Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Boy Scouts Are Not Prepared

A little while ago the it was brought to my attention that I should be outraged by the Boy Scouts. I smiled and nodded  as is my way, and went about my business vaguely wondering why I should care about the club that doesn’t sell cookies. The scouts haven’t been on my radar since I was a cub myself. I don’t exactly have fond memories, most of my fellow cubs were dicks, but it was my first experience with camping, so...I don't know. I just don't really care about the Boy Scouts.

While sitting on the crapper at work I weighted the pros and cons of completeing succumbing to bordem when I ultimately decided to learn a little more about the Boy Scouts of America. First, I checked their Wikipedia page, which, as Wikipedia often does, lead me down a rabbit hole of links. I can now say that I have earned my Boy Scout knowledge merit bag and have come to a conclusion. Fuck those guys.

Not everyone in uniform with their hand raised is a Nazi,
but it sure doesn't make them morally superior either.
Here's the deal: the BSA has, and intends to continue, not allowing nonbelievers and homosexuals into their ranks. This shouldn’t be a controvery, everyone should be upset about this, but we live in a fairytale-fearing world, so it is. The argument for their right to discriminate rests on the freedom of a private organization to do as they choose. Following this argument, privately held employers could just as easily refuse to hire blacks and pay women less--which may be the American dream for some local Libertarians pundits, but it's an unpopular idea for the majority of the country, and rightfully so.

Outside of my fellow scouts being dicks, what I remember about my childhood experience is the motto “always be prepared.” This is exactly what the BSA is not doing. Atheists and agnostics are repeatedly shown to be the fastest growing wordview in the United States. Gays are continuously moving towards acceptance in civil liberties such as the right to marry and have so much good PR that it seems out of style for me to still be into boobs. Are the Scouts really going to join the church in being the last to accept any and all social progress? Appears so.

Confession time. If the Boy Scouts didn’t allow homosexuals into their program for the same reason they don’t allow girls, I wouldn’t be speaking out against them. I wouldn’t be thrilled, but I wouldn’t speak out. This may be unpopular to say, but there is some value in like-minded communities, and straight people and gay people are not like minded in a similar way that boys and girls are not like minded. However, the explicitly cited reason for the exclusion of gay boys is comprimised morality. This is entirely unacceptable--only warranted by a cherry-picked reading of a predominantly fictional ancient text.

Considering this, it’s surprising that the Scouts are not an out-and-out Christian organization. They apparently accept Buddhists, Hindus and even Muslims. The only belief they don’t accept is “none.” I find this odd. Since all these faiths can’t possibily be true, the BSA is effectively saying that they’d rather you believe in a magical history counter to much of what we know about reality and is necessarily false, then choosing to be skeptical of it. Fucking agnostics, the irreligious' most eager to please, aren’t allowed. I just don’t get it.

Disagree? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. Agree? Then I recommend that you don't support the Boy Scouts of America. They have a big fundraiser this time a year selling Christmas trees. Please take your business elsewhere. As atheists, it is important that we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus without encouraging religious bigotry.


  1. Sabrina van ZwietenDecember 1, 2012 at 5:12 AM

    Well, that's entirely new for me, I had no idea. Still, under the constitution, couldn't the boy scouts and corporations be sued for discriminating against a group of people? I wonder why and how these practices are still allowed in the USA.

  2. Check out Penn&Teller, they did an interesting show on the BSA. Can be found on youtube, I think.

  3. I think that BSA can do a lot of good, but isn't right for everyone. I try to find the good, while pushing for more inclusion, less bigotry, and fewer restrictions on boys, and more stringent rules for leaders. (It is not against gays that I want to rules to be tighter for, but child molesters and predators.)

    My suggestions, shared in a recent email to a BSA representative, who asked for my thoughts were:

    Require leaders and boys agree to be good representatives of BSA, and to honor the spiritual life of all boys and leaders. (This is an oath that doesn't require a definitive belief in God, but allows respect for any beliefs, for and by all scouts and leaders.) Leave out the official "faith" requirement, and instead focus on respect for a plurality of beliefs.

    Make sexual abstinence, without discussion of sexual identity, the focus of "morally straight." Leaders, straight or gay, should be held to the standard of not discussing their sexual lives with scouts or at scout activities. (As gay marriage or domestic unions become common, having a standard that scout leaders be in legally committed relationships, or not living with a sexual partner. I think this would cause more issues than needed, but if there is a need for a standard then that seems one that would allow gay leaders without the usual prejudices.)

    Allow a "Duty to Humanity" award, following the lines of Duty to God, that would allow for agnostic, atheist and potentially Wiccan or other marginalized groups to have a similar award. As part of that, I would suggest an altered Scout Oath and Law, to be in line with the Duty to Humanity values, which would be also the focus for extending "morally straight," in the absence of a belief in God.

    There was more in the email, but these are the things I regularly propose and promote. As a believing LDS member, I think it is vital that BSA and the LDS check their discrimination at the door, without needing to check their morality. It is what I try to do in my daily life. :-)

  4. The BSA was sued, and as a private organization they were protected under the First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association. The same rights which allow atheist groups to deny membership to Christian Fundamentalists who just want to convert them rather than engage in dialog. We can respect and support that right without necessarily agreeing with their position.

    I agree with the poster that in some ways the BSA's position is hard to understand. I'd compare it to Alcoholic Anonymous's position on a "higher power". The BSA maintains that when you take the Scout Oath to do your duty to God and Country, how you define "god" (or gods) is up to your religion, but you have to accept something outside of yourself and your tribe which can obligate you to strive to be a better person. That's pretty innocuous, and it does form a "like-minded community". When trying to teach some boys about environmentalism, it's helpful to be able to say this goes beyond national law, and is a part of duty to a higher power. A member who says "there is no higher power" undermines that message.

    For the record, the Boy Scouts of America doesn't sell Christmas trees. If you see a tree sale, that's the local scouts doing it. Those local scouts are just trying to raise money so the less advantaged can go to camp. They don't have a say in the national group's policies, and none of that tree money goes to the national group.