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About the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)

Discrimination Against
Atheists and other Non-theists.

Part 6

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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boy scouts

  • During 2013-JAN, when the BSA was considering various options to reduce discrimination against gays in the organization, David Silverman, president of American Atheists, said:

    "If they are considering lifting the ban on gays, that's a good thing, that's progress. If they lift that bigotry from their requirements, I would hope they remove the rest of the bigotry and admit atheists as well."

    Refusing to admit atheists who decline the oath, Silverman said:

    "... tells boys that atheists are immoral. If local groups want to behave in an ethical way, I'm confident they will make Boy Scouts about Scouting, not about bigotry." 1

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  • Also during 2013-JAN, the Freedom From Religion Foundation issued an Action Alert, titled: "Protest BSA's slap in the face to nontheists:" The Alert said:

    "BSA spokesperson Deron Smith said a change in policy toward atheists is not being considered because "Duty to God" is one of its basic principles.

    With one in five Americans — and as many as one in three young people — identifying as nonreligious, clearly millions of nontheistic families and their sons are being treated as undesirable members by BSA. It should not be socially acceptable to exclude either gays or atheists. Talk about proof of who's on the bottom of the social totem poll in our culture!

    BSA has always falsely advertised that "any boy may join" and has relied upon and received major governmental favors. In the 1970s, discrimination against atheists became entrenched as BSA adopted a religious litmus test, forcing parents of boys interested in joining to sign a 'Declaration of Religious Principles' returned with membership fees. The declaration states: ' The Boy Scouts of America maintain that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God.'

    No one can grow into the best kind of citizen being told it is good form to discriminate against nonreligious children. BSA needs to be reminded it is not what you believe that makes you a good person, but what you do. Wrapping oneself in a mantle of piety is often counterproductive of moral action, as witnessed by the way in which "God belief" was used by BSA to justify excluding gays and atheists.

    Challenge the knee jerk assumption that professing an orthodox belief in an unprovable deity has anything at all to do with ethical conduct. Clearly, the outcome of such piety for BSA is immoral — it places dogma over people, in this case real children, teenagers and volunteer leaders who are being shunned for holding the intellectually respectable position that we need proof before swallowing dogmatic claims.

    Religion builds walls between children, and religious litmus tests have no place in a fraternal organization with a congressional charter." 2

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Promoting the continuation of discrimination against Atheists and other non-theists:

Chris Hill is chairperson of the Lone Star District of the Circle Ten Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Peter Sprigg is a senior fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council -- an organization listed as an active anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, because of its:

"... propagation of known falsehoods [and the use of]... demonizing propaganda" [against the LGBT community]. 3

The two wrote an article in USA Today for 2013-MAY-25. They suggested that the decision by the BSA to allow gay youth into Scouting represents the top of a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to the BSA allowing gay and lesbian adult leaders as well. They also suggested that the slippery slope will continue with pressure to allow Atheists to join.

Actually, the situation extends beyond Atheists to include Agnostics, Humanists, many Buddhists, and other non-theists.

Hill and Sprigg continued:

"The vast majority of Americans believe in God and don't consider it "bigotry" to do so -- nor to choose certain private associations with people who share that belief. And if there is no higher being to provide a standard against, which one's beliefs and conduct are measured, how can the atheists know with any certainty what is "moral" at all?" 4

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Webmaster's note: (Bias alert):

Hill and Sprigg's comment about atheists not knowing what is moral is no different from Christians not knowing. Sincere, intelligent, thoughtful, prayerful theologians in the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ teach three very different sets of beliefs about the morality of the two minority sexual orientations: bisexuality and homosexuality. Yet each theologian is totally confident that they know the truth and that they have accurately derived it from Biblical passages.

I have been unable to find any group that suggests that to believe in God is a form of bigotry. Also, the same people who feel that non-theists should be able to join the BSA do not feel it is bigotry to want to be associated with people who hold similar religious beliefs. Such association happens every week on Saturday and Sunday as Christians attend their own congregations. The real questions are:

  • Is it bigotry to teach 2.7 million Scouts that Atheists and other non-theists can never exhibit moral behavior? That is a really hard sell, particularly with data that shows that Christians are over-represented and Atheists are under-represented in the federal prison population.

  • Is it appropriate for an organization like the BSA who operates under a charter given to them by the Federal Government, and who bill themselves as serving all boys in America, and who receive many free or low-cost perks and services from municipal and state governments, to discriminate on the basis of religion?

Hill and Sprigg do not address these questions. However, USA Today did add the following note to their report:

"In addition to its own editorials, USA TODAY publishes diverse opinions from outside writers, including our Board of Contributors."

I hope that they decide to publish an report that addresses the above two questions and provides an alternate view.

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This topic is continued 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. Brian Shane & Mike Chalmers, "Boy Scouts Rule On Atheists Unchanged As BSA Reconsiders Ban On Gays," Huffington Post, 2013-JAN-29, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  2. "Action Alert: Protest BSA's slap in the face to nontheists. BSA to keep discriminating against atheists," Freedom From Religious Foundation, 2013-JAN-23, at: http://ffrf.org/
  3. "18 Anti-Gay Groups and Their Propaganda," Southern Poverty Law Center, Intelligence Report, Issue #40, Winter 2010. Online at: http://www.splcenter.org/
  4. Chris Hill & Peter Sprigg, "Slippery slope to accepting atheist Boy Scouts: Column," USATODAY, 2013-MAY-25, at: http://www.usatoday.com/

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Copyright © 1999 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 
Originally published on 1999-AUG-9 
Rewritten: 2017-MAR-07
Latest update: 2017-MAR-18

Author: B.A. Robinson

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