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How much religion is there in Scouting?

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I agree with others here that the unit is only as religious as the leadership allows it to be. I don't know when religion all of a sudden became a dirty word. In the units I have and am now serving we find a way to integrate the concept of a belief in a supreme creator into our outings and events without shoving any particular denominations doctrine down their throats. Over 60% of the youth in my crew have earned their own faiths religious award and I usually can get a priest, rabbi or minister to present them to the youth in a very special ecumenical ceremony, and there have been absolutely NOT ONE complaint from a parent, CO or any other group in over 5 years over our methodology in incorporating religion into our program. Additionally there is no pressure placed on any youth to earn their religious award, it is an individual decision. So there Merlyn it can work if done with mutual respect for each others rights and beliefs.

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"Those who are judged within the context of this statement NOT to be the best kind of citizens just might be offended by that judgment. I can understand why."


Now I was able to find the above quote from what I wrote. I can't seem to find the statement that you said I wrote. Help me out here.

You just wrote:

"You wrote in response to the BSA statement on the 'Best kind of citizen'

I don't believe that statement is meant as offensive. However, I do believe some people might be offended by it."


I hope you can see the difference between your version and my quote. I was responding to your statement, "Further, I dont find the use of the phrase The best kind of citizen to be necessarily offensive to anyone."

Do I need to clarify this? The above statement is yours, not mine.

I think I have not addressed the concept of denigration at all, have I?

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However, in the early comments in this thread it was stated that the BSA's statement was "denigrating" to Atheists. I in no way think it meets that definition in fact, tone or intent.


Well, I think it does. Saying only theists can be the best kinds of citizens is belittling to non-theists.

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I find the phrase "not capable of being the best kind of citizens" to be denigrating when talking about me. And apparently that statement wasn't strong enough, so they've also added "immoral" and "not clean" to be sure we get the message. Denigrating enough for ya?



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I originally wrote:

The program can't include a duty to God and a requirement for Reverence for some and not others so what I am hearing is: To bad for you, your wants/rights/wishes are less important then others."



Packsaddle wrote:

Really? If it wasn't a requirement wouldn't you continue your religious practices anyway as a personal conviction? For you, in particular, I would think that the 'requirement' is unnecessary. And if unnecessary for you, then why for anyone?


My responses:


The issue isnt if I would/could continue my religious practices but if I can continue them within the outside organization known as BSA. I was brought up in a family that utilized the scouting program as a key tool to develop my faith. I can not do the same for my son in a program that is so secular as to soften its stance and say I believe in a duty to God or not (as long as no one gets offended)


This isnt an issue of I like chocolate and you like vanilla, its one of A or B not both. It is impossible for scouting to have an element that teaches faith is important and faith isnt important at the same time.


Packsaddle wrote:

How would a local option preclude you from ANYTHING? It seems to me that local option would actually allow even greater personal freedom...for everyone.


My response:

First, this whole concept of Local option is a non-starter. We have a unified scouting program or we dont. Even if we did keep scouting in the same form as it is today but allow the extent of local option I believe you are alluding to, what would we do when it came time for district events, or council or regional or national events. Would we have the atheist Jamboree and the theist Jamboree? These differences may be insignificant to you but they are very major to me.


Would we have a local option on the Scout oath and law too? Some would say Do my duty to my God and my country, other Do my duty to my country, other Do my duty to nobody?


I just dont think this one size fits all approach will work.



Packsaddle wrote:

Getting back to that part of imposing one view on another: you already have the freedom to pursue your personal beliefs and religious practices. How does another person's difference in these matters detract from what you do? And If you want to require this of everyone else, why? For matters of faith, why not let everyone have the personal freedom to choose what they think?


My answer:

Of course I have the freedom to pursue my personal beliefs and religious practices, What I am saying is that secularizing the program this way will preclude that free exercise within scouting, with other like minded scouters and scouts. I grew up in a scouting program that held faith to be important, why should I change. People are free to choose otherwise, why must I change MY scouting program to accommodate them. Let them create their own secular scouting program.



Packsaddle wrote?

How would you be required to "give up" using the scouting program? You would still be free to practice your personal faith. In that respect nothing would change. It seems to me that if you gave it up, it would have to be a matter of choice on your part although I don't understand why. But definitely not a requirement.


