Time to End Federal Support of Boy Scout Discrimination

Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta posted about the Re-affirmation of Boy Scout discrimination. This issue is well-known. The Humanist covered federal funding of the Boy Scouts back in 1995. Scouting For All has spent many years advocating for reform and Margaret Downey is a humanist activist who has brought suit against the Boy Scouts. James Turley, Boy Scout board member and Ernst & Young chief executive, publicly encouraged the Boy Scouts to open the ranks to gay youth. As Hemant reported, the Boy Scouts continue their discrimination.

Given the continuing discrimination, it bears repeating that this supposedly private organization discriminates with significant support from the US military:

The Boy Scouts of America holds a Congressional Charter while discriminating against atheists. The BSA ejects openly atheist members and leaders (alternate link), even those that have reached the highest ranks of the organization. All branches of the military issue an promotion (to E2 or E3) for Eagle Scouts, the highest Boy Scout rank. This constitutes discrimination in hiring by the military as well as government approval of the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policies. The values, community, and service so fundamental to the BSA would provide an even greater service to the nation if they would promote respect for all beliefs, including atheism. On 12 Jan 09, MAAF joined the American Humanist Association in asking President-elect Obama to reject the title of honorary president of the Boy Scouts – press release.

Many will claim that the Boy Scouts do good work, implying that the discrimination should be overlooked. Many say their own council does not discriminate, and it’s just a national issue. It’s time to move on and recognize that the Boy Scouts have lost the moral high ground in America.  

The Boy Scouts claim the right to discriminate by virtue of their status as a private organization. Nonetheless, they enjoy special privileges from the Department of Defense, including funding, facilities, organization, advertising, and incentives in hiring for their Eagle Scouts. The BSA should reject public promotions if they wish to operate as a private organization. If they wish to be quasi-government youth development agency, then the federal government should require they abandon discrimination based on belief and sexual orientation.

Equal Opportunity regulations in the military explicitly prohibit support of organizations that discriminate. Yet there is a close collaboration between the military and the Scouts. Department of Defense Instruction 1015.9 directs the Secretary of the Army to the Executive Agent for all components of the DoD to promote scouting among military families as directed by the President:

4.1. The Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the United States of America are organizations chartered by the Federal Government. These organizations are recognized as important adjuncts to the overall requirements for accommodating
and supporting DoD personnel and their families assigned to overseas areas.
4.2. The President of the United States has determined that the Secretary of Defense’s cooperation with and assistance to qualified scouting organizations in establishing and providing facilities and services, within available resources, at locations outside the United States is necessary in the interest of the morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) of DoD personnel and their families.

The US Code authorizes the Secretary of Defense to lend supplies and equipment and transportation for Boy Scout events (so long as the Boy Scouts pays for any damage):

The Secretary of Defense is hereby authorized to lend such cots, blankets, commissary equipment, flags, refrigerators, and other equipment and without reimbursement, furnish services and expendable medical supplies, as may be necessary or useful … [and to provide] transportation from the United States or military commands overseas, and return [and to provide] personnel services and logistical support at the military installation

Eagle Scouts, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts, also gain automatic promotions upon entering the military. One grade for the Army, Air Force, and Marines, two grades for the Navy and Coast Guard. These promotions reward discrimination with higher pay and higher rank at a critical time during the early enlistment period in the military.

Maybe ethical leadership is women’s work

The option of creating a non-discriminatory scouting community is perfectly reasonable. The international scouting community is generally affirming of gay youth. Clearly BSA board member James Turley is looking for change.  Many friends of mine who are associated with scouting claim that local Troops are more welcoming and that discrimination is a problem in certain areas and at national headquarters. They also point out that anti-gay juggernaut, the Mormon church, “sponsors more Scouts and Scouting units than any other organization in the US.” (according to the adulatory entry at mormonwiki.com). Cultural influence among scout leaders or fear of sponsor retaliation may also perpetuate discrimination within the Boy Scouts.

