Earn a freethought badge

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is unveiling a badge to reward freethinking youths and to challenge the Boy Scouts of America’s discrimination against the nonreligious. The badge, based on the Dawkins’ “A,” is cosponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

BSA has come under fire by FFRF and many nonreligious parents for four decades for recruiting through and meeting in public schools, advertising that “Any boy may join.” After boys attend the recruitment and are excited to join, parents are belatedly informed they must sign BSA’s Declaration of Religious Sentiments.

BSA 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, we’d be delighted to reward them with this badge,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “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. We hope someday very soon that BSA itself will change its policy and adopt its own official merit badge rewarding critical thinking.”

FFRF’s requirements give Scouts or other young freethinkers the chance to select various activities, such as interviewing a military veteran about being “an atheist in a foxhole” or nonreligious acquaintances about their nonbelief.

Scouts are asked to engage in secular or freethought activism, such as attending a secular convention, starting or participating in a secular student club, writing a letter to the editor on a secular topic, “sitting down” for the religious Pledge of Allegiance, or speaking up if they hear atheism being derided or erroneous claims such as that “America is a Christian nation.” Students are invited to watch a movie with a freethought theme, such as Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” or to learn to perform John Lennon’s “Imagine.” They are asked to research the lives of historic freethinkers and the history of how religion has seeped into U.S. symbols.

The full requirements for the contests can be found at FFRF’s website: ffrf.org/freethought-badge.

Please help publicize this opportunity to young freethinkers in your life and community.
FFRF thanks Richard Kirschman for subsidizing the cost of the badges.

Freedom From Religion Foundation