Atheist group cries 'foul' after BSA lifts ban on gays, but not its own

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Chris Hill leads a crowd of Boy Scouts in reciting the BSA Oath during a prayer vigil at the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas, February 6, 2013. Not longer after the photo was taken, the BSA adopted a policy of admitting openly homosexual youth into its ranks. Critics of the move claimed it would open the ranks to adult homosexual leaders, and it did. The BSA on Monday, July 27, 2015, adopted a policy allowing openly homosexual leaders to serve. | REUTERS/Darrell Byers

MADISON, Wisc. (Christian Examiner) – The atheist Freedom from Religion Foundation is praising the Boy Scouts of America for their new policy allowing gay adult leaders and employees in the organization, but also rebuking it for not extending the same opportunity to atheists.

In a statement issued after the BSA announced its policy shift, the Wisconsin-based group said the BSA had "cut a deal with the churches and conservative religious groups that run many packs and troops by exempting them from the deal [mandating the acceptance of homosexual leaders]."

Under the new BSA policy, charter organizations are allowed to determine the qualifications for their own leaders. Religious charter organizations, such as Boy Scout troops sponsored by Baptist or Catholic churches, are allowed to appoint leaders who meet the religious criteria of the church, even on the issue of human sexuality.

Non-theists, in other words, are still at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of social acceptance; so low, indeed, that discrimination against our ranks apparently doesn't even rate mention anymore.

The BSA, however, did not address any other subgroup in the culture, and that has the FFRF fighting mad at "religion's foot-dragging bigotry."

"Today, 'accommodating' religion increasingly is code for letting religionists discriminate," the group said, complaining that 70 percent of BSA packs and troops are sponsored by churches and other religious organizations.

That figure, FFRF believes, explains why BSA leaders and the media have made the glaring omission of not opening the ranks of scout leaders to atheists. The group is also angry because the public, government officials and the media are not championing its cause.

"Non-theists, in other words, are still at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of social acceptance; so low, indeed, that discrimination against our ranks apparently doesn't even rate mention anymore," the statement from FFRF said.

FFRF said many people believe the BSA is a private organization that can choose its own members. That, however, is a "serious misunderstanding," the group argues. It claims the BSA is not "just a private group."

"It has a congressional charter as a civic group. If it continues to bar atheist and agnostic lads and leaders, if it continues to act as an exclusionary religious group, it should be re-categorized not as civic but as religious," the FFRF statement said. "Congress does not have the power to charter religious clubs. The president of the United States should no longer serve as its honorary president, and public schools must be diligent in stopping recruitment and special privileges for BSA."

"Such a restructure should not be necessary. BSA should just lift its ban against nonreligious boys and leaders in the same way it has lifted the gay ban. Many of the 30 percent of packs and troops that are not church-sponsored (and a few that are) quietly welcome boys regardless of religious belief or nonbelief. Non-theist members haven't even asked that BSA change its religious oath, just that BSA protect scouts' freedom of conscience like the Girl Scouts of America's policy adopted decades ago accommodating nonreligious girls," FFRF said in the statement.

The BSA has for many years asked scouts to recite an oath upon entering its ranks and at regular meetings. That oath reads:

"On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."

The FFRF seems to hint in its statement that it believes the oath may be illegal because the BSA relies on and receives "major governmental favors." It claims that group entrenched discrimination by adopting a "religious litmus test" in the early 1970s when it adopted a set of religious principles for parents to sign.

In its policy handbook, the BSA's Declaration of Religious Principle claims "no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God."

"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. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them. The Boy Scouts of America, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and the organization or group with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life," the BSA policy manual reads.

Because the BSA requires the affirmation of God, which FFRF believes teaches young boys to discriminate against non-believers, the atheist group claims all public schools, governments and media outlets with influence should strike out at the BSA's affirmation of the existence of God, or its "last bastion of bigotry," as the group called it.