We congratulate Boy Scouts of America for lifting its longtime, hurtful ban on gays being members. BSA has taken a major step forward, albeit still barring gay adult leadership. But why does it remain socially acceptable for BSA to continue discriminating against nonbelievers?
BSA's discriminatory policy proudly bars atheist and freethinking members. BSA advertises "any boy may join," yet explicitly bans atheists and children from nonreligious homes. This stigmatizes the one in three young people today who now identifies as nonreligious (PEW survey). There’s a long trail of boys and leaders who have been kicked out simply because they don’t believe in a god. They range from a 6-year-old in suburban Chicago whose nonreligious father, Elliott Welsh, lost a suit against BSA for violating the Civil Rights Act, to exemplary Eagle Scout Darrell Lambert, expelled from a Washington troop in a high-profile case.
BSA’s ranks have always been full of nonbelievers. FFRF’s membership includes many former Scouts and Eagle Scouts, particularly among our older membership. BSA only began persecuting nonbelievers in 1970, when BSA issued a new and insulting policy: “The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship.”
Then it began imposing a religious litmus test in the form of its declaration of religious principles, which Scouts or parents of Scouts are expected to sign upon enrollment. Today some 70% of troops are sponsored by church denominations, which evidently feel it’s their righteous duty to scorn nonbelievers.
BSA lags 20 years behind Girl Scouts of America, which announced in 1993 that it would protect the freedom of conscience of all members. Girl Scouts adopted a resolution that any of its members may substitute another word or phrase for "God" in its official pledge, a measure enacted to show "strength in diversity and that we are an inclusive organization."
To rewrite BSA's declaration of religious principles:
No one can grow into the best citizen who discriminates against the nonreligious. It's what you do, not what you believe, that makes you a good person. BSA's vaunted "duty to God" has led it to place dogma over children. The intellectual rejection of dogma is not only respectable, but vital to progress. What isn't respectable is treating an atheist child as persona non grata.