Boy Scouts FAQ
Boy Scouts FAQ
Want to know more about what just happened with the Boy Scouts of America, and how it might affect you as a Unitarian Universalist? Here's our handy list of frequently asked questions about the BSA and its membership policies. - Ed.  

What's all this about, anyways?

Following an extensive review, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), an organization of 2.7 million scouts across the country, voted to change its decades-old policy of excluding gay scouts and leaders. The new national policy, which all local troops must follow, is that "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." However, there is no change to the BSA policy preventing anyone over 18 who is lesbian, gay or bisexual from being an adult scout or a leader. It also means that gay scouts will be kicked out at age 18, even if they are a week away from becoming an Eagle Scout.

So is this partial change a good thing?

Groups actively promoting the change, like Scouts for Equality (headlined by UU Eagle Scout Zach Wahls), have applauded the decision and described this as an "important step forward," while declaring that their "work will continue." Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales said in a statement that the "decision falls short of affirming the worth and dignity of all who would like to participate in scouting." Reactions from faith leaders have been mixed. The Southern Baptist Convention, whose churches support 4000 local units and 100,000 scouts, is poised to recommend its churches cut ties  to the BSA as a result of this policy change.

Aren't the Boy Scouts a secular group? Why is all this talk about churches and the BSA?

Scouting includes an explicit commitment to faithfulness, and offers emblems for religious achievement. Additionally, the BSA reports that 70% of its local troops are housed or supported by religious organizations. While there has always been an historic connection between the Boy Scouts and faith communities, the link was intensified after the BSA won a 2000 case in the US Supreme Court that allowed it to continue a policy of discrimination because it is a private membership organization, and many local public supporters began to distance themselves from the Boy Scouts. Today, particularly strong supporters of the BSA include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), United Methodist and Catholic churches, who contribute about 1 million scouts combined. In its materials on the membership change, the BSA noted that altering the policy on adult members would be opposed by some of its most influential faith partners: "Many religious chartered organizations stated their concern is with homosexual adult leaders and not with youth. They estimate a membership policy change that includes both youth and adults could cause the BSA to incur membership losses in a range from 100,000 to 350,000. It is believed any gain in membership because of a change to the membership policy related to youth and adults would be in the range of 10,000 to 20,000 youth."

Does the UUA support the Boy Scouts?

The UUA has had long standing disagreements with the BSA, both because of its policy of discrimination around sexuality as well as the requirement to take an oath to god that excludes scouts who are agnostic, atheist or hold other beliefs. There is no official UUA recommendation or policy for local congregations around supporting or participating in the BSA, and indeed many local UU congregations and individual UU's do participate in scouting. The BSA's recent membership change does not alter this arrangement. Note that the UUA's relationship with the BSA is completely different from our communications with the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), which has promoted much more inclusive values in its policies.

Is there anything I can do?

Unitarian Universalists across the country, within and outside of the BSA, have worked to shift the Boy Scouts' membership policy. If you care about scouting you can join their continuing fight for equality within the BSA. There are also alternative scouting organizations that you can join if you want to participate in an organization more in line with UU principles and values.

About the Author

  • Carey McDonald is the UUA's Executive Vice President. He's a lifelong UU who has worked in nonprofit, government, political and progressive organizations.

For more information contact blueboat@uua.org.

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