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New Committee Chair - with a issue

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As of this month, I have been approved by our Chartering Organization as the committee chair. I've been around scouting for awhile, serving as a committee chair in another troop, and most recently, as the unit commissioner.


Here is my issue. There is a scout in the troop who is an atheist. The SM is aware of it. The SM let me know that to him, it's not an issue because a scout is supposed to be honest. I disagree, but I digress...


This scout is very close to completing his requirements for Eagle. At the Chair, I sign off on the Eagle Application. I am very torn about this decision:


1. On the one hand, I believe in the Scout Law and Oath - to do my duty to God. To me, it is a core belief in scouting.


2. On the other hand, this scout has been permitted to advance in the troop for several years, with the knowledge of the scoutmaster. Is it the right thing to do to this young man since he has been permitted to advance in the troop?


Thanks for the help!

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I would bring it up with both the committee as a matter of conscience and the District Advancement Chair asking if there was an alternate way to submit the application without your signature. That should be a bit of a red flag to Council but this is a quandary. This situation seems to be one that is enforced on a local basis -- yes, a Scout is Reverent but different units or locales apply different standards to this point.


Bear in mind no one is perfect -- how does this Scout apply the Scout Law to his life other than this point? Personally, I was at the "questioning" stage of life when I earned my Eagle -- I believed in a Higher Power but was uncertain about my church (frankly, I've gone back -- even beyond -- that stage lately as I believe "my" church has engaged in increasing heresies over the past 10 years). Regardless of his professed atheism, does he respect the idea of a Higher Power?

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Can I answer your question with a couple of my own?


1) What have YOU personally observed, seen or heard from the scout to tell you he's an atheist? Unless he is openly professing this belief, then you really have no basis to judge his faith (or lack thereof). If he IS openly expressing such beliefs, then your issue is not with the scout, but with the unit leadership that has allowed the scout to continue to advance in the unit. Or is his lack of belief in a "higher power" something you are aware of second or third hand? If so, then you must discount it as rumor and inuendo - not fact.


2) If he is an atheist (assuming this is truely his thoughts in his heart, not just some questioning of his faith, or an act to be a defiant teen, etc...) - really do you think you making an example of his situation and making his Eagle application / award more difficult than any other applicants from your unit does much to remedy the situation? Maybe he's in a confused state about his faith right now, or maybe he does know with certainy where his heart stands. Either way - you make an issue out of this and hold up his Eagle because of it - the only certain thing it will do is drive him away from scouts, likely drive him further away from faith, and likely cause a fracture within your unit's core leadership (as you cannot really make an example of this scout without implicating the SM).


I know folks like to get wrapped up about the atheist and gay issues in scouting. They are at the heart of some very basic beliefs in right vs wrong for most people. However, the scout law and BSA policy really gives no more weight to these two issues than any other points of the scout law. I've seen far more scouts that could / should have their rank advancement questioned or held-up (Eagle or otherwise) for lack of cleanliness, lack of scout-spirit, or lack being friendly, or lack of being cheerful or obedient. However, we rarely see posts about leaders wringing their hands over these tenents of the scout law... just those that invoke an emotional response on moral grounds.


Then there's the whole thought of is it really the Committee Chair's place to question what the SM and BOR have signed off on?


As a Cubmaster, I have had several scouts put in for awards / rank advancement that I'm pretty dang sure the scout has not completed all the requirements for. But per BSA policy, if the Akela (parent / guardian) signs off that the cub has "done their best" and the Den Leader is willing to sign off on it - then I have no recourse. In fact, I am specificly prohibited from testing, reviewing, or otherwise holding any type of BOR for cub ranks above what is required in the handbook.


Same goes for the Eagle rank. If the unit leaders SM, ASM, etc. support the scout, he's completed his project and he passes his BOR, then I'm not sure its really the CC's place to second guess the unit leadership.


Personally, I'd tread lightly and pick you battle VERY wisely on this one. The backlash / fallout with this scout and within the unit might not be worth the "moral victory" you are looking for.


Not an easy decision - best of luck, whatever course of action you decide to take.



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Welcome to the campfire.


Not an easy issue, and you're right to have a matter of conscience about it.


One of the things Dean says is true: If you've not observed the Scout discuss an atheist viewpoint, you don't have first-hand knowledge.


Now, if you do have first-hand knowledge, you have a bigger challenge. You'll need to visit with your COR. That visit probably needs to be together with your Scoutmaster. The two of you have to be on the same sheet of music, indeed, have each others' back. A bad CC/SM relationship does not help the Troop.


You'll also need to visit with the District Advancement Chairman. You did not say how your District does Eagle Boards... unit composed, district guest or district composed iwth maybe unit guest? Certainly, I'd make sure the DAC understand the need to check the Faith reference on the Eagle app.


In my book, you not only sign the app, you also are the guy who chairs this particular BOR.


Finally, take this back to your own District and Council Commissioner staff. See how things have been handled locally before.


Regardless, I think you and the Scoutmaster having a common vision and goals is essential. You need to have each others back, and not have even the appearance of undercutting each other.

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I wonder what it means to this young man, to say that he is an atheist. I have known a number of scouts who understand "atheism" to mean that they just don't really know what they believe. Or that they don't belong to a particular church or religious group. Those things are not atheism. The former may be a matter of a young person questioning his identity and beliefs. It may be a sign of someone for whom these issues ought not to be glibly defined without deep examination. I know at least a few mid/late teens who have expressed to me that they don't understand why other people are so willing to just accept one version of religious "truth" when there are so many other (unexamined) versions out there to be sorted through.


