Cub Scouts: Wonderful or Whack?

GeekMom

boy-scout-image-31So my kid joined the Cub Scouts. He loves it. His pack is filled with friends from school, and the pack leader, dad to one of the kids, is warm, personable, and willing to play British Bulldog with a gang of screaming ten-year-olds. It’s good.

But, oy vey. The Cub Scouts? Really? What about that whole homophobia and intolerance thing over at Boy Scouts of America (BSA)? I’m just sayin’.

Luckily the local pack subscribes to none of that, and since my son has a scorching good time there with his friends, we acquiesced. My beef is with the national office.

So my son needs to memorize the Boy Scout Law, which is:

“A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

Let’s call that TLHFCKOCTBCR for short.

This morning we chanted it in the car on the way to school to help him memorize. Boy did it get under my skin, and not just because we repeated it 3,578 times. (First of all, having kids line up and chant qualities in unison baffles me. Is that really how children become TLHFCKOCTBCR? But I digress.) It seems like BSA wants to give the kids some qualities to aspire to, some touchstones that will help them grow into men. (And by “men” they appear to mean people who can do quaint masculine things, like starting a fire and whittling wood. But again I digress.)

TLHFCKOCTBCR got under my skin because of the qualities it lists. “Kind” is good, and I suppose kindness is important to stress to young boys who are going about in quasi-military uniforms chanting things at each other. I can more or less get behind “trustworthy” and “helpful” too.

But the other TLHFCKOCTBCR qualities are whack:

Just Not a Good Idea: Brave

I suppose “brave” could be okay, but among excitable boys it is also very close to something like, “Let’s skateboard off a skyscraper.” I’m out.

Oh, the Irony: Thrifty

Nobody escapes the Boy Scout supply store without an arm-and-leg’s worth of “required” items. Any genuinely thrifty scout would immediately quit to protest the price-gouging.

Get Out of My Personality, Dude: Friendly and Cheerful

These two kill me. What if the kid is introverted? Or serious-minded? I guess we’d have to vote those losers off the island. Also, have we learned nothing about mental health? Nothing makes a depressive kid more depressed than shoveling a steaming pile of “friendly and cheerful” on his head.

The Bronx Cheer Goes to: Loyal, Courteous, Obedient

These qualities scream, “I AGREE TO BE UNDER STRICT SOCIAL CONTROL.” Who the hell wants to be “obedient” as a general principle, without an understanding of who you’re obedient to and why? Nazi Youth were obedient, for pete’s sake. “Loyal” and “courteous” are just different sides of that same coin. It pains me to hear these three coming out of my kid’s mouth, especially for the sake of an organization with more than a few whiffs of pedophilia in its history.

Worst of the Worst: Clean and Reverent

These two are heartbreaking. They were the basis of the Supreme Court case a few years back that allowed the Boy Scouts to openly discriminate. Technically, gay kids can’t be scout leaders because they aren’t “clean,” and nonreligious kids can’t because they aren’t “reverent.” (Again, I stress that our local pack includes a kid with two moms and two dads, as well as my son from our openly atheist family. Nobody gives a rat’s ass, amen.)

So, enough with tearing down TLHFCKOCTBCR. I want to prepare for the day when BSA calls and begs me to rewrite the Boy Scout Law for them. Here’s my official redraft:

“A scout is kind, inquisitive, creative, open-minded, resilient, resourceful, confident, collaborative, globally aware, honest, helpful, and just.”

I guess that would be KICORRCCGHHJ. These are the qualities I think a boy should aspire to as he grows into a man. Or a girl into a woman for that matter. Or a transgendered child into a… oh, you get the point.

Anybody want to offer another draft? Or defend TLHFCKOCTBCR?

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117 thoughts on “Cub Scouts: Wonderful or Whack?

  1. Well I came on here to reply thinking I’d be the lone defender of scouting in a sea of antagonism. Boy was I wrong.

    First let me say that I’ve grown up to be a very liberal and very politically active individual who strives to follow the values you named in your alternative pledge. I was also an eagle scout and see both the scouting program and the values of the current scout law as a very important and positive influence in my young life.

    To be honest I do think you are interpreting the values of the law in ways that the program does not, and in ways that reinforce your existing biases. Values are rules of thumb, and any when taken to extremes sounds ridiculous.

    Take for example kindness, which you named as one you supported. Should one always be indiscriminately kind?! What if you come home and find an intruder assaulting your family? Should you gentle encourage them to stop and offer them tea?! What a horrible value!! In reality of course, kindness is, in general, an extremely important value. As are loyalty, courteousness, and obedience. Nobody in or out of scouting would argue they should be applied indiscriminately, and in fact I have no doubt that as your son participates more deeply in scouting he will have many discussions with his fellow scouts and leaders about the limitations of each value of the scout law and the ethical grey areas surrounding them. Even getting kids to be thinking about ethics in these complex ways at such a young age is a valuable experience for children.

    As for cleanliness and reverence, your worst are, in my mind, the best. I never understood them to have reference to religion or sexuality, nor did any other scout I knew. In fact I think you are simply misunderstanding the accepted definitions of these words. Reverence is an areligious principle which merely means respect for that which inherently deserves respect. Most often in scouting this was applied to nature. Reverence meant having a sober and respectful attitude towards the beauty of the natural world and an appreciation for the responsibility we have to protect it. Cleanliness similarly also meant keeping the natural world clean. We were often told to leave the natural world better than we found it. “Take only pictures, leave only footprints” etc. When it referred to morality it meant simply to work to be free from animosity or hatred towards others. And I was in a christian troop where more religious interpretations of both words would not have seemed out of place.

    And the least important of your criticisms: Thrifty. Obviously a good value. If you are having trouble affording camping gear, I’m sure you can find good used deals either on craigslist, or from the families of older scouts. Obviously do not go to REI if you are trying to save money.

