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Religious Tolerance logo


About the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)

Part 1 of 2:

1910 to 2013: A review of the BSA's exclusionary
membership policies based on gender, sexual
orientation and belief in one or more deities
at various times during their history.

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A brief history of discrimination in the BSA:

The Boy Scouts of America was founded by William Boyce on 1910-FEB-08. The original intent was that it be "open to all boys." Their federal Charter states in Section 2 that:

"Both membership in Scouting and advancement and achievement of leadership in Scouting units are open to all boys without regard to race or ethnic background ..." 1

Unfortunately, the BSA has had a long history of discrimination and exclusion against gays, blacks, females, and non-theists. It has successfully struggled to gradually overcome most of these biases.

The organization has had to proceed slowly. Over 70% of its troops are sponsored by religious organizations. Many of the latter have -- or have had in the past -- active homophobic, racist, and sexist teachings and policies. Whenever the BSA attempted to eliminate one of its discriminatory bars to membership, it had to contend with negative reaction from some of its troop sponsors. This can occur in the form of a significant exit of congregational-based groups from the organization. Yet if the BSA were to retain their discriminatory policies intact, they would certainly experience increasing rejection by an its funding agencies, affiliated faith groups. and potential members. They may even be faced with anti-discrimination lawsuits.

During 2013-FEB, Willie Iles Jr, the national director of government and community relations for the BSA, spoke at a local BSA banquet in Fort Worth, TX. It was both a fund-raising event and a celebration to honor four longtime Scout leaders.

Bob Sanders, writing for the Star-Telegram newspaper in Fort Worth, TX said that Iles:

"... noted that the 100-year-old organization ... has a history of exclusion. During the years of segregation in the South, the national organization left it up to local councils whether to allow blacks in integrated troops or in separate ones. The BSA finally broke down those barriers.

Forty years ago, the board approved women as den leaders, committee members, and national officers. After Cub Scouting was added at the urging of women, females were allowed in 1932 to hold the position of Den Mother.

Of the 1.4 million non-profit, non-religious groups today that directly affect young people, the Boys Scouts is the only one with a written policy to exclude, Iles said." 2

As of early 2013, discrimination against the LGBT community and non-theists remained in force.

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2013-APR-19: A first step was made to reduce discrimination against the LGBT community in the BSA:

After extensive surveying of all their stakeholders, the BSA executive committee decided to propose a new national policy of:

  • Allowing gay and lesbian youths to join and stay in the BSA until their 18th birthday, and then be expelled because of their sexual orientation. (Their previous policy had been to automatically deny membership to gays and expel all gays of any age who were detected in the group.)

  • Continuing to exclude gay and lesbian adult leaders and expel any found within the BSA.

  • Continuing to exclude youth members and adult leaders who cannot acknowledge a belief in God. The BSA does not inquire whether members believe in:

Their "Statement of Religious Principles" states that:

"All that is required is the acknowledgment of belief in God as stated in the Declaration of Religious Principle and the Scout Oath, and the ability to be reverent as stated in the Scout Law. 3,4

The BSA appears to exhibit a great deal of flexibility on the matter of belief in a deity. Buddhists are allowed to join, even though the BSA officially defines Buddhism to be an Agnostic religion and in spite of the fact that many Buddhists are Atheists.

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A little over one month later, this proposal to admit gay children and youths as members was voted upon and approved by 61% of the approximately 1,400 delegates at their National Annual Meeting. More details

They ended up with a policy with which no group is happy. However, it is probably the best compromise that could be hoped for at the time. As noted above, about 70% of BSA troops are sponsored by individual church congregations:

  • Many religious and social conservatives:
    • Strongly believe that homosexual adults be continue to be excluded from the organization, both as employees and troop leaders.

    • Believe that homosexuality is defined as a behavior, is chosen, changeable, unnatural, abnormal, an "abomination" to God. They believe that adult gays sexually exploit young boys at a high rate. Many would prefer that homosexual youth be excluded from the BSA.

  • Many religious and social liberals and secularists:
    • Prefer that homosexual youths and adults be eligible to join the BSA as members or leaders.

    • Believe that homosexuality is defined in terms of sexual attraction, is something one is born with, is fixed, is normal and natural for a minority of people, and is accepted by God. They accept the findings of scientific studies which indicate that sexual exploitation by gay adults does exist, but its rate is no higher than among heterosexual adults.

The group Atheist Scouting has a Facebook page for:

"... all the Atheist, Agnostic, and Free Thinkers in the BSA who believe that the BSA should remove the religious requirement [for membership].

The majority of Boy Scouts love the experiences and enjoyment that came from Scouting, and many want to share that and be part of it. Yet, a fair portion of Scouts have to lie about beliefs, and hide in the closet in order to enjoy said experiences. There are thousands of Atheist, Agnostic, and Free Thinking Boy Scouts in America who can be (and are) good without God. The BSA gives the impression that only good Americans believe in a god.

As a group, we urge the BSA to remove the religious and sexuality restrictions from the Scouting membership, and accept everyone of faith, no faith, and any sexuality to be a Scout." 5

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Section 1 - Charter," 64th Congress, 1915, at: http://www.scouting.org/
  2. Bob Sanders, "Boy Scouts executive gives Fort Worth dinner audience something to chew on," Star-Telegran, 2013-FEB-19, at: http://www.star-telegram.com/
  3. "5.0.5.0 Religious Principles, Guide to Advancement 2015 - Special Considerations," Boy Scouts of America 2015, at: http://www.scouting.org/
  4. Article X, Charter and bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America," Boy Scouts of America, at: http://www.scouting.org/
  5. "Atheist Scouting," Facebook page, at: https://www.facebook.com/

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Home > Religious conflict > U.S. & Worldwide > Boy Scouts/Discrimination > here

or Home > Hot topics > Homosexuality & bisexuality > Homophobia > Boy Scouts/Discrimination > here

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Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2015-AUG-28
Latest update : 2015-AUG-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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