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Activist Groups Urge Obama to Reject Boy Scout Honor

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Activist groups, including Scouting for All, urge President Obama not to accept the honorary Presidency of the Boy Scouts of America until they stop discriminating.

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Atheists and Other Freethinkers in Scouting

Scouting For All Strategies on Community Outreach to Initiate Effective Change to Rescind the Discriminatory Policies of the Boy Scouts of America Against Atheists and Other Freethinkers

Scouting For All is a strong supporter of Scouting and the Scouting movement in America and throughout the world. We feel that Scouting is a wonderful program for youth and adults that should be available to everyone. The Boy Scouts of America's policy of excluding atheists and other freethinkers is unconscionable and goes against the very tradition of Scouting. It is a policy that is harmful to all youth, regardless of their religious views.

Definition of an Atheist

The simplest definition of an atheist is someone who does not believe in any god or gods. The word "atheism" has Greek or Latin origins, combining the prefix "a," which means "the absence of," with the word "theism," which means "religion."

More specifically, an atheist also rejects the idea of the supernatural "anything that defies the laws of the physical world" and consequently does not believe in life after death, miracles, angels or devils, or the value of prayers. An atheist does not believe that any religious document is divinely inspired, and does not rely on prayer or a holy book to solve life's problems. An atheist does not need the threat of heaven or hell to live an ethical and productive life.

American Atheists, Inc. defines an atheist as follows:

An atheist loves life and other human beings instead of a god. An atheist thinks that heaven is something for which we should work for now "here on earth"for all people to enjoy together. An atheist accepts that there is no help through prayer but that one must find in oneself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, subdue and enjoy it. An atheist thinks that only in knowledge of oneself and a knowledge of other human beings can one find the understanding that will help lead to a life of fulfillment.

Therefore, an atheist seeks to understand life and other human beings rather than to "know" a god. An atheist knows that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist knows that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death.

An atheist wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. An atheist wants all people to understand and love other human beings. An atheist wants an ethical way of life. An atheist knows that we cannot rely on a god nor channel action into prayer or hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter. An atheist knows that we are our brothers' keepers in that we are, first, keepers of our lives; that we are responsible persons, that the job is here and the time is now.

Religious belief is expressed by a variety of faiths and sects within those faiths. Similarly, religious disbelief is embodied by a variety of philosophies other than atheism, including agnosticism, humanism, rationalism, and materialism. Historically, these other types of disbelief have been covered by the term "freethought," which meant that supporters of these philosophies (known as freethinkers) held thoughts that were not bound by traditional religious dogma. It would be inaccurate to consider all religious people Christians, and it would be equally inaccurate to label all types of disbelievers as atheists. For the purposes of this statement, the term "other freethinkers" is included to acknowledge this difference.

Is Atheism Incompatible with Scouting?

According to the official website of the Boy Scouts of America, the aims of the Scouting program are:

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; Specifically, the BSA endeavors to develop American citizens who are physically, mentally, and emotionally fit; have a high degree of self-reliance as evidenced in such qualities as initiative, courage, and resourcefulness; have personal values based on religious concepts; have the desire and skills to help others; understand the principles of the American social, economic, and governmental systems; are knowledgeable about and take pride in their American heritage and understand our nation's role in the world; have a keen respect for the basic rights of all people; and are prepared to participate in and give leadership to American society.

These are admirable traits that should be nurtured in all American citizens. However, while religious belief clearly plays a central role in helping some people build personal values, others can construct positive personal values independent of any belief in a god or higher power. Life philosophies that do not include belief in a deity do not preclude values that foster strong character, good citizenship, and personal fitness.

To exclude a person from the benefits and camaraderie of Scouting based on their lack of religious belief is detrimental to the goal of teaching respect for the basic rights of all people, when such basic rights must include the right to hold any religious opinion and the right to voice that opinion freely. Respect for the ideas and opinions of others is central to the aims of scouting. This can only be accomplished by embracing diversity and learning from others through association and mutual cooperation. By including atheists and other freethinkers in Scouting, both the religious and the nonreligious can gain a better understanding and appreciation of each other as fellow human beings.

It is difficult for anyone who disagrees with the majority, but it is especially difficult for children. It should be appreciated that a Scout who admits his disbelief in a god is taking the Scout Oath and Law seriously and displaying the noble qualities of honesty, integrity and courage that are encouraged by Scouting.