    And there are so many other wonderful values taught throughout the scouting experience, the vast majority of which any liberal should be proud for their children to learn. The two most prominent themes in the program generally are DEFINITELY respect for the environment, and social responsibility. These two ideas permeate every aspect of scouting and become second nature to a long-time scout.

    Anyway, I highly recommend the program and I urge you to reconsider your perception of the organization. I was as disappointed as anyone when the national organization took the stances they did, especially because I felt it was inconsistent with the values the organization espouses generally. But as you pointed out, local troops are free to run things how they wish and most of them will likely teach your child all the values you wish were in the scout law and more.

  2. Well I came on here to reply thinking I’d be the lone defender of scouting in a sea of antagonism. Boy was I wrong.

    First let me say that I’ve grown up to be a very liberal and very politically active individual who strives to follow the values you named in your alternative pledge. I was also an eagle scout and see both the scouting program and the values of the current scout law as a very important and positive influence in my young life.

    To be honest I do think you are interpreting the values of the law in ways that the program does not, and in ways that reinforce your existing biases. Values are rules of thumb, and any when taken to extremes sounds ridiculous.

    Take for example kindness, which you named as one you supported. Should one always be indiscriminately kind?! What if you come home and find an intruder assaulting your family? Should you gentle encourage them to stop and offer them tea?! What a horrible value!! In reality of course, kindness is, in general, an extremely important value. As are loyalty, courteousness, and obedience. Nobody in or out of scouting would argue they should be applied indiscriminately, and in fact I have no doubt that as your son participates more deeply in scouting he will have many discussions with his fellow scouts and leaders about the limitations of each value of the scout law and the ethical grey areas surrounding them. Even getting kids to be thinking about ethics in these complex ways at such a young age is a valuable experience for children.

    As for cleanliness and reverence, your worst are, in my mind, the best. I never understood them to have reference to religion or sexuality, nor did any other scout I knew. In fact I think you are simply misunderstanding the accepted definitions of these words. Reverence is an areligious principle which merely means respect for that which inherently deserves respect. Most often in scouting this was applied to nature. Reverence meant having a sober and respectful attitude towards the beauty of the natural world and an appreciation for the responsibility we have to protect it. Cleanliness similarly also meant keeping the natural world clean. We were often told to leave the natural world better than we found it. “Take only pictures, leave only footprints” etc. When it referred to morality it meant simply to work to be free from animosity or hatred towards others. And I was in a christian troop where more religious interpretations of both words would not have seemed out of place.

    And the least important of your criticisms: Thrifty. Obviously a good value. If you are having trouble affording camping gear, I’m sure you can find good used deals either on craigslist, or from the families of older scouts. Obviously do not go to REI if you are trying to save money.

    And there are so many other wonderful values taught throughout the scouting experience, the vast majority of which any liberal should be proud for their children to learn. The two most prominent themes in the program generally are DEFINITELY respect for the environment, and social responsibility. These two ideas permeate every aspect of scouting and become second nature to a long-time scout.

    Anyway, I highly recommend the program and I urge you to reconsider your perception of the organization. I was as disappointed as anyone when the national organization took the stances they did, especially because I felt it was inconsistent with the values the organization espouses generally. But as you pointed out, local troops are free to run things how they wish and most of them will likely teach your child all the values you wish were in the scout law and more.

  3. Kudos, BTW, on helping your Cub Scout learn the 12 points of the Scout Law. Some kids take years to get them down pat. Cubs almost never remember them for more than a week or so.

    Repitition is probably helping, although if 3,578 times through didn’t get it nailed, you might need another layer of learning πŸ™‚

    I always teach them in groups, to help remember the order:

    Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful – these are the characteristics of a good team player. If this is all you ever manage, then you will still be sought after as a team member who can contribute and support the group.

    Friendly, Courteous, Kind – these are the characteristics of a good friend. Someone who cares and watches out for you.

    Obedient, Cheerful – these go together because it is not enough to be obedient, if you mope about it πŸ™‚ (It won’t be clear immediately, but “obeying” the youth leadership in a “cheerful” way is a big part of camping in a Patrol environment.) Also, the words “cheerful service” go together.

    Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent – I’ve not really connected these very well, sorry. Clean and reverent are probably related, if for no other reason than they are last on the boys’ list, too πŸ™‚ But they roll off the tongue nicely, so most boys don’t stumble on these too much.

    Submitted, in case it is helpful.

  4. Kudos, BTW, on helping your Cub Scout learn the 12 points of the Scout Law. Some kids take years to get them down pat. Cubs almost never remember them for more than a week or so.

    Repitition is probably helping, although if 3,578 times through didn’t get it nailed, you might need another layer of learning πŸ™‚

    I always teach them in groups, to help remember the order:

    Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful – these are the characteristics of a good team player. If this is all you ever manage, then you will still be sought after as a team member who can contribute and support the group.

    Friendly, Courteous, Kind – these are the characteristics of a good friend. Someone who cares and watches out for you.

    Obedient, Cheerful – these go together because it is not enough to be obedient, if you mope about it πŸ™‚ (It won’t be clear immediately, but “obeying” the youth leadership in a “cheerful” way is a big part of camping in a Patrol environment.) Also, the words “cheerful service” go together.

    Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent – I’ve not really connected these very well, sorry. Clean and reverent are probably related, if for no other reason than they are last on the boys’ list, too πŸ™‚ But they roll off the tongue nicely, so most boys don’t stumble on these too much.

    Submitted, in case it is helpful.

  5. I really can’t add anything to the discussion. I guess I’ll just repeat the points above I found the most useful and ‘true’ to myself and my experience in scouting Webelos to Eagle (91-01).

