Currently, "The Boy Scouts of America maintain that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God." BSA formally discriminates as nonreligious boys and their families, officially excluding atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers from membership. Social disapproval prompted BSA to drop a similar ban on membership against gay Scouts. But BSA persists in stigmatizing those who use reason and critical thought to evaluate religious claims, rather than relying on faith, tradition or authority.
To earn this badge, based on the Richard Dawkins' "A," help disprove BSA's bigotry against the nonreligious and its misguided claim that nonbelievers cannot be good citizens. Learn about secularism and the rich history of dissent from religion.
Because this "badge" is intended to protest BSA policy, you likely will not be able to go to your typical merit badge counselor to demonstrate you have completed the requirements. Please ask a parent, guardian, sibling over the age of 18, teacher or other adult in your life to serve in this counselor role and to sign the form attesting that you have completed the requirements.
Note: FFRF will also offer this badge to other freethinking boys (or girls) who may have decided not to join BSA because of its discriminatory policy, but otherwise would have wished to take part in Scouting activities. This badge will reward you for critical thinking, and be a freethought keepsake.
1. Read the Scout Oath, which says you will do your best "To do my duty to God and my country," and suggest how it could be rewritten to be more inclusive. BSA policy formally states: "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 and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members." Explain to your counselor what you think is wrong with this statement.
2. Do TWO of the following:
a. Interview a veteran or current member of the military who is not religious, and ask about their experiences as an "atheist in a foxhole."
b. Interview three individuals who are not religious. These could include family members, students, teachers or activists in the freethought movement. Ask these individuals why they reject religion and what their experiences have been as a nonreligious individual in a society that stigmatizes nonbelief.
c. Select two nonreligious individuals from U.S. or world history who have contributed to social or moral progress. Find out about their accomplishments and discuss whether their absence of religious belief was relevant to their accomplishments.
d. Read the U.S. Constitution. Discuss with your counselor the references that exclude religion and why you think the U.S. framers thought it was so important to adopt the world's first godless and entirely secular written constitution.
3. Activism. Engage in some form of secular or freethought activism of your choice, Do one of the following:
a. Attend a secular convention, speech or event, staff a table for a secular organization, write a letter to the editor on freethought or state/church separation, or submit an article about freethought or state/church separation for your student newspaper.
b. Speak up if you hear atheism being derided or misunderstood, or if you hear such erroneous claims as "America is a Christian nation" or evolution attacked. Defend nontheism or the secular underpinnings of the United States in some public context, whether in class, at lunch with friends, a public event, etc.
c. Join and participate in secular student club (or if one doesn't exist in your school, apply to start one).
d. If your local governmental board regularly opens meetings with prayer, ask to be allowed to give a secular invocation and deliver one. (Be sure, if you choose this form of activism, to also enter FFRF's Nothing Fails Like Prayer contest!)
e. Sit down during the religious U.S. Pledge of Allegiance at your school or otherwise protest or challenge the religious pledge (in a nondisruptive manner).
4. Choose one the following:
a. Research the history of the Pledge of Allegiance and how "under God" was first added. Discuss with your counselor how it makes you feel to be asked to take a religious pledge at school.
b. Research the history of "In God We Trust" as a relatively new motto and how it gradually was placed on U.S. coins and currency along with the secular motto, "E Pluribus Unum." Discuss with your counselor how it makes you feel to be excluded as a nonbeliever from the nation's motto.
c. Research the song "God Bless America" (originally written in 1919 for a character to sing in a musical by the secular composer Irving Berlin), and how it makes you feel when you have been at a school, sporting or other event where this is played, or when you've otherwise encountered this slogan.
5. Do one of the following:
a. Watch one of these movies: Monty Python's "Life of Brian," "Contact," "Religulous," "Letting Go of God" DVD of the play by Julia Sweeney or any version of "Inherit the Wind," then discuss the merits of the movie's treatment of religion or atheism, and your reactions.
b. Learn and perform John Lennon's "Imagine" by instrument or voice. Discuss what the lyrics mean to you.
c. Read a biography about an author, artist, scientist or other famous individual who was not religious. Discuss this individual's contributions to the world.
d. Visit a museum that teaches about evolution, or design an experiment to test a religious claim, such as the power or prayer to change the physical world. Or discuss with your adviser the validity of untestable claims (such as Russell's celestial teapot or the existence of invisible mythical animals).
6. Write and submit a 200-300 word essay. Choose one of two following themes and write a persuasive essay about why BSA is wrong to claim "that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God."
a. Select a nonreligious person or secular organization, either current or historic, whether it's someone famous or someone you know personally, and explain why you believe they were or are "good without God."
b. Write why you are "good without God" and/or why you are a good citizen without believing in a deity, including at least one or two reasons why you are a nonbeliever. You may wish to add how it makes you feel to know that BSA regards you as an undesirable member.
Submit your essay and this form from an adult attesting that you have completed the requirements, which should include your full name, mailing address and contact information, to:
(Your application and identity will be held in confidence.)