My response:

I wouldnt be required to give up the scouting program. I would however be unable to utilize scouting to promote the religious views I espouse to my son. As I have said earlier, scouting would become just one more secular youth organization.


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From Merlyns earlier post


I had written "However, in the early comments in this thread it was stated that the BSA's statement was "denigrating" to Atheists. I in no way think it meets that definition in fact, tone or intent."


Merlyn's reply "Well, I think it does. Saying only theists can be the best kinds of citizens is belittling to non-theists"



Well ol Merl', to parrot back what you wrote to me In your post:

RE: Philly raises scouts rent $199,999/year

Posted: Wednesday, 10/24/2007: 9:39:52 PM


And I quote "Oh, too damn bad."


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Oh come'on Tjhammer.


I find it hard to believe that a bunch of atheist so steeled and confident in their conviction would be stunned and offended by the likes of us simple minded folk believin' in the Big Guy in the Sky.


Me thinks though protests too much.




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Hi all, thanks for all the responses.


As to "how much religion is there in Scouting?", based on the variety of responses, I think Trev nailed it - "As much as the CO and the Scout and his parents want".


It sounds like there's enough variation from unit to unit today that the religious component of scouting, for all intents and purposes, already is a "local option" in practice. Assuming we're all honest about the DRP and follow the rules, there should be some religious aspect to scouting - but in reality, it doesn't have to be much.


That's my observation at any rate; I leave it to others to argue whether this is a good thing or not.


Thanks again for your responses. Have a good weekend - hopefully camping if it ain't too cold where you are already.








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Yah, hmmm.....


A self-described "Novice Cubmaster" asked what looked like a real question of us all.


But once again da thread got hijacked, first by Merlyn, and then by our regular cast of folks who disagree with having religious expression as part of the BSA.


As amusing and tedious as those repetitious rants are, I wonder aloud if perhaps as a general rule da folks who want to start ranting might be willing to spend the extra 10 seconds to spin off a thread, rather than insisting on blowing up ever thread that gets anywhere near the topic?


I was really kinda interested in real answers to Novice Cubmaster's question, especially from people who don't normally comment on this topic for fear of bein' drawn into a rant.




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We've heard "Put the OUT(ING) back in Scouting", but everyone seems to forget about the SC of Scouting, SPIRITUAL COMMITMENT.


I've heard of CO's, religious based, that have asked the SM to strongly push the Emblems programs, wanting as many of the Scouts in the Troop to get their Religious Emblem Awards.


Cubs and Ventures have options in rank advancement to earn their Religious Emblems, but not the Boy Scouts. They have an opportunity to earn the award, but not as part of rank advancement. Maybe if they did, we would see an increase.


In our Council, there is presently a major initiative to talk with as many religious leaders in the Council about starting new units, especially with signing youth groups as Venture Crews. A win-win situation. I also knew a DL that informed his parents that the Cub or Webelos Den would be working on their Emblems Award for an additional 30 minutes after the Den meeting for those that were interested. He usually had a good response.


Does your Council have a "DUTY TO GOD" page on their site? I managed to get our Council to start one. The groups were out there in the Council, but the information was not flowing. Last year, our Council only had 8 or 9 Scouts receive their Catholic Religious Emblems, all from the same area in the same county. This year the numbers are up to 20 because of the site. Some of the other Scouters involved with other faiths have also received additional calls about information.


The Catholics usually have a better formed movement then the others. Maybe it's because they have larger numbers, and the Protestant faiths have splintered into a number of different DUTY TO GOD or GOD AND COUNTRY awards specific for each faith, unlike when I was a Scout in the 60's and 70's when there seemed to be only the GOD AND COUNTRY that was generic for all the major Protestant faiths. They also all have their own Committees, but locally they seem to put forth little effort at promoting themselves like the Catholic Committee does.


Our Council also throws a Religious Emblems Recognition dinner each spring for all Scouts and Scouters who have received a religious award. This last spring we had around 150 to 200 Cubs, Scouts and Venturers and adults recognized.


The best way is to lead by example. If the leaders aren't setting the example by showing their faith and Duty to God, why do we expect this of the Scouts?