    FIND A DEN/TROOP THAT YOU LIKE/AGREE WITH – as someone stated above each Troop is its own franchise, sounds like you won’t be joining the mormon troop anytime soon (who are the ones pushing the anti-homosexual agenda in BSA). Even troops based out of churches are not always Jesusey, don’t write them off, it depends on the leadership. Except for doing a color guard ceremoney once a year, the church that sponsored our troop didn’t really interact that much and I know for a fact (best friend’s dad) that our scoutmaster was athiest/agnostic the entire time he was our leader.

    VOLUNTEER – Will give you a 100x better idea of how the scout law is being applied in real life and in this troop in particular vs. what you think it means (I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that his cub scout book doesnt fully explain the law like a Webelo or BS book does) It also gives you the chance to ‘influence’ the troop to continue to be broadly open minded regarding religion (e.g. believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster is acceptable for reverance).

    I also really don’t like BSA politics at a national level, but it can be worked around if you choose to. Some parents will say “I disagree” make a stand and never let their son look at a boy scout troop again. That’s their choice, but right now I don’t believe there is an organization that comes anywhere close to doing what Boy Scouts does so I will continue to support them.

    1. I don’t have much of a problem with them except for the national level’s interpretation of “clean and reverent.” That alone, the fact that the organization went to the Supreme Court in order to be able to keep kids like mine out, is reason enough for me not to support them.

      FWIW, I wasn’t the one to make that decision. When my boys were of the age where they first started recruiting for Cub Scouts at the school, that stuff was on the BSA web page. I pulled the web page up for the boys, showed them the policy, and they’ve not wanted anything to do with the BSA since. The national level is serious about enforcing this interpretation. Personally, I could be happy with the interpretation “take showers regularly and show respect for the wider world, acknowledging that you’re not the center of the universe.” It’s not that it’s necessarily Jesus-y, it’s that they’ve outright said they don’t want us and that the national policy says we’re officially not able to be moral.

      In the meantime, we’re going to strengthen other groups that actually welcome us.

      1. Allison> the organization went to the Supreme Court in order to be able to keep kids like mine out

        Allison, there is no litmus test for youth membership in BSA, whether Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or Venturing. No religious test. No sexual orientation test. Only age and maybe gender. BSA is not trying to keep your kids out. Your kids are welcome as youth members. You are welcome as parents. Neither of you will be subject to criticism or riducule for your beliefs or non-beliefs or sexual orientation.

        The BSA went to the Supreme Court in order to verify that they are able to specify guidelines for their registered Adult Leaders. (BTW, some additional guidelines for Adult Leaders include agreememt to submit to criminal background checks). Agree or disagree with those guidelines all you like, but the guidelines are in place for Adult Leaders. Not youth. Not parents.

        By all means, object to their policies and stay away if you like. but please don’t mis-represent their policies as hostile to youth. This is simply not true.

        1. Derek, the BSA can and has excluded atheist children, as much as you’d like to think otherwise. While the Supreme Court case applied specifically to scoutmasters, you’re still looking at an organization that says outright in its bylaws “….no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God” If you want me to bring up actual cases I will, but there’s every indication that the folks at national are not going to back down. How is this policy not hostile to atheist kids? How is the official position that gays cannot be moral or clean not hostile to gay kids?

          Why should I enroll my children in a group that tells them they cannot be moral, “best kind of” citizens when there are alternative, groups with as long a pedigree that are quite happy to have them without saying such things?

          1. Allison, I would appreciate reading cases that upheld the exclusion of youth from the program, based on BSA policy. I have not seen one. Please post them if you have them.

            As I indicated above, Charter Partners are able to use their units as an extension of their own youth program if they choose. (Most in fact do not do this.) In particular, Catholic chartered units tend to do a bit more specific exploration of religious concepts as part of their mission, although they tend not to be very aggressively Catholic about it. (Much like Catholic Schools include some specific religious training, even though being Catholic is not a requirement for attendance.) Even more pointedly, the Morman churches use it as their primary youth program, so in these units the Mormon faith is very much up front. It is even possible for a chartering church to require members of its unit to be members of the church! But these requirements, if they exist, come from individual units via their chartering organizations.

            The BSA Youth application asks no questions about religion or sexuality (most BSA youth join as Cub Scouts in 1st or 2nd grade, for heaven’s sake!). The program itself has some subtle (in most units, not-so-subtle in some units) spiritual component, expressed as “reverence” and “duty to God” (as you define it for yourself). The BSA acknowledges and encourages religious study awards from almost any “religion” you can name, from Jewish to Christian to Muslim to Hindu to Buddhist to Wiccan.

            So if your youth are so offended by the mention of God that they can’t handle this component, they might feel officially “excluded.” But in fact they are not excluded. Your youth are free to join a unit and hold their atheist beliefs. They may find that there are some aspects of the program that don’t jive with their atheist positions. But they won’t be ejected by the BSA from their unit for holding those positions.

            Youth are ejected from their units sometimes. This can be done by the unit’s committee, when the youth is unable to be a constructive member, usually due to violent behavior, or maybe criminal behavior. It is conceivable that a youth could be ejected in this manner for trying to be an activist about his beliefs. I’ve not heard of such a case, but maybe this is what you refer to. Again, this would represent a conflict with the unit and its leaders, not with the BSA.

            I don’t want to convince you to support the BSA, whose program components and policies for Adult Leadership you disagree with. But I do want to make it clear that its policies do not exclude youth from the program, nor do they abuse/harrass youth members for their beliefs, whatever they are. Reverence is *defined by BSA* as being respectful of others’ beliefs.

  6. I really can’t add anything to the discussion. I guess I’ll just repeat the points above I found the most useful and ‘true’ to myself and my experience in scouting Webelos to Eagle (91-01).

