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IS the BSA a religious organization?

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Preface- did any of you see the episode of '30 Days' with the guy living as a Muslim? Here was a typical Christian guy agreeing to live as a Muslim for a month. He had to pray, eat, dress, etc. as a Muslim to accomplish his mission. From the beginning he had qualms about praying in another language, not being sure of what they might be saying, etc. Nice guy, firm beliefs, etc.


What FASCINATED me was the disconnect between this guy's professed faith and his lifestyle, in contrast to the well-integrated lifestyle of the Islamic host family and community.


The guy was amazed that a batchelor party did not feature booze and wimmin. He was saddened by the lack of booze and TV, etc. The Muslims were basically living what they preached- and it was obvious that the guy pretty much was not.




I think the BSA is a little like this. We say we support religion to the point of kicking out some atheists, etc. Yet... many of our leaders and Scouts are NOT religious in any way beyond some lip service- and that does not bother us as an agency. Quite a few of our leaders and older Scouts revel in off-color jokes, anti-religious lifestyles outside of Scouting, and so on- but that's ok?


It seems odd to claim that religion is vital, and then do absolutely nothing to gauge how religious a member is. We do not ask them if they are religious and as long as they don't make a stink about the 'duty to God' and 'A Scout is Reverent' bits, and sign the application, that's good enough for us?


We are willing to spend millions fighting to keep avowed atheists out, and ignoring the untold numbers of 'untheists' in our midst.


Why isn't moral, Scout-like behavior more important to us as a movement than paying lip-service to religion is?

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Oooohhh...you mean there's an elephant in the living room? You've hit a hot button, madkins. Like my previous post on the Eagle Board...as long as the Scout is not an avowed atheist or homosexual, we don't care what his lifestyle is.


I believe that in the San Diego case, the BSA admitted it is a religious organization. Now we're upset about the Jamboree ruling. Can't have it both ways. While I am saddened that the Army can no longer provide support, I understand it. What if every other organization demands equal access and wants the same support? Who would be left to fight the war? As a taxpayer, I am paying soldiers to defend our country and win wars...not to empty porta potties for a bunch of Boy Scouts. I don't have a problem with allowing BSA to use vacant land, but it should be at no cost to the government, and no soldier should be diverted from his/her duties to provide support, unless they volunteer to do so on their own time. As govt employee, that's what I have to do.

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The BSA now positions itself as a religious organization. It is curious that the ACLU does not recognize that Congress has "established" a religious organization with a monopoly on Scouting.


The following are from BSA sources:


In case no. 92C-140, Riley County District Court, Bradford W. Seabourn vs.

Coronado Area Council, December 16, 1992, the BSA filed a "Separate

Answer" with the following as its "Sixth Affirmative Defense:


"Boy Scouts of America is a religious organization, association or

society, or nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised

or controlled by or in conjunction with religious organizations,

associations or societies within the meaning of the Kansas Act

Against Discrimination, expressly permitted by the Act to limit the

occupancy of its real property, which it owns or operates for

other than a commercial purpose, to persons who believe in God or to

give preference to persons who believe in God."


Recently, in the Balboa Park case, U.S. District Judge Napoleon Jones

Jr. ruled that "The Boy Scouts are a religious organization"

http://www.bsalegal.org/downloads/1DE211_July_2003_Order.pdf pp.11.


The judge based that finding on assertions made by BSA in pleadings of

that case. That finding was not disputed in the BSA appeal of that case.

Indeed, in the appeal brief, the BSA compares itself to a number of

specific religious organizations, and argues that such leases may be

extended to religious organizations



The following is from a letter from Lawrence Ray Smith, Ph.D (Chair of the BSA Religious Relationships Committee) in his May 7, 1998 letter to the UUA explaining the removal of the UUA's "Religion in Life" award from the religious awards approved for wear on the BSA Uniform:


"This version of Religion in Life contains several statements which are inconsistent with Scoutings values. Boy Scouts is not a secular organization as stated in Religion in Life; Boy Scouts is an ecumenical organization which requires belief in God and acknowledgement of duty to God by its members. The reference to the trouble some Unitarians Universalists may have regarding the duty to God inappropriately incorporates doubt in an award process that is designed to forge a stronger link between a youths Scouting values and religious life".



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I don't think the BSA is admitting to being a religious organization in those cases. It looks to me (and I have certainly not read every word in each of those cases) that legal counsel was simply arguing they were an organization, among religious and others, that met certain criteria under certain laws and court decisions. They were also arguing that, IF the Court finds we are a religious organization, then . . . This is normal procedure in law.


