If You’re Looking for a Holiday Tree This Winter, Don’t Get It From the Boy Scouts

It’s the time of year when a lot of people are buying holiday trees — including atheists — and the Boy Scouts are setting up shop to sell them.

Along with several other bloggers today, I’m asking that you not give them your money.

Get a tree. Decorate it. Have a blast. But please don’t support the Boy Scouts of America. It’s an organization that kicks out scouts and adults leaders if they’re gay or atheist. It’s an organization that cares more about what invisible being everyone believes in than the characters of the boys who want to become scouts. It’s an organization that ought to know better but chooses to remain steeped in bigotry.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Cecelia Baines

    I can get behind this one. The BSA is a scummy organization full of self-aggrandizing bigots, homophobes and religious zealots.

    No money to the BSA or Salvation Army!

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    The Boy Scouts set up Christmas tree lots here, too, but I’d never go to one. I do feel a little bad when I’ve been approached by the kids, though. They’re innocent, and they have no idea how bigoted the leadership is, but I can’t give money to an organization that discriminates.

  • Librepensadora

     Cecilia:  Whenever I pass one of the bell ringers, I wish I had a huge LGBT rights pin on my coat. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/Dharmaworks David Benjamin Patton

    I would not just walk up and start some shit with the people out in front of stores ringing bells for TSA. However if I were to ever be asked by one I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them I don’t give my money to “charities” that intentionally will withhold charity from others just because they are gay. 

    As a ‘christian charity’ they might be very christian but they damn sure are not charitable. Fortunately for them I think they are restricted from asking for money they can only ring those bells to let you know they are there.

  • Entertaining Doubts

     I wonder how many of the bell ringers (or scouts for that matter) know the details of what their organization stands for. It seems unlikely to me that the majority of them would get the reference.

    However, I seem to remember a downloadable printable slip of paper with a message calling out the SA on its bigotry that you could slip into the kettle instead of cash. Kinda devious, like those fakey dollar-bill Chick Tracts, but at least maybe the folks at SA headquarters might get the point when they run across a bunch while counting the loot. And it’s potentially more effective than trying to explain one’s stance on the issues to a clueless volunteer who’s just filling a shift and has no influence over management policies. (Not to excuse the ringers’ implicit support of the SA, of course.)

    Can anyone else corroborate my recollection of the anti-SA statement slips, including perhaps a source?

  • Entertaining Doubts

     Google, plus a few minutes, is my friend:

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Most of the bell ringers have no clue. The ones in my area don’t even speak to you, at all.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen them selling tress in Maine but then again you can purchase a tree outside your local grocery store too. You can also get a really nice tree for 20 dollars.

  • ReadsInTrees

    Yeah, I don’t recall Boy Scouts selling Christmas trees in Maine either. Our local rotary club does. I kind of got the impression that it’s mostly just local tree farmers bringing their wares to town for the people who don’t want to go out to actually cut one down fresh.

  • pagansister

    So far I haven’t seen the BSA selling trees in my area.    However I wouldn’t buy one there anyhow.  

  • Wskivett

    I’m an Eagle Scout, and an atheist. I’ve known I didn’t believe in any god since about the time I joined the Boy Scouts. I was involved in Cub and Boy Scouts from the late ’70s- mid ’80s. Religion was never brought up at a single event that I can recall. Nor was there ever any anti-gay rights propaganda. Unfortunately, just recently, the Scouts were forced to take a position on the gay rights issue. I agree that they chose the wrong position. However, we should not punish the local leaders (volunteers) who just want to teach. I can honestly say that I learned as much useful information in 8 years of Boy Scouts as I did in 13 years of public school. I would hate to see a generation of boys miss out on this opportunity because of the stupid stance the national leadership has taken.

  • Henry

    This comment has nothing to do with this particular post of yours, but why do you call yourself the “friendly atheist” when you’re no more or less friendly than any other atheist I’ve known? In fact, you come across as quite obtuse and rude quite often.

  • David Gerald

    So Americans are seriously going with this “holiday tree” nonsense? I already pitied you enough for having to deal with all those zealot fundamentalists, but now you can’t even say the word “Christmas” for fear of associating yourselves with them? 

    Over here, Christmas is the atheist’s favourite holiday as much as anyone else’s. We still call them Christmas trees, believe it or not. And I like the word, it’s a beautiful word with plenty of our Western history behind it.

