Boy Scouts America: Anti Gay, Anti Atheist (BSA Blog Carnival)

Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Featured, Thoughts | 16 comments

Organisations like the Scouts are invaluable for kids growing up. They teach kids to interact together, to become self-reliant, and to foster skills that may otherwise be lost in today’s technological society; Tying knots and pitching a tent are skills I take for granted as an adult, but without the grounding that the Scouts gave me in these skill-sets, my learning would have been as an adult, which is much more difficult than learning as a child. Scouts also offer a refuge for children in poorer communities, one where their self-worth and dignity is bolstered, where respect of others and the community is encouraged. But beneath all this “good” that the Scouting movement provides lies an organisation deeply entrenched in social and religious doctrine and prejudice.

The Boy Scouts Association of America not only promotes religion within their ranks, it explicitly states that without God in their lives, the children could never grow to become good people. This comes from the Boy Scout Handbook, in an archived version of the BSALegal.org website (bolding mine):

“The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.’ 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 and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them. The Boy Scouts of America, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and the organization or group with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.”

The article makes definitive declarations on the absolute certainty of the existence of a deity, and while it is explicitly non-denominational in this requirement, states that fealty to this deity is of paramount importance to the development of a child into a good member of society. Of course, we all know this is not true at all. But it is from these precepts that the Scouting organisations can deny children the ability to be a Scout, or of an adult to be a leader for these children.

This is a pretty sad state of affairs, to see that a child must be first indoctrinated into a religion before they can be allowed to be a member of The Scouts. Worse than this, it seems that BSA is also explicitly anti-gay in its stance toward inductees. From “BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA V. DALE (99-699) 530 U.S. 640 (2000)“:

“We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.”

This not only implies that homosexuality is dirty and repugnant, but that homosexuals are incapable of being role-models for children. It’s as if homosexuals are seen by these people as recruiters for their “cause”, rather than the everyday people that they are. Talk like this, and terms such as “the gay agenda” further reinforce homophobia in a structured and official way. It’s an antiquated and unfounded stance rooted in ignorance and intolerance, and should therefore be condemned by any thinking member of the public.

Some Scout troops have protested against this stance, such as Troop 729 in New York, because they disagree with the anti-gay policy, but this is in a minority of cases.

In Australia the Scouting movement makes no effort to discern the religion of sexuality of a potential applicants to the Scouts. They do however continue to include the words “God and The Queen” in their Scout promise. On the flip side, however, Girl Guides Australia (the sister organisation to Scouts Australia) announced earlier this year that they were moving both references from their version of the pledge. In an article by Lateline from earlier this year about this bold move:

In the new Guide law “loyal” has been replaced with “respect”. “Helpful” with “considerate”. “Obedience” has been abandoned and instead girls are encouraged to make choices for a better world.

This is the kind of acceptance we’d like to see in BSA, but given its nature as a strictly “old-school” organisation, I doubt we will see this within their ranks any time soon. Interestingly Scouts Australia have made no move to follow in the footsteps of their sister organisation, and again, this change appears to be far beyond the horizon for Scouts Australia.

The stringent policies of BSA toward homosexuality and atheism highlighted here are not the first (nor the last time I’m sure) that BSA’s policies have been anti-progressive in nature. It wasn’t until 1974 that BSA removed any ruling that African Americans be denied membership in the Scouts. Most look back on the USA’s years of blatant racism with disdain, wondering how anyone could have allowed apartheid-like behaviours in the 20th century. I’m hoping that, given enough pressure, BSA will step into line with the 21st century and abolish these types of discrimination. I am also hoping that one day discrimination based on gender, religion or sexuality are looked back upon with a similar sense of embarrassment.

On a side note, many of you will be rushing out to buy a tree to decorate for your religious or secular celebration of the winter or summer solstice. I too will be placing a pine tree in my lounge-room and decorating it with secular, non-religious and geek paraphernalia, something that I enjoy doing every year. In the USA many of these trees are sold by BSA as an annual money-spinner, but given the stances of BSA against homosexuals and non-religious people, maybe you should consider purchasing your tree from a secular charity, or from a private retailer. This doesn’t mean you have to be gay or an atheist. It simply sends a message to BSA that these kinds of behaviours and attitudes are no longer acceptable in a modern society, if they ever were acceptable at all.

This blog was written as part of the BSA Blog Carnival (organised by Reason Being and Andy Hall), an initiative designed to draw attention to the inequities and poor attitudes of BSA toward sexuality and religious tolerance. For more information on BSA’s discriminatory policies, and to see some of the legal groundwork being undertaken, have a look at Discrimination in the BSA.

