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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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How Your Tax Dollars Support the Boy Scouts of America


Larry A. Taylor


It was open house at the Police Department in Whittier, California, and my guide, a polite and intelligent Explorer Scout, wore a uniform similar in style to that of the Whittier Police. "We're part of the department," he said.

And he was. According to the official procedure of the Boy Scouts of America which provides the Explorer program nationwide, each troop or unit is actually owned and operated by the sponsoring or "charter" organization. In the case of the Whittier Police Explorer Post, that charter organization is the City of Whittier.

Available from the department at its front desk is the pamphlet, _Introduction to the Whittier Police Explorers_, published by the City of Whittier. It explains that young people who are accepted into the program receive an 18-week training course on Saturdays at the Sheriff's facility. An application form for membership is included, which provides a place on page three to indicate "religious preference."

Private or Public?

The Boy Scouts of America has come under increasing fire for its rejection of atheists and gays and is currently in court defending itself against several discrimination lawsuits. In its legal briefs, it presents itself as a private group with an essentially religious basis that is exempt from discrimination laws, including California's Unruh Act. That act provides that:

All persons withing the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their ... religion ... are entitled to the full and equal accomodations, advantages, facilities, privileges or service in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.

The Boy Scouts' discriminatory position results from the BSA practice of excluding from membership -- as well as positions of adult leadership -- all who don't believe in God or who are homosexual.

Young children who, although they may not happen to use words like _atheist_ or _agnostic_, still know they don't believe in a supreme being, fall under the religous ban. Adult leaders must not merely pledge such belief, they must sign the Declaration of Religious Principles, which indicates agreement with the BSA policy that no one can become "the best kind of citizen" without recognizing the "obligation to God." Agreement is important here. Criticism of this religious policy by BSA leaders has led to dismissal. Also dismissed were officials who simply testified for the plaintiff in a discrimination trial, including some officials who personally believe in a god.

Given this, the question naturally arises as to what a private religious group is doing in intimate association with a city government. Can the Boy Scouts of America so easily get away with having it both ways, being "private" for purposes of discrimination but "public" when it comes to taxpayer support of local units? And does the BSA really have the clout to induce the City of Whittier to discriminate against gays and atheists who may wish to join its Whittier Police Explorer Post?

Clearly it can and does. In fact, _any_ city with a police or fire department having an Explorer program has effectively agreed to entangle itself with religion and discriminate in these ways. The discrimination goes beyond simply controlling who may become an Explorer Scout or an adult leader. Since future employers highly value Explorer service, cities with Explorer programs indirectly foster job discrimination. Another form of job discrimination faces officers or firefighters who wish to become adult leaders in an Explorer program. Putting "I was in charge of an Explorer Post" on a resume becomes impossible for an unbeliever because of the (sometimes arbitrary) veto of Boy Scouts of America officials.

In a free society, a city should not provide a public service for but a portion of its citizens. No city park greets visitors with a sign that reads, "No dogs, alcoholic beverages, or infidels allowed." Similarly, Whittier should not seek to prevent young atheistic Buddhists (for example) from providing volunteer service to the police department and receiving experience and training in return.

Who "Owns and Operates" an Explorer Post?

Decades of official BSA documents reveal that the chartered organization owns and operates the post or troop and is therefore responsible for the discriminatory policies used in its operation. _The Chartered Organization Representative_, published by the BSA, declares with emphasis, "The Units Belong to Your Organization . . . Packs, Troops, Teams, and Posts are Owned, Operated and Administered by _Community-based Organizations_." The policy -- that the Boy Scouts do not own individual units, but are only there to serve the chartered organization -- goes back to the early days of Scouting.

In _The District_, another BSA publication, the setup is explained:

Though we own Tiger Cubs, BSA; Boy Scouting; Varsity Scouting; and Exploring, we do not own the units that convey these phases of the program to youth.

We charter community organizations to organize and operate _their_ units.

