Boy Scouts of America
The Boy Scouts of America and the Unitarian Universalist Association signed a new agreement March 24 after the two organizations had previously been divided over gay rights.
“BSA Scout Law defines a Scout by qualities that Unitarian Universalists also lift up,” reads the memorandum of understanding signed by Scouting and Unitarian Universalist officials at the BSA headquarters in Irving, Texas.
The Boy Scouts of America ended its national ban on openly gay adult leaders and employees on July 27 while allowing local religious units to continue to exclude gay adults.
Meeting by conference call, 79 percent of the BSA’s national executive board members favored the resolution ratified earlier this month by its executive committee.
The policy change represents the end of a long and bitter struggle over whether to accept gay members that began more than two years ago when it allowed gay youths to participate, but not adults.
The president of the Boy Scouts of America on May 21 called for an end to the group’s ban on gay troop leaders.
Robert Gates, a former Secretary of Defense, said in remarks prepared for a meeting of the organization’s leadership that “we cannot ignore the social, political, and judicial changes taking place in our country.”
Gates said he was not proposing a formal rule for the group — yet.
For more than 100 years, Britain’s Girl Guides took an oath to “love God and serve the King/Queen.”
But on Wednesday the movement announced it would scrap its oath to God in an attempt to broaden its appeal and attract children from secular, nonbelieving families.
The controversial shake-up is seen by some as the biggest in the Girl Guides’ history.
Southern Baptists overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to stand with churches and families that drop ties with the Boy Scouts of America over its decision to allow openly gay Scouts, and urged the BSA to remove leaders who supported the change in policy.
Members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, gathered on the final day of their annual meeting in Houston, also acknowledged the right of churches to remain in Scouting, urging them to “seek to impact as many boys as possible with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
While expected, the Baptists’ resolution stopped far short of calling for an all-out boycott, as they did in 1997 with the Walt Disney Co. to combat what they saw as the company’s gay-friendly policies. That boycott was ended in 2005.
The decision by the Boy Scouts of America to accept openly gay Scouts has raised the question: Are atheists and other nonbelievers — the only remaining group BSA still bans — next?
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.”
The problem for atheists lies in an oath in which scouts promise to “do my duty to God and my country.” Some nonbelievers have suggested their sons change the word “God” to “good,” but the BSA has remained firm. Some atheist children have been asked to leave after years in Scouting when it was revealed that they did not believe in God.
Now that Boy Scout delegates have taken their long-awaited vote and permitted openly gay Scouts, will there be a mass exodus by religious groups?
It depends on who you ask.
The Assemblies of God is certain there will be.
They have pledges. They have merit badges. And they may go camping.
But they’re not the Boy Scouts.
And as the Boy Scouts of America considers whether to change its membership policy to admit gay members (but continue its ban on gay leaders), some of these groups are fielding inquiries from people concerned about the action the BSA may take.