The Boy Scouts America deserves

DAVID MANNING REUTERS Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, 20, of Iowa City, Ia., talks after delivering a 280,000 signature petition to … Continued



Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, 20, of Iowa City, Ia., talks after delivering a 280,000 signature petition to the Boy Scouts of America’s Annual Meeting in Orlando, May 30, 2012. Wahls, the son of gay parents, petitioned the Boy Scouts to change its policies towards homosexuality and to reinstate Jennifer Tyrrell, a den mother to her seven-year-old’s Cub Scout pack from Ohio, who was forced to resign for being a lesbian.

Here’s a better-late-than-never cheer to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for reconsidering its ban on gay scouts and leaders.

That’s one small step for tolerance, but one giant leap for states’ rights. The modified policy would, in effect, kick the can down the road to local sponsors, who could continue the abominable policy of deeming gay teenagers too “immoral” to participate in Boy Scout activities.

There is no similar step forward for atheists. This modified policy would still require local groups to discriminate against atheists, apparently because the Boy Scout Oath implies that an atheist can’t be “morally straight” unless he can do his “duty to God.”

Using this twisted logic, a number of courageous and honest atheists have been kicked out of the Scouts for rejecting all supernatural beliefs. Among them was my friend Darrell Lambert, an Eagle Scout, who had been supported by his entire troop.

Cut to the military, which now allows gays and has always allowed atheists to serve openly and honorably. See, for instance, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. However, even atheists with an honorable discharge are not deemed fit to serve as Boy Scout leaders. This brings to mind Pat Tillman, who left an outstanding professional football career after the 9/11 attacks to volunteer as an Army Ranger. Had Pat survived, even he would have been excluded from Boy Scout leadership.

After several combat tours, Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan, becoming a poster boy for the heroic activities of the military. Tillman’s family was as honest as he, and worked diligently to uncover the Army’s lies surrounding his death. Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, under whom Tillman was serving at the time of his death, said about the Tillman family. “These people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs.” He added, “When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing and now he is no more… I do not know how an atheist thinks, I can only imagine that would be pretty tough.”

The BSA probably considered reversing its policy on gays because several pro-equality, corporate sponsors had withdrawn their support. But with new leadership and more sponsor withdrawals, the BSA will eventually be forced to change its position on gays. Someday, they might even consider changing their anti-atheist stance if enough corporate sponsors object to the policy. It would be especially gratifying to see the BSA admit gays and atheists because it’s the moral thing to do, and not simply for financial reasons.

Every president of the United States has supported the work of the Boy Scouts of America since its founding in 1910, and each served as honorary president of the BSA during his term in office. Barack Obama is the first president to allow gays to serve openly in the military, and I hope he will become the first president to resign as honorary president of the BSA until that organization ends its ban on gays and atheists.

I look forward to a day when the Boy Scouts become as tolerant as the Girl Scouts, who have refused to discriminate against any girl for any reason because they regard lesbian and atheist girls as equals. When that day comes, the BSA can claim to be as morally straight as their exemplars–the Girl Scouts of America.

Editor’s note: This column has been updated to reflect the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow local troops to decide whether or not to admit gay members.

Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America and author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt.”


Herb Silverman Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt,” and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston.
  • cricket44

    That’s because the GSA are for supporting all girls, not making kids pass a litmus test. It’s called integrity.

  • TN-Christian

    I guess the BSA will have to remove “morally straight” from its oath.

  • veginpost

    I used to think this was no big deal. In those days even as a sceptical Christian I thought that regardless of individual beliefs and sexual orientation that as long as no one ,asked or told, and everybody just went along with the religious code expected of them from the BSA it didn’t really matter. It never struck me that any of my fellow leaders were particularly religious. It seemed we had gays about but nobody made a big deal about it. But now I have changed my mind totally. The bigotry exemplified by the BSA cannot be ignored and was one of the things that solidified my stand with the Humanist world view. The shroud has been lifted so to speak and there is an ugly idol sitting upon the Altar of the Boy Scouts of America which should not be tolerated by compassionate individuals.

  • Fern2392

    All religions are man-made; all gods are imaginary. Isn’t scouting about real life? Instead of teaching youg people to look at each other with judgment and fear, scouting needs leaders who will join together to foster a shared perspective, outward, to the real, natural world around us, and help us learn and teach how to live as a part of it, not as its owner, ruler, or adjudicator.

  • jay2drummer

    Why? Not everyone considers homosexuality immoral and even atheists have moral codes.

  • dcrswm

    Who is more moral, the person who does good deeds just because or the person who does them out of fear of being punished?