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Novice-Cubmaster. You ask an interesting question. I can only speak for the units for which I'm familiar. When I was a Cub Leader, I remember a few Den Leaders over the years making arrangements for some of their boys to earn religious awards. As a Boy Scout Leader, none of our Scouts has earned the award. At our District Awards banquet, we recognize those Scouts that earned the religious emblem during the past year and there are very few. I don't know if this is because there isn't much emphasis on the Duty to God component of Scouting or people just don't know about the religious emblem program. We have one unit in our District chartered by the Catholic Church. That Troop always leaves campouts on Saturday night in order to attend Mass on Sunday. They do not restrict membership to Catholics only, but their policy of leaving on Saturday does once in a while result in non-Catholic Scouts leaving their troop to join another. They do have a very robust religious program.


During my tenure as a Scout Leader (15 years), I've met many many Scouters, boys, and families. Some were openly deeply religious folks, although the minority, others had no religious conviction at all, again somewhat a minority, and most were somewhere in between. Our Troop had a SM a few years ago who fit the first category. He led the troop with an emphasis on Jesus, saying he didn't like the one-size fits all God that the Boy Scouts DRP supported. That worked OK until new families and boys joined the troop with different beliefs, or at least not such strongly held beliefs. A few parents expressed their concern on behalf of their sons that they didn't like all the praying "in Jesus' name" that went on before Scout meetings and on Sundays at campouts. It was not for that reason that he stepped down as Scoutmaster, but the atmosphere of our troop certainly changed after he did.


For years we had a Chaplain's Aid (even though we didn't, in fact, have a Chaplain) and he would pray before each meeting, ending with "in Jesus' name we pray." But, if said Chaplain's Aid was not present at a meeting, the SPL would pick someone else to say an opening prayer. It was interesting to listen to the prayers offered up by all but a couple of the other Scouts in our Troop. Very generic "God" in those prayers, with no mention of Jesus at all. The best some guys could do was something along the lines of "Dear God, thanks for the day." I know that all but one of the boys in our Troop attend church regularly, mostly Baptist and Methodist. But, except for a couple, none seem too interested in professing their faith during Scouts or are even embarrassed to do so.


The only time I've been personally confronted about religion was a couple of years ago. On a campout, the boys got to talking about religion. The discussion became very spirited, especially between two of our Scouts - one with strong Christian beliefs, the other a Wiccan. The following Monday, I was confronted by the father of the Christian Scout who yelled in my face for many minutes (in front of his son) about how the BSA is a Christian organization, I should not have allowed such a debate to take place on a campout, and he was going to talk to the Chartered Organization about it. In the end, I merely told him that the BSA was open to all with a belief in god (any god), I was not going to promote one religion over another, and perhaps I was not the best SM for his sons. Well, he never did talk to the CO or at least if he did, nothing ever got back to me. By the way, his older son is still in the Troop and about to finish his requirements for Eagle.


In reading these forums and all the fuss and feathers about religion in Scouting, one could assume that everyone's talking about it, arguing about it, and it's in the forefront of the minds of parents, Scouts, and Scouters. In my experience, it just simply hasn't been a big issue. I'm not saying whether it's good or bad, just my experience.



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I think a question related to the one posed - AND related to the digression about number of religious awards earned is: "How much religion is there in your Scouts".


In a lot of ways, the answer to that question will answer the others. My troop as a youth was sponsored by a non-demoninational, mostly protestant, community church. No divisions into Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, evangelicals. It was open and welcoming to all - including Catholics and Jews. The troop was therefore open and welcoming to all - including Wiccans, Shintoists, Nativists, Deists, etc.


For many of the people in my unit, their sole exposure to religion was Scout Sunday and Scout's Own. Our meeting ending prayer was nothing more than the same prayer, repeated everytime "May the Great Scoutmaster, of all good Scouts, be with us till we meet again" Each of us could picture the Great Scoutmaster as whomever we wanted it to be. For some, it might have been God. I always envisioned Baden-Powell, and others did too.


The Scouts I met through district and council events seemed mostly to have the same experience I had. Maybe 40% attended church more than once or twice per year. Most scouts I met attended Scout Sunday services and maybe Christmas or Easter services. Maybe 15% attended regularly - meaning weekly. It was much more likely that scouts in units that were sponsored by churches and that drew their membership almost exclusively from the church member families, would attend church regularly. It was far less likely for scouts in units sponsored by PTA's or community organizations to attend church on a regular basis.


