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How long will the Boy Scouts ban atheists?  Groups pressure BSA to lift ban

How long will the Boy Scouts ban atheists? Groups pressure BSA to lift ban

The Religion News Service raised a good question today–now that the ban on gay Scouts has been lifted, when will the ban on atheists and other non-believers be cast away?

No one is holding their breath, least of all Neil Polzin, an Eagle Scout who was fired from his job in 2009 as an aquatics director at a Boy Scout camp in San Diego after he admitted to being an atheist.

“I don’t see that happening, at least not in the immediate future,” Polzin said. “The focus has always been on the Scouts’ discrimination against gays and it seems atheists were always on a back burner or not discussed at all.”

But that doesn’t mean nonbelievers — atheists, humanists and other nontheists — have abandoned their quest for inclusion. In the wake of the BSA’s May 23 vote that led to the inclusion of gay Scouts — but not gay scoutmasters — every major organization of nonbelievers has issued a statement condemning their continued exclusion.

A BSA official declined to comment, but issued a statement that said, in part, that since the organization had “just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter.”

The RNS notes that the problematic part for atheists and non-believers lies in the Boy Scout oath, in which they swear to "do my duty to God and my country."    The article also notes that once it is discovered that a Scout is atheist, those who have been "outed" are asked to leave Scouting.   And there isn't much anyone can do about it.  A 2000 Supreme Court case Boy Scouts of America v. Dale ruled that the BSA is a private organization, and it can make its own rules.   Changing the culture seems to be the only way that atheists and non- believers can be accepted.    The New American reports that the BSA is currently being challenged regarding the ban on atheists by two atheist groups.  The Freedom from Religion Foundation, and the Secular Coalition for America have both released statements praising the BSA for lifting its ban on gay Scouts, and also pressing them to change the ban on atheists and non-believers:

The BSA's stated policy concerning faith comes in the form of a declaration that 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.”

Claiming that one in three teens identifies as non-religious, the FFRF complained that “there’s a long trail of boys and leaders who have been kicked out [of the Boy Scouts] simply because they don’t believe in a God. They range from a six-year-old in suburban Chicago whose nonreligious father, Elliott Welsh, lost a suit against the BSA for violating the Civil Rights Act, to exemplary Eagle Scout Darrell Lambert, expelled from a Washington troop in a high-profile case.”

The FFRF claimed that the Boy Scout ranks “have always been full of nonbelievers,” and chided the BSA for lagging “20 years behind the Girl Scouts of America, which announced in 1993 that it would protect the freedom of conscience of all members.” The atheist complainers recalled that the Girl Scouts “adopted a resolution that any of its members may substitute another word or phrase for 'God' in its official pledge, a measure enacted to show ‘strength in diversity and that we are an inclusive organization.’ ”

Charging that “no one can grow into the best citizen who discriminates against the nonreligious,” the FFRF encouraged its members to hector the BSA with phone calls demanding that it cave in on its foundational conviction that connects faith in God with its mission of raising up boys into responsible men.

Edwina Rogers, of the Secular Coalition for America noted that while the Boy Scouts might be a private organization, they do receive federal fundings through the use of supplies, space, and equipment, and she feels that no organization that discriminates on the basis of religion or religious beliefs should receive federal funds.

About Dakota O'Leary

Dakota O'Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She is a contributing writer focusing on eschatology, biblical prophecy, and general religious news. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week. We like to call her "our in-house Biblical prophecy expert" as her articles on eschatology have received over 200,000 views on God Discussion.
  • Toronto Guy

    There are no such thing as real atheists. Even Hitchens believes now.

    • Diane Yoder

      Does he? Amd you know this for sure because you have received all the knowledge of God?

    • Ruth1940

      The surviving Hitchens brother believes, but not the dead one.

      • Chris Ranmore

        The surviving Hitchens brother is a dull journalist – with none of the wit and insight that Christopher had.

  • Ruth1940

    Youngsters from families belonging to sect that ban oaths should be able to benefit from scouting too. Stop all the oaths as they don't improve behavior anyway!

  • fmere

    Hey , why don't you agnostics start your own organization and leave the Boy Scouts alone.

    • Scott Plumer

      If one feels an organization is unfairly excluding a certain group, I think one is honor-bound to try to get that group to change its mind. If, for example, an organization wouldn't allow blacks to join, should one just say "Oh well," and leave it at that? I don't think so. I don't think the discrimination against atheists and blacks is at all equal, but I don't think it's morally right to allow a perceived injustice like that to persist.

  • Scott Plumer

    I don't think the BSA will ever, at least in my lifetime, allow atheists and agnostics. Religion is just too ingrained in scout culture. My local council, though, allows a lot of leeway in what a scout believes. We had three boys make Eagle a couple years ago, and none of them were what you'd call a believer. What they said in their boards of review was that they were on what you could call a "spiritual quest" to find ultimate truth. In the words of one of them, whether that led to Christianity, Buddhism or some other belief system was anyone's guess. My son's argument is that he's too young to know what "ultimate truth" is, and he won't arrive at that knowledge until after a lot of time and introspection.

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