Boy Scouts Of America Practices Discrimination

Although it advertises itself as a fun youth club open to any boy, Boy Scouts of America has a recent history of blatant discrimination against nonreligious boys. The BSA national office mandates a religious litmus test, forcing the parents of boys interested in joining to sign a “Declaration of Religious Principles” which must be returned with membership fees. The membership form states, “The Boy Scouts of America maintain that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God.”

Ironically, British Army officer Lord Baden-Powell founded Boy Scouts as an alternative to the only youth programs then available–programs which were run by churches and which forced boys to accept a certain creed. He wanted Scouting to be open to all boys.

At the same time it demands public privileges, support, and favors, BSA argues that it is a private group with the right to discriminate. On June 28, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision–in a case brought by a gay youth Scout leader whose membership was revoked–concurring with BSA that it is a private group with the right to exclusionary practices.

If Boy Scouts of America insists on standing for bigotry, then it should stand alone–without the support of our public institutions.

BSA Wants Public Sponsorship Without Public Accountability

The U.S. Congress chartered Boy Scouts of America in 1916, with the declared purpose of promoting “the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues.”

There is no mention of a religious purpose, obviously, since our secular U.S. Congress could not have chartered a religious organization. Imagine if Red Cross, which also has a Congressional charter, demanded to know whether victims of natural disaster believed in God before being willing to help them!

BSA would not be the large, successful group it is today without public sponsorship. It demands the privileges and funding of a public-sponsored organization, but refuses to honor its public duty to be nondiscriminatory in its policies and functions. Among the privileges BSA receives:

  • The nominal “Commander in Chief” of BSA is the President of the United States.
  • It receives direct federal funding through the Combined Federal Campaign. (Federal employees can get paid leave to fund-raise for CFC groups.)
  • Its primary recruiters traditionally have been public school teachers.
  • It traditionally receives free rental from public schools. Half of all Scout units have been directly sponsored by public schools and school boards.
  • BSA uses local, state and federal buildings, parks and property free of charge or with major fee breaks, such as the rental for the token fee of $1.00 of Ft. Camp Hill, Virginia, for the Boy Scout annual Jamboree.
  • Boy Scouts has been recognized and advertised on U.S. postage stamps.
  • Another major sponsor is the PTA, a group set up to enhance the experiences of all students in the public schools.
  • Additionally, a significant percentage of BSA’s overall funding is from United Way, whose own “Eligibility Criteria for Organizational Membership” (adopted by National Congress, November 30, 1972) reads: “Faithfully adheres to a policy of nondiscrimination with respect to age, sex, race, religion, and national origin in connection with the makeup of its governing body, committees, and staff and the persons whom it directly and indirectly serves.” United Way of America advertises that “every group receiving funds … maintains a policy of nondiscrimination.”

Since BSA has redefined itself as a private club with a religious test for membership, its Congressional charter, government/public school subsidy, and United Way funding must be dropped. But why would it wish to discriminate?

BSA Deserves “A Merit Badge for Hypocrisy”

So editorialized the Washington Post concerning BSA’s claim that it is a private club with the right to discriminate against certain boys, while at the same time relying on public handouts as an ostensibly open organization. The New York Times editorialized on Dec. 12, 1993, in “The Exclusionary Boy Scouts”: “Scouting, which inspires a love of nature and respect for character, needs a membership policy as big as all outdoors.” If BSA were discriminating against Jewish or African-American boys, there would be a public outcry.

Recent History Of Blatant Discrimination

In 1970, BSA issued a new policy: “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 . . .” In 1973, a 10 year old was expelled for crossing out “God” from the Cub Scout promise. In 1977, BSA added a definition of God as “Supreme Being” in its literature. In 1985, Paul Trout, 15, of West Virginia, was denied promotion to “Life Scout” because he was not religious. Only after a national uproar did an embarrassed BSA give him his promotion.

Welsh Case, Illinois–Six Year Old Ostracized

Six year old Mark Welsh of suburban Chicago was handed a flyer in school by his teacher: “Join Tiger Cubs, BSA, & Have Lots of Fun!” The flyer said “any boy . . . can join.” His father Elliot Welsh, who had been a Cub Scout, Boy Scout and Explorer Scout like his father before him, accompanied Mark to the meeting in the public school gym. He was told Tiger Cubs requires an adult to join with the child, and to join he had to sign a “Declaration of Religious Principles.” When he explained he could not sign it, a BSA official told him nonreligious families could not participate at any level. They left, Mark near tears. The family filed suit in March 1990 in federal court against BSA for violating Title II of Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting places of public accommodation from discriminating.

A local Tigers Cub volunteer who told officials she too was nonreligious, was forced to resign after more than three years of service. A Scout volunteer for 35 years was removed as a volunteer after testifying for the Welshes in court. BSA officials testified that permitting nonreligious boys to join would undermine Scouting!