The latter, I think some folks here have called "unchurched." That's not atheism though.


For me, one challenge here is distinguishing between the label and the content behind it. Many people incorrectly apply the label "atheism" and that includes applying it incorrectly to themselves.


I would not be inclined to make this - or any other - BOR a religious inquisition. But it is fair to expect a candidate to be able to say something about his broad view of how he performs his spiritual duty, even if the "something" is along the lines of "I struggle with defining my duty in that area." After all, we all struggle with various aspects of any moral code from time to time.


Some people see this as a litmus test. I don't. I just don't think most kids have the developmental capacity to have made deeply reflective and life-long spiritual decisions in their mid teens.





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The young man needs to be prepared to truthfully answer the question, "tell us about how you've performed your duty to God". The EBOR is sure to ask...and the SM will not be able to explain HIS philosophy of "it's not a big deal to me".

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I agree with Lisabob on this one. Teens making broad statements like this tend to be more exploring than having come to a conclusion after careful thought. Perhaps he made a few comments intended to shock or rebel from his parents. I too wonder if teens are even capable of coming to such conclusions.


I would really be careful before making a significant decisions on this one unless you have a talk with him and he states he is absolutely sure in his belief that there is no spiritual side to life. And if it turns out that he is questioning some elements of Christianity (which for some believers means he is an atheist) I would help him in his struggle, not turn it into the Spanish Inquisition.

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If I'm in your situation, I have a very friendly discussion with the Scout at the very next Troop meeting. I would be up front with him and let him know I had heard thru the grapevine that he might consider himself an atheist. Find out what he really feels and thinks. If he truly considers himself an atheist and understands the meaning of the word, we stop his work on Eagle. If he isn't sure, we put the brakes on Eagle and have some additional conversations, probably including others, about duty to God, being reverent, etc. We get this issue resolved before it ever gets to an EBOR.


"There is no religious SIDE to the Movement. The WHOLE of it is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God." Baden-Powell

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It has been a long time since my Eagle app/BOR, but I remember on the application there is a place for faith and a signature is required correct? And in my district BOR I was specifically asked about faith. I'm not sure how you can get through this without any faith at all.

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Capella - you're right - this is likely to get ugly.


Our membership application says members have an obligation to God. Our Scout Oath and Law are explicit.


Our local EBoRs are led by our District Advancement Chair and consist of members from outside the troop. In a recent discussion with the Chair about their rationale for passing a candidate who clearly had not completed all of the requirements, he told me point-blank the only way for an Eagle Candidate to fail his EBoR was to not profess a personal belief in God. When I questioned this, he was very clear he had direction from Council and presumed it came from National.


Like it, or not, that one question can be a deal-breaker, or litmus test.


Its a tough thing to work within the troop when you know the boys/families and you spend your time helping them learn the skills and otherwise develop into young men of solid character. Many come from un-churched homes. Many who grew up in the church will question their own faith at some point during the scouting years. For many, their exposure to God and faith is limited to whatever they get within the troop. Weve had a number who asked our Troop Chaplain to write the religious reference letter for their Eagle package.


To avoid problems such as these from lying hidden until an outside EBoR makes an embarrassing issue of them, we talk about the requirement to have a personal faith in God from the time a prospective member visits. I bring it up in SM conferences as part of a generic discussion concerning living up to the ideals of Scouting and know who is struggling along the way.


I havent been in your situation, so far, and hope I never am. May the Wisdom of Solomon help guide you in the days ahead!


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Tough days head. Like Mike F, would not wish your situation on anyone.


My own impression about this mirrors everyone else here. I would have a sit down with the SM first. As the CC, you are not a direct contact leader, so don't circumvent the SM. If you don't like what you hear, talk to the COR, and determine a position to which you will hold fast. Eventually, this will have to lead to the scout.


But my take is that this should be resolved before any paperwork is signed or a EBoR is called. As has been mentioned the "Belief in God statement" is a condition of membership, not rank advancement. Do not turn a blind eye and push this to a committee reviewing the scout for Eagle; to send it there is making the statement that you do not accept the "Belief in God statement" to be relevant.


I am not suggesting you take the high road here. This must be handled very tactfully and thoughtfully. Don't rush here. It is, however something which must be addressed.


My prayers are with you and your scout.

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I think BufSkip is on the right track. Your first job is to square this with the Scoutmaster. Maybe the two of you and the COR can sit down and work through things. You need to work out the specifics of what's going on with this boy and the bigger picture issues of the troop's approach to matters of faith. On such a deep subject as this, you may get one response in a passing conversation with the Scoutmaster and another during a serious sit-down.


I have a First Class Scout in our troop has made it know to other Scouts that he is an atheist. So far, I've just let it be. But at his next SM conference we will have an in-depth conversation about how he fulfills his duty to God. At this point, I don't see this as a make or break discussion, but as the beginning of a counseling process. Considering all the variables others have discussed above, I can forsee passing the Scout on Star but continuing to work with him.


On the other hand, I would view Eagle as the end of the road. After working through all the variables, if the Scout is adamant that he really is an atheist, I would decline to sign his application.


Since you are coming in on the middle of this movie, that really doesn't help you much. You don't really have the luxury of time and are somewhat stuck with the process which is already in place. But I believe your signature is required on the Eagle application for a reason. You have every right to question what you are signing and decline to do so if that is what your conscience dictates.

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