In _Membership/Relationship Committee Guide_, the BSA authorities define terms:

The word "charter" that is used so widely in the Boy Scouts of America is not always well understood. Informally, the term "franchise" helps to explain what is meant by "chartering" an organization. "Franchise" implies local ownership while still using the corporation name and resources.

The chartered organization, according to _Post Organization_, must be committed to carry out the charter agreement. This must be done by the organization's "head." In a police department, this is the chief of police. The chartered organization is expected to "conduct the Scouting program according to its own policies and guidelines as well as those of the Boy Scouts of America." Paradoxically, according to _The Council_, the council of the Boy Scouts of America is pledged to maintain its own policies, and to cooperate "fully" with governments "within the framework of our Charter and Bylaws." This apparently means that the BSA can put its own rules above those of government, including discrimination statutes.

The chartered organization agrees, says _Post Organization_, to "recruit competent adult leaders." The choice of advisors, committee members, and especially the chartered organization representative, is made by the chartered organization. The Council of the Boy Scouts of America, however, holds a veto over these appointments. The BSA maintains a list of current "unacceptable" categories, declares the _Membership/Relationship Committee Guide_. Apparently, these adult leaders are officers or other employees of the department during working hours.

In sum, a city like Whittier is obligated to supply adult leaders certified to be neither gay nor atheistic to supervise a job training program for prospective recruits of the police department! Furthermore, this program is conducted on city property and supervised by city employees during working hours. By uniforms, insignia, and such association with Whittier employees, the Explorer Scouting program will generally be identified by the general public as under the control of the city their taxes support. Hence, the discrimination required by the BSA becomes both an act and a statement of the local government.

Obligation Not to Discriminate

The obligation of a public agency not to discriminate on the basis both of religion and sexual orientation is recognized in many communities throughout the country. Consistent with this, Chief of Police Bob Burgreen of the San Diego Police Department, to avoid continuing to endorse discrimination against gays, ordered his department's Explorer Scout charter sent back to the BSA. This ended a program there which had been part of the department for more than 25 years. Furthermore, the San Diego Human Relations Commission called for the city to end its lease agreements with the local Scout council because of its discrimination against gay members and troop leaders.

In conservative Orange County, California, the Laguna Beach Police Department has put the BSA on notice. Chief of Police Neil J. Purcell, Jr., said, "We resent the fact that, through a clearly discriminatory policy, they are dictating to us who can or cannot be a member or adviser of the Explorer Scout group. I'd like to have it out in the open and have it known we're not going to discriminate" against gays.

Troop 260 of San Jose, California, decided to cease excluding homosexuals, but nevertheless had its charter renewed. In Washington, acting on complaints by Patrick Inniss, a humanist activist, the Seattle Fire Department has terminated its relationship with the Boy Scouts by failing to renew its charter to operate an Explorer Post. Chief Claude Harris had sent a letter to the Boy Scouts requesting that they certify that the BSA would not discriminate on the basis of religion or sexual orientation. The Seattle Police Department has now suspended intake of new Scouts in their Explorer program while the discrimination issue is investigated. In addition, the King County Police Department there has assigned an attorney to investigate.

The BSA's Federal Charter

The 1916 Congressional charter, which supercedes the previous incorporation of the BSA in 1910, gives a monopoly to it on the use of the name "Scouts," and on insignia and phrases used in scouting. The House Judiciary Committee, reporting on the bill to charter the BSA, cited the public services rendered by Scouts, including service in floods, war-bond collection, and as "an auxiliary force in the maintenance of public order." The committee added:

The importance and magnitude of its work is such to entitle it to recognition and its work and insignia to protection by Federal incorporation. If any boy can secure these badges without meeting the required tests, the badges will soon be meaningless, and one of the leading features of the Scout program will be lost.

Since 1916, the BSA has used this federal monopoly to crush potential rivals. In 1917 it sued the United States Boy Scouts, previously known as American Boy Scouts, and that organization disappeared. Several other versions of scouting were absorbed on a friendly basis. The BSA is definitely a business that protects its monopoly in court. As recently as 1989, it threatened the Wilderness Scouts of Blairsville, Georgia. Thus, the congressional Charter of 1916 has effectively been made into a decree: outside of the Girl Scouts, which received a similar congressional charter in 1954, only one form of scouting can exist in the United States, and that form is the discriminatory BSA.

