Don’t Hold Your Breath for BSA to Admit Atheists


The ban on gay scouts has now been lifted (thought not gay scoutmasters), but it’s likely to be a long time before the Boy Scouts of America lifts the ban on open atheism in the ranks. Kimberly Winston has a report on that prospect at the Religion News Service.

No one is holding their breath, least of all Neil Polzin, an Eagle Scout who was fired from his job in 2009 as an aquatics director at a Boy Scout camp in San Diego after he admitted to being an atheist.

“I don’t see that happening, at least not in the immediate future,” Polzin said. “The focus has always been on the Scouts’ discrimination against gays and it seems atheists were always on a back burner or not discussed at all.”

But that doesn’t mean nonbelievers — atheists, humanists and other nontheists — have abandoned their quest for inclusion. In the wake of the BSA’s May 23 vote that led to the inclusion of gay Scouts — but not gay scoutmasters — every major organization of nonbelievers has issued a statement condemning their continued exclusion.

A BSA official declined to comment, but issued a statement that said, in part, that since the organization had “just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter.”

I don’t get the scouting thing at all. I remember doing Cub Scouts for a couple weeks when I was a kid and pretty much hating it. But I know several people who are atheists and became Eagle Scouts, presumably while pretending to do their “duty to God” as the scouting oath requires.

Comments

  1. marcus says

    ”…atheist were always on a back burner.” I don’t see much advantage to being moved tho the front burner.

  2. says

    It appears that the part of the BS motto about a scout’s “being prepared” is not something that the BSA’s inner circle is conversant with.

    They’ve pretty much made a completely self-imposed buttfuck out of the issue. While it’s unclear whether they will admit atheists on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis or not, it is entirely clear that they have pissed off the SBC and at least one Chicago RCC parish:

    http://swashzone.blogspot.com/2013/06/church-of-hate.html#comment-form

    and

    http://davescornertavern.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-catholic-church-vs-boy-scouts.html

    Said Chicago RCC parish has basically told the BSA troop that was using their facility to hold meetings to de-camp.* And the SBC, well, another notch on the batshitkrazzeee handle of KKKristianist illogic.

    * I bet Dr. X can shed more light on this

  3. says

    My grandfather was involved in scouting from the 50s to the 70s, when my uncle was a scout. Back then, it was all about outdoor skills — camping, hiking, boating, fishing, that sort of thing. While some troops were sponsored by churches, most were sponsored by schools; in the secular troops, religion rarely went beyond the ceremonial deism of the oath.

    That changed in the 80s, as the Talibangelicals began to get their hands into everything. More and more churches began to sponsor troops, not to encourage woodcraft and living skills but as religious ministries. By 2000, they had completely taken over. My grandfather, who loved scouting passionately and stayed on as a troop leader and mentor for years after my uncle grew out of it, eventually left in disgust over the changes. It definitely is NOT the same organization is once was.

  4. raven says

    atheist were always on a back burner.” I don’t see much advantage to being moved tho the front burner.

    1. US Xianity is dying. The nones are now up to 22% and rising rapidly. The BSA is losing member share steadily. This matters because they own lots of real estate which are fixed costs and have salaried staff who want to keep getting paid.

    Follow the money.

    2. It makes them look like the bigots and haters they are and costs them a lot of tax breaks and preferential other financial breaks.

    Follow the money.

    3. It’s totally Irrelevant!!! This was supposed to be an outdoor adventure group for kids. What does being an atheist have to do with tying knots or paddling a canoe?

    4. It’s a lie. The BSA believes you have to be religious to be a good person and citizen. The truth is the opposite. You can be a xian and be a good person. It just makes it harder. A lot harder. You often end up with lying, hate filled bigots like some of the current leadership of ….the BSA.

  5. rory says

    I was a Boy Scout from about 1994 until 2001 and attained the rank of Eagle. It was at the very end of my time in the Scouts that I rejected religion, so I don’t really ever recall it being an issue before that (I don’t really remember being cognizant of gay rights at the time; I don’t know if I even knew about the BSA’s policy on gay scouts and scoutmasters at the time). I loved being a Scout. Camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities weren’t something my family ever did when I was young, and Scouting was the first time I was exposed to that. And while I know a lot of people joke about the utility of being able to tie knots and build fires, I do find that many of the things I learned as a Scout have been helpful elsewhere in life.

    For these reasons, I’m disappointed and disgusted by the organization’s ridiculous behavior on the issues of gay and atheist inclusion. I couldn’t in good faith participate in Scouting know what I know now, and I couldn’t in good faith recommend it for anyone else’s sons despite the positive aspects of the Scouting program.

