The Boy Scouts of America (BSA), one of the largest private youth organizations in the United States, has policies which prohibit atheists and agnostics from membership in its Scouting program, and prohibit "avowed" homosexuals from leadership roles in its Scouting program. BSA has denied or revoked the membership of youths and adults for violating these prohibitions. These policies are considered by some to be unjust.[1][2] The BSA contends that these policies are essential in its mission to instill in young people the values of the Scout Oath and Law.[3][4]

The organization's legal right to have these policies has been upheld repeatedly by both state and federal courts. The Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed that as a private organization, the BSA can set its own membership standards. In recent years, the policy disputes have led to litigation over the terms under which the BSA can access governmental resources including public lands.[5]

Boy Scouts of America's values affect membership criteria

According to its mission statement, the Boy Scouts of America seeks "to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law".[3] All members are required, as a condition of membership, to promise to uphold and obey both of these pledges.[6] The texts of BSA's Scout Oath and Scout Law for Boy Scouting have remained unchanged since they were approved in 1911,[7] and every member agrees to follow them on their application form.[8]

Scout Oath
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.

Scout Law
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Spirituality has been an integral part of the international Scouting movement since its inception. As early as 1908, Scouting founder Lord Robert Baden-Powell wrote in the first Scout handbook that, "No man is much good unless he believes in God and obeys His laws."[9]

Religious organizations host/sponsor over 60% of the approximately 123,000 Scouting units in the United States and use the Scouting program as part of their youth ministration.[10][11][12] Officials from various religious organizations—including the Latter-day Saints (Mormon), Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches—are included on the BSA National Executive Board, its Advisory Council, and the BSA Religious Relationships Committee.

In reciting the Scout Oath, Scouts promise to be morally straight and to do their duty to God; the Scout Law holds that a Scout is clean and reverent. As early as 1978, the Boy Scouts of America circulated a memorandum among national executive staff stating that they held it was not appropriate for homosexuals to hold leadership positions in BSA.[13] Similarly, since at least 1985, the BSA has interpreted the Scout Oath and Law as being incompatible with agnosticism and atheism.[14] In both instances, the organization asserted that it was not a new policy to oppose and disfavor atheism, agnosticism and homosexuality; and, in support of that, to deny membership to atheists and agnostics, and to deny leadership roles to and occasionally expel "avowed" homosexuals — rather, the BSA argued it was just enforcing long-held policies which had never been published or publicly challenged.[13][15]

Position on atheists and agnostics

The Boy Scouts of America's position is that atheists and agnostics cannot participate as Scouts (youth members) or Scouters (adult leaders). According to the Bylaws of the BSA, Declaration of Religious Principle:

"The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.’ The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members."[4]

During the membership application process and as a requirement to obtain membership, youths and adults are required to subscribe to the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle and to agree to abide by the Scout Oath and Law, which include the words, "do my duty to God" and "reverent". Youths are also required to repeat the Scout Oath and Law periodically after being accepted as Scouts. The BSA believes that atheists and agnostics are not appropriate role models of the Scout Oath and Law for boys, and thus will not accept such adults as leaders.[4]

The BSA does not require adherence to any particular religious beliefs or ethos beyond this. Buddhists, followers of Native American religions, Muslims, Jews, Christians of all denominations, Wiccans, and many others can be and are members of the BSA.[16]

Position on homosexuals

Since 1991, openly gay individuals have been officially prohibited from leadership positions in the Boy Scouts of America.[17] A 1991 Position Statement states: “We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.”[7] The BSA thus "believes that a known or avowed homosexual is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law."[18]

The language used to describe the BSA's policies on homosexuals has evolved over time. Prior to 2004, the policy stated:

"We do not allow for the registration of avowed homosexuals as members or as leaders of the BSA."[19]

In 2004, the BSA adopted a new policy statement:

"Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs. Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position."[18]

The BSA stated in a 2000 press release that, "Boy Scouting makes no effort to discover the sexual orientation of any person."[20] BSA application forms for youth membership and adult leadership positions do not inquire about the applicants' sexual orientation and do not mention the BSA's policies regarding homosexuals.[21] In 2005, a high-level employee of BSA was fired by the National Council after the organization received a copy of his bill from a gay resort at which he had vacationed.[22]

BSA local councils and Scouting units are required to adhere to National Council policies as a condition of their charters;[23] however, there is inconsistency in the way some have interpreted and implemented official policy on homosexuality. Several local councils have stated that they have implemented the policy in a way that is similar to the U.S. Armed Forces' "don't ask, don't tell" policy.[24] In this view, homosexuality related policies (such as prohibition from leadership positions) should not be enforced as long as homosexuals are not "avowed" homosexuals, and that BSA should not question or investigate their sexual orientation. There is, however, disagreement as to whether this Don't ask, don't tell-style policy would be consistent with National Council's official policy.[25][26]

Position on gender

According to the BSA, "The Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs were designed to meet the emotional, psychological, physical, and other needs of boys between the ages of 8 and 14."[27] While the BSA does not admit girls to these programs, the Venturing program is open to young men and women ages 14 through 21.[28][29]

Position on illegal aliens

The BSA has been striving in recent years to increase Latino youth and adult volunteer membership. In 2004, the BSA removed restrictions on certain volunteer positions previously restricted to citizens, although it never required proof of residency or citizenship when the restrictions were in place.

