Boy Scouts America: Anti Gay, Anti Atheist (BSA Blog Carnival)
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 This comes from the Boy Scout Handbook, in an archived version of the BSALegal.org website (bolding mine):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 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)“:
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:
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.