No Atheist Assistant Scoutmasters

Boy Scouts to Atheist: Accept A God or Get Out — 10/30/2002
(also here: Atheist Eagle Scout Gets Ultimatum)

I was in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts since the first year I was eligible. I still have my Cub Scout uniform somewhere. I earned the rank of Eagle Scout. When my sons get old enough to join, I plan to be involved as an adult leader. So I think I would be fairly qualified to comment on this story.

Darrel Lambert’s scouting record sounds comparable to mine. He was in Scouts for 10 years, and received his Eagle Scout award. Now, at 19, he is serving as an Assistant Scoutmaster which is an adult leadership role.

Trouble is, since 9th grade he has been an atheist. Now, this is a free country and he can believe whatever he wants. But the BSA is a private organization, and can set whatever membership requirements it likes. And one of the requirements is that you affirm belief in God. It’s not particular about which religion you belong to, provided you affirm belief in God. Since he refuses, the local Boy Scout council is planning on removing him from leadership after giving him some time to think about this.

Speaking from my own experience, I can affirm that spiritual life is an essential part of what Boy Scouts is all about. It’s not about camping, or merit badges, or social events. It’s about developing boys into men, teaching them leadership, morals, responsibility, and duty. That’s why the BSA takes such a firm stance over homosexuals and atheists. It’s also why troop leadership ought to be male (Lambert’s mother is the troop’s Scoutmaster). Religious, moral men provide role models for boys through the Boy Scouts.

In addition to his godlessness, Lambert has demonstrated a deep character flaw. Boy Scouts regularly repeat the Boy Scout Oath and the Boy Scout Law. The Oath goes (emphasis added):
On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

The Boy Scout Law reads “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, curteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”

Lambert has flagrantly violated the oath that he took on his honor. He is not doing his best to do his duty to God, as he does not even believe in God. He is not obeying the Scout Law because he is not, nor can be, reverent. And he is not trustworthy in the least, because he will stand and make these pledges when he knows he has no intention of keeping them.

Lambert was not qualified, by virtue of his atheism, dishonesty, and blemished honor, to receive any rank or merit badges once he became an atheist. His council’s Eagle Scout review board should have caught this. His troop’s review board should have caught this, regardless whether his mother was Scoutmaster or not.

Lambert was not qualified to receive the ranks he received, was not qualified to remain as a member, and is certainly not qualified to serve as a leader. What sort of example does he set to the boys in that troop? It’s OK to lie “on your honor”? You can pledge “on your honor” to do things you have no intention of doing?

That sort of ethic may be the norm for atheists, but it is diametrically opposed to the moral foundation of Boy Scouts.

Update: John Davis points out the negative implications of the BSA’s stance that “any faith will do”.

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