October 30, 2002
7:32 AM   Subscribe

Boy Scouts tell Atheist Eagle Scout he has one week to declare his belief or get out. On membership applications, Boy Scouts and adult leaders must say they recognize some higher power, not necessarily religious. "Mother Nature would be acceptable," said Brad Farmer, the Scout executive of the Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts. Hmmmm...
posted by quirked (45 comments total)
I quit Scouts (Cubs, actually) when I was about 9 or 10 years old because they told me I had to cut my hair. Facists.
posted by Fabulon7 at 7:44 AM on October 30, 2002

This Seattle Times article contains more details, and it mentions what I have considered to be the heart of the matter since the stink over homosexuality: "Lambert said, 'The way I want to see the Boy Scouts change is to take membership laws away from national and return them back to the individual units.'"

It's all about politics and control. If the national organization would just allow each troop to decide for themselves what they want to do, based on their own 'community standards', everything would be fine. Some troops would exclude certain types of people (which they can legally do), some would include those people, and everyone would be happy. In fact, I suspect that a large number of local troops are already doing just that and hoping that they don't attract wider-spread attention. This whole situation is just such a bunch of crap.
posted by tippiedog at 7:50 AM on October 30, 2002

And if he doesn't, the troop can earn their merit badge for "Inquisition!"
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:53 AM on October 30, 2002

I quit the cub scouts when I discovered I couldn't earn the bear patch unless I made a profession to some religion according to the handbook. After that I wanted nothing to do with them.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:58 AM on October 30, 2002

I had a great time when I was a Scout. I dropped out when I got to HS and theater was taking up more and more of my time. Someday, if I have a son, I would encourage his involvement in BSA. I remain hopeful that they will grow up a little bit by then.
posted by tommyspoon at 7:59 AM on October 30, 2002

Hmm, so I guess they wouldn't allow nihilism (belief that there is no such thing as truth) or agnosticism (belief that the truth is unknowable)? Do they only accept a single higher power (i.e. are Hindus out)? How about panthiesm, the belief that God equivalent to the forces and laws of nature?

If I were in this scout's place, I would say I believed in "the universe". Since the universe is by definition everything that exists, and makes no claim as to what the ultimate form of everything is, I would say that any atheist could answer that without lying.
posted by Emanuel at 7:59 AM on October 30, 2002

Some of my co-workers started a scout troop. Being an avid hiker and back-packer as opposed to the 40 year old sacks of cholesterol they are I was asked to help out. I'd actually really enjoy this, but I won't help out any group thats exclusionary to other groups of people. I wouldn't join a pro-athiest organization either if they excluded, derided or otherwise kept non-athiests out.

This soon to be ex-boy scout obviously has more scruples than the adults overseeing the process. They aren't willing to change the rule, but they're willing to admit any affirmitive answer. This was also true of the scout leaders I worked with.
posted by substrate at 8:00 AM on October 30, 2002

... and of course I forgot to mention Buddhism. Are Buddhists allowed to be scouts, for Buddism is a atheistic philosophy/religion.
posted by Emanuel at 8:02 AM on October 30, 2002

Let him ride it out, he will be out soon anywho. But i do not think he should be allowed to participate in further scouting if he tauts the atheist line. I always said, a good atheist should be able to defend "god" from himself. If the scout cannot follow the rules, he is free to start another organization. I commend this scouts involvement in community activities and service. He should be allowed to retain his honor.
posted by clavdivs at 8:05 AM on October 30, 2002

We're all making jokes here, but I doubt it will just work that way. The Scouts are essentially demanding that their member, if not outright declaring affiliation with mainstream religion, agrees to accept mainstream religion as the basis of the Scout moral code.

Much as we'd like to giggle about the prospect, I don't think he can get away with endorsing Satanism, or Nihilism, or Branch Davidian, simply because the Scouts will use the "Moral and Clean" doctrine to kick him out anyway.

This is a baptism where they ask if he accepts Christ as his personal savior and then refuse to pull his head out of the water until he says yes.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:05 AM on October 30, 2002

"for Buddhism is a atheistic philosophy/religion"
jeez, care to support that. Your argument seems framed in the typical western mind set.
posted by clavdivs at 8:09 AM on October 30, 2002

I had a friend who got his Eagle award (or however that works) even though he was an atheist. As I recall, he had to keep that little fact under wraps while he was working on his eagle project.

