Even as the Boy Scouts of America is overhauling its membership and nomenclature to be inclusive, it still has a blind spot regarding a marginalized group: the nonreligious.
"For 108 years, the Boy Scouts of America's flagship program has been known simply as the Boy Scouts," the Associated Press reports. "With girls soon entering the ranks, the group says that iconic name will change. The organization on Wednesday announced a new name for its Boy Scouts program: Scouts BSA."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation welcomes this move, as it did the group's repeal of its ban on gays. But it decries the fact that the scouts will still discriminate against the nonreligious and their families, excluding atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers. After it announced last fall that the membership was being opened up to girls, the leadership reiterated its prejudice.
"We believe this nation needs and deserves more youth focused on the foundations that still serve as bedrock of our movement — duty to God and country with a desire to help other people at all times," an October statement signed by the organization's national president, commissioner and chief scout executive said, with the bold emphasis in the original letter.
"The Freedom From Religion Foundation maintains instead that no young person who discriminates can grow into the best kind of citizen," counters FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
FFRF has come up with a creative way to address the Boy Scouts' prejudicial attitude toward nonbelievers. At the urging of its member Richard Kirschman, it has produced a badge similar to the scouts' merit badges, which are typically sewn on uniforms or sashes. The badge, featuring a red "A" based on a symbol of atheism and agnosticism popularized by distinguished scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins, is being issued in collaboration with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science.
Scouts who wish to earn this badge are asked to help disprove the group's misguided claim that nonbelievers cannot be good citizens. At Dawkins' suggestion, the scout or youth seeking a badge need only send FFRF a short essay addressing the Boy Scouts of America's claim that nonbelievers can't be good citizens. FFRF will not charge scouts money for the badge. The requirements, paralleling typical merit badge requirements, ask scouts to learn about secularism and the rich history of dissent from religion.
The badge is intended to reward scouts who are persevering 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.
"If any young person fulfills the requirements, we'd be delighted to reward them with this badge," adds Gaylor. "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 the Scouts will change policy and adopt an official merit badge rewarding critical thinking."
On the behalf of all freethinkers, the Freedom From Religion Foundation will rejoice when that day comes.