  6. Alverant says

    I’m one of those Atheists who earned the Eagle Scout rank. My troop didn’t take that part of the Oath seriously. (I was distantly related via marriage to the church’s pastor, but I think that was irrelevent.) I was a regular attendee of the mettings until I was 17 or so and went to most events including the National Jamboree. In many ways I was a better scout than the religious members. This was during the 80s so things might have changed as Gregory said. It could be different now as I grew up became more aware of the discrimination against Atheists and found I could no longer support the BSA.

  7. Mr Ed says

    My experiences are similar to Gregory in Seattle. I was a cubby in the 70’s and jumped up to boy scouts in ’76. I learned all sorts of outdoor skills. Boating, camping year round and backpacking, skills that I use today because the boy scouts taught them to me. I’m from Connecticut not the most religious part of the country but I don’t remember any religious component other than once or twice Catholic mass was an OPTION at a jamboree. I work for the scouts one summer and one of my coworkers was an outspoken atheist. I think in the 70’s scouts were adjusting to social changes in the 60’s and worked very hard to be inclusive.

    When my son turned six he was dying to join having heard my stories. The form to join was straight out of Alice’s Restaurant. In the center, in a box, in bold on the back of the form was a statement that needed to be signed that stated I believed in a god. The scouts in town have asked me a few times to be a leader and I have been blunt, the scouts made it clear they only wanted to be with their kind of people and I don’t want to be with bigots.

  8. raven says

    Back then, it was all about outdoor skills — camping, hiking, boating, fishing, that sort of thing.

    and

    That changed in the 80s, as the Talibangelicals began to get their hands into everything.

    OK. It’s Hitchen’s Rule again. Religion poisons everything.

    They should make the god babble thing local option. A lot of the church troops are Mormon because they make the BSA mandatory as part of their authoritarian style. This would screen out atheists from trying to join their troops.

    And really, who in the hell who is not a Mormon would want to join an LDS group anyway? To outsiders they look very weird. To Mormons, outsiders look just as weird as well.

  9. matty1 says

    This was supposed to be an outdoor adventure group for kids.

    Not quite

    That the purpose of this corporation shall be to promote, through organization and cooperation with other agencies, the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in Scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues, using the methods which are now in common use by Boy Scouts.

    From this it is pretty clear the outdoor adventure bit was not the reason the organisation exists – it was supposed to encourage various virtues by training boys to cope in a variety of situations. I submit that exposing scouts to a diversity of people actively advances this goal.

  10. raven says

    The form to join was straight out of Alice’s Restaurant. In the center, in a box, in bold on the back of the form was a statement that needed to be signed that stated I believed in a god.

    Oh great Cthulhu,

    From other comments on this thread, this must be new or relatively new.

    What happens if you believe in gods. Like the Hindus or Mormons?

    What happens if you are a pan-theist or Pagan. Or Agnostic. Or “spiritual but not religious”.

  11. Taz says

    What are the legal ramifications of this? I know the BSA won a case involving gays, but isn’t religious belief more problematic? Would they be allowed to kick out Jews or Muslims? I’d like to see this go to court.

  12. raven says

    In one sense it isn’t that big a deal.

    The bigots of the BSA can run their oogedy boogedy group into the ground along with their churches. Which is happening.

    There has been a proliferation of summer camp type programs for kids lately. Wiccan camps, Pagan camps, computer camps, music camps, atheist camps, sports camps, kayak camps, canoe camps in an ever expanding cloud of more specific interests.

    The one advantage of the BSA seemed to be a lot of summer camp real estate accumulated over the last century, many in scenic and mountain areas. But they aren’t the only ones.

    And those camps are a high fixed cost. If their membership keeps declining, they aren’t going to be able to afford them.

  13. raven says

    What are the legal ramifications of this? I know the BSA won a case involving gays, but isn’t religious belief more problematic? Would they be allowed to kick out Jews or Muslims? I’d like to see this go to court.

    It’s a private organization.

    They can be as bigoted as they want.

    It has cost them some tax breaks and other financial breaks as well. The schools can no longer offer them meeting space on preferential terms.

    It may cost them more in the future. AFAICT, some of their summer camps are on leased government land at little or no cost. This might well be illegal. Hey BSA, the pagans are coming for your summer camps.

    They’ve lost low cost leases due to court challenges by atheists already.