And when you finally do get the award, I understand you get to make a statement to the local scouts board. I suppose the typical statement is expected to be some kind of "thanks, this means a lot to me," but Michael got up there and told them he really didn't agree with a lot of their policies, especially banning gay leaders. They just about revoked his Eagle award. He's lucky they didn't. It makes a great statement on a resume.

Boy Scouts are great, and a lot of my guy friends that I really respect spent a lot of time in scouts. But as an organization, they're very conservative and at times backwards. A more secularized BSA could still teach the same leadership skills, responsibility, etc., but it remains to be seen if they'll start moving in that direction.
posted by katieinshoes at 8:14 AM on October 30, 2002

In other news, the ACLU is denouncing the KKK for not accepting African Americans into its membership....

If you disagree with the principles of an organization, why fight to belong to it? The Boy Scouts has always had a spiritual/religious element to it -- if you're an atheist, then perhaps it's not the right place for you. There are other fine organizations for young men.

I say hooray for the Boy Scouts for sticking to their guns instead of giving in to "enforced tolerance". Nobody should suppress their beliefs in order to be politically correct -- that's not tolerance, that's fascism.
posted by oissubke at 8:16 AM on October 30, 2002

You think that's bad? At least the scouts are voluntary. A friend of mine was forced to "recognize a higher power" in a court-mandated AA session. He finally said, "Money".
posted by electro at 8:19 AM on October 30, 2002

The BSA had better make this kid a believer or burry him b/c people might realize that you DON'T need to believe in/fear God to be a good citizen...

Isn't this kid showing a remarkable amount of conviction/honesty to stand up to such pressure? I mean, it's easy to say "just lie" (whether that be a blatant lie or a lie of omission), but what would that say about this kid's character?
posted by Ms.JaneDoe at 8:21 AM on October 30, 2002

I quit the cub scouts when I discovered I couldn't earn the bear patch unless I made a profession to some religion according to the handbook.

Same here. Why should a child have ANY belief system at that age. There are better measures of respect for your parents than your marching in line behind their religious habits.
posted by machaus at 8:22 AM on October 30, 2002

Are Buddhists allowed to be scouts

Both of my sons are involved in Scouting. I don't care for the BSA's stand on homosexuals or atheists, but these directives come from the national office which is controlled by religious conservatives. Local leaders often have very different views and are frustrated by the national office.
posted by maurice at 8:38 AM on October 30, 2002

Another interesting thing: the chief Seattle council is apparently also in favor of lying to raise funds...or at least they lied to my husband (an atheist former scout) and I.

They were fundraising outside of the local REI this summer, and we asked the scout leader with the troop about the local council's policies on this issue. The supervisor told us with a straight face that the local council would NEVER kick out a gay scout, or an atheist. He even said that they would gladly give a "religion in life" badge to a member of the churches - such as the Unitarians - that the national council disapproves of. We didn't give them any money anyway, luckily enough.

Looks like they were just trying to bilk as many residents of our (very liberal, very diverse as to church affiliation and sexual orientation) neighborhood as they could. Gotta pay for those camping trips somehow, and if you teach your little charges to lie for money along the way, so be it.

Here's an article about what happened when Dan Savage (the sex columnist) asked the local troop about enrolling his son (he's gay). Sad that I didn't see this before the local "defenders of morality" tried to swindle me.

There's some useful info in the third-to-last paragraph of the article about who gives the local council money. Get out those phonebooks, Seattle residents! I, for one, will start by complaining to REI.
posted by 23lemurs at 8:39 AM on October 30, 2002

Isn't this kid showing a remarkable amount of conviction/honesty to stand up to such pressure? I mean, it's easy to say "just lie" (whether that be a blatant lie or a lie of omission), but what would that say about this kid's character?

I have no problem with the kid. He's doing the right thing by not bending to the Boy Scouts policy.

