If the Boy Scouts Want to Discriminate, the U.S. Military Shouldn’t Support Them

This is a follow-up to Hemant’s recent post about the re-affirmation of Boy Scout discrimination. This issue is well-known, with a 1995 article from The Humanist surveying federal funding of the Boy Scouts, activities by reform group Scouting For All, and Margaret Downey‘s lawsuit against the Boy Scouts.

The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (which I lead) has called for an end to federal support of the BSA:

The Boy Scouts of America holds a Congressional Charter while discriminating against atheists. The BSA ejects openly atheist members and leaders, even those that have reached the highest ranks of the organization. All branches of the military issue an promotion (to E2 or E3) for Eagle Scouts, the highest Boy Scout rank. This constitutes discrimination in hiring by the military as well as government approval of the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policies. The values, community, and service so fundamental to the BSA would provide an even greater service to the nation if they would promote respect for all beliefs, including atheism. On 12 Jan 09, MAAF joined the American Humanist Association in asking President-elect Obama to reject the title of honorary president of the Boy Scouts - press release.

MAAF admonished many who claim that the Boy Scouts do good work or that the issues are primarily at the national level. It is time to put aside these equivocations and recognize that the idea of the “honorable Boy Scout” is tainted.

MAAF also pointed out that having just one anti-gay Boy Scout organization is primarily a U.S. issue. The international scouting community is generally affirming of gay youth and the Girl Scouts have been supportive as well. The Boy Scout issue seems additionally complicated by the massive numbers and top-level sponsorship of Boy Scout troops by the Mormon church.

One potential solution would be for the (more accepting) Girl Scouts to bring aboard BSA board member James Turley (who discouraged the discriminatory practices), host the dissenting Boy Scout Troops, enlist the international community, and be leaders in the reform effort of their wayward brother organization.

About Jason Torpy

**Comments at Friendly Atheist do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers are any other organizations.** Jason Torpy serves as President of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF), a nonprofit community for atheists and humanists in the military. MAAF also educates military leaders about the needs of nontheists and advocates where necessary. Jason is a former Army Captain and Iraq veteran with a Bachelor of Science degree from West Point and an MBA from The Ohio State University.

  • Phil Bellerive

    Campfire Kids does a creditable job as well and they don’t discriminate.

  • Erp

    I suspect the Girl Scouts would want to avoid the fight of taking in boys (and by fight I mean further attacks from the religious right including some members of the BSA); the organizations are also somewhat different (note that troops can leave the BSA but they would no longer be allowed to use the rank system, the merit badges, the word ‘scout’,  etc.).   Camp fire might be a better bet since it is already mixed sex.

    Myself I wonder how the secret committee was stacked so as to get no dissent (or did the LDS representatives threaten to pull all LDS troops if the policy changed with the resulting catastrophic dropping in the number of scouts).    

    Also note that the statement issued, no where states what the policy is that they aren’t changing.    Does it include those who openly support gays and lesbians?  Does it include all youth members (some previous glimpses of the policy suggest that youth members not in leadership positions could be out though more recent glimpses suggest not). 

  • sunburned

     It should be federal (and state) policy not to support organizations who hold values counter to the spirit of the constitution and equality.

    That being said, I always *perceived* the *scouting lifestyle* as being a little off kilter.  I never could grasp the concept of a bunch of boys going camping without *girls*, especially those over say the age 12.

    On a side note:  Jamboree can be defined as a gay festivity:P

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    By becoming (or outing itself as) a religious organization, the BSA will flourish in the South and dwindle elsewhere.

  • NotBuyingItInAZ

    The Girl Scouts do not consider the BSA a “brother organization.”  They have NOTHING in common other than the word “scout.” There is no federal support of the Girl Scouts organization, and the Girl Scouts have no military affiliation at all, and certainly no affiliation with the BSA.

    • Eagle Scout

      Girl Scouts who Earn the Gold Award also get promoted in every branch in the military. I have a friend in Girl Scouts who told me.