At the outbreak of World War I, the BSA had been the largest uniformed service, dwarfing in numbers the Army, Navy, and Marines. Duly constituted as a federal patriotic organization, Scouts were enlisted in service in natural disasters and in the massive Liberty Loan drive, with prizes given by President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of the Treasury William G.McAdoo. A poster for U.S.A. Bonds shows a Boy Scout handing a sword, emblazoned with "Be Prepared," to a flag-draped, shield-wielding goddess Liberty.

The federal government has taken the Charter seriously. A mammoth Charter Day dinner in 1962 was attended by 1,000 representatives of government. The Boy Scouts have been heralded by two commemorative stamps -- one in 1950 and the other in 1960.

Although Congress prescribes the powers of the BSA, nowhere is any mention made in its charter of God or religion. The charter entitles the organization to "make and adopt by-laws, rules, and regulations not inconsistent with the laws of the United States of America, or any State thereof." This should mean that the BSA is obligated to follow local, state, and federal anti-discrimination laws. In the same 1916 public law, the Boy Scouts of America is required to file a report with the United States Congress each year by April 1 on its expenditures and activities. These reports are public record and are available as House documents, filed by the number of the Congress in session.

Congress, in providing a charter to the BSA, retained the right to "appeal, alter, or amend this Act at any time." Therefore, Congress has the power to abolish the BSA. It certainly has the right to require it to cease its discrimination on the basis of religion, sex, and sexual orientation.

Duty to God

In accordance with the principles of Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the worldwide Scouting movement, Scouting was supposed to overcome religious and class differences. He wrote, "The religion of a man is not the creed he professes but his life -- what he acts upon, and knows of life, and his duty in it. A bad man who believes in a creed is no more religious than the good man who does not."

The "Duty to God" slogan was regarded liberally, and Scouting movements in several countries dispensed with it, notably Denmark in 1910. However, the Boy Scouts of America, fresh from the achievement of its federal monopoly, adopted a constitution in 1916 whose article III specified, "The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no boy can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God." The scout laws -- simple slogans memorized by the boys -- are different in each country. In the United States, a twelfth Scout Law was added, "A Scout Is Reverent." There is no such law in British scouting, organized according to the wishes of Baden-Powell.

All American Scout leaders are required to subscribe to a Declaration of Religious Principles -- agreeing to the religious test of the constitution. I have found no evidence that this test was actually applied in the early BSA to exclude individual atheist Scouts, but the BSA claimed in 1935 (perhaps as a boast to religious authorities) that it had excluded "several hundred" adult leaders who failed to acknowledge God.

Taxpayer Dollars

Though no level of government directly funds the operating budget of the BSA, member and unit sponsors paid fees that amounted in 1993 to $56.8 million out of a total budget of $115 million. In addition, supply operations garnered $18.4 million, and magazine publications another $3.7 million. Income from these sources would likely be greatly reduced if the BSA were not a federally protected monopoly. You can even be arrested for selling your own "scout souvenirs" without authorization.

The 355 local councils of the Boy Scouts have separate budgets which are more directly dependent on community and corporate donations. Approximately one third of the 1993 aggregate total for local councils came from local United Way organizations. Recently, however, United Way support has been reduced or cut off completely in some areas. The United Way cut funding to the Los Angeles Council of the BSA by 52 percent in 1993.