The Welsh case was lost when the federal court and the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago held, on the narrow grounds of the lawsuit, that Boy Scouts is not a “place of public accommodation,” therefore the Civil Rights Act did not apply. In December, 1993, the United States Supreme Court refused the Welsh appeal, thereby letting the circuit court decision stand.

“If BSA intends to issue invitations to children in public schools, they ought to ‘Be Prepared’ to abide by the admissions standards of public schools and stop discriminating on the basis of religious belief,” notes Mr. Welsh. A “private religious club” should not expect the public to support it. The Welsh’s local school board, as a result of the discrimination, stopped recruiting for BSA and requires them to pay rent.

The New York Times editorialized (12/12/93): “. . . Any organization could profit from a 10-year-old member with enough strength of character to refuse to swear falsely.”

Randall Twins Expelled, Win Readmission

William and Michael Randall were expelled from the Orange County Cub Scout pack in 1991 because their family is not religious, despite three years of Scouting experience, with no warning of a mandatory religious test. They won reinstatement under the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, which precludes “public accommodations” from discriminating, in a May 1992 decision by Superior Court Judge Richard Frazee. Frazee found that BSA is a “business under state law.” The California appeals court also rebuked Boy Scouts by upholding the lower court ruling on February 28, 1994. Justice Thomas F. Crosby, Jr., wrote in his decision that “such discrimination would appear to contradict a variety of the principles of the congressionally chartered Boy Scouts of America.” The BSA subsequently appealed and won the right to expel the twins. They and their parents James and Valerie Randall were subjected to substantial stress and some abuse by adult supporters of BSA. An agnostic den leader from Studio City, CA, who sent a supportive letter to the Randalls was expelled.

These are just a few examples of ostracism and discrimination practiced on the basis of religion by local and national BSA officials.

Girl Scouts Take The Lead

Boy Scouts need to learn a lesson from Girl Scouts, which in a landslide 1,560-375 vote on October 23, 1993, adopted a measure to permit any of its 2.6 million members to substitute another word or phrase for “God” in the official pledge. Girl Scout President B. LaRae Orullian made an official statement that the change is “a very strong statement that Girl Scouts continue to be on the cutting edge, and this is a continuing effort to show that we have strength in diversity and that we are an inclusive organization.” Too bad Boy Scouts can’t say the same!

What You Can Do

Urge your local school district to charge BSA rent for any Scout functions held at public schools, and protest any use of the public schools for recruitment (such as sending home BSA flyers, or permitting Scout recruits to visit classrooms or set up special exhibits). Following a complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Madison [Wisconsin] Metropolitan School District voted in May, 1994, to charge Boy Scouts rent.

Write the National School Boards Association asking it to take a stand against public school sponsorship of Boy Scout troops:

National School Boards Association
Dr. Anne L. Bryant
1680 Duke St.
Alexandria VA 22314

Urge your local United Way to stop subsidizing BSA until such time as it stops discriminating against nonreligious families. United Way of Chicago had placed BSA on probation and frozen funding. San Francisco’s United Way voted in April 1992 to stop funding BSA outright because of their discrimination against gays, at a loss to the local BSA of $849,000 annually. A Rhode Island affiliate announced after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against admission of gay Scouts that it was planning to end subsidy of BSA.

Write United Way of America to ask that it follow the lead of more progressive affiliates and discontinue its support of BSA because BSA’s discrimination violates United Way eligibility criteria. Write:

United Way of America
Ms. Betty Stanley Beene, President
701 N Fairfax St
Alexandria VA 22314

If your public school’s parent/teacher organization is sponsoring or aiding BSA, complain! You can also contact the National Congress of Parents & Teachers:

National Congress of Parents & Teachers
Lois Jean White, director
330 N Wabash Ave, Suite 2100
Chicago IL 60611

Ask the President, nominal “commander in chief” of BSA, to stop lending support to a group which openly discriminates against its gay membership and nonreligious families. As an individual, you can support efforts underway to revoke BSA’s Congressional Charter. Write:

1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
White House
Washington DC 20500

Boy Scouts of America openly rejects membership applications by nonreligious parents and boys. BSA has never apologized for the pain it has caused youngsters who have been told “any boy can join,” then robbed of the right to have fun with their friends. It has changed its rules midstream, advertising itself as a civic, patriotic club emphasizing fun and skills, then insidiously demanding a religious test. Hard-working, longtime adult volunteers have been summarily expelled for expressing concern over BSA’s unkind discrimination.

The time has come for individuals, government, public schools and United Way to stop supporting the bigoted Boy Scouts of America.

© Copyright 1994, amended 2000, by Annie Laurie Gaylor

Freedom From Religion Foundation