  • http://conuly.dreamwidth.org/ Conuly

     Does the military offer this promotion to people who are members of other scouting groups, or youth groups in general? There are many of them out there, after all.

    Even without the religious aspect, I would think that that’s discriminatory!

    • Gus Snarp

      Well, the promotion is for Eagle Scouts, not just members of the BSA. The Eagle Scout award represents a lot of work and a significant demonstration of leadership.

      If other organizations offered an award that could be shown to require the same level of leadership and effort though, then yes, I suppose it could be discriminatory in some way.

    • Nathaniel Frein

      I’m pretty sure they offer similar incentives to Spaatz recipients in the Civil Air Patrol cadet program (the highest rank in the program).

      But then, CAP is an actual auxiliary of the USAF…nor does it officially discriminate against religion or sexual orientation.

  • Gus Snarp

    The problem with other organizations is always that they don’t offer the cachet and recognition that the BSA offers. The Eagle Scout award in particular is recognized by many people as a mark of leadership and can be a very favorable point on a job or college application. Frankly, I expect that the impression I get of Campfire is dead wrong, but it is deeply etched somewhere in my brain that Campfire just isn’t as serious about outdoorsmanship as the Boy Scouts. I don’t consciously believe that, but it’s there underneath nonetheless. I expect it’s pretty prevalent. If the BSA doesn’t change though, they will drift to the fringe, and hopefully someday a non-discriminatory organization can take their place. But I’d rather see the BSA change, because I’d like my son to have the experiences and opportunities I did, and I’d like to be an adult leader, but that’s just not possible now.

    • Nathaniel Frein

      If you’re looking for the leadership training opportunities, you might try the Civil Air Patrol cadet program.

  • Gus Snarp

    OK, I swear I posted this already so I hope this doesn’t duplicate, but I don’t see it. That BSALegal.org link in the MAAF statment is dead, that site appears to have recently undergone a serious retcon recently, and I’m not sure there was ever anything official about it.  The latest copy of the religious obligation section of the BSA bylaws can be found here, however. 
    http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/GuideToAdvancement/Appendix/CharterAndBylaws.aspx

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001968716330 Harmony Seeker

    The Boy Scouts also segregate troops based on belief.  So you may have a Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Humanist, or even Atheist troop.   If you live in a less populated area, I can’t imagine you finding a non-Christian troop.  You are S.O.L. 

    • Erp

       Certainly no atheist troops in the BSA since atheists are not allowed either as youth or adult members.  Many troops are chartered by religious organizations but most of those are mixed religiously with the exception of LDS troops. 

      Also in regards to the reply by NotbuyingitinAZ, the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA do have a connection in that Baden-Powell in England started the scouting movement from which both sprung (though the BSA also drew from some other sources).  The international organizations to which they each belong (WOSM for the BSA and WAGGGS for the GSUSA) may eventually merge (WOSM is mostly made up of both sex national groups while WAGGGS is mostly all female national groups or female members of mixed sex national groups  [some national groups belong to both international organizations]).   Within the US, Campfire was originally set up by BSA leaders as a sister organization for girls and many in the BSA in the early days opposed the GSUSA (and in particular their use of the word ‘scout’ which the BSA wanted a monopoly on).    On the other hand at the local level many BSA and GSUSA troops have worked closely together. 

    • Gus Snarp

      In the Boy Scouts of America? No. There are no atheist troops. And you can join any troop regardless of your religion as long as you have one. There are sponsoring organizations, which are often churches of one religion or another, but the sponsoring organization provides little more than space, they don’t govern the troop, and they cannot discriminate against members of another religion joining the troop.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001968716330 Harmony Seeker

        My son is a cub scout. His father is Christian and my son explained to me they have separate troops for different beliefs.  May be the scoutmasters are not telling him the truth.

