Frequently Asked Questions: Boy Scouts
Q: Where can I find the full text of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)?
A: You can find the full text of the Memorandum of Understanding at UUA.org.
Q: What caused the BSA and UUA relationship to erode in the first place?
A: In short, the UUA was critical of the BSA policies on gay scouts and gay scout leaders as well as their “Oath to God” requirements. The BSA effectively expelled the UUA by de-authorizing its scouting curriculum and emblem. This article from the Chicago Tribune details the history of the split.
Q: Why the need for a Memorandum of Understanding now?
A: The efforts to restore a relationship with the BSA were guided by the Action of Immediate Witness passed by the 1999 General Assembly which urged the UUA to “continue efforts to seek the reinstatement of the Religion in Life emblem” and “support UU churches that choose to continue their charters with BSA troops while they work to try to change BSA's discriminatory policies.” With the BSA changing their policies on gay scouts and gay scout leaders, leaders within the UU movement believed that the BSA would be open to dialogue.
Q: According to the BSA’s adult leadership policy, chartered organizations may continue to use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including on matters of sexuality, meaning that discrimination based on sexual orientation can still exist within Scouting units. How does the UUA reconcile this?
A: It is more important than ever for Unitarian Universalist communities to model what a truly welcoming and inclusive Scouting unit can look like. It is equally important that Unitarian Universalists who identify as LGBTQ and who want to participate in Scouting have a safe, supportive environment in which do so. We welcome them to our Unitarian Universalist community.
Q: The BSA asks its members to affirm a belief in God. However, Unitarian Universalists hold a variety of beliefs ranging from Christian theism to agnosticism and atheism. How can the UUA be in relationship with the Boy Scouts of America given this conflict?
A: One of the Seven Principles that Unitarian Universalists affirm and promote is “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” We have many ways of naming what is sacred; some believe in a sacred force at work in the world and call it “Love Eternal,” “Deepest Mystery,” “Wondrous Creation,” or “Spirit of Life.” The UUA and Unitarian Universalist faith communities respect the individual’s journey to finding and understanding their own meaning and experience of the sacred, including beliefs and understandings about the existence of God, and do not seek to define it for them.
The BSA Declaration of Religious Principles states, “Boy Scouts of America, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and the organization with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.”
Therefore, when a Unitarian Universalist community charters a Boy Scout unit, religious teachings will remain firmly rooted in Unitarian Universalist theology. Likewise, when an individual UU Boy Scout works to fulfill the religious requirements of Boy Scouting, he turns to his family and UU faith community for religious teaching.
Humanists, agnostics, and atheists are a cherished part of the UUA. They are our ministers, our Sunday school teachers, our parishioners, leaders within the UUA and wider movement. The UUA, even while moving with gratitude into this new relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, recognizes that the BSA’s requirement for scouts and leaders to affirm a religious belief is at odds with our noncreedal faith tradition. The UUA will continue to work to move the BSA toward greater inclusion.
Q: How will the UUA work within the BSA to promote its values of inclusiveness?
A: The UUA is acutely aware that further progress with BSA policies is needed, especially around the issues of religious inclusion and gender identity. We feel that these are issues that UUs are well-suited to addressing, and we are committed to engaging in an ongoing conversation with the BSA about them. With this MOU, the UUA will have a representative on the BSA’s Religious Relationships Committee. At this table, and working with allies like the Union for Reform Judaism and United Church of Christ, the UUA is committed to voicing our values for radical inclusion.
Q: Are congregations required to host a Boy Scout troop?
A: No. In fact, all congregations are encouraged to discern for themselves if sponsoring a Scouting unit makes sense for them.
Also, it is important to note that the MOU clearly states that neither the BSA nor the UUA supersedes “the authority of the leadership of the congregation in any phase of the program affecting the spiritual welfare of those who participate.”
Q: Are there alternatives to Scouting that my congregation should consider?
Q: If after discernment, our congregation decides to host a Scouting unit, what next steps do we need to take?
A: The Boy Scouts of America website has a page on New Unit Development. View the brochure for more information about how to become a chartered organization. Contact your BSA local council (Local Council Locator) for more information.
Q: Where can I find materials for religious recognitions awards for Unitarian Universalist Boy Scouts?
Q: Are these materials approved by the Boy Scouts of America?
A: Yes, in May of 2016, the Awards and Badges Subcommittee of the BSA unanimously approved the UUA's Religion in Life for Boy Scouts and Love and Help for Cub Scouts program. This fulfills the call of the 1999 Action of Immediate Witness to seek reinstatement of the UUA's religious emblems.
Q: What is the role of UU Scouters Organization following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding?
A: The UU Scouters Organization (UUSO) was formed as an independent organization of Unitarian Universalists interested in and connected to Scouting. It was formed after the BSA withdrew its approval of the UUA's Religion in Life and Love and Help programs when the UUA’s materials directly addressed acceptance of diverse family configurations and LGBTQ inclusion. The UU Scouters created their own religious award, which met with BSA approval, and worked to change the Boy Scout organization from within. The Memorandum of Understanding between the UUA and the BSA means that the two organizations have resumed direct communication and agreed to work together to fully support UU boys who want to participate in Scouting. The UUA and the UUSO are in active dialogue about the transition to the UUA being the primary organization in supporting UU Scouts and UU Scouting units.
Q: Which materials should youth use: UUA's or UUSO's?
A: During this transitional period, UU Scouts are welcome to continue or start the UUSO materials or UUA materials until December 31, 2016. All youth working in the UUSO program would need to finish by May 31, 2017. After December 31, 2016, youth will be directed to start using UUA materials moving forward.