Boy Scouts Considering Major Rule Change

Wow. Only a few months after the national board of the Boy Scouts of America reiterated its discrimination policy against gay and atheist scouts and troop leaders, and less than a week after forcing one local council to change its policy, now it’s being reported that the board could vote as early as next week to allow local troops and councils autonomy on the matter.

As early as next week, the Boy Scouts of America may announce it will allow gay Scouts and troop leaders, a spokesman for the group has told USA TODAY.

If this policy shift is approved by the national board meeting next week, it will be a sharp reversal of the Scouts’ decades-old national policy banning homosexuals.

“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue,” BSA spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement to USA TODAY.

Unfortunately, this would not end all discrimination in the scouts. Because most scout councils are controlled by churches, a lot of them Mormon, it’s unlikely that most of them would allow gays and atheists to serve openly. But it’s still a major policy shift and quite welcome.

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  • jayhawk

    So they are not going to force the local chapters to discriminate, only allow them to. Well, it is an improvement.

  • LightningRose

    “Because most scout councils are controlled by churches, a lot of them Mormon, it’s unlikely that most of them would allow gays and atheists to serve openly.”

    I see nothing in the linked article, or any other comparable news article I’ve read, that mentions atheists.

  • michaelbusch

    I also observe that the Scouts continue to discriminate in another unjustifiable way: gender. The Girl Scout curriculum isn’t the same as the Boy Scout curriculum, and even if they were, there isn’t justification for segregation.

  • ArtK

    Michealbusch… they’re entirely separate organizations, with little to do with each other, other than having “Scout” in the official name. In fact, the Girl Scouts have been much more progressive on issues like this.

  • Ace of Sevens

    I don’t think this will solve much. They still have the issue of who can work for the national organization and the various scout groups will share jamborees and there may be attempts to create competing chapters.

  • Ace of Sevens

    Also, I doubt this will bring back the money from the various corporations that have dropped support.

  • Paul W.

    I see nothing in the linked article, or any other comparable news article I’ve read, that mentions atheists.

    Still, it’s very good news, and fabulous news if they actually do it.

    It will be interesting to see what kind of schisming happens at what levels if they do this—will the religious righties have no-homo scout troops that cover the same areas as gay-friendly scout troops? Will they not want their kids to go to jamborees, etc., where there might be out gay scouts and leaders?

    Will anti-gay scout leaders submit to being overseen by gay higher-ups—or will they have the sort of weird shit that the Church of England has now, where you can have gay priests, but not gay bishops, because antigay priests and congregations won’t accept the authority of a gay bishop?

  • tfkreference

    In my area, many Scout troops are sponsored by churches because the public schools require groups that use their space to have non-discrimination policies. From what I know about my son’s former troop, space was all we got from the church (which didn’t even allow us to sell stuff between services during fundraisers).

  • Paul W.


    It may not bring back much money that has gone away, but it may prevent some money from leaving. If people/corporations see change happening in the right direction, they may wait and see rather than jumping ship.

    It could be a no-win situation for them with very interesting consequences—e.g., the religious righties like the Mormons starting their own separate antigay scouting organization, and the majority not jumping ship. Then the remainder would be more liberal on average, and could start accepting out atheists sooner, too.

    They could call the new secessionist group the Conservative Scouts of America—the CSA.

  • michaelbusch


    I realize that. But there is no reason why either group should be discriminatory based on gender. Scouting in the UK, Australia, and a number of other countries is co-educational, and in some cases has been so for decades.

    While it is encouraging that discrimination based on sexual orientation may be fading, there is still gender- and religious-based discrimination that need to be addressed.

  • Doc Bill

    As a leader in a Scout council I would say that “councils” are not controlled by churches because councils are chartered by National BSA, run by paid professionals and governed by a board usually made up of financially connected members of the community.

    However, most units – packs, troops and crews – are chartered by religious institutions with the remainder chartered by civic organizations, professional groups, schools and even individuals. Often, but becoming less the case, a church’s pack and troop will draw from its members but that changes as a reflection of the size of a congregation and most units, outside of Mormons, draw upon the community at large. The Mormons are special in that the BSA serves as their “youth group” and I don’t think participation is optional (but I don’t know that for sure). Thus, the Mormons represent the largest bloc of members as a result. The same is true for Indonesia which boasts 17 million scouts, over three times that of the USA.

