Boy Scouts and Religion
Do you have to be Religious to be a Boy Scout?
Involvement in scouting can be a positive youth experience on so many levels. Skills that are not taught in school are learned, and bonding with a different group of children in outdoor environments, including hiking and camping can lead to positive childhood memories.
But there is another side that has left some parents and kids concerned. Do you have to believe in God to be a scout? What role, if any, does religion play in dedicating yourself to the organization's qualities?
Woven throughout the purposes, oaths, laws and values of both cub scouting (for boys in 1st through 5th grade) and boy scouts (6th grade and above) are numerous references to God and the importance of religious education and observances.
Although the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is non-sectarian, it does highly encourage religious observances. Special patches can be earned for wearing uniforms to church or synagogue during Scout Anniversary week. In addition, it is an honor to be awarded with their religious emblem of their faith.
Before scouts can advance in ranks, they have to show an understanding of how their own faith and religious observances compliment the foundational values of scouting. Of course, all of this may be difficult to reconcile in the minds of children raised in atheist families, or those that do not have clearly defined religious beliefs.
Read About Boy Scouting
The purposes of Cub Scouting (for boys) are listed in the various handbooks (Tiger, Bear, Wolf and Webelos scouts) as:
- Character Development
- Spiritual Growth
- Good Citizenship
- Sportsmanship and Fitness
- Family Understanding
- Respectful Relationships
- Personal Achievement
- Friendly Service
- Fun and Adventure
- Preparation for Boy Scouts
If religion is not required for advancement, then how is "Spiritual Growth," the second item listed above defined? In fact, it is not explicitly set forth in the handbooks, or leadership guides. And, if you delve a little deeper, you will see that the Cub Scout's 12 Core Values are:
- Health and Fitness
- Positive Attitude
"Faith" is described as "Having inner strength and confidence based on our trust in God."
Scouting is Non-Sectarian
The handbooks make it clear that the Boy Scouts of America is completely non-sectarian, that is - no particular religion is advanced.
However, there is a clear emphasis on "duty to God," and an apparent requirement that the boys have some faith-based relationship with a higher power. In other words, atheists may find it difficult to feel comfortable within the organization.
As a den leader myself, I found it very difficult to lead a discussion recently with my group of ten boys about two ways they believed they had lived according to their religious beliefs. This was required before the children could earn their Webelos ranks. One child in my group insisted that he had no religious beliefs. So, we tried to bring it down to the level of the Golden Rule instead. But as the boys continue forward in scouts (they are only in the 4th grade), I anticipate potential future issues if some of them do not have a firmly established faith.
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has a connection with P.R.A.Y, a non-profit organization that stands for Program for Religious Activity with Youth. http://www.praypub.org. Boys are encouraged to visit the website to determine which religious emblem they can earn, among other advancements.
The Cub Scout Promise
I, [scout says his name], promise
To do my best
To do my duty to God
And my country
To help other people, and
To obey the Law of the Pack
Handbooks explain that "Your duty to God is done with God's help. That means you practice your religion at home, in your church or synagogue or other religious group, and in everything that you do."
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
Again, handbooks explain the "reverent" element of the Scout Law, as "A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others."
On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
There are three main parts to the oath (which is said by boys that have crossed over from cubs into boy scouts). The first is to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law. Handbooks emphasize that "your family and religious leaders teach you to know and serve God." Once again, religion plays a key role in the organization's promises and practices.
Boy Scouts and Religion
Religion is a core component to the practices of the Boy Scouts of America.
Challenges to this focus and the organization's apparent exclusion of atheists have been dismissed by reviewing courts. For now, the BSA can continue requiring boys to devote themselves to God and their County, primarily because it is a voluntary organization.
Perhaps the saving grace, if you will, is that there is no mandate to follow any particular religion.
Today, you can find Muslims, as well as Jews, Buddhists and Christians involved in the BSA.
Theoretically, you could even create your own religion and, as long as you dedicate your life to following its religious beliefs, you can fully participate in the scouting organization.