The Freedom From Religion Foundation is unveiling a freethought badge to reward young nonbelievers and challenge the Boy Scouts of America's discrimination against the nonreligious. 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.
The Boy Scouts of America formally discriminates against nonreligious boys and their families, officially excluding atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers. Currently, the organization maintains "that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God."
"The Freedom From Religion Foundation maintains instead that no one who discriminates against the nonreligious can grow into the best kind of citizen," says FFRF co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor, who is co-president of FFRF with her husband Dan Barker.
"It's what you do — not what you believe — that makes you a good person," adds Barker, a former evangelical minister who is also co-founder of The Clergy Project, a support group for ministers who lose their faith.
FFRF, at the urging of its member Richard Kirschman, has produced a badge similar to the Boy Scouts' merit badges, which are typically sewn on uniforms or sashes.
Scouts who wish to earn this badge are asked to help disprove the group'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.
"By excluding boys from nonreligious families, the Boy Scouts of America is practicing the same kind of baseless prejudice it exhibited for so long against gay Scouts," comments Robyn E. Blumner, president and CEO of both the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science and the Center for Inquiry. "There is no doubt that a young man can be honorable, diligent, wholesome and represent the best that America has to offer while not subscribing to a religious faith. For the association to suggest otherwise is to perpetuate ugly stereotypes and open millions of boys up to exclusion and bullying."
Boy Scouts of America has recently ended its ban against gays, but the groups note that it should also be socially unacceptable to exclude nonreligious boys and their families from an organization that claims, "Any boy may join" and receives substantial public school and governmental support.
Because this unauthorized "badge" is intended to protest the organization's policy, it's expected that Scouts won't be able to work with a typical merit badge counselor to demonstrate the completion of requirements. So FFRF will ask a parent, guardian, sibling over the age of 18, teacher or another adult to attest that Scouts have qualified. At Richard Dawkins' suggestion, the Scout is also required to 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 badge is intended 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 Boy Scouts officials dictate the discriminatory policy, scouting troops vary widely in their enforcement of the ban, so it's believed many Scouts are nonreligious.
"If any young person fulfills the requirements, we'd be delighted to reward them with this badge," adds Gaylor. "Many nonreligious students who might otherwise wish to join the Boy Scouts Association, knowing of its bigoted policy, don't try. 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 Boy Scouts of America itself will change policy and adopt its own official merit badge rewarding critical thinking."