Boy Scouts of America (BSA)
The BSA and the Unitarian Universalists.
The BSA and the federal government.
The BSA and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA):
The relationship between the UUA and the BSA has been strained.
That is to be expected because there is a strong thread of religious
conservatism running through the BSA, whereas the UUA is generally regarded as more progressive than even the
most liberal Christian denominations in the U.S. -- the United Church of Christ, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
- In 1992, the UUA Board of Trustees passed a resolution opposing the
BSA's anti-Agnostic, anti-Atheist, and anti-gay policies.
- In 1993, the UUA revised its Religion in Life award manual to
include information on their position on these matters.
Some Scouts wear the Religion in Life religious emblem on their
uniform. They obtained permission to show this emblem by completing a course given
by their faith group. The BSA has recognized courses in religion given by the
Baha'i Faith, by Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist,
Zoroastrian religious groups, and by dozens of denominations within
In 1998-MAY, the BSA triggered a sudden crisis by sending a letter to the Unitarian Universalist
Association (UUA) announcing that the UUA could no longer award its
religious emblems to its Boy Scouts. In addition, no Unitarian Universalist Boy
Scout was allowed to wear his previously earned emblem. Their Religious Relations
Committee objected to two references in the 1993 edition of the UUA Religion in Life manual:
- One mentioned that individual UU youth might have difficulty with the Boy
Scout oath which pledges duty to God. Many UUs are Agnostics (undecided whether God exists) or Atheists (do not
believe that God exists, or have no belief about God). Pledging duty to God implies an acceptance that God
exists. The UUA does not require its members to hold specific beliefs about
the nature or existence of any deity or deities. A 1997
survey of almost 10,000 adult UUs showed that about half identified themselves as either
Humanists or Buddhists, and had no belief in God. The beliefs among
UU Boy Scouts is probably similar.
- The other reference was a reprint of a 1992 UUA General Assembly resolution
which disapproved of the BSA policy which bars persons with a homosexual
orientation from membership. (The UUA had withdrawn from the BSA movement in
1992; however, many individual UUA congregations still sponsored troops and
many UU youth were members of troops sponsored by other organizations). The
manual referred to an "ongoing concern regarding the homophobic and
discriminatory attitudes of the national leadership of the Boy Scouts of
The UUA initially refused to modify its manual, because such an action would
violate its "First Principle" which declares that all people have equal
worth and dignity. The Rev. John A. Buehrens, then president of the UUA at the time commented:
think I would encourage people to understand that teaching kids to treat others
with fairness, teaching kids not to discriminate just on the basis of someone
belonging to a particular group, requires the stand we have taken vis-à-vis the
Boy Scouts." 1
Many Unitarian Universalist Scouts continued to wear their "Religion in
Life" and "Love and Help" emblems in defiance of the BSA prohibition.
Following a compromise reached at a meeting on 1998-SEP-29 between the BSA
and UUA, the UUA made a complete revision to its course material. This was
submitted to the BSA in advance of its Religious Relationships Committee meeting of 1999-FEB-11. The clauses that the BSA found offensive had been
removed. After some additional changes requested by the BSA, the Religious
Relationships Committee endorsed the new course on 1999-APR-23.
However, the compromise fell apart a few weeks later, over supplementary
material which the UUA provided with its Religion in Life packet:
- a letter from the President Buehrens which mentions that the UUA will
continue to award the Religion in Life emblem even if the BSA
- a pamphlet also written by Buehrens entitled "When Others (Or You) Say
'God'." This addresses the topic of religious pluralism. 2
- a pamphlet written by Keith Kron entitled "In Support of All People."
This outlines UUA support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT).
The BSA cried foul, claiming that the supplementary material had not been
mentioned in the earlier negotiations. 3 However the UUA president contended that he had previously told two BSA senior
officials about the material.
The basic conflict between the two organizations continues to this day. The BSA teaches that
both homosexual behavior and sexual orientation is incompatible with the "morally straight" clause of
the Scout Oath, and that an oath to God must be taken by every member. Most UUA members believe that:
- All three sexual orientations -- heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality are morally neutral;
- Any sexual behavior is sinful if it is coercive, unsafe, manipulative, or nonconsensual.
- Homophobia, not a homosexual orientation, is sinful;
The UUA later entered into negations with the BSA to be represented on
the BSA Religious Relationships Committee. They commented that:
- a large number of young Unitarian Universalists have been involved in
- the BSA "will need counsel from groups like the UUA -- not just from
religious conservatives --- [to help it adapt to] the religious
pluralism of the 21st century." BSA will also need to change in order to
avoid future court challenges to its religious discrimination policies.
- "Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should not be
allowed to continue as a national policy of the BSA. It will ruin the
organization, costing them the support of millions of people, of foundations,
and of the United Way in many areas." 2
In 2004-FEB, the Unitarian Universalist Scouters Organization -- a semi-autonomous group -- entered into an agreement with the BSA. It says in part that the UUSO:
"... will work with each other within the rules and regulations of the Boy Scouts of America to establish and nurture Scout units as an expression of the mission of the Unitarian Universalist Scouts Organization, Inc. and to administer a religious emblems program for Unitarian youth and adults so that they may grow in character, citizenship, responsibility, and with the personal fitness necessary to achieve their greatest potential." 4,5
The BSA and the U.S. federal government:
But it gets worse: "This Act directs the Secretary of Education, through the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), to ensure compliance with this new law." 8 So, the OCR which was created to protect the human rights of students is given the responsibility to help the BSA discriminate against those same individuals. What a strange inversion of values!
Related essays on this site:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Gustav Niebuhr, "Unitarians are disputing Boy Scouts on emblems,"
New York Times, 1998-AUG-1. See http://www.uua.org/
- The term "pluralism" is ambiguous.
It is sometimes used to refer to religious diversity. Other times, it refers
to the belief that all religions are true.
- Chuck Colbert, "Unitarians and the Boy Scouts' "sin" of
homophobia," In Newsweekly, 1999-MAY-26. Online at: http://www.uua.org/
- "Are the UUSO religious emblems endorsed by the Boy Scouts of America?," Unitarian Universalist Scouters Organization, at: http://www.uuscouters.org/
- "Memorandum of Mutual Support," U U Scouters, 2004-FEB, at: http://www.uuscouters.org/
- Martha Kleder, "Lawmakers rise to support Scouts," at: http://www.family.org/
- "Exclusionary practices & policies of the Boy Scouts of America," BSA-Discrimination, at: http://www.bsa-discrimination.org/
- "34 CFR Parts 75, 76, and 108," Department of Education, at: http://www2.ed.gov/
Copyright © 1999 to 2012, by Ontario Consultants on
Originally published on 1999-AUG-9
Latest updated: 2012-JUL-20
Author: B.A. Robinson