  • rhodent

    My dad is in the Kiwanis and has done the bell-ringing thing a few times.  According to him they’re instructed to say anything except to thank people who put money in.  I’m not sure whether those instructions come from the SA itself or from Kiwanis, however.

  • CelticWhisper

     Took me a minute to realize that “TSA” stood for “The Salvation Army.”

    I’m about where you are – I just “donate” the LGBT vouchers and waltz on my merry way.

    If it were someone raising money for the OTHER TSA, though, I wouldn’t “start shit” with them.  I’d probably just run them over, and then back-and-forth over them a few times to be sure.

  • Miss_Beara
  • http://mittenatheist.blogspot.com/ Kari Lynn

    Could you cite where Hemant has been rude or obtuse? Thanks!

  • Chris

    It’s a Christmas tree whether you’re an atheist or not (I am). Otherwise you’re just getting a tree to fit in. You can’t participate in something and just call it a different. Unless you call it festivus, that would be acceptable. (Google festivus for the rest of us if you don’t get the reference.)

  • MM

    Interesting reading this now…this afternoon my wife and I were tree shopping and she said “we should get our tree from the scouts” and I nixed that immediately. She doesn’t really stay current on those types of issues, but she was in total agreement once I explained it to her.

  • Zugswang

    This will be the second holiday season since I officially resigned from the scouts.  I have to say, it’s a bit melancholy, because as terrible as the national executives’ decisions have been regarding the treatment of non-theists and homosexuals, up until that point, I really felt like I could affect changes in the scouts through my troop, and I really enjoyed the interactions I had with both leaders and scouts, none of whom (in my troop) would have ever had a problem with gays or atheists in the scouts.  I probably spent as much time manning the tree lot for our troop as any of the other adult leaders every year, and there was a great sense of satisfaction to think how much money that we’d raised for our troop every year.

    But there was always the troubling knowledge that a lot of that money wasn’t going to the scouts – paying for equipment or the cost of going on trips.  It was paying membership dues, it was buying uniforms, merit badge books,  and patches, it was money that was ultimately going to the BSA.  And I really hated that.

    Now that I’m no longer with the scouts, I agree in abstaining from buying trees from the scouts.  Even if some of that money you paid for the tree doesn’t touch the hands of the district or the national level, most of it does, and much of that doesn’t go towards improving programs, it goes into executive scouter paychecks and it funds an organization that openly and unapologetically discriminates against people that, if it were really concerned with being helpful, kind, or morally straight, it would have no business treating as second class individuals.

    Give your time or your money to worthier causes this year.  Toys for Tots, Goodwill, the American Red Cross, etc.

    And don’t buy their popcorn, either, for that matter.  I never did, even in the scouts.  It’s grossly overpriced, and tastes like flavored styrofoam peanuts.

  • Zugswang

    Meh; different people will call it what they will.  Some will call it a Christmas tree, some a Holiday tree, others will simply put up a Festivus pole.  As long as no one’s trying to dictate what I call my vertically-oriented living room decoration for whatever winter holiday I want to associate with celebrating, I don’t care if they call it their arboreal phallus of the winter solstice.

    I’ll be celebrating Christmas, and there will be presents under the fake thing with lights that I call our “Christmas tree”, and I won’t let my mind become unsettled with whatever labels people choose to use for their own stuff.

  • Alexandra

    You know, I was just thinking I see Boy Scouts doing fundraisers all the
    time and I ignore them because of the bigotry in the national
    leadership and feel torn.  Girl Scouts was really important to me, and
    it’s a shame that boys don’t have equal opportunities for inclusive
    scouting.  Not supporting boys’ scouting through not supporting Boy
    Scouts hurts boy scouts in a way they don’t really deserve, but I have
    no interest in giving my money to groups that are discriminatory.

    I would do, happily, is buy things from, or donate to, a Boy Scout
    troop that was raising funds to fight for change within the
    organization.  Is this a thing?  It should be.

  • Michaelbrice

    Lol…………….perhaps you would like him to be more christian?

  • C Peterson

    We celebrate solstice, and call it a solstice tree. That’s what it started as historically, after all. So it isn’t always a Christmas tree.

    I’m not quite sure of your point. Nobody is complaining that the BSA calls them “Christmas trees”. The complaint is that the BSA is a nasty piece of work, and people of conscience should not do business with them.

