting’s national honor society) even though it has been many years since I turned 18. The BSA gives youth the chance to learn leadership, outdoor, and personal skills that are hard to learn in other environments.

    But, As a non-believer, I struggle with “God” being in the Scout Oath. For me, it was the only part of my scouting experience that god was forced upon me. For most of my peers that were involved with the BSA, god was a choice. Some were fundamental believers, and others had hardly any religion in there lives. When it came time for religious services at camp, the only rule was that you had to either go to the denominational service of your choice, or spend some quite time reflecting on your own thoughts of nature and religion.

    Like any organization with a wide variety of people from varying backgrounds there will be adults who push religion and other prejedices down the scouts throat. I was lucking in that I hardly had any contact with those people. I imagine though, if I was vocal about my non-belief it may have been different, but I kept it to myself like I expected everyone else to keep their religion to oneself.

    I believe that the Scouting program does way more good than bad, (but I guess you could say that about the church and almost every organization out there). As an atheist, one must weigh the good and the bad. If a scout leader is trying to force a religion down the scouts throat, he is going against the scouting laws. Just like the constitution, the BSA makes no rules respecting one religion over another. Even the word god is fuzzy in the BSA. The only type of non-believer that I think the BSA could actually discriminate against would be a (according to Dawkins scale of 1-7) would be a fundamentalist 7 or one who claims with 100% certanty that they know there is no god.

  • kjnmomma

    Finally! Way to go LAPD! I’ve thought of the Boy Scouts as a discriminatory organization ever since they banned gays from being troop leaders. As a mother of two young children, one of which is a boy, I try to teach my children that discrimination of any kind is wrong. Even though my son has begged and pleaded to become a Boy Scout, I’ve stood my ground. I feel that we can teach this new generation how silly discrimination is, and this is one step towards eliminating it. I want my children to grow up in a world where people are defined by their character, rather than sexual orientation, religious affiliation, nationality, race, etc. There is no room for bigotry in today’s world.

  • Rob

    @kjnmomma:

    You are teaching your son to be respectful of the choices of others, yet you are not allowing him to make his own choice in regards to the Scouts?

    Are you so unsure of your own teaching that you cannot allow your son to even interact with those who might have a different point of view?

    Your son, no matter how old or how young, has a mind of his own. He also has a mother who is willing and able to teach him about discrimination and bigotry. That should be more than enough to help him make up his own mind in regards to the organizations in which he participates.

    Besides, the Scouts have a lot of good they can offer. How to be a good citizen, how to be self-reliant and resourceful.

    I strongly urge you to provide your son with the education and support he needs to become the wonderful human being we both know he can be. Restricting his activities in an attempt to shield him, when he has done nothing wrong, will do nothing but stir up unnecessary resentment.

    …resentment that will be directed at -you- rather than to those who would discriminate.

  • Mortimer Snerd

    The Boy Scouts are an outstanding organization. It is the sick culture of Los Angeles and California as whole that is wrong. Shame on the LAPD.