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16 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting Martin.  I really appreciate it.  Great post as always!

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  2. Of course, there is always this unsaid real reason, the powers to be think that paedophilia and being gay are some how linked, they don’t say it out loud, but I suspect that’s the real reason. They perpetuate the myth that gay people are on a recruiting spree.

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  3. That was a great post, Martin. It’s important to point out that Scouts in other countries have different attitudes and policies.

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  4. You were doing well up until the last paragraph.   A little bit of research would have shown you that the BSA does not sell Christmas Trees, nor get any money from Christmas Tree sales.  Those are done only by local scouts and local units, usually so that some boys can go to camp with their friends who otherwise would not be able to financially.  Those boys and their parents and leaders don’t have a vote in the national organization’s policies, and not a cent from those tree sales goes to the BSA.  In short, it is an irrational, poorly researched boycott.  You can do better.

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    • @DrBobMI Bob, I you are splitting hairs.  The local troops fall under the umbrella of the BSA.  While the money from the Tree sale stays local, that is no excuse to support the organization as a whole.  You seem to be willing the excuse the anti-homosexual and anti-atheist policies of the larger organization for local groups.  That is not something that I can abide.  I personally knew someone who was removed as a Asst. Scout leader for being gay.  He was removed locally where I grew up in the Boston, MA area.  The National organization was not involved.  Where I live now, in Duluth, MN I know of a young man was about to earn his Eagle Scout badge and was removed, again entirely locally, when he had the courage to come out of the closet as a homosexual.  Your willingness to tolerate or turn a blind eye to the fact that these things happen locally is not something that I can do. 
      Further, I would argue that in now way should we be supporting the right or these kids to attend a camp that is not run on solely the local Troop level.  So before chastising Martin and the other bloggers who participated in this event, you should perhaps realize that many of us were well aware that the Tree Sale solely affects local Troops, further, that we feel that localized discrimination is not any better than national discrimination.

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      • reasonbeingblog .  I’m not quite sure what “fall under the umbrella” means in this context, and I think you’ve muddled things up a bit.
        The BSA is a corporation.  That corporation licenses program materials to local community groups to run scouting or other programs as part of their youth ministry.   That means there’s great diversity in scouting programs.  Everyone in Scouting will tell you that Catholic scouting programs are different from VFW scouting programs, and that Mormon programs are different from everyone!  There are certainly troops and packs throughout the country that are actively opposing the BSA’s policies, and indeed there are whole BSA councils which are doing so, including a large one in your state.  Boycotting them hurts your cause.
        So a more rational approach would be not to boycott Christmas tree sales, nor to boycott funding of scout camps (which are run by local councils, not the BSA national organization).  It would be to do your homework as with any charitable contribution.At least in the BSA, that young boy is going to be exposed to good science with a strong environmentalist streak.

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        • @DrBobMI reasonbeingblog Supporting a franchise is supporting the brand. It’s really that simple.

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        • LaughPurgatory reasonbeingblog 
           LaughPurgatory  It’s really that simple only if you’re being really simplistic.
           It’s
          a bit like saying that everyone who buys a banana must be in favor of
          oppressing plantation workers in Latin America, and therefore I will
          never associate with nor assist anyone who buys bananas.  
          I understand the temptation to that sort of black and white self-righteous moralizing.  After all, we’ve been hearing that sort of “whoever is not with us is against us!” stuff from the religious right for decades.  
          Surely the rest of us are capable of making finer, more
          rational distinctions than that.

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        • LaughPurgatory
          No it’s nothing like that at all. It is much more like ignoring the wrongdoings of a banana manufacturer and buying their products in spite your knowledge of their behaviours and denial of human rights to their workers.. It is quite simple to buy from people whose behaviours you agree with, and boycott those with whom you disagree. BSA is a brand whose behaviours I disagree with, and the franchisees seem able to make their own decisions about how to enact these behaviours.
          Don’t make excuses for BSA’s wrongdoings simply because the money goes to the troop themselves. The troops themselves need to stand up for what is right, and if they don’t then they are either ignoring or backing the prejudice of the the BSA themselves.
          @LaughPurgatory reasonbeingblog

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        • martinspribble LaughPurgatory You do understand that neither the boys nor the adult volunteers have any vote or say in national BSA policy, right?  Despite that, many of them are indeed agitating for change.
          You’re right, my analogy was off a bit.  It’s closer to refusing to buy a tree from someone who has an iPhone, and you feel Apple oppresses workers at FoxxCon.   If you buy a tree, some small fraction of that may possibly go to iTunes songs and Apple’s evil empire.  Of course he might agree with you, and be contributing ten times that amount in support of unionization efforts, and be spending most of the money on fixing up the park your daughter plays in so that it’s safe.  That wouldn’t matter.  He’s using an iPhone that his family bought for him, and that means no cooperation with him is allowed.  He must be shunned.
          I would humbly suggest that perhaps, just maybe, shunning groups of millions of people isn’t entirely rational.  Perhaps, just maybe, mutual respect and engagement may be a more productive, more progressive course.
          Just a thought.