  • Vanadise

    Can the local leaders not teach without supporting the BSA?  Are there no organizations they can join that do not have anti-gay and anti-atheist agendas?  Will this generation of boys be unable to learn those things except through the BSA?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Hi Henry, welcome.

    Often, religious people have become accustomed to not ever having their religious views or practices questioned or criticized, because of a long-standing social convention that essentially has treated those ideas and practices as privileged, and protected from being questioned or criticized.  So when they hear their religious ideas or practices questioned or criticized in any manner whatsoever, even in the most polite, gentle, and reasonable manner, they have an emotional reaction as if the questioner or critic has been extremely rude. They perceive the polite critics and the actually rude critics as being all equally rude. I think your comment reflects this undifferentiated perception.

    Long-standing or not, this privilege and protection is not something that  religious ideas or practices were ever entitled to. There is nothing intrinsic in  religious ideas or practices that automatically warrants them such a hands-off status. They must face and endure exactly the same challenges and competition as any ideas or practices, religious or not. They must stand on their own merits or fall by their own shortcomings rather than be sheltered in some countries by laws against blasphemy, or in many countries by threats of unofficial punishment, penalty, or persecution against those people who challenge them, or in the U.S., by the pervasive social convention that religious ideas and practices it must be “respected,” meaning treated as unassailable, unimpeachable, untouchable.  Such a favored position for just one category of ideas is unearned, undeserved, and unfounded.

    So when you hear a religious idea or practice questioned or challenged, try to understand that it might very well be your sensibilities that are not used to it causing you to think that a particular challenge, question or criticism is unduly unfriendly or rude.

    As blogs go, this is definitely one of the very friendliest, not meaning we make nice, or tiptoe around issues. It’s one of the most civil. If you express your contrary views here honestly, earnestly, and clearly, I think that most people who interact with you will probably be challenging, but not actually rude. They might not respect your beliefs, but I hope and expect they will treat you respectfully. Give it a try.

  • Jason Horton

    Actually it’s a Yule Tree. Why do Christians want to use a pagan symbol to celebrate their religious event?

  • AxeGrrl

    Hmm, it seems that the Canadian version of the Salvation Army has a slightly different attitude on the issue of GLBT rights than its US counterpart:


  • Alien

    Good let us know organizations you do not support. That shall be my guideline as to what organizations I consider supporting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.renaud.165 Joe Renaud

     That cuts both ways, baby….

  • http://profiles.google.com/michaeljhogan Michael Hogan

    Note that that’s only USA Scouts.  Scouts Canada has no restriction on gay members, either leaders or members and I am a Scout leader and I am not religious at all.

    Also Scouts Canada is for males and females.  

  • SeekerLancer

    When I first became an atheist I felt kind of guilty not putting money in the pots because I was so trained that it was the right thing to do. It took a bit of deprogramming to see that there were better charities to give money to that didn’t include advertising for religion.

    This year I found 75 cents in quarters on the ground outside of a store and I walked by a Salvation Army bell ringer without putting them in and I felt nothing.

  • Cecelia Baines

    I heard the BSA popcorn is made out of dead atheists and gays…..

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    Thanks for posting this, Hemant.

  • Anne

    Thank you! printed and shared.  This has been bugging me all week as I see those bell-ringers in front of stores.

  • RobertoTheChi

    Christians stole the idea from the pagans (along with almost everything else xmas related). It’s a Yule tree. Christians just renamed it.

  • RobertoTheChi

    Examples please.

  • Aspieguy

    I didn’t know the Scouts sold Christmas trees. We sold popcorn.
    In all fairness many Scout troops have decent, caring leaders. I used to be one when my son was in Scouts. Religion played almost no part in our troop, and we protected our boys during summer camp. The most fun we had was playing euchre in the evenings. If we knew we had a gay scout, I don’t think it would have been an issue. As a matter of fact, the first chapter of the Boy Scout Handbook gives three examples of child molesting. It teaches the boys to recognize molesters and how to report them. Evert Scout leader must take the child protection course. Forbidden activities in Scouts include skinny dipping. No scout may share a tent with an adult. At summer camp the showers were divided. One for boys and the other for adults. Any teaching of a scout must be in full view of other adults. No one-on-one contact is permitted.
    I don’t agree with the ban on atheists or gays, but Scouting has been a positive experience for most boys and men. 