    FIND A DEN/TROOP THAT YOU LIKE/AGREE WITH – as someone stated above each Troop is its own franchise, sounds like you won’t be joining the mormon troop anytime soon (who are the ones pushing the anti-homosexual agenda in BSA). Even troops based out of churches are not always Jesusey, don’t write them off, it depends on the leadership. Except for doing a color guard ceremoney once a year, the church that sponsored our troop didn’t really interact that much and I know for a fact (best friend’s dad) that our scoutmaster was athiest/agnostic the entire time he was our leader.

    VOLUNTEER – Will give you a 100x better idea of how the scout law is being applied in real life and in this troop in particular vs. what you think it means (I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that his cub scout book doesnt fully explain the law like a Webelo or BS book does) It also gives you the chance to ‘influence’ the troop to continue to be broadly open minded regarding religion (e.g. believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster is acceptable for reverance).

    I also really don’t like BSA politics at a national level, but it can be worked around if you choose to. Some parents will say “I disagree” make a stand and never let their son look at a boy scout troop again. That’s their choice, but right now I don’t believe there is an organization that comes anywhere close to doing what Boy Scouts does so I will continue to support them.

    1. I don’t have much of a problem with them except for the national level’s interpretation of “clean and reverent.” That alone, the fact that the organization went to the Supreme Court in order to be able to keep kids like mine out, is reason enough for me not to support them.

      FWIW, I wasn’t the one to make that decision. When my boys were of the age where they first started recruiting for Cub Scouts at the school, that stuff was on the BSA web page. I pulled the web page up for the boys, showed them the policy, and they’ve not wanted anything to do with the BSA since. The national level is serious about enforcing this interpretation. Personally, I could be happy with the interpretation “take showers regularly and show respect for the wider world, acknowledging that you’re not the center of the universe.” It’s not that it’s necessarily Jesus-y, it’s that they’ve outright said they don’t want us and that the national policy says we’re officially not able to be moral.

      In the meantime, we’re going to strengthen other groups that actually welcome us.

      1. Allison> the organization went to the Supreme Court in order to be able to keep kids like mine out

        Allison, there is no litmus test for youth membership in BSA, whether Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or Venturing. No religious test. No sexual orientation test. Only age and maybe gender. BSA is not trying to keep your kids out. Your kids are welcome as youth members. You are welcome as parents. Neither of you will be subject to criticism or riducule for your beliefs or non-beliefs or sexual orientation.

        The BSA went to the Supreme Court in order to verify that they are able to specify guidelines for their registered Adult Leaders. (BTW, some additional guidelines for Adult Leaders include agreememt to submit to criminal background checks). Agree or disagree with those guidelines all you like, but the guidelines are in place for Adult Leaders. Not youth. Not parents.

        By all means, object to their policies and stay away if you like. but please don’t mis-represent their policies as hostile to youth. This is simply not true.

        1. Derek, the BSA can and has excluded atheist children, as much as you’d like to think otherwise. While the Supreme Court case applied specifically to scoutmasters, you’re still looking at an organization that says outright in its bylaws “….no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God” If you want me to bring up actual cases I will, but there’s every indication that the folks at national are not going to back down. How is this policy not hostile to atheist kids? How is the official position that gays cannot be moral or clean not hostile to gay kids?

          Why should I enroll my children in a group that tells them they cannot be moral, “best kind of” citizens when there are alternative, groups with as long a pedigree that are quite happy to have them without saying such things?

          1. Allison, I would appreciate reading cases that upheld the exclusion of youth from the program, based on BSA policy. I have not seen one. Please post them if you have them.

            As I indicated above, Charter Partners are able to use their units as an extension of their own youth program if they choose. (Most in fact do not do this.) In particular, Catholic chartered units tend to do a bit more specific exploration of religious concepts as part of their mission, although they tend not to be very aggressively Catholic about it. (Much like Catholic Schools include some specific religious training, even though being Catholic is not a requirement for attendance.) Even more pointedly, the Morman churches use it as their primary youth program, so in these units the Mormon faith is very much up front. It is even possible for a chartering church to require members of its unit to be members of the church! But these requirements, if they exist, come from individual units via their chartering organizations.

            The BSA Youth application asks no questions about religion or sexuality (most BSA youth join as Cub Scouts in 1st or 2nd grade, for heaven’s sake!). The program itself has some subtle (in most units, not-so-subtle in some units) spiritual component, expressed as “reverence” and “duty to God” (as you define it for yourself). The BSA acknowledges and encourages religious study awards from almost any “religion” you can name, from Jewish to Christian to Muslim to Hindu to Buddhist to Wiccan.

            So if your youth are so offended by the mention of God that they can’t handle this component, they might feel officially “excluded.” But in fact they are not excluded. Your youth are free to join a unit and hold their atheist beliefs. They may find that there are some aspects of the program that don’t jive with their atheist positions. But they won’t be ejected by the BSA from their unit for holding those positions.

            Youth are ejected from their units sometimes. This can be done by the unit’s committee, when the youth is unable to be a constructive member, usually due to violent behavior, or maybe criminal behavior. It is conceivable that a youth could be ejected in this manner for trying to be an activist about his beliefs. I’ve not heard of such a case, but maybe this is what you refer to. Again, this would represent a conflict with the unit and its leaders, not with the BSA.

            I don’t want to convince you to support the BSA, whose program components and policies for Adult Leadership you disagree with. But I do want to make it clear that its policies do not exclude youth from the program, nor do they abuse/harrass youth members for their beliefs, whatever they are. Reverence is *defined by BSA* as being respectful of others’ beliefs.