The BSA maintains statistical data on membership and unit (pack, troop and, post) growth. For years, detailed breakdowns of unit sponsorship were printed in the annual reports filed with Congress. I have combined some information from the latest, 1993, report with data supplied directly by BSA spokesperson Richard Walker:

Government organization              Total Units    Explorer Units
Dept. of Defense, all installations:
   Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines          1,014               300
Fire Departments                           3,127             1,475
Law Enforcement Agencies                   2,809             2,545
Public Schools                             9,971             1,734
Economic Opportunity Agencies                200                53
Learning for Life
   (presumed to be public schools)         5,621             1,887
TOTAL Public agencies                     22,742             7,694
Total, All Sponsors                      129,610            23,056

In addition, in the 1975 report, "Government Bodies" had an additional 340 Explorer posts and 612 total units; the U.S. Coast Guard had 47 Explorer posts and 63 total units; and Housing Projects had 1,003 units of which 60 were Explorer posts. Thousands more units were sponsored by labor unions, farm bureaus, professional and scientific societies, playgrounds, park and recreational centers, and Parent Teacher Associations, which have public connections. (Religious bodies over the years have sponsored about half of all units.)

Patrick S. Inniss has found Explorer Posts in the Seattle area at the King County Department of Public Safety, King County Fire District 24, the Washington State Patrol, the United States Customs Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Public-school-sponsored units alone have 353,464 youth members. Learning for Life groups have 737,799, thus involving at least a million students on school grounds. The total youth membership of the Boy Scouts of America is 4,165,173, and there are 1,190,228 adults.

BSA documents reveal decades of close cooperation with the federal government. The United States Air Force supports scouting from the Air Force Office of Youth Relations at Kelly Air Force Base in Texas. Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and National Guard cooperation is detailed in various manuals and regulations, making it clear that it is public policy to sponsor units and support the activities of the Scouts.

Other federal agencies supporting BSA units include the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and various state agricultural extension services. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Council Conservation Award, started in 1959 by then Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, has been given to one BSA council in each region annually. Local, State and Federal parks and forest personnel, as well as Armed Forces service personnel, have aided large numbers of touring Scouts. And many of these organizations have published regulations pertaining to support for the BSA:

  • U. S. Army, Army Reg. 28-1
  • U. S. Coast Guard, Coast Guard Public Affairs Manual, ch. 2
  • U. S. Navy, SECNAV Instruction 5720.44 and OPNAV instruction 5760.5
  • National Guard: Army Regulation 360-61; Air Force Reg. 190-1; National Guard Reg. 735-12; and National Guard Bureau pamphlet 360-5
  • U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development pamphlets 7-424 and 3036.

In 1951, the Department of Defense declared the Boy Scouts of America to be an educational activity "of special interest to the Armed Forces." Since then, local councils of the BSA have been privileged to receive outright donations of surplus military goods and property. Such donations included not only equipment for Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts, but also development and maintenance of camps and even council offices.

U.S. Public Law 87-459 authorized the Secretary of Defense to lend tents, blankets, and other equipment and services to the National Council of the BSA for the use of Scouts and Scouters (adult leaders) attending the World Jamboree in Greece in August, 1963. The equipment was supposed to be returned without expense to the government. Fort A. P. Hill in New Jersey is apparently being maintained by the U.S. government for the sole purpose of hosting BSA jamborees.

It is traditional that the President of the United States (who is the ceremonial head of the Boy Scouts of America), or the President's representative, give a speech to the assembled Scouts and Scouters every four years. In August of 1993, this tradition was broken by President Clinton.

One Year of Federal Aid to the BSA: 1962

Many of the BSA's Annual Reports to Congress detail the extent of the government's cooperation during the previous year. The report for 1962 -- covering the time I was a member of Boy Scout Troop 106 at Grand Avenue School of Phoenix, Arizona -- is particularly useful because it was issued during the high point of American scouting when the BSA wanted to boast of its government entanglements rather than play them down.

In that year, 14 officers of the United States Air Force were assigned to provide liaison between the service and the Scouting movement. Besides direct sponsorship of 864 units, the U.S. Air Force provided help with specialists in aerospace subjects; use of facilities for encampments, meetings, and visits; orientation flights; help with national rifle matches; stopovers to and from Philmont Scout Ranch; and "other assistance." Also 8,508 Explorers were flown on local orientation flights. A total of 10,110 events were conducted at Air Force installations during 1962 with a cumulative attendance of 151,609 Explorers.