  • dcrswm

    I know what you mean, the troop I was in spoke little about god leaving personal faith just that, personal. Hell we had openly gay eagle scouts, didn’t bother anyone the slightest. This is not a problem you see on the lower levels of scouting (individual troops) but something the old and isolated “leadership” tries to project.

  • h5r2

    The two main reasons for prejudice against atheists and gays are religious beliefs and people thinking they don’t know any atheists or gays. There’s not much you can do with fundamentalists who believe evolution is a myth and that the earth is 6000 years old because the Bible tells them so. But most people will find atheists and gays more acceptable when atheists and gays come out of their closets. At the moment, this strategy seems to be working better for gays than for atheists.

  • leibowde84

    How could an organization that prides itself on American values deny enrollment to young men who have no say in the “moral ineptitude” they are displaying. In other words, being gay is not a choice, so there is no immorality in someone being attracted to the same sex. And, since, according to the BSA, it is morally wrong for any unmarried member to have sexual intercourse before marriage. Why is this even an issue. I understand it is a private club, but these kids haven’t even broken any of their “rules.”

    For proof on the lack of choice involved in homosexuality, see below …

    1. The Royal College of Psychiatrists stated in 2007:

    “ Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] ”

    2. “Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, “The fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or s-exual orientation.”[8

    3. See also the Philadelphia Inquirer review “Gay Gene, Deconstructed”, 12/12/2011. Said review addresses the following “How do genes associated with ho-mose-xuality avoid being weeded out by Darwinian evolution?”

  • leibowde84

    TN-Christian, how is an “affliction” (as you would describe it) amount to a moral deficiency when choice is not involved? What loving God would judge a person for something they can’t control. That being the issue due to the fact that the members of the BSA are (for the most part) unmarried and can’t engage in sexual activity anyways.

  • Pescatore

    Herb: If B. Hussein resigned as honorary president, few tears would be shed and most of those would likely be tears of joy. One would hope that resignation would become a pattern for him, as it is unlikely that our nation’s youth can afford another four years of his misbegotten financial adventures. I hear he is preparing an Executive Order renaming the country New France.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    ^ I present the average American voter; one who engages politics exclusively through emotion, and pats himself on the back for knowing enough to make a humorless quip about the president.

  • leibowde84

    The term “marriage” is a completely legal one, meaning the joining of two parties, creating certain rights and privileges. This term being completely separate from “holy matrimony,” which refers to the religious joining of two parties (or whatever that religion might allow), having certain moral and traditional requirements involved.

    The first should have no limitations, as morality should not be dictated by the government unless necessary, and there is no real evidence that homosexual couples are any less fit to raise a family, take care of children, etc. So, it would seem unfair to deny this constitutional right simply on the basis of their choice in partners.

    The sentiment that marriage should be defined as between a “man and a woman” and is designed to promote legitimate children is a thing of the past and has no legal basis after countless judicial opinions to the contrary. There is absolutely no evidence that homosexuality “damages” society in any way or that homosexual couples are “unfit to be parents.” So, the only basis for their discrimination would be based on religious principles; principles that, according to the establishment clause of the Constitution, have no place in legislative reasoning unless some concrete evidence is presented to back it up.

    Long story short, the term “marriage” is in no way, by its own definition, not subject to change. The intent behind restricting marriage has either been left behind as irrelevant, or never really existed in the first place, apart from bigotry and unexplained resentment toward homosexuals.


    Boy scouts, girl scouts-time for gay scouts! Welcome to the first annual gay scouts of America meeting this year at half moon bay near San Franciso- in the interest of fairness and equality! Problem solved!


    Time Magazine interview with Einstein in his 50s:
    To what extent are you influenced by Christianity? “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”

    Do you accept the historical existence of Jesus? “Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”

    Do you believe in God? “I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books.”

  • leibowde84

    In response to your first comment, “Of course, those gays who belong to Abrahamic religions supposedly abide by the rules of no adultery or fornication allowed.”

    Why would you judge a homosexual child who breaks the “rules” and has premarital sex, any differently than a straight child who breaks the rules in the same exact way. Any difference would have to rely on some resentment toward homosexuals themselves. Further, this point makes no difference, as homosexuals are no more likely to engage in premarital sex than any other individual.

    I guess your point is, we can’t allow homosexuals to get married because then people will think that homosexual sex is alright, due to the acceptance of marital sex as being OK. Just seems a bit needlessly judgmental in my opinion.

  • dcrswm

    Yes, separate but equal…….I’m actually pretty sure we’ve been told that is inherently unequal.


    But it’s progressive!

  • dcrswm

    If President Obama was sooo bad the first four years how on Earth is it that the republicans were unable to defeat him in his run for a second term?