  7. Interesting discussion on the Scout Law, but I am curious about one point made in the article:

    “…And by β€œmen” they appear to mean people who can do quaint masculine things, like starting a fire and whittling wood. But again I digress…”

    As a Boy Scout I also learned cooking (and washing dishes), theater, community service, and a host of other things along with the outdoor skills you reference.

    My wife has been a Girl Scout leader for our 4 daughters. One of the things the girls like most is learning to (safely) light a camp fire or use a pocket knife. I guess no-one expects girls to know those things since they are “quaint masculine things”, but kids love being trusted enough to be taught skills like that. They are also learning cooking, community service, and so on.

    Are these skills out-dated? Is the Scout Law and Oath/Promise (both Boy and Girl Scouts) out dated? I don’t think so. They are teaching aids, so go beyond the rote memorization, or the excitement of watching a campfire start, and use it as a framework for growth.

  8. Interesting discussion on the Scout Law, but I am curious about one point made in the article:

    “…And by β€œmen” they appear to mean people who can do quaint masculine things, like starting a fire and whittling wood. But again I digress…”

    As a Boy Scout I also learned cooking (and washing dishes), theater, community service, and a host of other things along with the outdoor skills you reference.

    My wife has been a Girl Scout leader for our 4 daughters. One of the things the girls like most is learning to (safely) light a camp fire or use a pocket knife. I guess no-one expects girls to know those things since they are “quaint masculine things”, but kids love being trusted enough to be taught skills like that. They are also learning cooking, community service, and so on.

    Are these skills out-dated? Is the Scout Law and Oath/Promise (both Boy and Girl Scouts) out dated? I don’t think so. They are teaching aids, so go beyond the rote memorization, or the excitement of watching a campfire start, and use it as a framework for growth.

  9. Derek, check into Randall vs. Orange City Council (the sponsor of the troop) — nine year old twins who decided that they could not swear an oath to God were initially stopped from progressing to bear rank by their den leader, then by trial time the BSA declared the boys could not be members at all. In 1992, the California courts declared that the BSA was a business the Unruh Civil Rights Act and therefore could not discriminate. The boys were allowed to stay in by court order while the BSA appealed the case and eventually won. The boys were able to proceed all the way to Eagle Scout (they had to convene an Eagle Board by state order) before the BSA was successful in expelling them, but it was not for want of trying.

    In Welsh vs. The Boy Scouts of America a six year old (who had been handed a flier by his public school teacher saying that “any child can join”) was turned away from entry to the Tiger Scouts because of the requirement to have an adult partner. His father, an agnostic, wouldn’t sign the “Declaration of Religious Principles” section of the adult application, you know, the part where you’re required to agree that atheists cannot become the best kind of citizens. Later, when Mark Welsh was old enough to apply to become a scout without an adult partner, he was rejected because of his own agnosticism.

    In 2002 Darrell Lambert (admittedly 19 at the time) was expelled from Eagle Scouts because he would not declare allegiance to a Supreme Being.

    These are not the only cases, there are quite a few dealing with children ranging from 6 through 19 years old at all levels of the organization. Moreover, I highly doubt that all the cases where boys were excluded from the organization ended up going to court. It takes a special kind of person to be tenacious enough about this sort of issue to actually sue over it, as there’s the near certainty that the vitriol will continue. Most people in such a situation aren’t willing to subject their kids to that sort of nastiness.

    It’s not just that atheists and agnostics have to hear mention of the word God, it’s that they have to swear an oath to God and that they have to declare that they, themselves, cannot be good citizens. This is a bit problematic. It’s even more problematic when you’re also told that one of the values you’re supposed to uphold is to honesty. Being honest and regularly swearing to do your duty to a being you don’t believe exists are not particularly compatible.

    Again, I’m not saying that the scouts are terrible, just that the organization has made quite clear at the national level that they don’t want atheists, even if they’re kids. There are plenty of groups out there that do good stuff and have a religious requirement — I won’t support them, but I’m going to respect their rules, which means not applying.

    1. Oh, I should also point out that the oath and requirement for adults wishing to volunteer that they sign the declaration of religious principle runs into difficulties with other core values of the scouts for atheists.

      obedience — If I’m going to obey the rules, lying when I recite the oath or sign the declaration and refusing to recite the oath or sign the declaration are both problems.

      bravery — I should have the courage to be open about my lack of belief rather than hiding it.

      respect — It’s not particularly respectful for me to try to be part of a group if I suspect that I don’t satisfy membership requirements.

    2. Thanks, Allison. I’ll look them up.

      At first glance, these examples sound like “man bites dog” examples to me. As I’ve tried to convey, the individual charter partners have lots of lattitude to emphasize (or not) the religious aspects of the program. Also, the unit committee can set more stringent standards, such as requiring church membership (pretty rare, but possible). The BSA will back charter partners and committees who chose to do this, which is how BSA ends up in these suits.

      But the vast, vast, vast majority of Scouting gets along just fine without ever approaching these kinds of dramas.

      1. Oh, I don’t doubt that, Derek. I’m sure there likely is a group that would let my boys in and that if my boys decided to suck it up and swear the oath and pretend at some junctures to be religious, they’d get along fine. That’s what most people do. Again, though, I’m not entirely convinced it’s the right thing to do on either side (you know, the people talking about how their troop is accepting but it starts to get more uncomfortable when you’re doing stuff on a larger scale). If I don’t believe that atheists can’t be the best kind of citizen, for example, I should probably be hesitant to sign that declaration. It’s saying something I find disturbing, and it SHOULD give me pause. As non-believers at this point (maybe not forever, I don’t know — they’re kids), it’s important that my kids think about these things, about what they really do believe or not, and about what they are and are not comfortable doing.

        As I said, others who are denied entry or kicked out probably don’t sue very often. They probably just go away quietly. That’s also the norm.