  • The Captain

    I don’t support NAMBLA.

  • Stella19283

    I agree with you. And let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. There are many positive things about scouts. Let’s keep the good and work on making the scout organization secular and inclusive.

  • Coyotenose

     I don’t think you don’t understand the issue here. Nobody on “our” side much cares what the tree or the holiday is called. Some of us say “Happy Holidays”, some say “Merry Christmas”, some say whatever comes to mind first. Same for the trees. It’s the Fundies who pitch a hissy because they can’t tolerate other people NOT saying “Christmas” and being more inclusive of the citizenry.

  • Coyotenose

     Poor, poor desperate, angry troll. *headpat*

  • Coyotenose

    Bit of a tangent here, but why the hell are we still chopping down hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of trees to prop up in our houses for a month?

    I’ve been using the “family” tree, made mostly of leftover wood and wire branches, for around 30 years now. It’s a sad, Charlie Brown-looking thing, but it’s ours, and when it does get tossed, most of it is recyclable, and the remainder would fit in less than a bread bag.

  • Anne

    I know!  In Europe you can buy a potted tree (not very big, but still) and if you return it after you are done they give you your  money back/deposit.  No trees killed and they eventually get planted in the ground.

  • Cecelia Baines

    That’s the same argument used by Catholics…..”oh but what about all the good we do”. SUCK THAT. This is false equivalency and it is BULLSHIT.

    Throw the BSA out the window; support something like the California Peace Scouts or other groups and toss the hate-mongers and bigots (BSA) to the dogs.

  • OregoniAn

    Because these trees are crops, from tree farms.. Just like any other crop except you probably shouldn’t eat them. A typical tree is grown cut and harvested within 5-7 years and grown on land that is unsuitable for other crops.  No one is tearing out old growth forest to harvest these things – and they are less of a strain on the environment than the production and shipment of a fake tree. We pull up millions of carrots every year, this is essentially no different.

  • Carmelita Spats

     Absolutely! The RCC will not reform itself. It is an organized crime syndicate and making excuses for them only emboldens their insufferable arrogance as they make a mockery out of the rule of law. They will NOT hold their bishops criminally liable for the sexual torture of children. Ditto for the BSA minus the organized crime syndicate bit. Don’t toss them to the dogs…poor dogs! :)

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    That’s what makes it especially sad. There are a ton of decent people involved in Scouts. In fact, I’m sure the majority of them aren’t bigoted, but they’re either unaware of or willing to tolerate the bigotry of the leadership. I have a young relative involved in Scouts whose parents emphatically disagree with their discriminatory policies, but not enough to boycott the organization.

    It’s unfortunate because kids really do get a lot out of the program. My brother was a Cub Scout in the late 80s, and one of my (lesbian) parents was assistant to his den mother. His troop was chartered through our local public school, and no one ever brought up religion or told our family we couldn’t be involved.

  • John

     As with every other country in the world other than the USA, as far as I know.  Like usual, we’re behind the times.

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    It should be, but the BSA is quite intolerant of dissent in the ranks. People have been kicked out simply for disagreeing with the leadership, even though they weren’t atheist or gay themselves.


  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    Totally agree! It’s just like the Catholic church. The pro-gay, pro-choice Catholics will tell you they disagree with the church’s stance on every single social issue,yet they’re still more than happy to give the church money and offer up their kids for indoctrination.

    Although I find it more frustrating to hear atheists, gays, and other liberals send their children and money to the BSA, when it’s clear that the BSA has no interest in reforming and will gladly kick them out if they get a chance. It’s like a Jewish person wanting to join the restricted country club because they have a nice swimming pool. Sure, they have a great pool, but “your kind” isn’t welcome to swim in it.

  • guest

    Talking about yourself?

  • Alien

    I will evaluate.

  • Amakudari

    I might be wrong, but I thought The Salvation Army withheld domestic partnership benefits not charity from gays. That’s still bad, but not nearly as morally contemptible as, say, withholding disaster relief.

    I wouldn’t give them a dime either way, of course.

  • Nope

    I celebrate Christmas because I like giving and getting gifts, and don’t give a shit if someone else thinks I’m “trying to fit in.” It’s a goddamn tree and I’ll call it what I please and do with it what I wish.