The Boy Scouts of America, over the past several years, has slowly accepted gay troops, gay leaders, trans boys, and, most recently, girls into their ranks. They’re even changing their name to Scouts BSA next year to get away from the limiting word “boys.”
The attempts at inclusion (and subsequent publicity) have been good news for an organization that’s seen declining membership over the years, even if the increased tolerance alienates evangelical Christians and Mormons in the process.
But there’s still one group of people that the BSA continues to shut out.
They refuse to allow open atheists in their group in any capacity. (Because building a car for the pinewood derby and learning how to tie knots requires belief in some higher power…) They point to the Scout Oath, which includes the phrase “I will do my best to do my duty to God,” and the Scout Law, which includes the goal of being “reverent” to God, as justification for the exclusion.
A couple of weeks ago, the BSA doubled down on their pledge to keep atheists out of the fold. At the group’s annual meeting, the BSA National Executive Board adopted a resolution that effectively blocks open atheists from joining. It reads as follows:
Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board Resolution Reaffirming Duty to God
WHEREAS the foundational values of the Boy Scouts of America are reflected in the Scout Oath and Scout Law;
WHEREAS the first part of the Scout Oath declares “On my honor I will do my best to do my Duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;”
WHEREAS the Declaration of Religious Principle in Bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America states that:
The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgement of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental of good citizenship should be kept before them.
WHEREAS the twelfth point of the Scout Law is Reverent and while the Boy Scouts of America is absolutely nonsectarian in its view of religious training, Reverent means that a Scout is faithful in his or her religious duties and respects the beliefs of others; and
WHEREAS these faith-based tenets have been a part of the Boy Scouts of America since it was founded and, notwithstanding any changes to Scouting programs, the commitment of the movement to Duty to God is unwavering;
Now therefore be it resolved that the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America hereby reaffirms its unequivocal commitment to the Declaration of Religious Principle as a fundamental component of the mission of the Boy Scouts of America.
Somehow, welcoming girls doesn’t affect the “fundamental component of the mission” of the BSA, but slightly rewriting the Oath and Law is a bridge too far.
Just for the record, here’s the mission of the BSA:
The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.
There’s nothing inherently religious about that. It would just require mild alterations to the Oath and Law, which wouldn’t even be a big deal. Hell, most of the Mormons and evangelicals have already left. What’s stopping them?!
It’s for this reason that parents should think twice before enrolling their non-religious children in the BSA. They don’t want your kid. If you’re atheists, they don’t really want your involvement, either. It’s also why the BSA shouldn’t receive government funding or access to public schools. No organization that discriminates on the basis of religion should be rewarded by the government.
The strangest thing about this resolution is that the BSA has done a good job of opening the doors to more and more people even when it meant changing the very nature of what they’ve always been. They were willing to break with tradition because the old restrictions no longer made any sense.
And yet, on the matter of religion, perhaps the least important aspect of being a Scout given how many (quietly) non-religious scouts there are, they refuse to budge. It’s idiotic.
If the BSA wants to continue being relevant, they’re eventually going to give up this fight. I firmly believe that. But the fact that they haven’t done it yet tells you a lot about their values. If you care about making your children better, more ethical, more decent people, the Boy Scouts won’t help you. They continue pushing the harmful and false notion that atheism is incompatible with being an upstanding citizen.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)