The same held true for religious awards - it was much much more likely for scouts sponsored by churches that drew their membership from church member familes to earn that denomination's religious award. Religious awards programs are administered by churches, not by the BSA. If a church charters a scout unit, it's much easier for that church to offer the counseling needed for the award. Its a very real and public way for the chartering organization to support it's unit. That's not to say that scouts in units chartered by community organizations, schools and non-denominational churches can't earn the award - it just becomes a bit harder - the sponsor isn't pushing it and the best the Cub/Scoutmaster can do is encourage a scout to work with his church to earn the award and hope the paster at the church is familiar with the award in the first place.


In most cases, even if a church is familiar with the award, a pastor will only work with youth that are somewhat active in their church. Since the 60's, church attendance has dropped. Many people who think of themselves as Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, etc. have no "home church" except the one they might go to once or twice a year on holidays. They no longer have any real affiliation with a church except a self-declared one. It then becomes increasingly difficult to earn one of these awards - its hard to go to your church when your church doesn't really know you.


I witnessed over time a marked decline in Sunday services at Camporees. When I first started in Scouts, our troop, and every other troop at a camporee went to Sunday morning services. By the time I was 16, Sunday services were no longer a scheduled part of the camporee - it was left to the units to conduct their own Scout's Own - and this was in the 70's.


I believe that this isn't neccessarily a bad sign. Rather I believe that this is simply part of the redirection that religion has had over the past few decades from group spirituality and organized religion to a more personal relationship with one's God (or Goddess) and spirituality and the movement away from organized religion. As the world's societies and cultures have grown, we are becoming more sure of our own personal interpretations of our various scriptures and less dependant on needing other people to interpret for us. Polls show that more than ever, Americans believe in God, yet also, more than ever, American's are no longer attending church and feeling a need to connect with an organized religion.


Maybe the real question should be "How much spirituality it there in Scouting"

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Hi all,


Just to clarify - I started this topic asking a "real" question (and I thank all of you for your real answers) - not as an opening for the circular theists vs non-theists debate.


While religion in scouting is definitely important to some percentage of scouters & parents, how important is it to the scouts themselves?


The fact that advancement doesn't require earning the religious emblem and the low number of scouts that earn it says something.


Like gwd-scouter, I've only seen two discussions about religion or spiritual matters initiated by a scout (both Boy Scouts, not Cubs). One was a very personal question of faith, the other general curiosity.


I would like to see more scouts not just earn their emblems, but WANT to earn them, and learn more about their faith. Ah, but how to do this?


From ASM915's post - "The best way is to lead by example. If the leaders aren't setting the example by showing their faith and Duty to God, why do we expect this of the Scouts?"


In a unit with scouts of many faiths, what are some things we scouters can do?



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  • 2 months later...

I realize this is a response to an older posting, but this thread involves an issue near and dear to my heart. Last Wednesday, at our weekly after-school scoutmeeting, I was observing my unit being led through an obstacle course by some zealous senior scouts. Imagine 18 Cub and Boy scouts in full khaki tans and campaign covers (smokey bear hats) crawling through 5 foot priaire grass and climbing over log cabins!


While this was going on an older boy who had left my troop last year approached me and struck up a friendly conversation. He told me about how he had just got done quitting the school marching band and how he had decided to concentrate on his studies. He felt kind of sore about quitting something but felt good about having the freedom to pursue other things. He was taking private voice lessons with a locally famous instructor. He was enjoying Science and Mathematics.

(You have to understand that this kid was one of my favorite scouts. He was in my unit for five years. He played a fife in one Memorial Day parade, and had been the senior patrol seargeant his last year. It truly broke my heart when he moved on from scouts. But seeing him smiling there, six foot tall and brimming with self confidence - I can tell you it made my month!)


I had to cut short our conversation and say my good byes to him when I realized my scouts had gotten about a hundred yards away and were about to move out of site. I jogged up and found them all kneeling on the ground. They were up to something.


As I approached them they all started making the sign of the cross. They had been praying- but why I wondered. Then it struck me when I noticed the young sapling they were surrounding. They had come upon the tree that had been dedicated two years before to Mrs. R.