  • edwills

    Being gay may not be a choice, but being an atheist is also not a choice. You can pretend to believe nonsense, but you can’t will yourself to believe nonsense.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    For DRJJJ, the one who incessantly posts quotes from Einstein as though modern American Christians could claim him for their own:

    “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
    - Einstein, Letters: March 1954

    I believe you owe the man an apology. Leave it to the religious to toss intellectual honesty out the window just to make an ultimately meaningless point.

  • Pescatore

    54% of the voters swallowed his hopey changey nonsense, despite the failing economy. Liberal media vilification of all challengers probably didn’t help.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Nor did the fact that half of Romney’s base couldn’t decide whether or not he is headed for the inferno.

  • Pescatore

    I concur with you there.

  • Mike9

    The boys scouts have been criticized for not letting girls join. They really should stop discriminating against girls and just change there name to Scouts of America. They have been criticized for having their motto and oath mention a duty to God (scoffing noise…). The Scouts should take all references to God out of Scouting so atheist children can not just join but feel included. 96% of scouting parents don’t wan’t to change the policy prohibiting gay leaders, but those in charge should change it anyways regardless of what old fashioned parents of scouts want. The Scouts need to be a model of our American Society and come out in front by having a gay and lesbian culture merit badge. There are also young boys and girls out there with 2 loving moms and one dad so the scouts need to embrace polygamy in a big way. And no one can cast a stone against gay polygamy because a scout may have 3 loving dads. The scouts need to get with the american program!

  • cricket44

    What a hysterical nonsense rant, Mike.

  • dcrswm

    So you believe the economy was better 4 years ago than it is now?

  • edwills

    Does it seem to you that the same people who hate gays also hate atheists? Are there reasons for such hatred other than religious belief?

  • leibowde84

    To a lot of people, it’s not nonsense … it’s faith. You might not understand it, but it doesn’t have to be logical. Religion, whether “right” or not, gives comfort to a lot of people, so I wouldn’t just call it nonsense. It’s just part of the human experience.

  • Pescatore

    Four years ago the unemployment rate was 5%. The most recent estimate is that it is now 7.8%. And US weekly jobless claims just jumped another 368,000. So no, we are worse off.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Latent homosexuality and fear of asking important existential questions.

  • SandyLester

    What has always baffled me is that if homosexuals and or athesits would like a group similar to the Boy Scouts of America, why do they not start their own group or groups.

    (Ok, I do understand the movitve, neither group wants the morility of a God centerd, patriotic young mens orgination)

  • Don74

    Let me get this right now, the Boy Scouts as an organization have no right to have religious beliefs? And the reasoning is that holding to your beliefs is intolerant to those who believe you are wrong. In short you are wrong because you don’t believe that they are right.

  • cricket44

    Absolute bunk. It’s the Boy Scouts of America, not “Boys We Like of America.”

    I don’t know what ‘morility’ is but the goals the BSA claims to uphold are not exclusive to straight, religious people and who says gays and atheists aren’t patriotic.

    Instead of knee-jerking with every stereotype that comes to mind, it might be worth thinking about rationally.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    You might want to be a bit more specific with these terms, because I can think of a God-centered, patriotic young men’s organization founded in the postbellum South whose principles you likely wouldn’t jump to defend.

    People of even mild intelligence recognize that ‘God-centered’ and ‘patriotic’ are morally neutral qualifiers. They quickly lose their neutrality when you staple them to hysterical, vitriolic homophobia and try to teach it to kids.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    This post cries out for rephrasing.

  • cricket44

    …probably in vain, Hail.


    Einstein was very smart, but wasn’t wise enough to recognize that Jesus is the personal God we all search for (nobody is perfect, except Jesus) Einstein was in fact a creationist however!
    Secularization of church and state sure hasn’t done us any favors-see all data regarding sociall ills since 1963-you’ll faint, it’s spiked dramatically every year since, chart looks like the face of Mt Everetts!

    Time Magazine interview with Einstein in his 50s:
    To what extent are you influenced by Christianity? “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”

    Do you accept the historical existence of Jesus? “Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”

    Do you believe in God? “I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books.”


    The evolution faith movement based on the missing links that are still missing?

  • RobbyS

    The Boy Scouts of America are an organization based on certain principles. You would not have them continue to exist unless they abandon those principles. This is like demanding that the Knights of Columbus admit Methodists to their membership. Catholics and Methodists generally share the same morality, but no sincere Methodist really fits in a Catholic organization, because there are differences.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Indeed. If only he possessed your wisdom, think of what he might have accomplished.