        I just find it disingenuous for people to pretend the group is friendly to agnostic and atheist boys as a whole when it has these written policies, at the national level regularly and vociferously defends the interpretation that I’m talking about, and goes to court to back it up. The BSA is not a monolithic entity, and I’m aware of that. I’m not saying that you personally are working to exclude atheists from scouting. But I am saying that it does happen, not infrequently, that these kids get excluded, and that it happens at all levels throughout the organization.

        Let me give you an similar situation from my life as an atheist kid with a group that’s not as near and dear to your heart. My grandmother was an extremely active member of he Order of the Eastern Star. They do a lot of good work and her association with them was a wonderful, wonderful thing. She nominated me to become a member and wanted me to fill out the application form so that I could join in the organization that had been so good for her and to her. As the granddaughter of a member, I qualified, the people I knew associated with the group were fantastic, and like them I love to do charitable works and to be active in the community. Overall it would have been a great fit but for one exception — the group is open to people of all faiths, but not to people of no faith. I had to sadly decline because though I share a common cause with them, I would not really be able to participate in many aspects of the group where faith is important. It’s a great, close, group of people, but not everyone qualifies to be a member and that’s okay.

        1. As my last contribution, Allison, I’ll just encourage anyone who has been reading this exchange to focus on the unit itself, since that is where the program is delivered to the youth.

          If you are wondering whether this Scouting thing is something that you might find enjoyable, visit a unit or two, talk to their leaders, and express any concerns you might be feeling. And go from there.

          You will very likely be reassured and welcomed. Units do not expect boys to have well-formed religious ideas, and most are not interested in forming them, other than to see a world-view of some kind develop over time. YMMV, but you won’t know until you check it out.

          Thanks.

  10. Derek, check into Randall vs. Orange City Council (the sponsor of the troop) — nine year old twins who decided that they could not swear an oath to God were initially stopped from progressing to bear rank by their den leader, then by trial time the BSA declared the boys could not be members at all. In 1992, the California courts declared that the BSA was a business the Unruh Civil Rights Act and therefore could not discriminate. The boys were allowed to stay in by court order while the BSA appealed the case and eventually won. The boys were able to proceed all the way to Eagle Scout (they had to convene an Eagle Board by state order) before the BSA was successful in expelling them, but it was not for want of trying.

    In Welsh vs. The Boy Scouts of America a six year old (who had been handed a flier by his public school teacher saying that “any child can join”) was turned away from entry to the Tiger Scouts because of the requirement to have an adult partner. His father, an agnostic, wouldn’t sign the “Declaration of Religious Principles” section of the adult application, you know, the part where you’re required to agree that atheists cannot become the best kind of citizens. Later, when Mark Welsh was old enough to apply to become a scout without an adult partner, he was rejected because of his own agnosticism.

    In 2002 Darrell Lambert (admittedly 19 at the time) was expelled from Eagle Scouts because he would not declare allegiance to a Supreme Being.

    These are not the only cases, there are quite a few dealing with children ranging from 6 through 19 years old at all levels of the organization. Moreover, I highly doubt that all the cases where boys were excluded from the organization ended up going to court. It takes a special kind of person to be tenacious enough about this sort of issue to actually sue over it, as there’s the near certainty that the vitriol will continue. Most people in such a situation aren’t willing to subject their kids to that sort of nastiness.

    It’s not just that atheists and agnostics have to hear mention of the word God, it’s that they have to swear an oath to God and that they have to declare that they, themselves, cannot be good citizens. This is a bit problematic. It’s even more problematic when you’re also told that one of the values you’re supposed to uphold is to honesty. Being honest and regularly swearing to do your duty to a being you don’t believe exists are not particularly compatible.

    Again, I’m not saying that the scouts are terrible, just that the organization has made quite clear at the national level that they don’t want atheists, even if they’re kids. There are plenty of groups out there that do good stuff and have a religious requirement — I won’t support them, but I’m going to respect their rules, which means not applying.

    1. Oh, I should also point out that the oath and requirement for adults wishing to volunteer that they sign the declaration of religious principle runs into difficulties with other core values of the scouts for atheists.

      obedience — If I’m going to obey the rules, lying when I recite the oath or sign the declaration and refusing to recite the oath or sign the declaration are both problems.

      bravery — I should have the courage to be open about my lack of belief rather than hiding it.

      respect — It’s not particularly respectful for me to try to be part of a group if I suspect that I don’t satisfy membership requirements.

    2. Thanks, Allison. I’ll look them up.

      At first glance, these examples sound like “man bites dog” examples to me. As I’ve tried to convey, the individual charter partners have lots of lattitude to emphasize (or not) the religious aspects of the program. Also, the unit committee can set more stringent standards, such as requiring church membership (pretty rare, but possible). The BSA will back charter partners and committees who chose to do this, which is how BSA ends up in these suits.

      But the vast, vast, vast majority of Scouting gets along just fine without ever approaching these kinds of dramas.

      1. Oh, I don’t doubt that, Derek. I’m sure there likely is a group that would let my boys in and that if my boys decided to suck it up and swear the oath and pretend at some junctures to be religious, they’d get along fine. That’s what most people do. Again, though, I’m not entirely convinced it’s the right thing to do on either side (you know, the people talking about how their troop is accepting but it starts to get more uncomfortable when you’re doing stuff on a larger scale). If I don’t believe that atheists can’t be the best kind of citizen, for example, I should probably be hesitant to sign that declaration. It’s saying something I find disturbing, and it SHOULD give me pause. As non-believers at this point (maybe not forever, I don’t know — they’re kids), it’s important that my kids think about these things, about what they really do believe or not, and about what they are and are not comfortable doing.