In any case, all of these cases dealing with "are too!" and "am not!" arguments about being a religious organization are like arguments about angels on the head of pins. I just read this morning that the IRS considers Scientology a religion and not the Freemasons. Go figure that out.


The Balboa Park case is an aberration decided by a bunch of very liberal judges in a very liberal forum. All of these cases differ very much from the plain meaning of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law (later extended to mean the States as well) respecting the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof . . ."


Can the BSA have it both ways? Probably not, but there's no harm in trying. Could the BSA change it's orientation on religion and still be the BSA? I don't know. It certainly makes no sense to me to throw the Scouts out of Balboa Park in the name of the First Amendment. It does not serve the people of San Diego and certainly doesn't help the nominal plaintiffs in that case (which we all know is really the ACLU up to it's usual nastiness).

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In my opinion, from my experiences in my old Troop and Council, the BSA is a religious organization, in that it is an organization that recognizes and operates with religion, whether that be Catholicism, Anglicanism, other Protestant denominations, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.


In every Troop meeting, we said a prayer... at every council event, a preayer was said, Sunday night Vespers was a REQUIREMENT at our summer camp, Camp Raven Knob. Religion was everywhere, but it was never made out to be one religion or the other, prayers were always to God, or Heavenly Father, and the only time I remember Christ being mentioned was in my all-Christian Troop. I am sure that there are all Muslim Troops that mention Allah, or all-Jewish Troops that call God Yahweh.


I see no problem with religion and the Boy Scouts, but I also think that the BSA should allow atheists to join, as long as they don't try to change the religious nature of the Boy Scouts.


Boys in the Boy Scouts are not called to believe in set rule of beliefs or doctrine... all they are asked is to live their lives according to their own religion's standards and live their lives to the best of their ability and to serve our nation and God.

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> I don't think the BSA is admitting to being a religious organization in those cases.


Kahuna, OK I just don't understand. In the first example, the BSA files some legal paper saying "Boy Scouts of America is a religious organization...." but you say that the BSA is not admitting to being a religious organization?

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Curious, are stating you want BSA to be more religous or less?

I think if BSA pushed religion much more than the occasional non-demoninational grace at meals or a simple prayer at meetings, it would become far more fractured than it already is. Our scoutmaster is Catholic. I'm not. If he ran his troop as a youth group for Catholics, I would have to find another troop that aligns with my beliefs. I don't want him to impose his belief system on me or my son, just scout values. I live in a rural part of the country and not many troops to choose from. I think the LDS has already imposed their religous values on their troops and I don't think further division within the BSA is a good thing.

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Kudu: I would agree it is difficult to understand, but the principle is fairly simple. To give an example, if you have a law that says a person must be a man or a woman to be under the protection of this law, and you say I am a man or a woman within the meaning of this law, you are not admitting you are a woman (or a man). This kind of lingo happens all the time in legal briefs.


Again, I have not read the entire brief or decision, but it seems to me that's what they are saying.

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Kahuna: If I understand you correctly, the BSA is just "saying" that they are a religious organization for the purpose of discriminating against children who are "saying" that they are not religious?


The temptation to explore the hypocrisy of religious fundamentalism is overwhelming :-/


Is there a lawyer in the house?

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OK- but my question is 'what ARE we?', not what do we say we are, or what others say of us.


Sure- we say prayers at many events- prayers so 'neutral' that they tend to be pretty generic and inoffensive, often aimed at 'the great Scoutmaster' or 'Spirit'. I have never seen a case in which people had to repeat the prayers, either- just being there was considered sufficent.


Would a religious organization treat the spirituality of its members as casually as we do?


(Gern- for the record, I am a card-carrying Jesus Freak from WAY back, but I am also 100% in support of letting atheists in the BSA and returning the BSA to being a character-building youth group rather than a reglious organization).


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Thanks for the clarification madkins.

I think BSA called itself a religous organization to justify its policy on discrimination with Gays and Athiests. I think it has backfired and driven a wedge between BSA and a significant portion of America.

When I was a scout back in the 70s, never was my faith or sexuality even an issue.

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> Would a religious organization treat the spirituality of its members as

> casually as we do?


Madkins: If you make a distinction between "religious" and "spiritual" it might be easier to explore the apparent contradiction expressed in your question.