        • Erp

          Perhaps a bit of miscommunication since you are getting the info second hand though I could imagine that an area with a lot of troops might have some unofficial semi-segregation by religion (in particular a troop sponsored by a synagogue or mosque might have very few non-Jews or non-Muslims simply because Christians preferred to join the troop chartered by a Christian group or a secular group, and a cub asked why and misunderstood the answer).   It is also possible that the pack or troop is refusing to accept boys who aren’t Christian even if they want to join and the scoutmaster was trying to make it look less like flat out nastiness.  I’m not sure of the official BSA stance on the latter (unless the potential member is a non-theist).     Even LDS troops officially accept non-LDS members as long as they abide by the extra rules that LDS troops have (at least according to the handbook for LDS scouters).

  • alconnolly

    Of course the boy scouts are a discriminatory organization unworthy of any thinking and compassionate person support. However the government support of the boy scouts is overblown. It is mostly military support and considering how much is spent on recruitment for the military I say they are getting great bang for the buck. When they let boy scouts hold meetings on bases and in a context of fun and highly indoctrinating circumstances embed them in a situation where they are exposed to military institutions, they get real value for recruiting kids to fight and die for whatever war the military industrial complex finds most convenient at any given time. This I think is key to government support for the organization.

    • Nathaniel Frein

      I’m of two minds on this.  I don’t have an issue with a military base supporting a scout troop with a location to meet, as a service to the military families living on base.  Overseas, the availability of off-base troops is nil.

      However, I don’t agree with providing facilities for large-scale gatherings.  Whether or not the military “benefits” from the indoctrination is moot.  It shouldn’t happen.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    I had a great time hiking, camping, canoeing, organizing outings, teaching skills, and tying knots etc. in my BSA bubble in the late 60s-early 70s.  I woke up to politics in college.    Looking back at old handbooks and watching the growing conflict with gays and atheists I’ve become aware and angered at the hijacking and theft by the religious right of an American institution and right of passage for kids.  The BSA apparently became ossified in the 1950s and has failed to evolve with the culture since.  The miss information in the old handbooks remind me of what Texas often seems to want to do to school text books.  The funding involved is significant as is the value of untaxed BSA properties. 
      Without complete overhaul the BSA is dead as a trainer of well rounded individuals and leaders, and deserves zero funding or taxpayer support.

  • Lorimakesquilts

    What kind of achievement does a woman have to get to receive an instant promotion to E2 or E3?  Yeah, just what I thought, this is discriminatory on many levels.

    • anan

      Actually, the Girl Scout Gold Award confers the same benefit as Eagle Scout in regards to military rank. 

      • Lorimakesquilts

        Ah, well that’s good to know, my bad.  It still rankles.  The government needs to step away from them until they stop their nasty discrimination.  

        I was an Explorer Scout, it was a good experience,  and I used to have a lot of admiration for the BSA, but no more.  (Camporees are a lot of fun when you’re one of 20 girls among hundreds of boys.)

  • Lee Johnson

    Amazing to think there once was a time (not so long ago) when we didn’t persecute institutions in the name of homosexuality.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      Yes, how terrible that the Boy Scouts are being “persecuted” for discriminating against people based on religion and sexual orientation. If they’re a private club, then they can discriminate. No one’s disputing that. But the BSA wants their “Have Our Cake And Eat It Too” badge. They think they’re entitled to free government money and perks, but they’re not willing to play by the rules. If you want public money, you can’t discriminate. If discrimination is so important to them, they should stop whining about not getting special treatment from the government.

  • andrewpr96

    Easy
    Join Civil Air patrol, they don’t care about your sexual orientation o religion preference, they just want to get the best from you, teach you leadership, Aerospace Education, Emergency Service, Search and Rescue between other things

    • Nicole M. Taylor

      Can you confirm this information? My son is not gay but I am his birth father and I was in Civil Air Patrol and I am now a transgender woman. We would be joining the NAS location in Tarrant County Texas
      admin@fortworth-transgende.org


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