The United States Coast Guard made shore installations and "floating units" available for visits, encampments, and voyages. Coast Guard aircraft were occasionally made available for observer flights. Some inspections of Explorer vessels were made free of charge.

During the same year, the U.S. Army's program of cooperation took the form of 1,147 on-post encampments; 1,385 guided tours, 1,326 marksmanship sessions; 2,771 other instructional sessions; 638 overnight stops; and 34 off-post encampments.

The Department of the Army assisted the Boy Scouts in the following activities:

  • Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, New York, held a 3-day camporee in conjunction with Order of the Arrow elections in July
  • Fort Meade, Maryland, hosted its annual camporee with 1,031 Scouts in attendance
  • Scouts in groups attending the Seattle World's Fair were housed at Fort Lawton, Washington for periods of up to 3 days
  • medical personnel from Valley Forge General Hospital in Pennsylvania furnished medical aid for a local Scout camporee
  • Umatilla Army Depot in Oregon held an Adult Leaders' course
  • A Flagstaff, Arizona, troop worked at the Navajo Army Depot for their Wildlife merit badge
  • The annual Scout swim meet was again held at the Granite City, Illinois, Army Depot
  • 1,200 Scouts assembled at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey for their annual camporee
  • A winter camp and survival camp were held at the Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, Forestburg Camp in upstate New York.

The Department of the Navy was not slacking in its support for the BSA in 1962:

  • More than 142,000 Scouts and leaders toured Naval shore establishments or ships
  • 9,000 Explorers embarked on Naval ships for short training cruises
  • 8,000 were flown on orientation flights at Naval air stations
  • 95,500 Scouts utilized Naval training and educational facilities
  • Over 23,000 participated in encampments or utilized berthing facilities at various naval stations.

Meanwhile, the Navy presented $967,796 worth of donable surplus equipment to the BSA during the year.

As one former Scout commented to America On-Line and the Internet:

As an army brat, all of my scouting activities from Cubs thru Explorers were sponsored by various military operations including: 3rd Army, 118th and 82nd Airborn Division, MASH Units, and best of all the 7th Special Forces Training Center at Ft. Bragg NC. Talk about great times showing up at national conferences in military trucks and stuff. The latest in camping equipment, instructors of every description. Camporee support facilities (food, kitchens, tents, security, transportation, medical and demonstrations) were ALL provided by army units.

BSA spokesperson Richard Walker expressed surprise at learning of the extensive assistance rendered by the military to the BSA during the 1950's and 60's. But, as an example of other government aid to private activities, he cited the extensive cooperation of the U.S. military with the film industry. (Of course, the film industry isn't free to discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, or sexual orientation.)

The extensive use of military facilities by Scouting continues today. The community relations office of Camp Pendleton in California confirmed that Scouts from the Orange County Council of the BSA camp on Marine Base grounds. By way of comparison, other groups assisted included the Young Marines and the Devil Pups. Corporal Michael Morris said that Scouts could camp, hike, or bike on government property, and that it was general policy that the Marines "do whatever we can for the Boy Scouts."

In the Public Schools

Particularly alarming is the new Boy Scout program for public schools: Learning for Life. Its activities are conducted on the school grounds, during class time, using school personnel. As of Dec. 31, 1993, the 5,621 groups nationwide enrolled 737,799 students. There are 18,000 public school officials signed up and the cost is $200 per year per classroom. For a school to operate these programs, it must agree -- for each "unit" -- to provide one administrator and one teacher. These school employees (plus any additional volunteers) must each meet the leadership "standards" of the Boy Scouts of America -- no atheists, no agnostics, no gays. Ignored is the fact that it is illegal in some states for any public school administrator to even ask about religious affiliation or sexual orientation. It is a misdemeanor, punishable as a crime. It is even such for anyone to "indirectly" do so.

Learning for Life was hailed by some as a program in which girls, homosexuals, and atheists could participate. That is, though it is restrictive as to who can _lead_ activities, every student in a given public school classroom is included (being part of a captive audience).

