FFRF Runs Ad in New York Times Opposing Atheist Discrimination by Boy Scouts of America

In yesterday’s New York Times, the Freedom From Religion Foundation ran a quarter-page ad opposing the exclusion of atheists by the Boy Scouts of America:

No one can grow into the best kind of citizen who discriminates against the nonreligious. It’s what you do — not what you believe — that makes you a good person and a good citizen. BSA’s vaunted “duty to God” has led it to cruelly place dogma over its duty to children.

The intellectual rejection of claims for which there is no evidence is not only respectable, but vital to progress. What should not be respectable is treating any American, whether young or old, as a second-class citizen.

FFRF placed full-page ads encouraging readers to leave the Catholic Church last year, celebrating “Reason’s Greetings” in 2011, opposing the National Day of Prayer in 2010, and imagining a world without religion in 2008.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • WallofSleep

    I love seeing stuff like this ad. For a good long while there I thought I’d never see stuff like this in my lifetime. I also never thought I’d see a person of color in the Oval Office in my lifetime. Boy do I love being wrong about that kind of stuff. This past decade or so has been quite interesting.

    I don’t know if the bigoted religionists have figured it out yet, but it’s going to be pretty fucking apparent to them pretty fucking soon. We are no longer the kind of atheists they’ve grown accustomed to, no longer the silent little puppies that they can kick around with impunity.

  • Croquet_Player

    Great ad, and long overdue from a public awareness standpoint. I find that a number of people I’ve spoken to on the subject are entirely surprised to learn that the Boy Scouts don’t allow atheists (and that it’s perfectly legal.)

    • Chris

      A couple years ago my sons wanted to join the BSA. They do a whole presentation during lunch time at their school at the beginning of the year. Make it sound so fun, which I bet it is. I called the woman who led the group. She had no idea what I was talking about when I asked about the pledge and reference to god. She said my kids didn’t have to say it if they didn’t want to or they could change it to whatever was meaningful to them. She really had no clue that the BSA would frown on that. She also said there were kids in the troop with gay parents so it’s obviously a troop that is accepting, but I still couldn’t give my money to that organization. I explained to the kids how the BSA discriminated and that I didn’t think it was right and wouldn’t spend my time and money to support them. They were really upset. We got involved at the CFI kids’ club instead. Not the best substitute because they don’t teach all the camping stuff, but better than nothing.

      • Croquet_Player

        I’m so sorry to hear your children were disappointed. I hope as they get older they’ll realize you did the right thing by not contributing to a discriminatory organization. The Girl Scout seem to get along just fine with discriminating against anyone – atheists, gays you name it. Too bad the Boy Scouts can’t figure it out.

      • Nate Frein

        You might try looking at the Civil Air Patrol cadet program.

      • Bob Becker

        Your call… but it’s your kids who are paying the price for your decision.,not you.

        • Tom

          No. Chris and his kids are all paying the price for the BSA’s decision.

        • Croquet_Player

          Valuable lessons often come at a price. Here the lesson is: “our family doesn’t support discriminatory organizations”.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Surely you know that the three or more of them are paying the price for what the BSA decided.

        • TheG

          Actually, it is everyone, but especially their children, who suffer when kids are taught that it is okay to look down on others.

      • Lisa H.-S.

        Chris – what I’m wondering is…is it legal for your (I assume) public school to allow an organization that discriminates to recruit during school hours? You might want to bring this up with your principal….

        • Chris

          I did have a discussion with the principal, but she didn’t budge on it. I considered asking for equal time to promote the kids’ club at CFI, but in the end I just dropped it. One of my kids didn’t want us making a big fuss over it. He hasn’t decided what he believes and doesn’t want to call attention to our family’s lack of faith so I let it go for now. It’s also not unusual for the BSA to recruit at the school during special functions. I’ve seen it at other schools in different districts. I was just upset because at lunch the kids are a captive audience stuck there. My solution is to find out what day the presentation is scheduled and then take my kids out for lunch that day in protest.

          • Lisa H.-S.

            wow. that’s tough. especially since you have to take your kid’s wishes into account, and he might not be as willing to “stir the shit” as you might be. Sounds like you’ve got a good solution, for your family, at least

    • kelemi

      It’s legal because it’s a private organization. However, federal law forbids discrimination on the basis of religion for getting government aid.

      I support the right of a person to have whatever religion he/she chooses, or to not have one at all. I also support freedom from religion where one group may not force its beliefs on others.

      • Croquet_Player

        Yes, I’m aware of the legal status. I think it will be interesting to see what happens as more people grow weary of the Boy Scouts discriminatory policies. In many cases they’ve been able to use public facilities at little or no cost. I image those perks will start to be withdrawn.

  • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

    This is the worst kind of discrimination: the kind against me! But seriously, it’s one step forward and one step back for the BSA.

    If telling children about hell is a form of child abuse, and belief in god is a requirement of the BSA……?

  • Anthony Magnabosco

    We have an obligation as atheists to let out local Boy Scouts know, be they at our door or in front of a home improvement center, that we will not support the BSA until they allow gays and atheists at ALL levels of their organization.

    • kelemi

      Religions have organizations and lobbyists. Sadly Atheists have few if any. If you want to get things done, organize.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        Hmm. We might have to keep you around. Hang on a moment while I organize the kidnap and brainwash gang.

  • amycas

    About 6 months ago I heard an interview on NPR about a father who was boycotting the BSA for their discriminatory practices against lgbt kids/familes. A caller near the end asked him about his opinion on their discrimination against atheists, and he basically said it didn’t bother him because atheist kids “choose” to not be religious. The person interviewing him did not follow up on that and neither did the person on the phone. They all accepted it as a legitimate reason to tolerate bigotry against atheists.

    • Seattle Smugster

      This touched a nerve. I knew even in my early 20s that there would be a gay or Islamic president before an atheist got elected for the job. Over the last few years, I’ve increasingly been hearing from people (gays included, go figure) who say Jesus would never support discrimination against homosexuals because he loved everybody equally. The same people who used their religion to hate on people only 30 years ago now use the EXACT SAME RELIGIOUS DOGMA to claim it’s actually about love. In 50 years, Christians will be claiming that they were the driving force behind gay rights just like with other social movements they’ve attempted to appropriate. It’s not the first time they’ve tried that revisionist crap and it makes me want to puke.

      • Kodie

        This time, it’s archived.

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        …And Islam is a religion of peace.

      • sane37

        Note: We still haven’t had either an openly gay, muslim or atheist President.

        • C Peterson

          But it’s almost certain we have had at least one gay president (Buchanan), and at least one atheist president (Jefferson). Jefferson, in fact, was quite open about his “noneness”. No Muslims, though, and that’s probably not ever going to happen. With the decline in religion, the next presidential milestone is likely to be a race between an open atheist and a woman. I’m betting a woman will be first, but it could go either way. A woman atheist would be cool! (Actually, I think that’s quite likely, but the atheism will be closeted.)

          • billwalker

            ” The Christian god is cruel, vindictive, capricious & unjust”. . Thomas Jefferson. Most historians refer to him as a ‘deist’.

            • C Peterson

              And it is accurate to call him a deist. But I’d argue that an Age of Enlightenment deist is functionally equivalent to a modern atheist. If you read what Jefferson (and many contemporaneous deists) wrote, their creator was invoked only for the purpose of explaining original cause… and that because these men were working a century before science advanced enough that no intelligent creator was required to explain the natural world. A creator was still required in Jefferson’s time, but it could be entirely ignored beyond that one, otherwise inexplicable act of creation. In spirit, Jefferson and other deists of his time were like skeptical atheists today, and I think it is virtually certain that if he were alive today (or even 100 years ago) he’d be an atheist as we understand the term today.

              So, as a man who had no religion, and no use for religion, and who had no belief in a deity that played any role at all in the Universe or human affairs, who believed that everything after creation could be explained by natural history (science), I choose to consider Jefferson an atheist in the context of most discussions.

        • billwalker

          There will be an atheist president shortly after hell freezes over.

      • MariaO

        Talking about discrimination: After visitng USA for the first time over the Summer of 1975 I was very sure that there would be black predident before there was a female one. I just wish I had documented that at the time…

  • Thomas Ledbetter

    The problem they have is their Oath, which states “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country…” To change their oath by removing “God” is a VERY significant change and would probably cost them FAR more than they’d ever gain. However, there is a simple solution by adding one word: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to my God and my country…” As an atheist, I am my own God, so to speak, so I personally have no problem pledging to follow “my God”. And it offends no one else.

    • C Peterson

      That would need to be “duty to my god”; “duty to my God” is poor English. But IMO it’s still not acceptable. Other scouting organizations have managed to successfully remove overt religion from their oaths, the BSA needs to do the same.

      And until they also allow their leaders to be gay, the whole change with respect to gay youth stinks of politics, and a complete lack of sincerity. I don’t think the most recent move is commendable at all, and as much as I like the ad overall, I wish they’d left that bit out.

      • Tom

        It occurred to me that the end result of allowing scouts to be out but continuing to ban gay leaders may be to actually reduce the number of closeted gay leaders in the future. If one assumes that scouts are the most likely to subsequently become scout leaders, then encouraging gay scouts to out themselves in an apparently safe environment then allows for the exclusion of a greater proportion of gays from the next generation of leaders, who might otherwise have remained closeted and undetectable. If I were paranoid, I might wonder if this were a deliberate plan to purge closeted gays from the next generation of scout leaders, but I suppose it’s probably just a convenient, unplanned side-effect for the bigots.

