Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Resistance and Transformation: An Adult Program on Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History

The UUA and the Boy Scouts of America

These letters are excerpted from correspondence between the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). They detail a public controversy between the two organizations over the BSA's policies toward the LGBT community and atheists. For information about the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the UUA and the BSA, please see Religious Recognition Awards for Unitarian Universalist Scouts.

Letter to Lawrence Ray Smith, Ph.D., Chair, Religious Relationship Committee, BSA, From John Buehrens, President of the UUA, Dated June 11, 1998

Our Youth Office received your letter of May 7 (1998) stating that Scouting youth may no longer be awarded the Unitarian Universalist Religion in Life award for Boy Scouts... You do this because our manual for the Religion and Life award includes statements designed to help Unitarian Universalist youth deal with the tension that they may feel between Unitarian Universalist religious principles and certain aspects of BSA current policy, particularly... discrimination against gay Scouts and leaders and... those whose conscientious ethical and spiritual principles may not include a belief in God.

Surely the Religious Relationships Committee of the Boy Scouts of America cannot intend to tell a religious group what we may teach with regard to our own religious principles. We teach our youth, as a matter of religious principle, that discrimination against people simply by virtue of their belonging to a particular category of human being is wrong. We cannot be expected to ignore the question of discrimination against gay scouts and leaders in our guidance to boys studying our religious principles and history.

Unitarian Universalism also has a special openness, ministry and mission to those who may have trouble with traditional ideas about God. This too is a matter of religious principle with us. We know that we are not alone in regarding doubt, as well as piety, as a part of faith. Moreover, if a good Buddhist Boy Scout said, "No, I do not believe in a God," would you exclude that child for following the teachings of his own faith?...

We will not acquiesce in such discrimination. We will not stop distributing a Religion and Life manual that reflects our religious principles. We will not stop providing Religion and Life awards to... Scouts and Scout leaders. If you and the BSA honestly believe that it will promote or defend Scouting to refuse our awards or to have Scout officials tear them off the uniforms of boys, I think that you are sadly mistaken. Most Americans will see such actions for what they are: blatant discrimination against children on the basis of their religion.

Yours regretfully,

John A. Buehrens

Open Letter From Rev. John Buehrens, President, UUA, Dated April 28, 1999

Dear Friends:

...the (UUA) has been involved in discussions with the (BSA).regarding the status of our Religion in Life award. In May, 1998, the BSA informed us that... we could not award the Religion in Life emblem to our scouts. We strongly protested this decision. It pleases me to tell you that this conflict has been resolved: the UUA has revised its Religion in Life manual to the satisfaction of the BSA without abandoning the UU values at its core. I want to share with you a portion of the letter... which I received from Thomas Deimler, Director of the Relationships Division of the Boy Scouts of America. The letter reads, in part:

Many thanks for your early response to matters concerning the revision of the Religion in Life booklet... I am very happy to report that the committee has unanimously expressed their endorsement of this new material... Thus the Boy Scouts of America now reauthorizes the awarding of the Religion in Life emblem (by the UUA) to Scouts and the wearing of that emblem on a Scout uniform...

... The new edition of Religion in Life will be available from the UUA bookstore this summer. Along with each copy, the Association will separately provide a letter from me, along with resources appropriate to dealing with issues of homophobia and religious discrimination...

Yours faithfully,

John A. Buehrens

Letter to John Buehrens From Lawrence Ray Smith, Dated May 7, 1999

Dear Dr. Buehrens:

It has come to our attention that you have posted on the UUA web site a letter... in which you state that the UUA has revised its "Religion in Life" manual to the satisfaction of the Boy Scouts of America, referring to a letter... from Thomas Deimler of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

Your letter goes on to say the following: "The new edition of Religion in Life will be available from the UUA Bookstore this summer. Along with each copy, the Association will separately provide a letter from me, along with resources appropriate to dealing with issues of homophobia and religious discrimination." Unfortunately, this simply reopens the entire issue of using boys as a venue to air your differences with the policies of the (BSA)...

Therefore, (the BSA) is not in a position to authorize the awarding of the Religion in Life emblem to Scouts and the wearing of that emblem on a Scout uniform.

Sincerely yours,

Lawrence Ray Smith

Open Letter From UUA President John A. Buehrens, Dated May 18, 1999

What has happened to Boy Scout honor?

The Boy Scouts of America have sent the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) yet another letter. This one rescinds the decision to reinstate Boy Scouts of America (BSA) recognition of our Religion and Life Award for UU scouts. Moreover, they have taken the initiative to contact the press on the matter... I have tried consistently to be cooperative with the BSA, while staying true to Unitarian Universalist principles... It was agreed that the UUA would issue a new edition of the Religion and Life manual; that the manual would contain nothing objectionable to the BSA; and that the UUA would then make available... some separate materials that would be helpful to our young people... Unitarian Universalism has long been a strong supporter of equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and we have a responsibility to our young people to instruct them in the religious values which underlie our commitment to this struggle.

This is all we have done. We have prepared a new manual, which they have accepted and which we will publish. We have also prepared some materials aimed at advising young people whose religion teaches "the worth and dignity of every person" how they might want to respond to slurs aimed at another person's, or their own, sexuality, or supposed sexuality. These materials are coordinated with our comprehensive new curriculum on human sexuality, Our Whole Lives...

In the course of this controversy I learned that the BSA actually knows that what it is doing in response to the so-called 'gay' issue has more to do with politics than with children's safety. The BSA knows the difference between pedophilia and homosexuality. It does training on the subject. Yet they continue to practice arbitrary discrimination. Ignorance is one thing. Knuckling under to anti-gay pressure groups is quite different, and entirely unworthy.

The UUA will continue to teach its religious principles and to help its young people to apply them. This is our religious duty...

Rev. John Buehrens