Scouting For All Goals, Policies and Procedures

Scouting For All is not demanding radical changes to the structure of the Boy Scouts of America, nor is it our goal to change the Scouting oaths or laws. We are only asking that atheists and other freethinkers be allowed to participate in Scouting with the acknowledgement that Scouting, as defined by the BSA, has a strong religious component. The purpose of Scouting For All's effort to rescind the BSA's discriminatory policies is to improve the organization by returning to the original intention of its founder, Robert Lord Baden Powell, which is to create "a youth organization for all of our youth "not just some of our youth; a youth organization we can all become proud of: Scouting USA."


Scouting For All believes that all Scout units (Cub Scouts, Packs, Boy Scout Troops, Venture Scout Crews and Sea Scout Ships) and councils should have an anti-discrimination statement that protects atheists and other freethinkers.

We encourage all Scouting units and councils to take a stand against the BSA's policy of discrimination against atheists and other freethinkers by adopting an anti-discrimination statement and, at their discretion, sending a copy to the National Council, Boy Scouts of America.

Scouting For All will encourage communities and governing bodies to accept anti-discrimination statements from local Scouting units even though the National Council, BSA continues its policy of discrimination against atheists and other freethinkers.

Scouting For All cannot support any Scout unit or council that does not adopt an anti-discrimination statement that protects atheists and other freethinkers.

Scouting For All encourages volunteers whose communities do not have anti-discrimination ordinances or laws to work towards getting anti-discrimination ordinances adopted. We therefore encourage volunteers to work with government officials in their regions to adopt state
anti-discrimination policies that include religious preference and extend to both businesses and private organizations (i.e., Scouting For All recommends that the California Unruh Civil Rights Act be expanded to include private organizations).

Scouting For All will continue to promote Eagle Scout Steven Cozza's petition drive to end the BSA's discrimination against gay youth and adults, and hope that this effort will act as a catalyst to end all forms of discrimination within the organization, including discrimination against atheists and other freethinkers.

Scouting For All encourages all Scouts and adult leaders who support the end of discrimination in Scouting to not leave the organization, but to seek change from within. Scouting should embrace diversity, and we need youth and adults in Scouting who are atheists and other freethinkers. By taking a stand against discrimination, Scouting For All is merely doing what a good Scout should do. However, we also appreciate that, for some people, it may be unacceptable to remain in a program that continues to discriminate against nonbelievers.

Scouting For All and the Boy Scouts of America do not have the right to dictate doctrine to religious denominations. However, all Scout units should be operated under the umbrella of a National Council, Boy Scouts of America anti-discrimination policy that includes protection for atheists and other freethinkers.

Scouting For All believes that anyone who has been denied admission to Scouting or dismissed because of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation should be allowed to participate in Scouting.


Scouting For All will offer educational outreach to Scouting units and local councils to help meet community anti-discrimination ordinances by assisting in adopting and developing anti-discrimination statements.

Scouting For All will offer educational outreach to communities, as well as human rights groups, school districts, and city, county, state and federal governmental bodies, to encourage the adoption and enforcement of anti-discrimination policies that protect atheists and other freethinkers.

Scouting For All will offer educational outreach to communities that already have anti-discrimination ordinances in place to encourage them to work with Scouting groups in their areas to help them comply with local ordinances.

Through the Scouting For All web page and volunteer force throughout the country and the world, Scouting For All will offer model letters to Scouting units to help them develop their own anti-discrimination statements.

Scouting For All, through a process of negotiation and mediation, will attempt to work directly with the National Council, Boy Scouts of America to develop a policy that protects all youth against any discrimination, including atheists and other freethinkers.

When questions arise concerning Scouting units that use public facilities, upon request Scouting For All will provide assistance by enlisting supporters to send letters of support to the appropriate decision makers (governing bodies, school boards) regarding the units' adherence to anti-discrimination ordinances.

Scouting For All encourages all supporters of the movement to ask their local United Way if it requires funded agencies to abide by a policy of non-discrimination that includes religious preference. Inform them of the National Council, BSA's discriminatory policies and ask them what they are doing about it.

Scouting For All encourages all Scouts and adult leaders to make an individual commitment to not discriminate against atheists and other freethinkers. By fighting discrimination against all people, including gays and atheists and other freethinkers, Scouting For All hopes to, in the words of Eagle Scout Steven Cozza, "help make the earth a better place and Scouting a program we all can be proud of."

April 2000
written by Dave Kong
California Director for American Atheists


Scouting For All is not an alternative scouting program.
We are an education and advocacy organization reaching out to gay and nontheist youth and adults in our effort to get the Boy Scouts of America to rescind its exlusionary policy.

Any communications sent to Scouting for All or any Scouting for All representative may be published on the Scouting for All web site or in Scouting for All materials unless the communication specifically requests that it not be published.

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