However, that doesn't mean the Boy Scouts should retain him if he doesn't meet the membership requirements. He's a brave, noble, and fine young man -- but if he's an atheist, he doesn't belong in the Boy Scouts.
posted by oissubke at 8:51 AM on October 30, 2002

It should be noted that the guy at the center of the controversy isn't a Boy Scout, he's an adult leader. In the US, at least, you can't be a Boy Scout after your 18th birthday. If you read the Seattle Times article, it's clear that this wasn't an issue when he was going for Eagle - he was forthright about his beliefs to the Council review board.
posted by hilker at 8:52 AM on October 30, 2002

The Scouts have become a morally defunct, narrowminded organization, and I would not allow any son of mine to participate in a group that promotes such illogical and anti-human values (in fact, I have already discouraged several others from joining). I was in Scouts for years (left at First Class when I moved out of the country) and have some good memories of my tenure, but even then the mentality was rigid and pinched a bit.

It seems to me there should be a legal issue here as well. If people under 18 are not allowed to be held liable for any contract that they enter into, then it seems to me that they should not be able to be forced INTO a contract, and forcing them to mouth words they may or may not believe in exchange for membership definitely seems to me to meet the criteria of a contract between the two parties.

If the BSA is so confident that their beliefs and values are true and superior, they should have the faith in them to think that they will be able to convey them to scouts by their inherent merits, rather than feeling the need to harshly impose them upon them.

It baffles me that the organization would encourage lying and dissembling to achieve a desired goal; to me, that seems precisely counter to the core value system that they seek to instill.

And this guy in the article...wow. I salute him for his integrity, his commitment, and his goodnatured intelligence.
posted by rushmc at 8:54 AM on October 30, 2002

Quirked - I'm sad you didn't include a link (with pictures, of course) to a site about "Hitler Youth", and the proto fascist youth leagues which preceded them, because so groups were in many ways very similar to the Boy Scouts.

So, here is the missing link - to the "Hitler Youth Photo Archive" Notice that the Hitler youth on the first page of this site (scroll down a little, you'll see him) looks almost EXACTLY like a Boy Scout! Uniform and all. Only the type of salute is different.
posted by troutfishing at 9:01 AM on October 30, 2002

clavdivs, Atheism is defined as "a disbelief in the existence of deity" by Merriam Webster dictionary. Buddhism "denies the existance of an external omnipotent God or God-head who is the creator and ordainer of the world" according to http://www.greatwisdomcenter.org/is_buddhism_atheistic.htm

So yes, Buddhism is atheistic, in the pure meaning of atheism, but a lot of people mean more when they call themselves atheists.

BTW if I had to align myself with a well known religion, it would be Buddhism. I haven't seen anything in the Buddha's teachings that I don't agree with.
posted by Emanuel at 9:17 AM on October 30, 2002

There are other fine organizations for young men.

But how many of them are actively promoted with posters in the public schools, as the scouts are? The Scouts cultivate a wholesome All-American image, almost on par with that other right of passage - Little League. The difference is that the underbelly of the Scouts is bigotry.

If I were a principal and my school (like most I've seen recently) had policies against discrimination, I would not allow the Scouts inside. I'd much rather promote a skateboarding club that encouraged resourcefulness and creativity without excluding kids or advisors for who they are.
posted by neuroshred at 9:24 AM on October 30, 2002

From the article: "Boy Scouts and adult leaders must say they recognize some higher power, not necessarily religious."

Why not just answer "me".

I salute him for his integrity, his commitment, and his goodnatured intelligence. No doubt with three fingers up and the thumb crossed to the pinky* -- he is an Eagle Scout after all.

*Is that right? I was never a Scout. Or 'scoot' as it's pronounced on this side of the pond.
posted by Dick Paris at 9:27 AM on October 30, 2002 [1 favorite]

i was a scout, in the uk, scouts honour! saluting the queen and god and all that. still, had to leave - style was cramped by leaders who tucked their (collared) t-shirts into their tracksuit bottoms, and wore sandles with socks. also, no girls. the competition had it all. no escape from the sandles with socks, though.
seriously, now that i think about it, the quasi-military organisation and encouragement to attend the christian church do encourage one to speak untruths. i mean, i pledged to do my duty to the queen (fnarr fnarr). now, that's crazy. it only served to detract from any respect i managed to build up for my leaders.
the BSA seems to suck even more than the baden-powell original style scouts, to use a quaint americanism.

had to include this:

