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Scout's admission of being Wiccan leads to turmoil (Louisiana)

May 10,2006

By Melanie Crownover
Special to The Town Talk

ANACOCO -- The camp is going well so far. Boy Scouts have gathered from around the area in khaki button-ups and red scarves, eager to earn their God and Country badge.

The leader in a room of about 20 Scouts decides to break the ice by showing how religiously diverse the gathering is.

By a showing of hands, he asks who belongs to the Baptist Church, the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, continuing on until two boys are left who have not raised their hands.

One of the brothers is called out to tell the group what church he attends. He replies, "I'm Wiccan."

Little did 12-year-old Cody Brown realize how much that answer would affect his life.

During the past six weeks, Cody and his 15-year-old brother, Justin, have waited with their parents to see how the controversy sparked by
Cody's answer would play out.

Within 48 hours of Cody's confession, the troop committee of Holly Grove United Methodist Church in Anacoco was meeting to discuss the

The church sponsors the boys' chapter, Troop 71. Pastor Doug Lewellyn was out of town at the time of the meeting.

"The number one scout law is to do your duty to God and your country," Troop 71 Scout Master Gene Doherty said. "They met to discuss whether or not the boys could live up to that because of their religion."

The conclusion was that they could not.

Doherty called Army Cpt. Todd Buchheim, the boys' father and a former Eagle Scout stationed at Fort Polk, to inform him that the boys no longer were welcome in the troop. The Buchheims said Doherty told them that if Cody had lied about his faith, the boys could have remained with no problem.

"I was trying to give them a head's up so that they wouldn't come to the next meeting and not be prepared for what was going on," Doherty said. "They've been so supportive of our troop, and they're good people."

Two days later, Doherty said, the committee held another meeting with the church's pastor and decided to contact the district United Methodist
Church committee and the National Council of the Boy Scouts before anything official was done.

Doherty, however, had already acted upon the original orders and kicked the boys out of the troop.

"The boys had been in that troop for over a year, and it wasn't exactly a secret," said Aileen Buchheim, the boys' mother. The boys became a part of the troop when the family lived in Anacoco, but wanted to continue on after they moved to Fort Polk in August 2005.

"No child should have to be told in 2006 that they can't take part in a group because of their religion," Aileen Buchheim said.

The district church committee in Lake Charles agreed and overturned Holly Grove's decision to oust the boys from the troop on religious

"Our church's motto is to open our hearts, minds and doors to everyone because we all have to come to an understanding of God on our own -- these boys should be no different," District Superintendent Doug Ezell said. "We are just a sponsor for the troop, so if the Boy Scouts do not have a problem with them being there, we don't."

According to the Boy Scouts, it's up to the sponsors to make that choice.

"Boy Scouts own the program but does not control the unit," said Legare Clement, executive director of the Boy Scouts for southwestern Louisiana. "We partner with community organizations and churches as sponsors to present the program, which is actually a youth outreach for them.

"They approve leaders by our standards, but they have a right to choose members," Clement said.

Although there are no troops or packs sponsored by Wiccan circles, the national office informed Clement that any boy who believes there is a God -- not just the Christian God -- can live up to the creed.

"They said that we believe in more than one God, but that depends on the branch of Wicca, just like any other religion," Aileen Buchheim said. "We believe in one goddess and god with different names and aspects depending on the time of the year."

Not everyone embraced the church's decision, including some parents of troop members who, officials said, feared that their children would be preached to by the two boys.

The irony is that the original troop was founded on parallel circumstances.

Doherty said Troop 71 began as a half-Baptist/half-Pentecostal troop led by a Jewish man.

Although the children had no problems with one another, the parents wanted the troop separated because of religious beliefs, Doherty said.
When Doherty needed a charter for his Cub Scout troop, the troop leader transferred the charter and ferried his children to Anacoco from Pitkin for years to avoid the split.

"I've seen what difference of belief can do to a troop even if we aren't here to do doctrine," Doherty said. "It's not right or fair, but it's there. The world just isn't ready for diversity when it comes to their kids. People fear what they don't understand."

After almost a month of noncommittal answers on the boys' status, Aileen Buchheim said she received an apologetic call from Lewellyn to invite the boys to the next meeting, which occurred April 25.

Lewellyn attended the scout meeting to talk to the parents and Scouts about why they all were welcome and how doctrine was not a Boy Scout

Numbers were sparse, and two mothers allegedly came back to pick their boys up 10 minutes after Capt. Buchheim brought in his sons.

"This (the controversy) has weakened the group," Doherty said. "I will probably lose some parent support and some good boys over this no matter how it turns out."

This past week, he officially lost two.

Cody and Justin decided not to remain with Troop 71 after the ordeal.

"This was devastating," Aileen Buchheim said. "My husband puts on a uniform to fight for ours and other nations' rights every day, and yet
this happens in our own backyard. We just wanted to make sure it was straightened out so no one has to go through this again."

In the meantime, Aileen Buchheim has filed paperwork to charter a local chapter of Spiral Scouts, a Wiccan-based scouting organization that
accepts members of any background, belief or gender between the ages of 3 and 18.

About 15 children are already on the sign-up list if the charter is approved, she said.




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