To me "religious" implies a devotion to "beliefs" and to a community that "acknowledges" a brand of "revealed truths." The outward actions of religious people can be characterized by church attendance and a belief in a specific creed, or interpretation of written scripture. The extremists are evangelicals and religious fundamentalists.


On the other hand, "spiritual" implies a special inward, non-verbal attitude or frame of mind. For Christians this might be expressed as unconditional love. Buddhists often express it in terms of unlimited compassion. The outward actions of spiritual people can be characterized by either a spiritual retreat from society, or an intense involvement in community service. The extremists are cave-dwelling mystics and saints and boddisatvas who dedicate their lives to ending human suffering.


To find where you fit into this spectrum, simply reflect on how you would treat an atheist Scout.


Scouting was invented by a military general named Robert Baden-Powell. By most accounts he was not a religious man, he did not usually attend church or quote scripture. However, he attached a great spiritual significance to the outdoor life and once speculated that camping gear is "the various media adapted to individual tastes through which men may know their God."


While B-P publicly advanced Boy Scouting as a game to foster citizenship, his real motivation may have sprung from the spiritual significance that he attached to the outdoor life.


In the early days of Scouting, B-P represented spiritual retreat from society as the "Religion of the Backwoods," and engagement with society as "Practical Christianity." The later did not require a belief in a deity because in "Scouting for Boys" he acknowledged the Buddhists of Burma as a "distinguished" example of those who practiced "practical Christianity" in their everyday lives (page 302).


Scouts engaged in "nature knowledge" (which B-P characterized in the subtitle of "Rovering to Success" as a "step towards realizing God") through a series of Scoutcraft Proficiency Badges which are worn on the right sleeve of the traditional Scout Uniform. Scouts engaged in "community service" through a series of "Public Service" Proficiency Badges which are worn on the left sleeve of the Scout Uniform.


Baden-Powell believed that Scouting was itself a form of religion in which Scouts could gain for themselves the essential spiritual experiences that inspire all religions: the mystical insight gained through both a retreat to nature, and a devotion to public service. These actual experiences could then breathe life into the scriptural book-learning taught back in the "Sunday-schools" of the Scouts' own congregations.


Boy Scout Troops depended largely on the sponsorship of organized religion, however, and organized religions are in the business of selling their own brands of "revealed truth." In the 1920s, a backlash from Anglican clerics and Catholic priests threatened the very existence of Scouting itself and Baden-Powell was forced to issue a statement, saying that it was "not his intention to attack Revealed Religion or to suggest a substitute for it."


Thereafter, Baden-Powell more frequently used the term "God" when describing his pantheistic views, and was fond of quoting Carlyle as saying: 'The religion of a man is not the creed he professes but his life--what he acts upon, and knows of life, and his duty in it. A bad man who believes in a creed is no more religious than the good man who does not.'


As far as I know there was never a corresponding mystical Scouting tradition in the United States. But a hint of Baden-Powell's indirect approach to spiritual experience is built into the Scoutcraft and public service requirements for advancement in Scouting and can perhaps be found in what we sometimes call the "Spirit of Scouting."


The best exploration of the spiritual underpinnings of the creation of Scouting can be found in Tim Jeal's biography of Baden-Powell. Excerpts can be found on my Website, see:



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My understanding of this matter is that BSA is a "religious organization" in the same sense that it is an educational organization. That is, while it certainly has these elements, it's purpose is not singularly religious nor educational. (In fact, the argument could be made that BSA is far more educational than religious in that education on a variety of secular topics is far more central to its purpose than is guidance on religious issues.)


I agree with Gern that BSA's wordsmithing on this issue has backfired (and will continue to get worse) and I also agree with Madkins that a bona fide religious organization would not be so casual about the sprituality of its members.


In my opinion, BSA claims to be a "religious organization" for the sole purpose (and a political one it is, make no mistake about that) of excluding godless heathens - while still allowing "god" to be defined so broadly as to be able to include everyone except those who baldly use the word "atheist" in conjunction with their belief system.

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Is there a lawyer in the house? Speaking. :-)

You did not understand me correctly. I am simply saying that lawyers in their briefs of cases often use this kind of language to avoid being tossed out on a technicality. In the earlier example, I mentioned that it is common to say: "if the Court finds the BSA to be a religious organization, then we suggest . . ."

This is a pretty fine distinction, I realize, and one which may come back to haunt them, but understand this kind of stuff has more to do with lawyers than with BSA as an organization. Once you hire a lawyer, you pretty much have to follow his/her advice or get another lawyer.

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