'Leicester Scouts Sikh to broaden their horizons 9 Jul 2002
20 young Sikh’s will join the Scout Movement on
Monday 8th July, at the opening of Leicester’s first all
Sikh Scout Group. They will be called the 1st Kalgidhar
posted by asok at 9:59 AM on October 30, 2002

for full disclosure, i should say that i am an eagle scout.

now, everyone seems to be saying that its perfectly ok for a group to stick to its guns, per se, and not allow members that they don't want to allow, but since when did people just leave alone an organization they didn't like? i'm glad this kid is challenging the status quo. if no one did, perhaps we'd still have the racist admission policies of the southern golf courses to this day (and yes, we still do, to some extent, but try to convince me that its just as bad as it once was). those people had every right not to admit racially diverse members, but they were pressured by probably an individual or a movement to change their policies, seeing a new status quo. i'm not saying this kid is a hero (he is, however, in my mind, quite brave), but at least he's giving it a shot. condemning that shot as hopeless and unfounded seems pretty silly to me. tell the group what you think, just like he is, and maybe some day they'll decide to agree with you. or not. but that shot has got to be important, no?
posted by oog at 10:03 AM on October 30, 2002

troutfishing -

You have it backwards. The Hitler Youth uniforms resemble the scouting uniforms - not the other way around. Please get your facts right before throwing out horrible baseless insinuations.

Boy Scouts were founded in 1907 in Britain, and their uniforms were based on Lord Baden-Powell's experiences all over the world in the British army.

The Boy Scouts of America got started in 1910, and the original uniform was an admittedly impractical copy of US Army uniforms of the day. Despite several revisions over the years, they have maintained much of their original flavor.

The first attempt to establish a youth section of the National Socialist Movement was started in 1922 with the creation on the 13th of May of the Jugendbund der NSDAP, while the actual Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) was established in 1933. The same year saw the incorporation of all German youth clubs and youth formations into the Hitler Youth, with the international Boy Scouts movement being banned in Germany.

Their uniforms were based on those of the German Army and the Storm Troopers. Then, as now, military uniforms were very similar across Europe and North America. More info, with good pictures can be found here.


As an aside, I am an Eagle Scout. I was also an atheist growing up. Lots of people knew about it, but I didnt talk about it at Scouting functions, and nobody asked me about it either. Of course, this was all before the national council started veering deeper and deeper into their narrow and exclusionary policies.

I've been very conflicted in the last several years about the Scouts. They were a huge part of my life growing up, and their ideals (as practiced on a local level) form a great deal of who I am as an adult.

Our troop was a haven from the kinds of racist nonsense that are so prevalent in small town Texas. We didnt have many black kids in our troop, but the ones we did have were treated the same as the rest of us. Those few partipants who wanted to carry on the local traditions of racism were quickly invited to not return.

On the other hand, the national council (and many local councils) have become decidely partisan in their approach to religion, and very narrow in their definition of who's an acceptable member of the organization. There are all these "loyalty tests" and "affirmations of faith" that are extremely unpleasant to me, and many others.

I think that the final resolution, for me at least, was to understand that the vast amount of good work the Scouts do is tainted by the work of a few small-minded bigots, but that it is not overshadowed.

When my son gets old enough to join Scouts, I sincerely hope that he does. And, when this issue comes up (I think it's inevitable that it will) I personally dont have any problem with dishonesty when it is conducted in order to avoid unjust rules and regulations. If my son can't handle this approach, we may have to leave Scouts and try to find/found a parallel organization that strives for the same goals without all the negativity.
posted by Irontom at 10:06 AM on October 30, 2002

"Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids Dogmas and theology, it covers both the natural & spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity."

posted by clavdivs at 10:14 AM on October 30, 2002

Huh. The church I went to school in wouldn't let its members join the Scouts (Girl or Boy). Instead, they offered the Lutheran Boy/Girl Pioneers as a lame alternative. Reason we couldn't join? They were against the ecumenicism of the Scouts.
posted by kayjay at 10:43 AM on October 30, 2002

But how many of them are actively promoted with posters in the public schools, as the scouts are?

Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot that Boy Scouts, along with Eminem MP3s and pirated software, are on the list of "Things that Americans have a right to have solely because they're well marketed"
posted by oissubke at 10:53 AM on October 30, 2002

As I posted to plastic.com on this thread, I suspect Lambert has an agenda of his own. The simple fact is-- speaking as a long time Scout and leader-- National has almost zero control over individual units.

National sets the rules and the policies, this is true. But enforcement is up to each unit, through the unit Committee and its bylaws. Frankly, most committees do what they will, National or no National. Problems like these only become problems when the Scout himself *makes* it one.

Lambert himself brought the matter up at his Eagle board, and they awarded him the badge anyway. He brought it up again at leader training-- specificially, "Introduction to Outdoor Skills"-- in what appears to be an attempt to make a stink.

I've completed Outdoor Skills as well. The "discussion" on campsite services is hardly worthy of the term. We were simply warned to be sensitive to the fact that there is a considerable variation in faiths in most units. In fact, it was recommended that the boys-- consistent with the "boy-run Troop" philosophy of National and Baden-Powell himself-- choose whethere they will hold a service, what type would be appropriate (with guidance toward non-denominational services), and be allowed to lead it themselves. Never were we questioned on our personal beliefs.

That Lambert felt compelled to bring up his atheism in that environment, much less at his Eagle board, indicates to me that he's trying his hardest to make an issue where none really existed. He tried at his Eagle board but they didn't bite; so he's trying again.

But not knowing Lambert, maybe I'm just overly cynical.
posted by Cerebus at 11:06 AM on October 30, 2002

I was an eagle scout and part of the BSA for about 10 years, it was a fun and maturing part of my life. It wasnt until after I left at the age of 19 that I noticed how the BSA operated from an outsider's view. I saw an organization, that promoted equally, respect, honor, trust, blah blah blah, against homosexuals, free thinkers and atheists. It has been some time since I had contact with any of my old troop alumni but guess what, some of them are gay (scouts and leaders), some didnt believe in (christian) God, they were buddhist, muslim, and atheists. I now also now have respect for the 'asshole' parents, who at the time I was in the scouts caused the most turmoil among the other troop's parents, who always argued about how kids should have fun instead of worrying about 'rules' and 'merit badges
posted by lsd4all at 11:13 AM on October 30, 2002

IronTom - well, I stand corrected..sort of. You said the scout uniforms "were based on Lord Baden-Powell's experiences in the British Army all over the world" - so the Boy Scout uniforms were designed by a British imperialist, and the movement founded at the high of the British Empire, to subsequently inspire the German National Socialist Youth movements (which I seem to remember were, even though they of course predated the "Hitler Youth", already proto-fascist)? I imagine Hitler kicked out the scouts because they owed allegiance to an international, not a German organization.

So, the scouts were formed in Britain, at the glorious pinnacle of the British Colonial Empire ("White Man's Burden" and all that) at the onset of the beginning of a century marred early on by two horrendous world wars? Hmmm.....rather.....inauspicious, one might say

I think that the pseudo-militarism of the Scouts and similar organizations serves nationalistic goals all around the world. I hope we can start to, as a species, move beyond nationalism and the violence it breeds.

That being said, I'm sure the scouts were fun. But I think they could perform the same function without as much of the militaristic trimmings.
posted by troutfishing at 11:25 AM on October 30, 2002

Um...check out the Dan Savage article I linked above, Cerebus. At least one of the people he spoke to expressed her own personal disagreement with national policy, and said that Mr. Savage's son could participate on equal terms in her group. She then went on to explain that, since scouting involves many events not run by the local troop, his family could expect to be actively discriminated against elsewhere. In other words, the local troop policy is irrelevant in many cases, and the national policy effectively eliminates the chance for local groups to allow people the national scouts don't like to participate.

I am simply amazed that:

a) Funding organizations like the United Way, which would never allow a group that discriminated against, say, Catholics to appear on their rosters, fund a group that discriminates against atheists, Unitarians, and members of all "open and affirming" churches (Quakers, reconstructionist and many reform Jews, UCC's, etc.) .

b) The scouts continue to have a special status in the public schools in many places. In other words, if you are a Unitarian, the local public school can bring in a speaker to encourage your son to join a group which discriminates against him. (Unitarians can't get certain badges, since their religion says that people who doubt the existence of God are not necessarily sinners, a point of theology on which the Scouts disagree. So any badge which is dependent on service in a church is not available to Unitarian scouts.)