    Also, I think you might want to expand on the claim that “Einstein was a creationist” considering his life’s work made him the undertaker of biblical cosmology.

  • RobbyS

    And what exactly IS latent homosexuality? Is this something like latent Jewishness?

  • XVIIHailSkins

    I think you do yourself a disservice by pretending to equate the “principle” of homophobia with, say, the principle of honesty, or accountability, or courage. Homophobia is not a principle. For some people it is a pathology stemming from latent urges or a sexual repulsion, for others it is simply an Old Testament invocation that for some reason they choose not to ignore like the many barbarous OT preachments that they ignore on a daily basis. Anti-Semitism was one of the foundational principles of the National Socialist party, and I think you would have joined me in demanding that they abandon it. Let’s please drop the euphemisms and call this “principle” what it is.

  • RobbyS

    His point is well made. Gays and atheists wants to make the Scouts serve their purposes rather than those of the founders of the Scouts. It stands in their way therefore it must be neutered. There is nothing more intolerant than a militant gay or atheist. They see every opponent as someone to be crushed.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    I’m not entirely sure that you know what you meant by this, but no, as far as I know there is no such thing as latent Jewishness. Latent homosexuality, on the other hand, is an idea advanced by Freud and reinforced by psychologists that have published study after peer reviewed study indicating that men with the most boastful and intense hatred of gay people are substantially more likely to be aroused by gay pornography (not to mention the laundry list of former pastors who wound up retiring after being found in truck stop bathroom stalls). If you really want to make me, I’d be happy to trot out some of these studies in the off chance that you still don’t know what I’m talking about.

  • RobbyS

    Well, Aristotle and Plato did not believe in a personal God either, but that belief is not incompatible with belief in a Creator God who speaks to men. As the Greeks of Athens acknowledged when they erected an altar to an unknown God, what we believe can be modified by a new experience.

  • RobbyS

    Being gay is NOT a choice? Well, this has been constantly repeated but so far no compelling proof has been advanced. It is like saying that I am compelled to prefer the color blue by something in my genetic make-up. Fact is that the field of genetics is still relatively knew and the relationship between a particular part of the genome and a particular behavior is scarcely. Of course, we could say that homosexuality is a kind of deformity resulting from a cracked gene, and over the course of time it will be discovered how to test for it so that the child can be aborted.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    “Aristotle and Plato did not believe in a personal God either, but that belief is not incompatible with belief in a Creator God who speaks to men.”

    These two things are, in fact, entirely incompatible.

    I realize that discussing the innumerable “dead gods” from antiquity is a sticky subject for modern Christians (probably because they recognize on some level that their God is headed for the same mythological graveyard), so I’ll leave the mental gymnastics of deciding that these people were wrong and you are right to you, although I don’t envy you.

  • RobbyS

    What does the question of the age of the earth have to do with questions of faith and morals? The Bible is the Holy Scriptures of Christians and Jews, and is basically a history of the relationship between God the Creator and mankind, of a small nation, That is the story, which takes the form of history. Only two nations in the region broke from the traditional “circle of life” story: the Greeks and the Jews, and developed a sense of linear time, which modernity takes for granted.

  • cricket44

    There is nothing in the goals of the BSA that rules out either group joining. How petty and small do folks have to be to exclude kids from joining ?

  • edbyronadams

    The Scout Law has been around since its inception. Are we to trash the last word because of political fashion.

    BTW, the choice of picture is ironic. The lowest patch is the Weblos patch.

  • dcrswm

    You’re right, it is a Webelos patch, the only Webelows patch you transfer to the boy scout uniform. Furthermore one can be reverent and not condemn homosexuality or could even be gay. The word is reverent, not christian.

  • cricket44

    Political fashion has nothing to do with treating kids decently…and if it does to people, then there is something wrong with them.

  • dcrswm

    And for the record that is exactly how my scout uniform looked as well, Eagle badge above the arrow of light… is standard, although the kid pictured did it faster than I did.

  • alltheroadrunnin

    “Boy” Scouts is right!

  • leibowde84

    Even if your analogy made sense, which it doesn’t (sexual orientation is a very different process than learning to like a color), wouldn’t it be appropriate to assume that there is no “choice” involved. I mean, you should give them the benefit of the doubt if there is no proof that they chose, and there is no real proof beyond speculation that homosexuality harms society. I mean, you are trying to deprive people of rights because of an “infliction” that even you say there is no proof that a moral choice is involved.

  • dcrswm

    And is unemployment the only metric by which the economy is judged? No, no it is not.

  • Alan Light

    Due to the Congressional charter for the Boy Scouts, no other scouting organizations are allowed in the US except the Girl Scouts, who got their own Congressional charter.

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