        • Gus Snarp

          I think you’ve got it backwards. It’s going to be a very inconvenient, unplanned side-effect for the bigots. There are basically two kinds of adult leaders in the BSA: parents of current scouts, and scouts who turn 18 and still want to participate. Those scouts who are over 18 and still participating are a very valuable resource. They make up the majority of summer camp staff members and summer camp staff members are generally required to be registered adult leaders with a BSA unit. They also are the people who move into professional roles in the BSA and they provide valuable leadership within units as well.

          When a whole generation of scouts who have had openly gay scouts in their troops come of age and the gay ones can no longer be leaders, the BSA’s policy will be revealed for the weak sauce half measure that it is. They will lose all those potential leaders that they desperately need who are gay, and the rest of the new leaders will see their exclusion as the discriminatory act that it is. So will the next generation of parents. If enough people give the BSA the benefit of the doubt on their new policy we will see them forced to take the next step very soon.

          Now if we could just get the same level of community support for nonbelievers.

    • Kodie

      I don’t think I am my own god.

    • WallofSleep

      “As an atheist, I am my own God, so to speak…”

      I think I understand what you are getting at, but I also think it could be worded better. One of the many fundie tropes out there is that we atheists think we are gods unto ourselves, rather than just being normal organisms that lack belief in the supernatural, and that we assert this in willful defiance of “The One True God” out of hatred or jealousy.

      I think the better wording of it might be “I am my own master”.

    • kelemi

      To God and my Country will be removed from the Boy Scout Oath one minute after Under God is removed from the pledge of allegiance.

      I am a Christian who had the pleasure of attending an international school in Switzerland. I got to meet and befriend people of many religions and two who were atheists. We respected each others’ views and agreed to disagree.

      I am in strong support of the Boy Scouts allowing atheists to be members, and also remove God and from the Oath.

      • Spuddie

        Considering the Scouts was set up as a non-sectarian organization emphasizing citizenship it would be more in tune with its original goals.

        • MariaO

          Actually, the origin of the scouts is the troupes of boy soldiers that Baden-Powell organized during the Boer war. The were too young to fight, but not to load guns and run errends and be killed. Coming home after the war he liked the idea so much he organized troups along the same lines back in England. Emphasis has of course shifted, but there are still uniforms, oaths to country, and obedience to authority…

          • Spuddie

            That and British soldiers were being pasted by farmers who were intimately familiar with the terrain and very capable of living off the land.

            He wanted to teach British children basics of outdoorsmanship and detested that youth groups of his day were entirely sectarian based. He thought religious differences just divided people when they should be acting together like loyal British subjects.

            • kelemi

              Ah the British. Went to war to stop Hitler’s expansion and yet had the largest colonial empire at the time.

        • kelemi

          That, and the constitution was based on separation of religion and government.

      • C.Chevalier

        Under God was only added to spite the godless Russians. Now that they have adopted Russian Orthodox Christianity as the official religion, we can remove the paranoid 1950s “Under God” like we got rid of blacklisting and all be the freer for it. Liberty! And Justice.

        • kelemi

          I was in the 9th grade when Ike added Under God to the pledge. I thought it a mistake then and still do now.

    • Gus Snarp

      You personally have no problem pledging to follow “your God”. Good for you. But really, the BSA already maintains that the “duty to God” part means whatever you imagine God to be, so you’ve simply added an unnecessary word with no change whatever to what the oath already says. Meanwhile, for those of us who don’t believe in any god at all and don’t believe that we are god, or that anything that is can rightly be called a god, you’ve made no improvement. If I’m being honest, which I think trumps anything else in the Oath or Law (without honesty, what good is any oath?), then I cannot take the Scout Oath, neither in its current form nor in yours. You’re proposing a solution that works for you, that you can wheedle out of feeling dishonest about, but it doesn’t work for me, nor for my children. And you’ve done nothing about the BSA’s consistent statement that:

      no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God

      a statement that literally tells me and my kids that we are second class citizens. I don’t accept that. I can’t. I never will. It’s rank bigotry.

      The BSA must remove this language from it’s membership guide, it must state that it will accept any youth or adult without any restrictions on belief or lack thereof and it must rewrite the oath to say “do my duty to my country” or it will still be discriminatory.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    I don’t care if a group like the Boy Scouts discriminates against people who don’t fit its standard. It’s clearly an institution with a strong religious component. If you aren’t religious, then stay the fuck away from the Boy Scouts.