The Girl Scouts have been LGBT-affirming in recent years and have kept up the highest standards of ethics and respect. Maybe the Girl Scouts could provide a home for these affirming local Boy Scout Troops. The Girl Scouts (depending on the reading) have the same privileges as the Boy Scouts. This strong integration with and support from the US government is probably why the US, in contrast to other countries, has only one Boy Scout entity. The Girl Scouts could provide a new home for Boy Scout Troops and related national gatherings without the loss of federal funding. Clearly there are complicated details (badges, Troop makeup, GS Gold / Eagle Scout equivalence, etc), but having exactly one anti-gay Boy Scout organization is a US phenomenon. And would it be so crazy to have women to take the leadership role in these reforms?

Until such time as the scouting community resolves its discrimination issue (if it does), it is time for the President to rethink the marriage of scouting and the Department of Defense. The Scouts have a long history of discrimination against gays and atheists. As the military services develop their own programs to accommodate atheists and LGB service members, it only makes sense to rescind special privileges that the Boy Scouts enjoy. The values of the Boy Scouts have fallen too far out of line with the values of the military services and of America. The Boy Scouts can continue their private operations with their own resources or they may choose to reform and reapply for government support.

29 Responses to Time to End Federal Support of Boy Scout Discrimination

  1. Pingback: Steps Forward for LGBT Equality - Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers | Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers

  2. Do we have the figures on how much the funding is?

  3. So I am just curious, of any members of secular organizations feel they deserve federal funding, but religious ones do not? Isn’t that just reverse discrimination? The whole separation of church state thing gets so blown out of proportion. The point was to ensure that 1 religion did not take over government, not to ensure all religions were separated from it.

    • Lots of secular and religious organizations get funding and deserve it. But none that discriminate deserve funding. The problem is not religion. The problem is government-funded discrimination. And, I would say that discrimination under the banner of religion is something that the religious should be angry about. It happens far too often.

  4. The fact is the government helping to fund Boy Scouts or other faith-based organizations does not provide them any right to force those organizations to follow any rules that go against their core beliefs and shouldn’t.

    • No. The government should not be able to change the actions of a private organization, but they should also not find those actions. Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom to have your religion funded by the government.

    • Sort of.. if farmers who take federal subsidy money MUST allow inspectors from the governmmnt at any time, then a “private” group who takes federal subsidy dollars should be help to the same standards (i:e; no discrimination, for fear of losing the $$)

  5. Pingback: Boy Scouts of America in Identity Crisis | Ethikoros

  6. Pingback: UK Boy Scouts consider atheist members | Secular News Daily

  7. Huh. In the quote above that reads “furnish services and expendable medical supplies, as may be necessary or useful … [and to provide] transportation from the United States”, isn’t it funny that the little ” …” part that they omitted reads:

    “… No expense shall be incurred by the United States Government for the delivery, return, rehabilitation, or replacement of such equipment.

    “(c) The Secretary of Defense, before delivering such property, shall take from the Boy Scouts of America, good and sufficient bond for the safe return of such property in good order and condition, and the whole without expense to the United States. …”

    Hate to think that the regulations cited were taken out of context to be deliberately misleading …

    • The introduction to the quote says
      “The US Code authorizes the Secretary of Defense to lend supplies and equipment and transportation for Boy Scout events (so long as the Boy Scouts pays for any damage):”
      And the full text is linked for anyone who wants to read.
      It would be more misleading to imply that furnishing all of these services is entirely costless to the government or valueless to the Scouts.

  8. avelworldcreator

    Your link about BSA openly rejecting atheists is broken.

    • It looks like the target site changed their link structured. I posted an alternate. I don’t think the fact is in dispute. Their founder said you can’t be good without god and that sentiment is perpetuated in the Scout oath, values of Reverence and Duty to God, and the annual Duty to God event at the Scout’s annual meeting.

      • avelworldcreator

        I figured that was the case. I scouted around the site some, but didn’t have much luck. Thanks. Ironically I was a Boy Scout in my youth. Not surprisingly it was at a Mormon church. But please note I have never been a member of that church. I remember that oath quite well. I preferred their motto anyways, “Be prepared.” It made more practical sense.