- Freedom From Religion Foundation
- Top 10 Public School State/Church Violations And Now to Stop Them
- Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
- Center for Inquiry
- Appleman, Philip. Darwin. (Norton Critical Edition)
- Appleman, Philip. Darwin's Ark
- Barker, Dan, The Good Atheist
- Barker, Dan, GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction
- Barker, Dan, Godless.
- Barker, Dan, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist
- Boghossian, Peter. A Manual for Creating Atheists
- Dawkins, Richard. A Devil's Chaplain
- Dawkins, Richard. Climbing Mount Improbable
- Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion
- Dawkin, Richard. Unweaving the Rainbow
- Dennett, Daniel. With Linda LaScola. Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind.
- Dennett, Daniel. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.
- Gaylor, Annie Laurie. Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So
- Gaylor, Annie Laurie. Women Without Superstition: No Gods – No Masters. The first anthology of women freethinkers
- Green, Ruth, The Born Again Skeptic's Guide to the Bible
- Harris, Sam. The End of Faith
- Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. Infidel
- Hitchens, Christopher, God Is Not Great
- Konner, Joan. The Atheist's Bible
- Lindsay, Ronald. The Necessity of Secularism
- Mehta, Hemant. The Young Atheist's Survival Guide
- Morgan, Robin. Fighting Words: A Toolkit for Combating the Religious Right
- Russell, Bertrand. Why I Am Not a Christian
- Smith, George. Atheism: The Case Against God.
- Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. The Woman's Bible
- Sweeney, Julia, "Letting Go of God" (DVD)
- Paine, Thomas. The Age of Reason
- Pinn, Anthony, Writing God's Obituary
Earn a freethought badge and challenge BSA discrimination against nontheists
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has produced a badge to reward freethinking youths and to challenge the Boy Scouts of America's discriminatory policy against the nonreligious. The badge, based on the Dawkins' "A," is being issued in collaboration with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
The Boy Scouts of America formally discriminates against nonreligious boys and their families, officially excluding atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers. Currently, BSA maintains "that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God."
FFRF maintains that no one can grow into the best kind of citizen who discriminates against the nonreligious, and that it's what you do — not what you believe — that makes you a good person.
Social disapproval prompted BSA to largely drop a similar ban on membership against gay Scouts. But BSA persists in stigmatizing those who use reason and critical thought to evaluate religious claims.
FFRF, at the urging of its member Richard Kirschman, has produced a badge similar to BSA's merit badges, which are typically sewn on uniforms or sashes.
Scouts who wish to earn this badge are asked to help disprove BSA's misguided claim that nonbelievers cannot be good citizens. The requirements, paralleling typical merit badge requirements, ask Scouts to learn about secularism and the rich history of dissent from religion.
Because this unauthorized "badge" is intended to protest BSA policy, it's expected that Scouts won't be able to work with a typical merit badge counselor to demonstrate completion of requirements. So FFRF will ask a parent, guardian, sibling over the age of 18, teacher or other adult in their lives to attest that Scouts have fulfilled them. At Dawkins' suggestion, the Scout is also required to send FFRF a short essay that addresses BSA's claim that nonbelievers can't be good citizens. Unlike BSA badge providers, FFRF will not charge Scouts money for the badge.
FFRF intends the badge to reward Boy Scouts who have persevered in an organization that basically has instituted a 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy about atheist and agnostic participants, but has regularly expelled open nonbelievers. While BSA officials dictate the discriminatory policy, Scouting troops vary widely in their enforcement of the ban, so it's believed many Scouts are nonreligious.
But if any young boy — or girl — fulfills the requirements, FFRF will be delighted to reward them with this badge. Many nonreligious students who might otherwise wish to join BSA never join, knowing of its bigoted policy. This is their chance to be rewarded for critical thinking and to earn a keepsake at the same time.
FFRF hopes someday very soon that BSA itself will change its policy and adopt its own official merit badge rewarding critical thinking. It urges those who care about equality for nonbelieving children to contact BSA to protest this invidious discrimination.
To apply for a badge:
- Read and fulfill the requirements
- Have a parent, guardian or other adult fill out and return the form attesting that you have fulfilled the requirements
- Remember to write the short, required essay referenced at the end of the Requirements.
Attn: Freethought Badge
PO Box 750
Madison WI 53701
Please help publicize this opportunity to young freethinkers in your life and community.
FFRF thanks Richard Kirschman for subsidizing the cost of the badges.
HB 837 uses new language to achieve the same result as last year’s SB 129, a so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” bill that was appropriately killed after Indiana experienced national opposition, business outcry, and threats of boycotts for passing its state RFRA bill. The newly proposed HB 837 would apply the national RFRA to Georgia and would strip state officials of sovereign immunity protections if they interfere with a person’s sincerely held religious beliefs, even if that interference comes from a law that applies to everyone. The bill suffers from all the same flaws as Indiana’s bill, including allowing businesses and individuals to use religion to openly discriminate.
