BSA stands still on ban on atheists

Statement by the Freedom From Religion Foundation

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In a laudable development, the national Boy Scouts of America organization is expected today to end its blanket ban on gay leadership, after moving in 2013 to permit participation by gay youths.

Notably, BSA cut a deal with the churches and conservative religious groups that run many packs and troops by exempting them from the deal. What a commentary on religion’s foot-dragging bigotry! Today, “accommodating” religion increasingly is code for letting religionists discriminate.

It turns out that about 70 percent of BSA units are sponsored by churches — mainly conservative Christian: Roman Catholic, Mormon and United Methodists.

And thus explains the glaring omission by BSA to stop discriminating against nontheist boys and their families. But this doesn’t excuse the deafening silence by the media, which since the 2013 reform have largely failed to point out BSA’s continuing discrimination against boys from nonbelieving homes. And so has BSA’s new president, Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense, and a variety of corporations that to their credit have applied pressure on BSA to lift its gay ban.

Nontheists, in other words, are still at the bottom of the totem poll in terms of social acceptance; so low, indeed, that discrimination against our ranks apparently doesn’t even rate mention anymore.

There’s a serious misunderstanding by the public about BSA. Yes, the courts have ruled it’s a private group and can choose its own members (which didn’t and shouldn’t stop pressure groups from protesting its homophobia). But BSA is not just a private group. It has a congressional charter as a civic group. If it continues to bar atheist and agnostic lads and leaders, if it continues to act as an exclusionary religious group, it should be recategorized not as civic but as religious.

Congress does not have the power to charter religious clubs. The president of the United States should no longer serve as its honorary president, and public schools must be diligent in stopping recruitment and special privileges for BSA.

Such a restructure should not be necessary. BSA should just lift its ban against nonreligious boys and leaders in the same way it has lifted the gay ban. Many of the 30 percent of packs and troops that are not church-sponsored (and a few that are) quietly welcome boys regardless of religious belief or nonbelief. Nontheist members haven’t even asked that BSA change its religious oath, just that BSA protect scouts’ freedom of conscience like the Girl Scouts of America’s policy adopted decades ago accommodating nonreligious girls. (BSA has expelled some scouts simply because a leader noticed they were only mouthing the words “To do my duty to God.”)

BSA, which has relied upon and received major governmental favors, engages in false advertising, saying that “any boy may join.” But in the 1970s, discrimination against atheists became entrenched with adoption of 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.”

Public schools and governments, corporations with a conscience and the media must exert pressure to end this last bastion of bigotry. After all, no one can be the best kind of citizen when they’re told it’s their duty to discriminate on the basis of religion.

Make a fuss! Protest BSA’s bigotry against nonbelievers

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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