Mrs. R had been my younger sons' pre-school teacher. She had succomed to Menighitis and had died a horrific death in a matter of 72 hours. Our unit had been asked by school officials to perform some form of ceremony to pay tribute to her (A day after her death!) on the Monday when everyone had returned to school from Easter break.


I had called up all my scouts that Sunday evening to give them the word(My unit had 35 members then). They all brought their full uniforms to school and put them on and we met at the flag pole in front of the school at 9:30. It's quite a site to see 35 scouts in the tan shirts and green pants with the campaign covers lined up in neat rows - snapping to attention. The other kids in the school had never seen our scouts up close like this. It was an amazing morning. Everyone was in shock over the death of so young and beuatiful a woman. She was the coach of the high school cheerleading squad - who had famously stould up the year before to a group of cheerleaders who insisted on doing vulgar cheers and moves. Mrs. R had stuck to her guns, and when the cheerleaders would not get in line she ejected them from the team. This caused quite a controversy in the local papers. Mrs. R was to many parents a hero. Now this principled citizen, mother, and popular pre-school teacher and coach- was dead. And the entire Catholic elementary and Junior high were present, along with parents, priests, local officals, and family members of the deceased.


My troop ceremoniously lowered the flag to half mast as we played taps on the scout trumpet. After taps we played Amazing Grace. Everyone wept it seemed. My scouts stould at attention the entire time and snapped flawless salutes. We then raised the flag.The scouts learned a great lesson that day. They were preapred for something that they never realized they were preaparing for. They gave that day of darkness a beauty- decorum- civility- and respect- that only those Boy Scouts could. They realized that they were delivering something needed and speical. And 35 boys saw things different after that morning. Things like this can only happen in the Boy Scouts.


THis memory came rushing back to me as I watched the boys making the sign of the cross. THey saw me coming and quickly got up and the SPL began barking orders and they all proceeded to jog off to Bunker Hill for their favorite Game of Paratrooper and Enemy Scout. (A game of hide and seek in the heavy bush on Bunker Hill- I often add extra element of excitiment and G-I-Joe atmosphere by screaming orders in a shrill German Voice at the hidden paratroopers- you wouldn't believe the stuff they crawl into to get hidden from their Nazi trackers!).


Later that evening I asked my youngesst son- who is now a scout in the unit - who it was that had the idea to have the scouts pray at Mrs. R's tree. He told me that it was his older brother - but that all the boys loved the idea and were happy to pray at her tree. SHe had been pre-school teacher to nearly all of my unit. I have been afraid to speak to my older son about this. I am still a little in awe about the whole thing.


For five years our troop and pack (we are a consolidated unit) has ended every meeting with a talk about our role as Chirstian men and American citizens. Our motto is "Miles Christus Sum" (I am a soldier of Christ). Our unit's focus is on sacrifice, heroism, duty to our parents, and to God's mandates to love others. My scouts are trained to see their Christian beliefs and their scouting law as a powerful union: One strengthens and fortifies the other. We talk about super heroes and real heroes and how it relates to our Chritian beliefs. My boys have met with many veterans of four different wars. They have rang the Salvation Army bells in front of the local WalMart while singing Chritimas carols (very badly). For four consecutive years they have been asked to hold the banners for the AMVETS in the Veterans Day parade, and to fire our mobile potato cannons in the reading of the dead in front of the courthouse.


It seems that all this training has been paying off. I am witnessing some of the results that the work that me and my scout fathers and ASMs and senior scout leaders have been having on the boys. It is the best feeling in the world.


I believe that if you are a Christian, then you know that you must have faith that God will make things right. If you are a Christian you also know that you must act and do what is right by God. Being a scoutmaster has been for me the highest and most rewarding calling I could ever have imagined.


I would suggest that a scoutmaster should never shrink from putting his Chrisitan faith into his scouting as much as he saw fit. That he should pray for guidance on this. It is the Holy Spirit that acts through us. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us our voice. Jesus was the model of how a man should live his life. I can bear witness to the fact that the results of steadfastness to Christian principles in our Scouting Unit have yeilded amazing results. And doing so is in keeping with making our Nation strong and Good.


Good Luck Scoutmaster- and Gods Speed!


Semper Paratus!


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