HB 816, the so-called “Georgia Student Religious Liberties Act of 2016,” begins by restating what is already required by the Constitution, that students be allowed to express their personal religious beliefs free from discrimination and pray “to the same extent that students may engage in nonreligious activities or expression.” No one objects to this. The bill then takes a sharp turn toward fostering religious privilege by forcing public schools to allow students to promote their personal religious beliefs at school-sponsored events. The legislators are well aware, of course, that a school forum will be dominated by students from the Christian majority while students who hold minority religious beliefs or practice no religion at all will be effectively silenced. The bill contemplates requiring student speakers at all football games and other athletic events, during morning announcements, at assemblies and pep rallies, and at graduation.
HB 757 purports to solve a problem that doesn’t exist: it decrees that no minister of the gospel shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion. That, of course, has always been the case. Church leaders can discriminate against whomever they wish when choosing to perform marriage ceremonies. Only the state must treat all legal marriages equally.
The bill goes on, however, to grant special status to those who worship on Saturday and Sunday, as traditional religious “rest days,” by making it illegal for a county or municipality to require a business to operate on either of those days. This is another clear example of legislating Judeo-Christian privilege. Never mind that Friday is the “day of rest” for many Muslims and for those of the Bahá'í Faith, while other minority religions observe rest days based on lunar cycles (Buddhists, Cherokees) or seasonal changes (Wiccans).
Finally, HB 757 legalizes discrimination by religious organizations. It allows them to refuse to let a person rent or otherwise use property “for purposes which are objectionable to such religious organization.” Among other problems, this law would legalize housing discrimination by religious organizations against gay families, religious minorities, and the nonreligious.
El Paso, Texas, City Council
Oct. 6, 2015
FFRF member Terry Sunday, a "retired aerospace engineer, inveterate world traveler, ethnic cook, prolific Amazon reviewer and lifelong atheist," gave the following secular invocation to the El Paso City Council:
Good morning, Mayor, City Council representatives and fellow El Pasoans, As we meet to conduct the business of the city of El Paso, we must always bear in mind that we all have different needs, wants, views and beliefs. We like and dislike different things, we harbor different notions of right and wrong, we have different levels of tolerance for others' lifestyles, and we envision our roles in society differently.
But surely we can agree that our actions will succeed only to the extent that they best serve the interests of all El Pasoans.
While differences in ethnicity, gender identity, age, religious viewpoint, sexual orientation, skin color, political affiliation and other things distinguish each of us from another, in America we are all equal under the law. Our common ancestors applied their intellects and skills to benefit humankind and bring us to where we are here today. We can do no better than to continue that timeless practice.
As we consider issues in today's meeting:
- Let us show each other respect, tolerance and kindness.
- Let us listen intently and thoughtfully to each other.
- Let us graciously acknowledge and sincerely consider opposing viewpoints.
- Let us demonstrate reason, common sense, cooperativeness and a willingness to compromise.
- Let us commit to do what is right and just, not only in letter but in spirit as well.
- Let us conduct today's meeting with honesty, civility, integrity and open-mindedness.
- And finally, let us always act inclusively, morally, openly, professionally and in the best interests of all the citizens of El Paso.
Now make it so.
Grandville, Mich., City Council
Dec. 27, 2015
After the Town of Greece vs. Galloway decision allowing sectarian prayers at certain public meetings, Michigan resident Steven Belstra wanted to let his city council know that there were more than just Christians in its contituency.
"Every time the council had an invocation, it was done by a pastor of some local church," Belstra writes. "People who aren't religious needed some representation. I wouldn't have done it at all if there weren't prayers already taking place at every single other council meeting."
Here is the invocation given by Belstra:
Thank you, Mayor Maas and the Grandville City Council, for having me speak today. My name is Steven Belstra and I am not an ordained minister or priest of any faith. I request from the council and our community that we don't turn toward faith or religion to guide government decisions, but rather good will toward all people in our community.
I speak for the minorities in the area who identify as being secular humanists, atheists and one of the fastest growing groups in America, the nonreligious. Grandville contains many different people who have different beliefs, traditions and cultures, all of which we want to see considered when making decisions for our community. I ask that for today and all future meetings we can approach decisions this way. But it isn't just in our local city council meetings where this should apply, but in all other aspects of human interaction.
2015 will be remembered as a year that major human rights decisions were made in the Obergefell vs. Hodges case, which granted state recognition to all same-sex couples. This decision by the Supreme Court of the United States is a great example of what I am alluding to.
It is in our best interest as a community to view all of our citizens as equals, regardless of their beliefs about an afterlife or their beliefs about human sexuality. So what I ask of my local city council is that you govern with reason and empathy toward all people, regardless of the church I do or don't attend, the person who I marry, or the beliefs that you may or may not share with other citizens of the community.
Thank you for your time, council.
Steven Belstra, 26, is a business systems analyst who worked with FFRF in 2013 trying, unsuccessfully, to erect a Winter Solstice banner next to a nativity scene in Fremont, Mich.