Lambert has provided an incredibly valuable service by exposing the public statements of the local scouts ("We're different! We're independent! We don't listen to the main office, and we don't discriminate!") for the lies they are.
Hopefully, this will lead to lots of complaints from local atheist United Way donors and local Unitarian public school moms and dads.

It certainly lead to at least one better-informed local citizen. As my post above makes clear, I was nearly taken in by a lying scout leader this summer (the man claimed, as Cerebus does above, that local troops are free to disregard the national policy and not discriminate). So this man's efforts at public information have already helped at least one person.
posted by 23lemurs at 11:42 AM on October 30, 2002

If I tell you that you MUST wipe your feet before entering my house, and you say you will not, then you're not getting into my house! It's my house, and I MAKE THE RULES! If you don't like my rules, then go to a different house!
posted by LowDog at 12:06 PM on October 30, 2002

I'm in agreement with Irontom. I'm an Eagle Scout, and I'm somewhat religious, but I have serious problems with the national organization. I came very close to returning my Eagle medal a few years ago when I read the BSA's briefs in the US Supreme Court case BSA v. Dale. (You can find the opinions -- majority and dissenting -- here.)

I ultimately decided not to return the medal, because I agree with the ideals of the Scouting movement, and I'm proud to be an Eagle Scout, despite my deep misgivings about the present management of the Boy Scouts of America.
posted by Vidiot at 12:13 PM on October 30, 2002

If you don't like my rules, then go to a different house!

Exactly, LowDog. That's why the Boy Scouts should remain a legal organization in the U.S. They should, however, have the special privileges they have received in the public schools removed immediately, since they don't fit the criteria for groups receiving those privileges. They should have the rights given to all other outside groups at public schools - the right to rent space and exist as a student club, for example - but not the right to preach or recruit in classrooms during school time.

As a United Way donor, I have every right to inquire about the UW's funding policies, as well. If the BSA is breaking UW's anti-discrimination policies, they should be removed from UW's funding lists.

Lambert simply made it clear that the excuses the BSA has used to keep itself in the schools and on good terms with umbrella donor organizations are false. The local councils' claims that they are free not to enforce the national policies, and that they therefore do not enforce them, are lies. Good for him.
posted by 23lemurs at 1:09 PM on October 30, 2002

Got here a bit late...

If you disagree with the principles of an organization, why fight to belong to it?

Neuroshred and 23lemurs said it better than I could, but it seems to me that the issue isn't so much fighting to belong as it is that BSA gets all sorts of special privileges under what amounts to false pretenses -- those priviliges having been granted when a) BSA didn't make a big fuss about b) things the general populace didn't care as much about (or wasn't ballsy enough to make their own fuss back about).

Neither of those conditions hold anymore -- but few people who grant them special privileges have officially reevaluated that stance.
posted by baylink at 1:26 PM on October 30, 2002

(oissubke) If you disagree with the principles of an organization, why fight to belong to it?

I think you're oversimplifying--it's possible to agree with many of the priniciples of BSA without agreeing with all of them. It seems likely that Lambert sees enough merit in the boy scouts that it is worth trying to correct its perceived flaws, rather than just abandoning it.

(LowDog) If I tell you that you MUST wipe your feet before entering my house, and you say you will not, then you're not getting into my house! It's my house, and I MAKE THE RULES! If you don't like my rules, then go to a different house!

Or, I can try to persuade you to change your rules. You're free to ignore me, of course, but if you're unwilling to engage in rational debate, why would anyone want to come to your house?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:07 PM on October 30, 2002

That Lambert felt compelled to bring up his atheism in that environment, much less at his Eagle board, indicates to me that he's trying his hardest to make an issue where none really existed.

Yeah, those damn atheists should just keep their damn mouths shut and let people get back to deciding how they're gonna pray!
posted by rushmc at 2:55 PM on October 30, 2002

What oog said. What 23lemurs said. It's legal in most of the country to discriminate against gays and lesbians, though many communities, including mine, are changing that. But freedom of religion is a Constitutional guarantee. If the Boy Scouts require religious affiliation, then they should get no preference from schools. Props to those who are challenging them on their narrow-mindedness.

