After Compromise, Atheists Will Finally Be Allowed to Join Unitarian Universalist Boy Scout Troops May 4, 2016

After Compromise, Atheists Will Finally Be Allowed to Join Unitarian Universalist Boy Scout Troops

Back in March, I posted about how the Unitarian Universalist Association had once again joined forces with the Boy Scouts of America. The UUA had cut all ties with the Scouts in 1998 due to its anti-atheist and anti-gay bigotry, but since the BSA was finally accepting of gay scouts and scout leaders, they figured now was the time to reconcile.

The problem with that is that the BSA still doesn’t allow openly atheist scouts to be part of their organization. So why was the UUA — which prides itself on being inclusive — lending its support to a group that will kick out scouts who don’t believe in God?

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When John B. Hooper, President of the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association, reached out to UUA President Peter Morales (a Humanist himself), Morales argued that it was easier to create change from within. But if the change didn’t happen soon, it meant the UUA was inadvertently lending support to an organization that excluded atheists and planned to keep it that way.

A few weeks ago, the UUHA (the Humanist wing of the UUA) issued a public statement on the matter, responding to what Morales said. They were furious at their parent organization’s decision.

… the UU Humanists continue to object because a) this does not push back on the religious discrimination, b) this does not help the non-UU scouts and adults who do not believe in God, and c) this does not adequately address the needs of nontheist UUs who cannot, with integrity, express an “obligation to God”, and d) because all decision making, including approving membership and boards of review for advancement, involve people from the council and district level, not just the unit level. On this latter point, the national organization has shown its intent and willingness to reject nontheists.

The same statement acknowledged that the decision may have been easier for the UUA to make because it already promotes “extremely liberalized religious language” in its own materials. So when UU congregations talk about the “Spirit of Life and love, great mystery, God of many names we pray…,” it’s not a far cry from the BSA requirement that all members believe in a Higher Power, whatever it is.

In other words, the UUA was agreeing to a policy that worked for most members, but still threw Humanists under the bus.

This week, three UUHA board members met with Morales to express their concerns in person, and a memorandum of understanding was reached. Morales said the UUA would have a seat at the table with the Boy Scouts when it comes to discussing religious issues. But more importantly, UUA-affiliated troops would have the ability to set their own rules about whom to accept.

That means atheists will not be kicked out of the BSA if they’re part of a UUA-affiliated troop that is inclusive of non-theists.

[Morales] specifies, “With this MOU, the UUA will have a representative on the BSA’s Religious Relations Committee. At this table…the UUA is committed to voicing our values for radical inclusion.” Morales also points out that on the local scouting level, the individual congregation hosting a scout troop holds the highest authority­­even higher than that of the BSA. In other words, even while the UUA is working for more inclusive BSA language, congregations are free to ignore the current religious language offered by the BSA, and Morales certainly expects that UU congregations will. He writes, ”Just as our congregations provide community for theists and humanists, Christians and Jews, pagans and Buddhists, we hope that congregations will sponsor troops that are diverse and welcoming and thus be models of inclusiveness.”

Is that a fair compromise or is that selling out? I’m leaning towards the latter. Until the BSA changes its anti-atheist policy for everybody, this is nothing more than a band-aid to prevent further bleeding. It’s disappointing that the UUA will continue to be complicit in the BSA’s discrimination, even if they’re allowed to break the rules to suit their own needs.

Still, there’s now a way for open atheists to be Boy Scouts. I want to say that’s a good thing, but I really have to wonder why anyone would want that affiliation at all. The BSA needs atheists far more than atheists need them.

We shouldn’t be settling for an under-the-table concession.

(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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