It is absolutely outrageous that the Boy Scouts of America, which has proudly excluded both atheists and gays from its membership, announced yesterday that lifting its ban on gays — but not atheists — is on the agenda for the biannual meeting of its national board in February.
BSA spokesperson Deron Smith said a change in policy toward atheists is not being considered because "Duty to God" is one of its basic principles.
With one in five Americans — and as many as one in three young people — identifying as nonreligious, clearly millions of nontheistic families and their sons are being treated as undesirable members by BSA. It should not be socially acceptable to exclude either gays or atheists. Talk about proof of who's on the bottom of the social totem poll in our culture!
BSA has always falsely advertised that "any boy may join" and has relied upon and received major governmental favors. In the 1970s, discrimination against atheists became entrenched as BSA adopted a religious litmus test, forcing parents of boys interested in joining to sign a "Declaration of Religious Principles" returned with membership fees. The declaration states: "The Boy Scouts of America maintain that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God."
No one can grow into the best kind of citizen being told it is good form to discriminate against nonreligious children. BSA needs to be reminded it is not what you believe that makes you a good person, but what you do. Wrapping oneself in a mantle of piety is often counterproductive of moral action, as witnessed by the way in which "God belief" was used by BSA to justify excluding gays and atheists.
Challenge the kneejerk assumption that professing an orthodox belief in an unprovable deity has anything at all to do with ethical conduct. Clearly, the outcome of such piety for BSA is immoral — it places dogma over people, in this case real children, teenagers and volunteer leaders who are being shunned for holding the intellectually respectable position that we need proof before swallowing dogmatic claims.
Religion builds walls between children, and religious litmus tests have no place in a fraternal organization with a congressional charter.
The media, in covering this story, properly recite BSA's unkind history of bigotry against gays and gay families. These same mean practices have also personally harmed and stigmatized nontheist families and Scouts. (And it should be remembered that many gays are nonbelievers who would still, on that score, be unwelcome in BSA.)
Here are just a few of the many instances of ostracism and discrimination on the basis of religion practiced in recent decades by local and national BSA leaders:
• Stripping model Boy Scout Darrell Lambert of Oregon of his Eagle Scout badge in 2002 because he is an atheist. Darrell was a Scouting and community volunteer who had won first place in his state athletic medicine competitions and volunteered as a search and rescue worker. He was singled out for his atheism by his district commissioner, who told the class an atheist cannot be a good citizen.
• Denying 6-year-old Mark Welsh of suburban Chicago of the right to join Tiger Cubs, after being solicited through his public school. When his father encountered the Declaration of Religious Principles and explained to BSA officials he could not in good conscience sign it, Mark was told he was an undesirable candidate and left the sign-up meeting in tears.
A lawsuit under the Civil Rights Act was lost to BSA, which has vigorously defended its exclusionary policies in many court battles, including its exclusion of gays in a Supreme Court test.
• Twins William and Michael Randall were expelled with no warning from the Orange County Cub Scout pack despite three years of Scouting experience. The BSA appealed their challenge under the California Unruh Civil Rights Act and won the right to expel the twins. An agnostic den leader who sent a supportive letter to the Randalls was expelled, a common practice against those within BSA who have protested bigotry at the national level.
BSA has finally considered lifting its bigotry against gays after decades of protests and cut-off of major favors by corporations, public schools and some governmental bodies. That BSA is at least willing to reconsider its bigotry against gays shows it has listened to protest. Contact BSA immediately to urge it to take this opportunity to stop giving merit badges for bigotry — either against nontheists or gays.
It must be noted that the motion pending at its national board meeting is more than flawed. The Boy Scouts of America which had no problem dictating from the top down its absolute exclusion of gays in the past, announced it "would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation," but chartered groups (many of them Mormon) could "select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs."
Contact and call BSA now!
Phoning is most effective! 972-580-2000
Email contact form: http://www.scouting.org/ContactUs.aspx
Alternate Phone (National Help Desk): 877-272-1910
Wayne Brock, Chief Scout Executive
1325 W. Walnut Hill Lane
Irving, Texas 75015-2079
(Writing letters to the editor and commenting at online sections at news sites and social media are also in order.)