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About the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)

Part 1: The BSA's history, status, religious
foundation, membership requirements, and
policies of exclusion of gays, Atheists, etc.

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About the Boy Scouts of America:

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is an organization, composed almost entirely of volunteers, that provides "quality youth programs, including Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, and Venturing" to about 2.7 million boys (and some older young adult men and women volunteer leaders) between the ages of 7 and 20. 1(Venturing is a co-ed program introduced in 1998 for older youths and young adults).

In England,  Lord Robert S.S. Baden-Powell, referred to as "the Hero of Mafeking" because of his activity in South Africa during the Second Boer War, had started a program of training for boys with his book "Scouting for Boys" in 1908. The book became an instant best seller. "He was later proclaimed Chief Scout of the World." 2 A number of his biographers have concluded from the available evidence that he was gay. Tim Jeal wrote: "The available evidence points inexorably to the conclusion that Baden-Powell was a repressed homosexual." 3There is no evidence that he acted on his sexual orientation with either adults or minors.

An American businessman, William D. Boyce, visiting London in 1910 was impressed by the good turn of a British Boy Scout and took action to bring a similar program to the U.S. IN 1911, he arranged to merge a number of boy's groups into a national organization. On 1910-FEB-8, a new corporation "Boy Scouts of America" was established. Ironically, one of Boyce's grandsons is gay and thus is ineligible to be a member.

The BSA's home page states:

"The purpose of the Boy Scouts of America, incorporated on February 8, 1910, and chartered by Congress in 1916, is to provide an educational program for boys and young adults to build character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop personal fitness." 1

"Organizations such as public schools, government organizations, churches, synagogues, mosques, civic groups or groups of citizens obtain a charter from the Boy Scouts to sponsor an individual Scouting unit." 4 Churches sponsor about 60% to 70% of troops nationally and involve about 55% of all boys in Scouting. 5

The main denominations involved in sponsoring troops are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. the LDS Church and the Mormons), the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Methodist Church. The first three are among the most anti-gay faith groups in the U.S.

The BSA had a policy of expelling any person known to have a homosexual or bisexual orientation, whether a scout or a staff member. 4 They maintained a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy similar to that recently abandoned in the military. If youth Scouts were not open about their sexual orientation, they were allowed to join and stay in Scouting.

These policies are not shared by either the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. or the scouting movement in Canada. In 1997-MAR, Scouting in Great Britain rescinded its policy of discrimination against gay youths and adults. 

During 2013-MAY, the BSA modified its anti-gay policy to allow openly gay youths to join and stay in Scouting until their 18th birthday. On that date, they are to be expelled.

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The religious foundation of the BSA:

The BSA is viewed by many as an inclusive organization open to all boys of good character whose ages fall within certain limits. This belief appears in the BSA's own recruitment literature. In reality, the BSA regards itself as a religious/spiritual organization with specific membership exclusions based on the youth's:

  • Belief in the existence of a God and
  • His sexual orientation.

Some indications of the religious/spiritual foundation of the BSA are:

bullet The Venturing program (young men and women 14 to 20 years) involves "Instilling stable personal values firmly based on religious concepts."

bullet Boy Scout (males 11 to 17) are expected to follow the Scout Law which says, in part: "A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others."

bullet One of the purposes of Cub Scouting (7 to 10 years) is to: Positively influence character development and encourage spiritual growth."

bullet The BSA bylaws contain the statement "The Boy Scouts of America maintain that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God....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."

bullet One of the requirements of the BSA personal fitness merit badge is answer and discuss with their counselor the question: "Are you actively involved in the religious organization of your choice and do you participate in their youth activities?"

bullet Many scouts earn the Universal Religious Square Knot which they sew onto their shirt above the left pocket.

bullet The BSA does not have a merit badge on religious or spiritual knowledge. However, about 5% of Boy Scouts have completed a religious program with their own faith group and may be allowed to wear the corresponding religious emblem on their Scout uniform. This privilege is granted by the BSA to dozens of religions and denomination, if the course meets their standards. The emblems are supplied by the denomination, or by P.R.A.Y, an independent agency, 6 after the youth completes their faith group's course.

For example, the Unitarian Universalist Association has a Love and Help course and emblem for Tiger Cubs and Cub Scouts. They have a Religion in Life course and emblem for Boy Scouts and Explorers. Permission to wear their emblems was rescinded, then restored, then re-rescinded by the BSA because the course does not meet their standards requiring the denigration of persons with a minority sexual orientation, and requiring the Scout to believe in specific teachings about God.

The Roman Catholic church has courses and emblems called Light of Christ for cubs, Ad Altare Dei for Boy Scouts, and Pope Pius XII for explorers. 

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Membership requirements:

The BSA requires its members to accept and recite various oaths:

bullet The Boy Scout Oath:
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.


bullet Cub Scout Promise:
I, (name), promise to do my best
To do my duty to God and my country,
To help other people, and
To obey the Law of the Pack.


bullet Tiger Cub Promise: (First grade boys)
I promise to love God,
my family, and my country,
and to learn about the world.


bullet The Declaration of Religious Principle (All youth members and adult leaders)
"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."


The organization has excluded potential youth members and has expelled current members who are:

bullet Members of religious organizations (or individuals with personal religious beliefs) that do not have a belief in a god. This includes Agnostics, Atheists, some Unitarian Universalists, some Buddhists, and others.
bullet Youths with minority sexual orientations, including both homosexuals and bisexuals. Indications of homosexual behavior are not needed; merely a homosexual or bisexual orientation is sufficient grounds to terminate a membership. They are not expelled because of something that they do; they are expelled because of what they are. The beliefs of the BSA go beyond even those of most conservative and some mainline Christians. The BSA believe that both homosexual orientation and same-gender sexual behavior are grounds for expulsion.

A complete description of BSA religious requirements is contained in the "Duty to God" section of the BSA legal issues web site. 7

The Girl Guides have an oath that is similar to the Boy Scouts: 

"On my honor, I will try, to serve God & my country, 
to help people at all times, 
and to live by the Girl Scout Law.

However, since 1999, they allow individual girls to opt out of the use of the word "God." They can substitute Jehovah, the Goddess, the Great Spirit, etc. This allows girls who follow Atheism, Agnosticism, Buddhism, Humanism, Unitarian Universalism, and other faith groups to join.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References:

  1. "Boy Scout," is the BSA official home page at: http://www.bsa.scouting.org/ 
  2. Gip Plaster, "The ultimate irony: Evidence suggests founder and 'Chief Scout of the World' may have been gay," Texas Triangle, 1998-FEB-26. Online at: http://sir.home.texas.net/
  3. Tim Jeal, "Boy-Man: The Life of Lord Baden-Powell"  
  4. "Findings of Fact..., R.D. Pool & M.S. Geller vs. Boy Scouts of America..." Commission on Human Rights, Government of the District of Columbia, 1998-MAY-1, at http://www.uua.org/
  5. ReligionToday.com current news summary for 1999-AUG-12.
  6. Programs of Religious Activities with Youth (P.R.A.Y.) has a web site at: http://www.praypub.org/
  7. "Duty to God," Boy Scouts of America, 2006, at: http://www.bsalegal.org/duty-to-god-cases-224.asp

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Copyright © 1999 to 2013, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 
Originally published on 1999-AUG-9 
Latest updated: 2013-APR-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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