Critics of the program, however, have said that the BSA has used it to dodge the issue of fully allowing gay youths, atheists, and girls into the larger organization. "The fact that they have created a second program that's school-based that have the Scout emblems attached to it and is open to girls or agnostics or atheists is nothing," said Roberta Achtenberg, a San Francisco supervisor and a board member of the United Way. "This is clearly a second-class program. It doesn't capture the essence of scouting."

Los Angeles BSA council spokesperson Tom Kolin confirmed that the Learning for Life membership is separated from membership in the rest of the BSA. Nonetheless, because of this program, the the Mt. Diablo Council of the BSA was allowed to reapply for a United Way grant in the San Francisco area for which they had previously been rejected because of discrimination.

Aside from Learning for Life, and even for units not owned and operated by government bodies, Boy Scout councils and units, trading on the BSA's reputation as a public, patriotic organization, have enjoyed free use of public facilities nationwide. Historically, 75 percent of units meeting at public schools pay no rent.

The California State Education Code lists the Boy Scouts among public groups entitled to use school facilities after hours. (This privilege of use without fees, under the Civic Center Act, is specifically denied to religious groups, which must reimburse costs.) This is why, when the San Diego Unified School District (which, with 120,000 students, is the second largest school district in California and the eighth largest in the nation) voted to bar BSA programs from its classrooms because of discrimination against gays, the Scouts were still able to use school buildings for troop meetings and other events.

In other areas in which the schools themselves are not the chartered organization, it is common practice for schools to allow recruiting on school grounds and in classrooms. My child reported that the "man in charge of Boy Scouts" came to the first-grade classes of Longfellow Elementary of Whittier, California, and distributed leaflets. (The only BSA program available to first graders is Tiger Cubs.) This was not perceived by school officials as an endorsement, and the recruitment was regarded as customary and in accordance with policy set at the district level.

Use of Local Public Facilities

Correspondents in Illinois, Orange County, California, and in Pennsylvania have documented preferential -- even exclusive -- use of public facilities by Scout organizations. On the public land of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, in arrangements dating back many decades, the BSA enjoyed extensive privileges at several campsites. Boy Scouts built a lodge, but in general, used tents. Other groups enjoying similar privileges include the Girl Scouts and the Isaac Walton League. The Boy Scouts performed certain maintenance duties at the sites.

The Orange County Council, BSA, leases the Sea Base in Newport Beach, California, from the county for negligible fees. This site is primarily dedicated to Scouting programs. However, a number of nonscouting groups, including city and public-school children, can purchase activities. These other groups are admitted partly as community service in exchange for the favorable lease, and to help offset operating expenses.

In Lacon, Illinois, there is a small building known as the "Scout Building," which sits in a large public park. It is reserved for Scout use only.

The citizens of Westtown, Pennsylvania, recently defeated a proposal for a building that had no purpose other than for the local Boy Scouts to meet. The troop had hoped that the Army Reserve Command would donate labor to build the building, which otherwise would have cost $50,000. The Boy Scouts had met at the Westtown Township Building free of charge for the previous 25 years.

Eagle Scouts and Explorers: Promotions and Bonuses

The BSA rank of Eagle, and participation in Explorer Scouting, is rewarded by public and private employers through promotions or preferencial hiring. Completing an Eagle, with its numerous (albeit superficial) achievements, is highly regarded.

I called the army recruiting office in Whittier, California, and spoke to Sergeant First Class Gregory Moorer, the Station Commander. According to him, a recruit will be admitted to the army at pay grade E3 if he has been an Eagle Scout for three years. This means a rank of Private First Class, at a pay of $832 per month -- as opposed to $762 for an ordinary recruit. This is an immediate advancement of two pay grades.

Thus we have the paradox of the United States Army endorsing certain members of a "private" discriminatory club by an immediate rise in rank upon entering. It should be clear that no benefits would accrue from membership in a racially discriminatory club or graduation from a "white academy"; yet if the club happens to be the Boys Scouts of America and the discrimination is based on religion, gender, or sexual orientation, the Army will provide the honored member with an extra $70 per month.