    PS The Wiccan scouts don’t discriminate against atheists. They claim to be inclusive but won’t charter Wiccan troops. So the Wiccans formed their own group.

  14. lofgren says

    Back then, it was all about outdoor skills — camping, hiking, boating, fishing, that sort of thing.

    The experience of being a Scout has always varied dramatically by troop. There is a lot of leeway left to the Scouts and their leaders. The BSA makes proclamations, but in my experience most troops pick and choose which aspects of scouting they want to care about. My troop was all about camping, especially with minimal gear in adverse conditions. We did one camping trip a month, Friday-Sunday at least, (almost) no matter the conditions. Secondly we were a service organization. We didn’t really care about anything else. However I had some really good friends who were in a troop that met five minutes away from us that were primarily a service organization and did a some camping a few times a year. Another troop who we occasionally did joint activities with was primarily a religious organization. It’s really hard to say what Scouting is “all about,” because it ends up being “all about” whatever the Scouts MAKE it “all about.”

  15. says

    Why does anyone give a shit about the BSA?

    That’s a serious question. What kind of idiot wants to raise their kid in some paramilitary pseudo outdoorsy crap when there’s – you know – the outdoors right there you can raise your kid in. Teaching kids independence: you’re doing it wrong.

  16. regexp says

    I don’t get the scouting thing at all. I remember doing Cub Scouts for a couple weeks when I was a kid and pretty much hating it.

    That’s too bad. I have nothing but fond memories of being a Scout.

    But I know several people who are atheists and became Eagle Scouts, presumably while pretending to do their “duty to God” as the scouting oath requires.

    Frankly I’m a little surprised of the naiveté of this comment. Like any sponsored organization – the literal commitment to parts of the Scouting tradition varied widely depending on location and who was the sponsor. My scout troop was sponsored by a Lutheran church. But we were raised Catholics. God was never talked about. The focus was on the kids and the activities – as it should be. Hell (pun intended) – the Deacon from my Catholic church was one of the scout masters. As was a former Catholic priest. I don’t recall a single discussion around God or faith while I was a scout. An Atheist would fit right in (as this one did).

    Where is this Atheist didn’t fit in was being sent to camping trips with my Catholic church. Which was 100% God (specifically the Catholic one) all the time (except when we were playing risk). It was painful.

  17. regexp says

    @Marcus

    Like many things (especially with InfoSec) – you completely miss the fucking point.

  18. Taz says

    It’s a private organization.
    They can be as bigoted as they want.

    Not in employment they can’t – this guy was fired from his job. A private company has no right to discriminate in employment based on religious beliefs. Even churches have run into problems with that. I think it depends on the position. For example, you can insist that the priest must be Catholic, but not the janitor.

  19. Drew says

    @RAVEN #13

    Hey BSA, the pagans are coming for your summer camps.

    Pagans are allowed. So long as you believe in deity/deities you’re allowed. It’s only those nasty atheists that aren’t allowed to play.

  20. raven says

    A private company has no right to discriminate in employment based on religious beliefs. Even churches have run into problems with that.

    The BSA is a nonprofit. Not a company.

    The latitude of nonprofits to discriminate is vast.

    I’d like to see a court case after the BSA fires an atheist or agnostic. But I suspect there won’t be one because the No Religions would lose and quickly.

    Not sure how the BSA screens out atheists and agnostics from their paid staff and numerous volunteers. If they make them sign of statement of faith, then they could be in trouble. Not for discrimination which is legal but for getting some tax breaks and other financial breaks.

  21. raven says

    Pagans are allowed. So long as you believe in deity/deities you’re allowed. It’s only those nasty atheists that aren’t allowed to play

    LOL, technically you are correct.

    But the BSA refused to charter Wiccan troops. They just ignored their own rules.

    I doubt they would charter any pagan troops either. These are xian bigots, the difference between pagans, atheists, agnostics, and Deists isn’t too important to them.

    The Wiccans just made up their own group, the Spiral Scouts.

  22. dobby says

    The scouts have changed a lot science I was a kid. We had an occasional prayer, but that was about it. I learned valuable skills, camping, cooking, knots, etc. Now there is an official position of chaplain’s aide. This position counts as a leadership position when getting the upper ranks.

  23. dingojack says

    Wait now – the BSA is so powerful they can change science?
    :) Dingo
    ———-
    PS: Yes,, I knew what you meant

  24. says

    raven “3. It’s totally Irrelevant!!! This was supposed to be an outdoor adventure group for kids. What does being an atheist have to do with tying knots or paddling a canoe?”
    Fact #1: Athiest knots are impossible to undo.
    Fact #2: Athiest canoes sink.
    And worst of all…
    Fact #3: At Jamboree, Athiests always forget the jam.
    Those are the facts, raven.