The Girl Scouts mention God in their promise, but do not require the use of the word God or a religious affiliation. They have embraced diversity and they generally rock.
posted by theora55 at 3:40 PM on October 30, 2002

"what higher power do you believe in?"

/me scribbles in 'cthulu'.
posted by jcterminal at 3:40 PM on October 30, 2002

The problem with the Boy Scouts isn't religion. It's that they've gone soft. Backinmyday, you had to learn "knife and axe", "trailing, tracking and stalking", and how to decapitate a Nazi with an entrenching tool. That last one was thrown in by our troop leader, a WWII North Africa veteran.
We also had to know how to brew coffee, use bows and arrows and guns and a compass. Paramilitary? Hell yes!

I could *thrive* in the forest with just a hatchet.
posted by kablam at 4:26 PM on October 30, 2002

23lemurs: Unitarians can't get certain badges, since their religion says that people who doubt the existence of God are not necessarily sinners, a point of theology on which the Scouts disagree. So any badge which is dependent on service in a church is not available to Unitarian scouts.

Like which badges, exactly? If you're speaking about the religious emblem awards, these are not BSA awards-- they're given by each religious organization to its members that are authorized for wear on the uniform by National. In Outdoor Skills training, there's a good hour dedicated to understanding the plethora of religious emblems that are authorized, and great pains are taken to make perfectly clear that BSA is not involved in the design, signing, or awarding of these emblems.

Other than that, there are requirements in Cub Scouts that ask the Scout to discuss his personal beliefs with his religous leader or his parents. I'm afraid I don't see how that's discriminatory, either.

I'm truly sorry that the leader you encountered was so badly misinformed on the nature of the religious emblems. More especially so because it left you with the impression that he was actively lying to you about it. But when you're dealing with a nearly all volunteer membership (I can't recall what the percentage of paid Scouts is of the whole) this kind of miscommunication is unfortunately inevitable.

The fact is, awards and advancements are not mandatory to participation in Scouting activities. I personally spent 6 years in Scouts as a child, and never advanced past First Class-- yet I was a fully active member of my Troop, and even served as Senior Patrol Leader (i.e., I was in charge. Adults provide safety and some guidance, but a good Troop is run exclusively by the boys).

Jehovah's Witnesses don't recite the Scout Oath, and don't pursue certain badges as well because of religious objection. Yet we have JWs in our troop-- heck, the District roundtable is held in the JW meeting hall.

I'm also confused by your assertation that "open and affirming" religous faiths-- you cited reform Jews among them-- are discriminated against by Scouting. This is clearly not the case. If you can back that up, I would appreciate it.

On the issue of preference given to Scouting in schools-- I'm not personally aware of organized recruiting activity by units, Disctricts, Councils, or National that takes up class time. The primary school-oriented recruiting is "School Night for Scouting", which provides recruiting information to parents usually in conjunction with an evening PTO/PTA meeting or school open house. I don't see how that's any kind of preferential treatment that would place Scouting into any "state-funded" catagory.

That said, if there is *organized* recruiting taking place during class hours, I certainly agree that this should stop, as it would step over the statutory line. To my personal knowlege, this kind of recruiting was stopped years ago. Posters on the wall and direct child-to-child recruiting don't meet this test in my opinion, however. Of more concern, I should think, is the product advertisement going on in schools which is far more pervasive.

Regarding Mr. Savage's article, I think it highlights my point far better than your own. National, while setting the rules, doesn't enforce them at all. Each unit-- and Mr. Savage appears to have spoken to only a small number-- makes its own decisions regarding membership. Mr. Savage makes this abundantly clear; one unit said no, the other said yes. I suggest that even if National rescinded its policy, Mr. Savage would still have been brushed away by the unit that rejected him.

As for wider District, Council, and National events, there won't be a problem because it simply won't come up. There's no National Inquisitor at camporee registration seeking affirmation that each participating Troop is free of godless heathens and queers.

For what it's worth, there are heterosexual cohabitation rules in BSA as well-- a much-less well known fact. If my wife decides to come along on the next campout, we-- according to National-- aren't supposed to stay in the same tent. Not a rule you'll see enforced either, unless we make too much noise. 8)
posted by Cerebus at 11:05 AM on October 31, 2002

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