Boy Scouts shift on gays wouldn’t change rules on atheists

For former scoutmaster Richard Guglielmetti, the Boy Scouts of America’s reconsideration of its ban on gay scouts and leaders is … Continued

For former scoutmaster Richard Guglielmetti, the Boy Scouts of America’s reconsideration of its ban on gay scouts and leaders is long overdue.

Guglielmetti, 66, who led Troop 76 in Simsbury, Conn., for a dozen years until 2005, said leaders and members of his troop ignored the national organization’s prohibition on gays because they felt it was wrong.

“It’s about time,” he said Monday (Jan. 28).

Despite the national policies set forth by BSA, his troop always rejected the policy, Guglielmetti said.

“We had a bunch of boys in our troop who were gay, and they all felt the policy was wrong,” he said. “Gay Scouts and everybody was always welcome in our troop.”

One of those Scouts was Guglielmetti’s own son, Matthew, now 34. Last year, Matthew turned in the Eagle Scout award he earned in 1993 because of Scouting’s anti-gay policies, his father said.

In September, the elder Guglielmetti resigned from Scouting. He had been serving the Matianuck District in north central Connecticut as the chairman responsible for giving Eagle Scout candidates their review boards.

Guglielmetti said that for him the final straw was hearing of Ryan Andresen, a gay teen in California who was not allowed to earn his Eagle Scout ranking even after completing the required service project.

“The boy did all the work and everybody knew he was gay, and then they rejected him. That was just intolerable. When that came up, I said, I can’t take it, I can’t put up with this anymore,” he said.

“Just because a person is gay doesn’t mean he’s a pedophile,” Guglielmetti added. “Barring gay leaders kind of accuses them of being pedophiles. Which they’re not — there’s plenty of good gay men that would be good leaders. As far as their policy against gay Scouts, I don’t think they should discriminate against anybody — black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight. I mean, it’s Boy Scouts, and they’re boys. That was my problem with it.”

The potential policy shift raises a question about another group shut out of Scouting: atheists, who decline to say the Boy Scout Oath because it begins: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.”

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, said Monday, “If they are considering lifting the ban on gays, that’s a good thing, that’s progress. If they lift that bigotry from their requirements, I would hope they remove the rest of the bigotry and admit atheists as well.”

Refusing to admit atheists who decline the oath, Silverman said, “tells boys that atheists are immoral. If local groups want to behave in an ethical way, I’m confident they will make Boy Scouts about Scouting, not about bigotry.”

The Girl Scout Promise is similar in committing the girl to “serve God and my country.”

But the official site also stipulates: “According to the Girl Scout Constitution, the motivating force in Girl Scouting is spiritual. The ways in which members identify and fulfill their spiritual beliefs are personal and private.”

The Girl Scouts of the USA policy is that religious expression is diverse and “the decision to say grace, blessing or invocation is made locally at the troop or group level and should be sensitive to the spiritual beliefs of the participants.”

(Brian Shane writes for USA Today and The (Salisbury, Md.) Daily Times. Mike Chalmers writes for USA Today and The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal. William M. Welch contributed to this story.)

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  • H-Bomb

    I am an Eagle Scout, now in my mid-20s. While I’m pleased that the Scouts are moving away from their embarassingly backwards stance towards gays, I hope that this will include extending acceptance to those Scouts that do not believe in god before too long.

    Belief is not a choice. I can’t convince myself to believe something that I simply don’t have evidence to believe. Trust me, I tried. I recall as a scout in high school preparing for my Eagle Scout review board hoping to not be quizzed too much on religion, since I had recently determined that there was no way I could ever convince myself to believe in god. I was asked about religion during the exam and gave some stock answer like “yeah, my family goes to church.” Not my proudest moment, but I wasn’t about to make my “stand” at that time. No doubt the achievement would have been slightly more meaningful to me if I hadn’t had to misrepresent my feelings on a very personal issue in order to avoid controversey. At the time I recall thinking that I hadn’t become an atheist because I had nothing to live for; I’d lost my belief in god because I had nothing to die for.

    It’s all a real shame because the Boy Scouts was such a great thing for me and many of my friends. I’m so glad I was a Scout. The lessons I learned–chief among them self reliance; it only took forgetting my rain jacket on one camping trip to never make that mistake again–have served me well. I am so thankful every day that my parents signed me up for Tiger Cubs and that I ignored the sillier parts of the organization and pressed on the reach Eagle. I’m so glad the Scouts are moving forward. It really can’t be long before religion leaves the Scouts and the Scouts pledge to uphold a reasoned worldview rather than duty to a non-existent god. I for one am hopeful, and if I ever have a son I’ll surely enroll him in the Scouts and support him if he likes it, and not just because I want an excuse to go camping every weekend :-)