  9. About three or four weeks ago, I was fixing a friend of a friends computer. The guy, whom I was fixing the computer for, happened to be a scout leader. He learned that I was quite fond of the outdoors, hiking, camping.. He asked me if I would like to come to a scout meeting to share my experience. At first I was thrilled. Than I remembered that atheists weren’t allowed. So I asked him if I needed to be a christian in order to join. He looked at me, as if he was sure I was christian and said; well of course. I turned to him and told him; Sir, I am an atheist. He froze for a moment or two and than responded with; I have never met a real atheist before. The remainder of the conversation was the usual crap. Back and forth… You know, like how can an atheist have morals. The usual crap!

    • Good thing he asked you. If you don’t support their ideals it wouldn’t be good to have you around the kids.

    • I’m sorry you had that experience. Your friend of a friend is incorrect. On a global level, the vast majority of the world’s scouts are Muslim. In my council we serve Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian units, and many mixed units. At the moment there is usually confusion about how an atheist can serve, but it isn’t impossible. By the end of this month (May 2013) membership policy change will be announced. Let’s hope the change will be for the better of Scouting, our communities, and America.

  10. Discrimination based on sexual or religious orientation is a pretty sad “tradition”.
    So do Boy Scouts now also decide who they will and will not help etc. based on the person in needs sexual or religious affiliation? Don’t we all like the idea that all men are created equal?
    What message does this send to young scouts? A message of intolerance it seems. Not very “Scout-like” if ya ask me.

    • You are obviously not a BSA. They have had the same rules for more than 100 years in case you haven’t noticed. They don’t allow homosexual leaders and that is part of their tradition. You could move to Canada or start your own troop with your own values. That would be the “right” thing to do. Go for it just leave the BSA alone. It’s a private group that doesn’t want your values and you don’t want theirs so why the fuss. Move on and do your own thing else where. Zack can be your leader.

      • PA_Year_of_the_Bible

        That would be no problem if the BSA would simply relinquish their Federal charter, and agree not to accept any special privileges from government entities….i.e., if they became a TRULY private organization.

  11. Devil's Advocate

    Why isn’t anyone arguing that the Boy Scouts discriminate against girls, and the Girl Scouts discriminate against boys? If that “tradition” is acceptable, why shouldn’t other traditions (i.e. anti-gay, anti-atheist) be acceptable too?

    • Maybe the girl/boy segregation should be reviewed but that is irrelevant to the discussion about gay and atheist discrimination.

    • Well, I can see an actual reason for the boy-girl separation. Light supervision in camps, on camping trips, can easily lead to sex… with boys and girls together, that can mean pregnancy, which is obviously not a risk worth taking.

      Yes you could greatly increase the supervision, but that would lead to much greater expense and a much different environment, greatly reducing the scope of activities within the same budget while reducing the feeling of self-sufficiency and adventure that low supervision brings and I think is a key to the mission of the scouts.

      Separating boys and girls provides a tangible benefit to everyone involved.

      • avelworldcreator

        That argument holds for adolescents, but not for younger children. Maybe an integrated organization such as “Boys & Girls Scouts of America” or similar. Like “Boys Town” did years ago. And adolescents already get themselves in trouble WITH existing adult supervision. A well integrated group could address these issues BEFORE the become a serious issue. But a point should be made that the two sexes on frequent occasion, both as children and adults, like to separate in to gender groups. It would be nice to find a way to accommodate that tendency in a reasonable and supportive manner.

    • BSA has many coed opportunities for youths age 14-20. My daughter is an Explorer Scout with the Travis County Constable Precinct 2. One of the unit’s I commission is a Venturing Crew, coed high adventure. Another is a Sea Scout Ship, coed sea adventure, sea skills, and in this case Coast Guard knowledge.

  12. Completely agree with this.

  13. Pingback: If the Boy Scouts Want to Discriminate, the U.S. Military Shouldn’t Support Them

  14. Pingback: If the Boy Scouts Want to Discriminate, the U.S. Military Shouldn’t Support Them

Leave a Reply to Jason Torpy Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.