    With that said, I think BSA’s discrimination disqualifies it from government financial support. This is the only change I can comfortably force upon them.

    Like everyone else, they have the right to be bigots (or to act in accordance with the rules of a fear-mongering omni-bigot). For better or worse, it’s part of their identity. By what right can anyone determine the identity and principles of others? The choice to change should be left to them, if they wish to conform or to be more inclusive.

    • eric

      I think FFRF is making a moral argument in their ad, not a legal one. Yes, the BSA has the legal right to discriminate. But FFRF is equally within their rights to point a finger and say “shame on you for acting in this legal-but-unethical way.” The ad is an example of the latter.

      • Sweetredtele

        If they get discounts on use of public buildings or federal funds, then no, they can’t discriminate.

    • Spuddie

      The “strong religious component” is a rather late addition to the organization and really has nothing to do with the nature of the Boy Scouts per se as it does with its funding.

      Troops which were funded by churches had more sectarian influences than those funded by secular organizations. By ramping up the religious intolerance angle, churches, like the LDS and Southern Baptists scared off much of the secular support and consolidated their control within the organization.

      A good amount of that criticism is actually coming from within the organization. Many former scouts and scout leaders find this kind of appropriation by religious figures to be out of place for the organization. They have a right to be bigots, but they also have the right to be
      criticized for being so.

      • Gus Snarp

        Heck, my troop was sponsored by a church and that church had literally nothing whatsoever to do with how the troop was run, what activities we took part in, or what any of us believed or practiced. They gave us a meeting space and a place to store our gear and invited us to take part in Scout Sunday in their worship space, which we regularly did, but not one member of our troop was a member of the church or even its denomination.

        Literally the only influence of religion on our troop was that we had that Scout Sunday service once a year, attendance of which was entirely voluntary, we said the oath with God in it, and if a boy in the troop was interested in being troop chaplain, he could be and could hold services on camp outs. If not, we generally had no religious services on camp outs, even though camp outs always had Saturday overnights that meant missing church on Sunday morning. I expect their were (and still are) a lot of troops where religion plays no more role than it did in mine. It’s sad that the BSA is so controlled by churches and people out of step with a lot of its membership.

        As you say, the issue is a big deal for the LDS and the Southern Baptists (and where I am now, apparently the Catholics as well), but even other organizing churches didn’t used to care all that much.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Why do people keep arguing that bigoted organizations should be left alone and uncriticized and that nobody should try to better the organization they love?

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        I have no idea. Maybe you should ask some of them.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          I did. See your last two sentences.

          • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

            I didn’t say they should go without criticism. And I don’t have a problem with people trying to better things they love. However, how far that notion should reasonably be taken is debatable.

            Where is the line? When is it acceptable to force people in private organizations to compromise their integrity for the sake of including members who are fundamentally unlike the organization or the members it is meant to serve? And when not? I don’t know the answers.

      • CynicalAtheist

        Why doesn’t anyone just start a different organization that is all inclusive? Eventually, the BSA will go the way of the Dodo and everyone’s problems will be solved!

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          There are technically alternatives to the BSA, but they have an overwhelming monopoly backed up by government support. In almost all communities, the BSA is the only game in town. It is a major deal for parents to start up a non-Boy Scouts troop without all that infrastructure, backing and name recognition.

  • MineApostasy

    I was a member of a Catholic troop, and whilst I was a member I didn’t know that gay or atheist boys weren’t allowed. Then again, at the time I was involved with a UU church (you’ve gotta love a church that includes atheists, holds gay weddings, teaches much better Sex Ed than any local school, and has double-helices as the tapestries), and so without knowing that I was doing it: I was fulfilling the religious requirements. It was only afterwards that I learned all of this and completely severed ties.

    Plus, I really hated being forced to attend a Catholic service when we were out of town.

    • Anna

      They shouldn’t have made you attend a Catholic service. I’m pretty sure that’s an explicit violation of the BSA’s own rules.

      Section 1. Freedom, clause 3. In no case where a unit is connected with a church or other distinctively religious organization shall members of other denominations or faith be required, because of their membership in the unit, to take part in or observe a religious ceremony distinctly unique to that organization or church.

      http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/guidetoadvancement/appendix/charterandbylaws.aspx

      • MineApostasy

        Huh, did not know that. I guess that’s the amazing thing about authority: you assume those in positions of power are doing the correct thing.

        So, after all those years of objecting to attending a stupid service, and being repeatedly told that I had to attend, I was right? I wish it felt better to know that, but I just feel cheated.

  • Gus Snarp

    I love this ad. It’s very well written and argued, especially where they turn the BSA’s “best kind of citizen” language around on them. Perfect.

  • billwalker

    Good job. Well done.

  • Anna

    More of this, please!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X