Job seekers commonly list the Eagle scout rank on their resumes. However, the Eagle is not available to equally diligent nontheists, females, or gays. As long as the BSA pursues current policies, businesses who use the Eagle are practicing indirect religious discrimination, and an atheist-free workplace can potentially be created without ever asking an applicant's religious preference.

Many Explorer posts give valuable job training, being sponsored by businesses and governmental units for this purpose. Patrick S. Inniss has been fighting Boy Scout discrimination since 1988 when his daughter was informed that unless she signed the Explorer Code and subscribed to its religious content, she would not be permitted to attend a course to learn computer aided design.

What You Can Do

Clearly, we are not dealing with a question so basic as whether the BSA has a right to discriminate if it wants to. Defined as a religious organization (or, to some extent, even as a private club or business), the BSA can pretty much exclude who it pleases. But the BSA is _not_ a mere private entity. It is entangled with government at every level -- local, state, and federal -- receiving endorsements, preferential treatment, goods, and services. Taxpayer dollars thus support it to a significant degree, creating a blatant violation of church-state separation that could never have escaped notice if the religious entity in question had been Campus Crusade for Christ or the Church of Scientology. Ironically, it is only the BSA's latter-day assertion of religious privilige -- cooked up as a response to charges of discrimination -- that suddenly render its government enganglements such a serious constitutional question.

They can't have it both ways: if the BSA is religious, it must sever all government ties; if it is secular, all discrimination must cease. The choice is the BSA's to make, but the pressure is yours to apply. So what can _you_ do to turn up the heat on the BSA? What can you do to force the organization to decide who it is -- a religious entity or a public accomodation? Here are some ideas:

  • Discover and identify government agencies -- including public schools, armed forces branches, and local police and fire departments -- that practice discrimination according to BSA policies. Report your findings to the American Humanist Association's coordinator for BSA concerns, Margaret Downey, P.O. Box 242, Pocopson, PA 19366; e-mail

  • Demand that such units be operated without illegal discrimination, and demand that each agency notify the BSA that, because it is a government agency, it has legal and moral responsibilities to all its citizens.

  • If such demands are not heeded, oppose the discrimination through letters to public officials, to newspaper editors, and through local activism. Shine the light of publicity on every abuse.

  • Commend the courage of public officials who choose to terminate a unit rather than continue illegal discrimination.

Remember: The the Campfire Girls and Boys and the Girl Scouts have recognized the importance of nondiscriminatory policies; so have Boy Scout organizations throughout most of Europe. The BSA, therefore, is one of the last holdouts, an institution still clinging to the doctrine that "no boy can grow into the best kind of citizenship" without a backpack full of religious bigotry, sexism, and homophobia.

Appendix I

Many who are familiar with the scouts may be surprised to learn that it claims to be a religious organization. In case no. 92C-140, Riley County District Court, Bradford W. Seabourn (plaintiff) vs. Coronado Area Council, Boy Scouts of America (defendent), 16 Dec., 1992, the BSA itself filed a "Separate Answer" with the following as its "Sixth Affirmative Defense:"

"Boy Scouts of America is a religious organization, association or society, or nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjuction with religious organizations, associations or societies within the meaning of the Kansas Act Against Discrimination, expressly permitted by the Act to limit the occupancy of its real property, which it owns or operates for other than a commercial purpose, to persons who believe in God or to give preference to persons who believe in God."

Also see _Randall v. Orange County Council_, Calif. 4th Appellate Distr. Div. 3, decision by Judges Crosby and Sonenshine, Feb. 28, 1994; and _The Washington Post_, editorial, "Scouting as a Religion," July 25, 1985, p. A24.


