About the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)
Part 1: The BSA's history, status, religious
foundation, membership requirements, and
policies of exclusion of gays, Atheists, etc.
About the Boy Scouts of America:
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is an organization, composed almost
entirely of volunteers, that provides "quality youth programs, including Tiger Cubs, Cub
Scouting, Boy Scouting, and Venturing" to about 2.7 million boys (and
some older young adult men and women volunteer leaders) between the ages of 7 and 20. 1(Venturing is a co-ed program
introduced in 1998 for older youths and young adults).
In England, Lord Robert S.S. Baden-Powell, referred to as "the Hero of Mafeking" because of his activity in South Africa during the Second Boer War,
had started a program of training for boys with his book "Scouting for
Boys" in 1908. The book became an instant best seller. "He
was later proclaimed Chief Scout of the World." 2 A number of his biographers have concluded from the available
evidence that he was gay. Tim Jeal wrote: "The available evidence
points inexorably to the conclusion that Baden-Powell was a repressed
homosexual." 3There is no evidence
that he acted on his sexual orientation with either adults or minors.
American businessman, William D. Boyce, visiting London in 1910 was impressed
by the good turn of a British Boy Scout and
took action to bring a similar program to the U.S. IN 1911, he arranged to merge
a number of boy's groups into a national organization. On 1910-FEB-8, a
new corporation "Boy Scouts of America" was established. Ironically, one of
is gay and thus is ineligible to be a member.
The BSA's home page states:
"The purpose of the Boy Scouts of America, incorporated on February 8,
1910, and chartered by Congress in 1916, is to provide an educational program
for boys and young adults to build character, to train in the responsibilities
of participating citizenship, and to develop personal fitness." 1
"Organizations such as public schools, government organizations,
churches, synagogues, mosques, civic groups or groups of citizens obtain a
charter from the Boy Scouts to sponsor an individual Scouting unit." 4 Churches sponsor about 60% to 70% of troops nationally and involve about 55%
of all boys in Scouting. 5
The main denominations involved in sponsoring troops are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. the LDS Church and the Mormons), the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Methodist Church. The first three are among the most anti-gay faith groups in the U.S.
The BSA had a policy of expelling any person known to have a homosexual or bisexual
orientation, whether a scout or a staff member. 4 They maintained a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy similar to that recently abandoned in the military. If youth Scouts were not open about their sexual orientation, they were allowed to join and stay in Scouting.
These policies are not shared by
either the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. or the scouting movement in
Canada. In 1997-MAR, Scouting in Great Britain rescinded its policy of
discrimination against gay youths and adults.
During 2013-MAY, the BSA modified its anti-gay policy to allow openly gay youths to join and stay in Scouting until their 18th birthday. On that date, they are to be expelled.
The religious foundation of the BSA:
The BSA is viewed by many as an inclusive organization open to all boys of good character whose ages fall within certain limits. This belief
appears in the BSA's own recruitment literature. In reality, the BSA regards itself as a
religious/spiritual organization with specific membership exclusions based on the youth's:
- Belief in the existence of a God and
- His sexual orientation.
Some indications of the religious/spiritual foundation of the BSA are:
The Venturing program (young men and women 14 to 20 years) involves "Instilling
stable personal values firmly based on religious concepts."
Boy Scout (males 11 to 17) are expected to follow the Scout Law which says, in part: "A Scout
is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others."
One of the purposes of Cub Scouting (7 to 10 years) is to: Positively influence character development and encourage spiritual
The BSA bylaws contain the statement "The Boy Scouts of America maintain that
no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God....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."
One of the requirements of the BSA personal fitness merit badge is answer
and discuss with their counselor the question: "Are you actively
involved in the religious organization of your choice and do you participate
in their youth activities?"
Many scouts earn the Universal Religious Square Knot which they sew onto their shirt above the left pocket.
The BSA does not have a merit badge on religious or spiritual knowledge.
However, about 5% of Boy Scouts have completed a religious program with their
own faith group
and may be allowed to wear the corresponding religious emblem on their
Scout uniform. This privilege is granted by the BSA to dozens of religions and
denomination, if the course meets
their standards. The emblems are supplied by the denomination, or by P.R.A.Y,
an independent agency, 6 after the youth completes their
faith group's course.
For example, the Unitarian
Universalist Association has a Love and Help course and emblem
for Tiger Cubs and Cub Scouts. They have a Religion in Life course
and emblem for Boy Scouts and Explorers. Permission to wear their emblems
was rescinded, then restored, then re-rescinded by the BSA because the course does not meet their
standards requiring the denigration of persons with a minority sexual orientation, and requiring the Scout to believe in specific teachings about God.
The Roman Catholic church
has courses and emblems called Light of Christ for cubs, Ad Altare
Dei for Boy Scouts, and Pope Pius XII for explorers.
The BSA requires its members to accept and
recite various oaths:
The organization has excluded potential youth members and has expelled current
members who are:
The Boy Scout Oath:
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
Cub Scout Promise:
I, (name), promise to do my best
To do my duty to God and my country,
To help other people, and
To obey the Law of the Pack.
Tiger Cub Promise: (First grade boys)
I promise to love God,
my family, and my country,
and to learn about the world.
The Declaration of Religious Principle (All youth members and adult leaders)
"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."
Members of religious organizations (or individuals with personal religious beliefs)
that do not have a belief in a god. This includes Agnostics, Atheists, some Unitarian Universalists,
some Buddhists, and others.
Youths with minority sexual orientations, including both homosexuals
and bisexuals. Indications of homosexual behavior are not needed;
merely a homosexual or bisexual orientation is sufficient grounds to
terminate a membership. They are not expelled because of something that they
do; they are expelled because of what they are. The beliefs of the BSA go
beyond even those of most conservative and some mainline Christians. The BSA
believe that both homosexual orientation and same-gender sexual behavior are grounds for expulsion.
A complete description of BSA religious requirements is contained in the "Duty to God" section of the BSA legal issues web site. 7
The Girl Guides have an oath that is similar to the Boy Scouts:
"On my honor, I will try, to serve God & my country,
to help people at all times,
and to live by the Girl Scout Law."
However, since 1999, they allow individual girls to opt out of the use of the word
"God." They can substitute Jehovah, the Goddess, the Great Spirit, etc. This allows girls who follow Atheism, Agnosticism, Buddhism,
Humanism, Unitarian Universalism, and other faith groups to join.
- "Boy Scout," is the BSA official home
page at: http://www.bsa.scouting.org/
- Gip Plaster, "The ultimate irony: Evidence suggests founder and
'Chief Scout of the World' may have been gay," Texas Triangle,
1998-FEB-26. Online at: http://sir.home.texas.net/
- Tim Jeal, "Boy-Man: The Life of Lord Baden-Powell"
- "Findings of Fact..., R.D. Pool & M.S. Geller vs. Boy Scouts of America..." Commission on Human Rights, Government of the
District of Columbia, 1998-MAY-1, at http://www.uua.org/
- ReligionToday.com current news summary for 1999-AUG-12.
- Programs of Religious Activities with Youth (P.R.A.Y.) has a web
site at: http://www.praypub.org/
- "Duty to God," Boy Scouts of America, 2006, at: http://www.bsalegal.org/duty-to-god-cases-224.asp
Copyright © 1999 to 2013, by Ontario Consultants on
Originally published on 1999-AUG-9
Latest updated: 2013-APR-21
Author: B.A. Robinson