  25. says

    @matty1 #9 – “From this it is pretty clear the outdoor adventure bit was not the reason the organisation exists – it was supposed to encourage various virtues by training boys to cope in a variety of situations.”

    Exactly. The woodcraft and other activities are fun, and a lot of boys got involved so they could go hiking and camping and learn skills. But the reason behind this has long been to teach boys about confidence and self-reliance. (Baden-Powell also had in mind training youth in the skills they would need to be soldiers in the “wilds” of the British Empire; he started the Scouting movement after returning from the Ashanti and Boer wars in Africa.)

    The problem is that most Boy Scout troops in the US have become government subsidized church youth groups and ministries with the stated intention of recruiting and indoctrinating children into a fundamentalist mindset. It is very telling that Boy Scout organizations in other countries have accepted gay and atheist boys and leaders, and have for years: the BSA is one of the last holdouts on the planet.

  26. says

    @Marcus Ranum #15 – “Why does anyone give a shit about the BSA?”

    The Boy Scouts of America are chartered by Congress, and has traditionally received a great many perqs not normally given to private organizations, including the use of government-owned resources (camp grounds, wilderness areas, municipal boat slips, equipment owned by municipal parks departments, police departments and fire departments) at extremely reduced or no cost. They should not be allowed to receive these benefits if they are going to insist that they are a private religious organization.

  27. ImaginesABeach says

    My son is a Boy Scout. And I’m fine with him saying he will do his duty to god. As far as we are concerned, he has the same duty to god as to the Tooth Fairy.

  28. Doc Bill says

    Fact #4: Atheists can build fires without matches. Oh, wait, that’s the Wiccans.

    Both the sexuality and the religious stuff get dragged out by ADULTS when there’s an argument to be had. One of the more disgusting things I’ve seen recently was a protest held in Dallas a few weeks ago by Texas Values dot Org, a “focus on the family” styled group run by one guy, a lawyer, of course, who is forever protesting “family values” issues like abortion, creationism and, now, Scouting. In the protest they had Cub Scouts, CUB SCOUTS for crying out loud, 8-year olds, holding up anti-gay signs, almost Westboro Baptist style, but less colorful. Kids that age, of course, have no freaking idea what is going on but were used a props.

    Shame of Texas “Values” and shame on the parents who let their kids be used this way.

    On a practical level only a very small percentage of units get all preachy with the kids. As a matter of adult leader training, the stress is on inclusive, non-denominational approaches to the 12th point of the Scout Law which is reverent, not religious. Reverent. In your own way. The Scouts accept Buddhists.

    Scouting is a leadership program, not a ministry.

  29. Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters says

    The BSA cannot design a no-atheists policy that allows Reconstructionist Jews and Zen Buddhists and excludes anyone at all. I do not believe in a divine being – I believe in a literary tradition and character called “god”, in the wisdom contained in some of the writings of such traditions, and in the laws of nature (which is NOT the same as natural law, just in case someone was thinking that). Literally ALL that is required to satisfy the BSA requirement is to have some tolerance for god-talk, a recognition that one is not the most powerful creature in the universe, and discretion in using the word “atheist.” I have read the BSA’s official policy statements on what constitutes a “belief in god” and having had a couple decades of theological education, I am completely confident that I could wipe the floor with some silly BSA official who decided to try to keep me from teaching kids and teens about knots and poison ivy. I’m even fairly out with the leadership in my pack/troop (United Methodist). At least ONE THIRD of the youth staff at the local residential camp where my daughter works are atheists. The BSA has already lost this fight, they’re just determined to change their policies in the very least dignified manner possible. Just like they’re doing with their policies on gays and their move towards more coeducational programming.

    I told Dave Silverman about this absurd No True Scotsman silliness at a recent conference and he made his famous you’re kidding me face for real. Later, I pulled my scout leader shirt out of my purse and he posed with me while doing The Face.

  30. Nick Gotts says

    while pretending to do their “duty to God” as the scouting oath requires

    I don’t see the problem there. My “duty to God” is precisely the same as my “duty to Superman”, and I perform both flawlessly.

  31. says

    I didn’t identify as an atheist until after I had become an Eagle Scout, but my experience was quite secular.religion didn’t go further than the oath. Even thought we were sponsored/had meetings in a church basement they never got involved at all.

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