        As I said, others who are denied entry or kicked out probably don’t sue very often. They probably just go away quietly. That’s also the norm.

        I just find it disingenuous for people to pretend the group is friendly to agnostic and atheist boys as a whole when it has these written policies, at the national level regularly and vociferously defends the interpretation that I’m talking about, and goes to court to back it up. The BSA is not a monolithic entity, and I’m aware of that. I’m not saying that you personally are working to exclude atheists from scouting. But I am saying that it does happen, not infrequently, that these kids get excluded, and that it happens at all levels throughout the organization.

        Let me give you an similar situation from my life as an atheist kid with a group that’s not as near and dear to your heart. My grandmother was an extremely active member of he Order of the Eastern Star. They do a lot of good work and her association with them was a wonderful, wonderful thing. She nominated me to become a member and wanted me to fill out the application form so that I could join in the organization that had been so good for her and to her. As the granddaughter of a member, I qualified, the people I knew associated with the group were fantastic, and like them I love to do charitable works and to be active in the community. Overall it would have been a great fit but for one exception — the group is open to people of all faiths, but not to people of no faith. I had to sadly decline because though I share a common cause with them, I would not really be able to participate in many aspects of the group where faith is important. It’s a great, close, group of people, but not everyone qualifies to be a member and that’s okay.

        1. As my last contribution, Allison, I’ll just encourage anyone who has been reading this exchange to focus on the unit itself, since that is where the program is delivered to the youth.

          If you are wondering whether this Scouting thing is something that you might find enjoyable, visit a unit or two, talk to their leaders, and express any concerns you might be feeling. And go from there.

          You will very likely be reassured and welcomed. Units do not expect boys to have well-formed religious ideas, and most are not interested in forming them, other than to see a world-view of some kind develop over time. YMMV, but you won’t know until you check it out.

          Thanks.

  11. I’m an Eagle Scout as well, since 2001. Allow me to join the chorus supporting the Scout Law as it stands. The BSA is a PRIVATE organization, and as such can set whatever standards it wants for its membership. There’s no law saying it has to be totally inclusive. Yes, its unfortunate when a young boy wants to join Cub Scouts and is refused because his family is agnostic or atheist, but like it or not, religion is a part of the scouting culture. If you’re not religious, don’t join. Religion isn’t just mentioned in the Law, it’s also in the Oath:

    On my honor I will do my best
    To do my duty to God and my country
    To help other people at all times
    To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

    Before all the anti-bigotry folks jump on me, that last line does not refer to straight as a sexual orientation, but more to keeping one’s self on the moral straight-and-narrow. I know there’s a lot of folks at odds with National on the issue of gays in Scouting, and I’m one of them, but as they say, “dem’s da rules”. Many packs and troops will observe an unspoken don’t-ask-don’t-tell type of policy on that issue.

    In the bigger picture, the sum of my experiences as a Boy Scout had the single most profound impact on who I’ve become as an adult than just about anything else I went through growing up. I have a far greater respect for nature and the environment than I would have otherwise. I learned at a young age (14) that I could spend an entire month away from my family and be just fine — a good warm up for moving away to college a few years later. I made many lasting, strong friendships that I have continued to this day. I learned how to create plans for my patrol’s camping experiences, and how to execute those plans successfully.

    I am excited about the day coming when my own son will be able to join his future elementary school’s Cub Pack and I can get back to the Scouting organization. My only prayer is that his experience is as un-tainted by the politicking surrounding the national office as mine was.

  12. I’m an Eagle Scout as well, since 2001. Allow me to join the chorus supporting the Scout Law as it stands. The BSA is a PRIVATE organization, and as such can set whatever standards it wants for its membership. There’s no law saying it has to be totally inclusive. Yes, its unfortunate when a young boy wants to join Cub Scouts and is refused because his family is agnostic or atheist, but like it or not, religion is a part of the scouting culture. If you’re not religious, don’t join. Religion isn’t just mentioned in the Law, it’s also in the Oath:

    On my honor I will do my best
    To do my duty to God and my country
    To help other people at all times
    To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

    Before all the anti-bigotry folks jump on me, that last line does not refer to straight as a sexual orientation, but more to keeping one’s self on the moral straight-and-narrow. I know there’s a lot of folks at odds with National on the issue of gays in Scouting, and I’m one of them, but as they say, “dem’s da rules”. Many packs and troops will observe an unspoken don’t-ask-don’t-tell type of policy on that issue.

    In the bigger picture, the sum of my experiences as a Boy Scout had the single most profound impact on who I’ve become as an adult than just about anything else I went through growing up. I have a far greater respect for nature and the environment than I would have otherwise. I learned at a young age (14) that I could spend an entire month away from my family and be just fine — a good warm up for moving away to college a few years later. I made many lasting, strong friendships that I have continued to this day. I learned how to create plans for my patrol’s camping experiences, and how to execute those plans successfully.

    I am excited about the day coming when my own son will be able to join his future elementary school’s Cub Pack and I can get back to the Scouting organization. My only prayer is that his experience is as un-tainted by the politicking surrounding the national office as mine was.

    1. I too was a scout. I had enough merit badges to get my Life scout badge, but not enough time before we moved to a new city. Still, the 12 points of the law, and the oath reverberate in my 48 year old head today. I have never spent a night in jail (although I am a prison guard), I have many close friends that have my back, and I live in a place where classic scouting is still held in high regard (Casper, WY).
      Stay strong and true my friend. Those words are a map to a successful, peaceful life, not only for yourself, but those around you.

  13. I’ve seen references to other youth organizations that don’t suffer from some of the problems the BSA doe. Campfire, Spirit Guides… I can’t seem to find any info on a casual Google search on these. Could we get a follow up article regarding alternatives to Boy Scouts?