    I think the potential policy change is good and over time will succeed. It will take time, training and education but that will come. Even today there are units that discriminate against female leaders and against race and ethnicity, but they are becoming very, very rare. Usually after the old WASP leadership ages out, leaves or dies, the unit folds.

    As a unit leader myself I can say that after working with thousands of youth I’ve never had a conversation about sex or sexual identity, although I’m sure I’ve worked with gay scouts and leaders. It was just never an issue. Bullying, yes. That happens from time to time. Most problems in units, however, are between the adults. I’ve often said that if we could get rid of the adults Scouting would be great!

    And, finally, this entire issue with the homosexuality policy is amongst the adults, not the kids.

    Oh, as for atheists, the BSA policy still excludes atheists, however atheists tend to be smart and cool and simply glide under the radar enjoying the program and LOLing at the religious stuff.

  • raven

    Oh, as for atheists, the BSA policy still excludes atheists, however atheists tend to be smart and cool and simply glide under the radar enjoying the program and LOLing at the religious stuff.

    I didn’t see anything about atheists either.

    The nones run around 22% of the population, a lot more than the gays.

    I suppose that would be asking too much anyway. If they run out of people to hate and discriminate against, what would they have to live for? They would have to get back to camping and paddling canoes or something.

  • brianwestley

    The BSA has already stated on their website that they are only reconsidering the gay ban; they are specifically not reconsidering the ban on atheists.

  • doublereed

    Getting hit in the wallet makes you reconsider a lot of things…

  • eidolon

    When I did a gig with the BSA one summer, part of the deal was to afirm a religious affiliation. I never did and was outta there before it became an issue – I was summer help anyway. Take a look at the BSA home page:

    “Young people need faith. There is abundant evidence that children benefit from the moral compass provided by religious tradition. We acknowledge that faith can become an important part of a child’s identity. Each of the major faiths breeds hope, optimism, compassion, and a belief in a better tomorrow. Scouting encourages each young person to begin a spiritual journey through the practice of his or her faith tradition. One of the key tenets of Scouting is “duty to God.”

    I’m thinking atheists will not be welcome.

  • raven

    Each of the major faiths breeds hope, optimism, compassion, and a belief in a better tomorrow.

    Yeah right. Bunch of lies.

    According to xianity, we are all evil because some woman ate an apple from a magic tree.

    Our wonderful Sky Monster dad already killed all but 8 of us once in an attempt to fix his own damn mistakes.

    But none of this matters. The fundies best idea is to hope and pray their Sky Monster shows up 2,000 years late, destroys the earth, and kills 7 billion people.

    It’s all quite uplifting if you like abusive parents, genocidal maniacs, and hate your life so much you want to die.

  • fifthdentist

    Well, the atheist Scouts could claim to be Muslims. I’m sure they’d be welcome then.

  • Barefoot Bree

    I agree that this doesn’t go far enough, but it’s a hell of a first step. Or perhaps more accurate, it’s the first leak in the dam. I’m all for it.

    There’s a public comment period being run by the BSA. From George Takei’s Facebook page:


    The Boy Scouts of America is accepting public feedback about ending its ban on gay Scouts and leaders. Its Board will vote by Feb. 6. Let’s FLOOD their lines with thousands of calls. (Believe me, the other side’s busy, too…)

    If you call 972-580-2330, a rep asks: “Are you FOR or against the change in policy?” Just say FOR and you’re done! Can’t get thru? Email

    Make the call, click LIKE and then SHARE this message. Each call can make the difference. Thanks, friends.

    Let’s Pharyngulate the Boy Scouts, horde!

  • Paul W.

    The phone number isn’t taking messages or votes now.

    Go to, click on “contact us” in the lower right, and send them a message.

  • peejaybee

    As much as I am in favor of seeing BSA end discrimination against atheists (partly because I wouldn’t have to worry about people knowing my own lack of religious belief) it will be harder than ending discrimination against gay people. For the latter, all BSA has to do is quit kicking people out, but the assumption that you have to have some religious belief is woven into the program, and it will require some actual work to un-weave it.