I want to begin by clarifying that I am not raising a constitutional or legal question at all. Let’s assume that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have the constitutional right to associate or not associate with whoever they wish.
I’m coming at this from a very different angle. Again, I’m stipulating that the BSA has the legal right to exclude atheists and agnostics from membership. But what if their reason for choosing to exercise that right is flawed?
Let’s conduct a thought experiment. Imagine a bowling club that had a policy of excluded anyone with red hair. (So far as I know, red heads are not a “protected class.” If I’m wrong, then pick some other group.) The bowling alley has the constitutional right to exclude red heads. But why are they doing that? Imagine they released an official position statement which stated: “The bowling alley maintains that red heads are immoral people and therefore requires that members be either bald or not have red hair.” Everyone, I think, can agree that this would be a stupid reason for excluding red heads from membership. Not only is that a stupid reason, it would also be bigotry. Red heads would rightfully be offended and non-red heads would condemn that sort of bigotry.
How is this any different from the BSA’s discrimination against atheists and agnostics? The BSA’s stated reason for doing so is that belief in God is required to become the best kind of citizen. In their words:
“The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.’ 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 and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.” (italics mine)
But what if someone says, “I don’t care what some Christian apologists have written. I don’t think nontheists are moral. I don’t trust them.” From that perspective, there is even more reason to allow nontheists to join the BSA. If nontheists are so ‘morally defective,’ then what better course of action than to allow them to join an organization which, other than its policy of discrimination against homosexuals and nontheists, promotes good moral values? If nontheists are morally handicapped, why not give them as much “moral support” as possible to ensure they turn into adults with the best kind of moral character?
Can you imagine a church or Sunday school group banning non-Christians or even just non-theists? Of course not! They welcome them. They view it as an opportunity for evangelism. By the same logic, then, why not view the BSA as an opportunity for moral evangelism, i.e., trying to get boys to develop the best kind of moral character?