    1. I’d like to suggest another alternative to the BSA, which is the (fairly recent) Baden-Powell Service Association (B-PSA) here in the US. I’m currently involved with that organization, have 3 children in my own local group and will be taking over as Commissioner for the organization this month.

      I’m a long time scouter as well, having earned my Eagle back in 1992. I was involved as an assistant camp director for a BSA summer camp, assistant scoutmaster, unit commissioner, and later with my son, Cub Master. Two years into Cub Scouts with my son, I decided that my issues with BSA National’s policies and my continued financial support via dues/activities/events was sending the wrong message to my son. Prior to this, I talked to a few Pack Committee members about adopting our own Pack non-discrimination accord and brought the idea up with our local BSA Council about this idea. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if our Pack did this, our Charter would be revoked; and further more, that I was not what the BSA was looking for in a leader.

      Long story short, I then found the B-PSA, which is a growing part of a larger international, traditional scouting movement that is open to all regardless of ethnicity, regligion (or lack of), sexual orientation, etc. ; and it’s co-ed. I have 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys, and with this new organization, I can now share scouting with all of them in an environment that is welcoming and supporting a youth organization with policies I can not only agree with; but stand up for.

      I’m more than happy to talk about the organization and we have lots of resources on the web site as well. The link I gave is the upcoming new web site, the old one is located at http://bpscouting.org and will eventually redirect to the new one.

      Feel free to drop me a line or ask any questions if you’re curious.

  14. I’ve seen references to other youth organizations that don’t suffer from some of the problems the BSA doe. Campfire, Spirit Guides… I can’t seem to find any info on a casual Google search on these. Could we get a follow up article regarding alternatives to Boy Scouts?

    1. I’d like to suggest another alternative to the BSA, which is the (fairly recent) Baden-Powell Service Association (B-PSA) here in the US. I’m currently involved with that organization, have 3 children in my own local group and will be taking over as Commissioner for the organization this month.

      I’m a long time scouter as well, having earned my Eagle back in 1992. I was involved as an assistant camp director for a BSA summer camp, assistant scoutmaster, unit commissioner, and later with my son, Cub Master. Two years into Cub Scouts with my son, I decided that my issues with BSA National’s policies and my continued financial support via dues/activities/events was sending the wrong message to my son. Prior to this, I talked to a few Pack Committee members about adopting our own Pack non-discrimination accord and brought the idea up with our local BSA Council about this idea. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if our Pack did this, our Charter would be revoked; and further more, that I was not what the BSA was looking for in a leader.

      Long story short, I then found the B-PSA, which is a growing part of a larger international, traditional scouting movement that is open to all regardless of ethnicity, regligion (or lack of), sexual orientation, etc. ; and it’s co-ed. I have 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys, and with this new organization, I can now share scouting with all of them in an environment that is welcoming and supporting a youth organization with policies I can not only agree with; but stand up for.

      I’m more than happy to talk about the organization and we have lots of resources on the web site as well. The link I gave is the upcoming new web site, the old one is located at http://bpscouting.org and will eventually redirect to the new one.

      Feel free to drop me a line or ask any questions if you’re curious.

  15. I find it humorous that parents exhilarate their child’s membership in bigoted organizations by saying “It’s was hist choice” or We let him decide.” And if junior came home and wanted to join a Skinhead Youth group, or if he declared he wanted a gun, would you again “Let him decide” ? It’s is our job as parents to instill integrity in our children, to instill a sense of self which allows them to know how and when to say No to bigotry. If your kid is in the BSA or their starter program the Cub Scouts, the only thing you are teaching your child is that intolerance and discrimination are okay. You have missed the teachable moment and instead chosen to support hate-Bering bigotry.

  16. I find it humorous that parents exhilarate their child’s membership in bigoted organizations by saying “It’s was hist choice” or We let him decide.” And if junior came home and wanted to join a Skinhead Youth group, or if he declared he wanted a gun, would you again “Let him decide” ? It’s is our job as parents to instill integrity in our children, to instill a sense of self which allows them to know how and when to say No to bigotry. If your kid is in the BSA or their starter program the Cub Scouts, the only thing you are teaching your child is that intolerance and discrimination are okay. You have missed the teachable moment and instead chosen to support hate-Bering bigotry.

  17. I just want to say thank you, even if you don’t know me you’ve made a difference in my life. You see, a couple weeks ago I started reaching blog owners mostly to exchange idea, etc… and I came across an amazing tutor that’s almost too good to be true. I *swear to god* that August 13th 2011, I made $225.46 USD and so far in the last 7 days I’ve netted over $800, proof in the link below. I almost went crazy!! It was the easiest thing and cost virtually too, I spent about 25 minutes setting it up and was good to go. In my life, I know that opportunities like these don’t come often and don’t last for long so if you’re at all interested, I would check this FREE video out immediately πŸ™‚ so here you go: http://sn.im/ChronicIncome This is my way of giving back I guess, I hope you find whatever you’re looking for today. Cheers! Latonya Chamblis

  18. I just want to say thank you, even if you don’t know me you’ve made a difference in my life. You see, a couple weeks ago I started reaching blog owners mostly to exchange idea, etc… and I came across an amazing tutor that’s almost too good to be true. I *swear to god* that August 13th 2011, I made $225.46 USD and so far in the last 7 days I’ve netted over $800, proof in the link below. I almost went crazy!! It was the easiest thing and cost virtually too, I spent about 25 minutes setting it up and was good to go. In my life, I know that opportunities like these don’t come often and don’t last for long so if you’re at all interested, I would check this FREE video out immediately πŸ™‚ so here you go: http://sn.im/ChronicIncome This is my way of giving back I guess, I hope you find whatever you’re looking for today. Cheers! Latonya Chamblis

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