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        • @DrBobMI martinspribble LaughPurgatory  To boil it down: It’s morally OK to be complicit in an organization that is anti-gay and anti-atheist. I imagine he would be OK if the Scouts didn’t allow Catholics in, too.

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        • LaughPurgatory martinspribble Certainly, if the scouts were a Baptist youth organization and didn’t allow Catholics in, of course it would be OK.  That’s not being anti-Catholic, it’s just being Baptist.  We all know what they can be like ;-)
          I’m not convinced that we have to emulate the
          Religious Right, and conclude that any respect for or engagement with others with different views is being “morally complicit” in unconscionable ways.  I don’t really think that the only possible answer is to shun other people because of their group membership.
          I also think it’s just bad tactics. If you read the extensive literature in psychology, or if you just think about it a minute, I think you’ll recognize that the best way to overcome prejudice or bigotry is not to draw lines in the sand over trivial things like Christmas trees.  It’s to build community.  The natural inclination of human nature is to support our supporters.  It’s awfully hard for a scout and his leaders to think ill of the gay couple who comes over to buy a Christmas tree as anything other than nice people who merit mutual respect.
          Lots of times in a community we just support others in order to be good neighbors.  I give money to private schools, I also vote for public school millages every time.  I’m a Catholic, but also a scientist and science educator.  I support my church, but I also support skeptical causes which are critical of my church.  When the Lutheran School kids come around trying to support their after-school program, I donate to them, too.  They’re just kids, and after school programs are a fine thing.  I shovel the snow for the old, somewhat racist couple across the street and invite the Mormon missionaries in for a cup of coffee (OK, well, one can have a sense of humor about these things).  Shoveling snow is just shoveling snow, not an immoral act of support for racism, and being hospitable is just being hospitable, not endorsement of the Latter Day Saints.
          Buying a Christmas tree, similarly, is just buying a Christmas tree.

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        • @DrBobMI is suggesting “the best way to overcome prejudice or bigotry is not to draw lines in the sand over trivial things like Christmas trees”.
          Yeah but @LaughPurgatory @martinspribble are drawing their (right/wrong) line in the sand over “anti-homosexual doctrine”.
          Any more nuanced view of that doctrine’s “them” (who’s adopted that doctrine) doesn’t help with the tree-purchasing dilemma: it’s now uncomfortable doing business with a scout.

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  5. Excellent post, Marti.It’s quite encouraging that GGA are taking the progressive approach to their officially stated values. The liberal democratic approach.So eerie that the BSA deliberately maintains their value of loyal obedience to their officially stated leader and ruler, God.Do they ever officially unpack this further; “the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight”?’Morally straight’ seems to be code for unclean conduct, which I’m wagering they feel is profoundly gender specific. But perhaps not. 
    Imho, when conservative moralisers avoid officially spelling out what they feel is straight/clean, they’re permitting families to byo any definitions of sodomy. Including those quick thinkers with a frustrating lack nuance, that conflate acts of personal harm (crimes) with those sex acts that social progressives are increasingly comfortable with (sins).

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  6. There is also, according to tradition, an alternative oath written by Baden-Powell himself called the “Outlander’s Promise” for “Scouts who could not, for reasons of conscience, recognize a duty to a King (the norm in the USA), for individuals or members of religions (such as Buddhism, Taoism, and others) that do not worship a deity, and for members of orthodox religions that do not use the name of God in secular settings.”
    The Outlander’s Promise is as follows…
    On my honor I promise to do my best:To render service to my country;To help other people at all times;To obey the Scout Law.
    This is the promise that many of our members in the Baden-Powell Service Association US have chosen to use, and it works great for us. For more info, please visit http://bpsa-us.org

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  7. It’s a damned shame too. There doesn’t appear to be any constructive value to this baggage; it’s not central to the activities of the BSA. Keeping these policies turns a potentially positive organization into a voice for bigotry.

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