Atheist loses Boy Scout case but wins the battle

In 1996, Nancy Powell’s son, who was in 1st grade at the time, was present when the Boy Scouts held a recruitment presentation in his school cafeteria during lunch time. Knowing at the time the religious discrimination that the Boy Scouts practice, Powell filed a lawsuit against the school district. She claimed that the recruitment event was an illegal mixing of church and state.

The Oregon Supreme Court disagreed last week, ruling 6-1 that the Scout recruitment drives during school hours did not discriminate. The justices claimed that since religion was not mentioned during the presentation, a violation of the church and state didn’t happen.

Is the content or the timing that important. An editorial in The Oregonian asked that as well:

After the sales pitch was delivered, hospital-style bracelets were often fastened around the wrists of any interested boys, imprinted with more information. Most first-graders no doubt wanted a bracelet, and wanted badly to belong. But the invitation wasn’t really open to all. As Justice Rives Kistler wrote in his dissent, it was really “limited at the time the Scouts made it to those schoolchildren who shared the Scouts’ religious views.” The Scouts were going to discriminate; they just hadn’t broken that news yet.

Ruling favors Scouts, but atheist has made her point

Even though the school finally won the suit, they had changed their policy and now no group is allowed to recruit children during school hours. Powell succeeded in her cause.

So what is the big fuss over what is probably the oldest youth group in America – steeped in tradition and patriotic fever?

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) actively discriminates against children and adults who are gay, non-christian, and women in their standards for membership and leadership.

The conflict comes because BSA and their local units receive many free or low cost property and services from government agencies and the military.

For example the National Jamboree has been held for many years on the grounds of Fort AP Hill in Virginia. Scout camps get free .22 rifle ammunition from the Army for their shooting ranges. Many units get to camp on government property for free. Many state and local government agencies sponsor scout groups. BSA is one of the few youth groups that has a charter from Congress as a patriotic organization.

The government agencies and state and local governments that support the BSA in this way, all have anti-discrimination policies. If those support agencies aren’t allowed to discriminate in the work they do then is it really legal for a group they support to discriminate.

Other companies, schools, and social service agencies that receive federal funding are not allowed to discriminate, so why does the BSA get a free pass?

Religion has always been a huge part of the scout experience. The Scout Promise mentions a “Duty to God” and there are many religious awards to work toward. Many churches sponsor units. There isn’t anything wrong with that. The problem is that religious conservatives who took over the BSA in the late 70’s has used religion to discriminate.

In 2002, the BSA issued the following resolution:

WHEREAS, the national officers agree with the report that “duty to God is not a mere ideal for those choosing to associate with the Boy Scouts of America; it is an obligation,” which has defined good character for youth of Scouting age throughout Scouting’s 92-year history and that the Boy Scouts of America has made a commitment “to provide faith-based values to its constituency in a respectful manner;”


WHEREAS the national officers further agree that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the traditional values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law and that an avowed homosexual cannot serve as a role model for the values of the Oath and Law;

BSA Board Affirms Traditional Leadership Standards

The National Council defends their view by stating the scout oath and law require their discrimination. The specific parts are:

A Scout is… CLEAN
A Scout keeps his body and mind fit and clean. He goes around with those who believe in living by these same ideals. He helps keep his home and community clean.

From the oath: To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

What is Boy Scouting?

BSA intends to infer that being a non-believer or a homosexual is not being “clean” when the context says to keep oneself fit, not to be slovenly or to use drugs etc….

The other inference is that one is “morally straight” if one is a believer and sexually straight.

Just like the perversion of “clean”, BSA perverts “morally straight”. In context it means to be honest in life both in action and toward others. One who is “morally straight” doesn’t steal, lie, or break the law. It has nothing to do with religious beliefs or sexual orientation unless one is a religious conservative and your bias adds that in of course.

That is why until the BSA changes its positions on atheists and homosexuals, it will never ethically be able to be supported by government agencies or funds.

For further info check out:

Scouting for All


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