As American as apple pie and baseball, are hallmark institutions like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. Most Americans have been exposed to both of these groups through their lives. Whether through active enrollment for a time in such a program, or from their friends being involved in the program, or the annual fund-raisers and volunteer projects in the community that scouts participate in. Of course, while we think of these organizations as uniquely American institutions, the fact is both of these institutions were founded in response to the International Scouting Movement began in the early 1900’s by a British Lieutenant-General in the Army.
While scouting supports the type of virtues one would like to see encouraged across our society as a whole: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. It’s unfortunately not an organization for everyone.
Recently the organization has been back in the news for denying leadership positions to a Texas father who is publicly gay, as well as to a Mormon couple. Since they are a private organization, they are allowed to dictate the criteria for their membership, as well as to dictate who can be a leader of a scout troop.
At the heart of the organization is the Scout Oath:
On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country;
To obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
The BSA interprets this to mean that a person must have some concept of deity (the Abrahamic God, a pagan diety, Buddha, etc.) that they believe in, and therefore atheists and agnostics aren’t welcome. They deny openly homosexual individuals from leadership positions (even volunteer ones) because those individuals are not “morally straight” nor are they an “appropriate role model”.
While most people expect that the organization is most-likely welcoming to those of the Abrahamic faiths, it is also willing to welcome those of many other religious faiths to partake of their programs as well, including pagans. In fact, several years ago an Asatru Kindred was granted a charter to found an all-Heathen Boy Scout Group: The group has been given troop number 1239 in the Greater Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America. There have also been several Wiccan-chartered scouting groups through the years.
But as a recent op/ed piece by LZ Granderson at CNN suggests, being actively involved with organizations like the is the same as tacitly agreeing to their discriminatory attitudes. This and other factors is why many pagans have left the organization, opting instead for an alternative that is less discriminatory to people of other religious beliefs — the Spiral Scouts, which has been around now approximately 10 years. The Spiral Scouts are more-encompassing of varied definitions of family so parents who wish to lead and volunteer can do so regardless of their own religious beliefs or sexual preferences. Spiral Scout troops are open to both boys and girls, religious beliefs (or lack thereof), all creeds and races and have a philosophical focus on earth, air, fire, water and spirit while encouraging community service.
In addition to the Spiral Scouts, we also have the other big American scouting organization the Girl Scouts of America, who are more accommodating than the BSA. While God is also part of their pledge, they allow individuals to substitute the word to what is appropriate for their belief system, be it God, Gods, Buddha, my faith, the Creator, the Goddess, etc. As it pertains to homosexual leaders, their policy is that it is a private matter and that leaders must behave in a way that is sometimes colloquially summarized as: “don’t ask, don’t evangelize.” In their case, their more liberal attitude which came into being in the 1990’s caused a splintering of some conservative Christians to found a new scouting group in 1995 called American Heritage Girls as an alternative to the GSA.
While many people think that the GSA is the sister club to the BSA, that’s incorrect. BSA’s sister club was the Camp Fire Girls, which since the 70’s is a co-ed organization and now known as Camp Fire USA. Unlike the BSA or the GSA they don’t care at all about religious beliefs or sexual preferences, they’re more focused on building up values in the youth.
So as a pagan, I ask you my readers what do you feel is the way to go with scouting? Change organizations like the BSA from the inside out? Embrace the Spiral Scouts, or utilize other more mainstream scouting groups like the GSA or Camp Fire USA? For those who have scouted, as well as those with children, what do you want to see in future scouting generations?
What experiences have you had (good or bad) with the various scouting organizations as it applies to the issues that concern you?