Vol. 19 No. 10 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
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An Atheist Eagle Scout Speaks Out
Delivered on November 23, 2002, at the San Diego Freedom From Religion Foundation convention.
By Darrell Lambert
This started when, sort of spur-of-the-moment, I stood up and said, "Nope, you're wrong." [laughter]
Really, I ticked off one guy twice in the same weekend and that's what started it off. I embarrassed him horribly and wouldn't shake his hand and told him he didn't deserve the respect of a handshake. So that's pretty much what started it and from there on, it just blew up.
His name is Glenn Schmidt, he's our district committee chairman, and he came out with the comments about how an atheist who found a wallet would just steal the money. He said that for an atheist to be in the Boy Scouts, they'd have to go around the rules and essentially lie, and that an atheist cannot be a good citizen.
That's when I stood up and said, "I never lied. My Eagle board knew I did not believe in God when they passed me and they commended me on my courage and bravery to say so, and they never asked me a question about it. If anybody wants to tell me that I'm not a good citizen, they can kiss my butt." Although I was thinking the other word, my sister assured me that's what I said. And then I walked out of the room and told him I wouldn't be part of that discrimination.
Main thing with me is, I didn't mind so much if they were against me, it's that I have other Scouts in my troop who deserve Eagle. It is ludicrous that someone can ask them if they believe in God, and that they would not pass their Eagle board because they don't. They deserve their Eagle far more than a lot of boys I've seen get it. So I'll stand up to that any time.
I've always been against discrimination of any sort. There's no point in it, really, to take one character aspect of a person and then base an entire opinion on that. It's ridiculous. A district executive told me that scouting would be less without me, "but it was the right thing to do." Now tell me, how is that the right thing to do? It's not a better society in any way.
I didn't really prepare much to say, so if any of you have any questions, I'd love to answer them.
Q: What's your feedback from the community, positive and negative?
Almost 100% positive. My troop supports me 100%. They may not agree with my opinions but they support me. The community, I've never got any threats or anything like that. I get about 30 letters of support to one letter of non-support, so it's been encouraging, really encouraging.
Q: Do the Scouts have any free use of public facilities?
Yeah. There's a Boy Scout building in a public park in my county. I actually meet at the Veterans Home, which is on federal government property. So there's a chaplain right there. Sea Scouts a couple of years ago got whaling boats for a dollar, and, you know, I always thought they were a little bit more expensive than that, but I guess the government didn't care.
So yeah, they get tons of government support. So I don't see how they're getting past their federal charter on that one.
Q: Who was their sponsor for the organization?
A veterans' home chapel, but it's still a church. Unfortunately, the pastor of the church doesn't support me. He'll go with anything the Boy Scouts go for, but other than that, everybody else is for me.
Q: Why is superstitious belief so important to the Boy Scouts?
Another question is why is it so important for Boy Scouts of America to be religious when it is not important all over the world? I can't tell you. My group never supported religion. You learn religion at home with your family or the religious institution of your choice. You come to me, you learn how to camp, hike, bike, climb, wilderness survival. That's what I always teach. I don't teach religion.
Q: What about Girl Scouts?
They changed their policy and they're still as much of an organization as they were before. They didn't fall apart like Boy Scouts think they're going to.
Q: Do the Boy Scouts require that Scouts be "reverent"?
As it's defined now in the Scout handbook, yes. You get a handbook from 1938, no, it's a reverence toward your fellow Scouts, reverence toward your schoolwork, and it's used in the dictionary definition of the word, not the "You have to believe in God, you have to follow your religion." Oddly enough "respect others' opinions" is the other part of that requirement!
The current manual says "faith for God" or "belief in god," "practicing religious duties" and "respect for others' opinions."
Q: What about Explorer Scouts?
That's a tough one, because Explorer Boy Scouts don't necessarily have to believe in god, they don't have any discrimination. So they kind of bypass the whole government thing. Like my Explorer Search and Rescue Unit, we get funding from Department of Emergency Management. But I still don't agree with public funding of Explorer Scouts if they're going to be any part of Boy Scouts.
Q: How did you become an atheist?
I always had the question in my mind. It's just, religion doesn't make any sense. How can anybody do some legitimate research and learn and still believe? That's basically it, it doesn't make any sense, you can't scientifically prove that there is one god. People get thrown into the loonybin for believing in Santa Claus!
Q: What's your family's position?
My mom was raised Catholic, I believe, but she walked out of the Church when she was 11. Since then she believes in God, not necessarily organized religion. My dad is an atheist, which I didn't find out till after I'd come to my own conclusions. I was a little worried about that night. My dad's 6-foot-3, 320 pounds, I'm like, "Uh-oh." So, it's a very open family, they always encouraged us to find our own way, which we all did. One of my sisters is an atheist as well, the other one believes in spirituality more than an actual higher supreme being.
Q: Was your troop supportive?
I have never encouraged them not to believe in God, because it's not my place to encourage that, it's their family's. The only thing I've encouraged them to do is think for themselves. So our troop was very unreligiously oriented. I think we have two boys now who actually believe in God. The other 18, when this all came out, asked me, "What do we say if someone asks us?" I told them to say that it's none of their goddamn business.
Thank you, everybody.
December 2002 Excerpts