Dismissed scout leaders: David C. Wise, Tustin, CA, _New York Times_, Sept. 3, 1991, p. A14. Mr. Wise is a Unitarian, which church recently incurred the wrath of the BSA, previously having sponsored a religious merit badge available to atheists in the Unitarian fellowship. Brad Seabourn of Kansas, personal communication. Boyd R. Critz III, though still serving his local Council as its Vice President for Finance and though still a member on its Executive Board, he was once dismissed as a leader with respect to two specific functions of his local Council and Area due to his testimony in the _Welsh_ case. At no time, however, was he actually threatened with dismissal or actually dismissed from his service with the BSA.

Quotations from BSA documents:

_The Chartered Organization Representative_, BSA #33117, pp. 3, 11, 12. Includes the BSA's veto over unit leadership positions.

_Training the Chartered Organization Representative_, BSA #34527.

_The District_, BSA #33079, pp.2-3.

_Membership/Relationship Committee Guide_, BSA #33080, p.3. Existence of list of "unacceptables," p. 14.

_Post Organization_, BSA #34623, p. 5.

_The Council_, BSA #33078, p. 11.

San Diego police dept.: _Los Angeles Times_,Oct. 21, 1992, p. A16.

San Diego Human Resources Commission: _Los Angeles Times_, Oct. 22, 1992, p. A35.

Laguna Beach, Calif., PD: _Los Angeles Times_, Sept. 18, 1993, p. A25; also Sept. 30, 1993, p. A27.

San Jose, Calif. troop 260: _New York Times_, Feb. 23, 1992.

US law constituting BSA as a patriotic society: 36 USCS sect. 21ff. The "charter."

The charter was vigorously pursued by the BSA in 1913 and later, to the point of hiring a lobbyist to secure passage: William D. Murray, _The History of the Boy Scouts of America_, New York: Boy Scouts of America, 1937.

BSA threatening the Wilderness Scouts of Blairsville, Georgia: _Sports Illustrated_, v.70 n.5, Feb. 6, 1989.

Arrest for selling "scout souvenirs:" _New York Times_, Aug. 13, 1993, p. A10.

Baden-Powell quote on religion: Lord Baden-Powell, "The aim of the Scout and Guide Movement," typed script, c. 1921, R7 BSA, as quoted in _Baden-Powell_, by Tim Jeal, Hutchinson pub., London, 1989. BP is himself quoting Carlyle.

52 percent reduction in United Way support: (BSA) _Los Angeles Council Chairmen's Report_, 1993, p.4.

Membership and unit sponsorship statistics: Boy Scouts of America, _Annual Report_, 1993; Telephone interview, Richard Walker, BSA (Edelman PR), Oct. 26, 1994.

The list of armed forces and government regulations is taken from _Organizations that Use Scouting_, BSA #3041C, various pages.

BSA Annual Report, 1962: 88th Congress, House Document No. 85. This contains the figures used for the military and other involvement with the BSA in 1962, as well as a description of the massive Charter Day festivities.

Fact sheet, _What is Learning for Life?_, BSA #2-973. Additional information from Boyd R. Critz III.

Roberta Achtenberg and Learning for Life, _New York Times_, Aug. 14, 1991, p. A8.

The figure of 75 percent of scout units not paying rent, plus other useful information, is taken from David I. Macleod, _Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870--1920_, Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1983, p. 199. For a discussion of the BSA professional elite which protects itself as a class, see MacLeod, op.cit., p.305.

San Diego school district banning BSA: _Los Angeles Times_, Jan. 13, 1993, p. A3.

Defeat of measure to build scout building: _Daily Local News_, West Chester, Pa., Tues., Sept. 8, 1992.

Larry A. Taylor holds a master's degree in history and is completing work in the computer-science department at the University of California at Los Angeles on a doctoral degree in artifical intelligence. He wishes to acknowledge Margaret Downey, Patrick Inniss, Boyd R. Critz III, Elliot Welsh, David C. Wise, Valerie and James Grafton Randall, and Brad Seabourn for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

This article appeared in The Humanist, vol. 55., no. 5, Sept.-Oct., 1995, pp. 6-13. Copyright © 1995 by Larry A. Taylor.

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