The Chicago Tribune said in July 2009 that the BSA "has turned a blind eye to questions of illegal immigration", in its efforts to make Spanish-language marketing and other recruitment efforts a priority, by not asking questions about immigration status.[30]

Reaction to nondiscrimination policies

Some BSA local councils have had their United Way funding reduced because of their adherence to the BSA's policy on sexual orientation.[31][32] In order to continue receiving unreduced United Way funding, a few local councils, including one in New Jersey, have signed nondiscrimination statements, apparently in violation of BSA National Council policy.[33]

In 2001, the Boston Minuteman Council adopted a nondiscrimination policy; however, when an openly gay man attempted to register as a merit badge counselor he was rejected on the basis of his sexual orientation.[33] The same year, nine BSA local councils proposed a resolution that would have allowed local councils to comply with nondiscrimination policies regarding homosexuals but the resolution was rejected by the BSA National Council.[23] Also in 2001, the BSA "revoked the charters of several Cub Scout packs in Oak Park, Illinois, because the sponsors, a parent-teacher group, adhered to a nondiscrimination policy."[23] The Cradle of Liberty Council in Philadelphia adopted a nondiscrimination policy in 2003 but was ordered to revoke it by the National Council.[34]

The BSA's policies have been legally challenged but have not been found to constitute illegal discrimination; as a private organization in the United States they have the right to freedom of association,[35] as determined in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale.[7]

Youth organization membership policies

The membership policies of youth organizations vary; many have less restrictive membership criteria than the BSA by choice and/or because of nondiscrimination laws in their country.

Mainstream Scouting

The World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) serves the mainstream Scout Movement along with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). WOSM has a membership of 155 National Scout Organizations with more than 28 million individuals.[36] Only one Scouting organization per country is recognized by WOSM. In about ten percent of the countries, the National Scout Organization is a federation composed of more than one Scout association; some of the associations in a federation may be segregated by religion (e.g., Denmark and France), ethnicity (e.g., Bosnia and Israel), or native language (e.g., Belgium). The WOSM National Scout Organization in the United States has been the Boy Scouts of America since it became a member in 1922.

The value system of the BSA and other Scouting associations may differ; this is evident in the different Scout promises and laws used by associations. Most other Scouting associations oaths and laws do not include the very specific wording to be "reverent" and "morally straight" which BSA added at its founding in 1910. Correspondingly, the membership policies of Scouting associations may differ as well (see Scout Promise and Scout Law).

For example, in contrast to the BSA's policy, homosexuals are not restricted from leadership positions in Scouts Canada and most European associations, including The Scout Association in the United Kingdom, Ring deutscher Pfadfinderverbände of Germany (German Scout Federation), and the Swedish Guide and Scout Association; all are WOSM members.[37][38][39][40] In countries where homosexuality is legal, there is usually at least one Scouting association that allows even avowed homosexuals to be leaders .

"Duty to God" is a principle of worldwide Scouting and WOSM requires its member National Scout Organizations to reference "duty to God" in their Scout Promises (see WOSM Scout Promise requirements). Scouting associations apply this principle to their membership policies in different ways. The Boy Scouts of America takes a hard-line position by excluding atheists or agnostics from membership. Scouts Canada defines "duty to God" broadly in terms of "adherence to spiritual principles" and does not have any explicit policy excluding non-theists.[41] According to the Equal Opportunities Policy of The Scout Association in the United Kingdom:

"To enable young people to grow into independent adults the Scout Method encourages young people to question what they have been taught. Scouts and Venture Scouts who question God's existence, their own spirituality or the structures and beliefs of any or all religions are simply searching for spiritual understanding. This notion of a search for enlightenment is compatible with belief in most of the world's faiths. It is unacceptable to refuse Membership, or question a young person's suitability to continue to participate fully in a Section, if they express doubts about the meaning of the Promise."[42]

The membership policies of Scouting organizations also vary regarding the inclusion of girls, see Coeducational Scouting. The Girl Scouts of the USA accepts homosexuals and allows its members to substitute another word in place of "God" when reciting the Girl Scout Promise.[43]

Other American youth organizations

The American Heritage Girls is a Christian Scouting organization that provides an alternative to the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA). American Heritage Girls' policies on gays and atheists are similar to those held by the BSA. It was formed by parents who were unhappy that GSUSA accepted lesbians as troop leaders, allowed girls to substitute a word more applicable to their belief for the word "God" in the Girl Scout Promise, and allegedly banned prayer at meetings. Other youth organizations do not have policies that exclude homosexuals and atheists, and are coeducational, such as Camp Fire USA, SpiralScouts International, 4-H, and the BSA's Learning for Life program.[44]

Litigation over the membership policies

The Boy Scouts of America has been sued because of its membership, leadership, and employment standards.[45] Some of the lawsuits dealt with the BSA's standards that require Scouts and Scouters to believe in God and not be openly gay, and the exclusion of girls from membership in some programs.[4][18][46]

There has been some opposition to single-sex membership programs and organizations in the United States including some programs of the BSA.[47] The Boy Scouts of America admits only boys to its Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting programs. Several lawsuits involving girls seeking admission to these programs (see Yeaw v. Boy Scouts of America) have resulted in court rulings that the BSA is not required to admit girls.[27]

During the 1980s and 1990s, several people attracted media attention when they sued the BSA, attempting to make them accept gays or atheists as Boy Scouts. In 1981, Tim Curran, an openly gay former Scout, sued asking that he be accepted as an assistant Scoutmaster (see Curran v. Mount Diablo Council).[17] In 1991, twin brothers William and Michael Randall, who had refused to recite the "duty to God" portion of the Cub Scout Promise and Boy Scout Oath, sued to be allowed to continue in the program (see Randall v. Orange County Council and Welsh v. Boy Scouts of America).[48] In addition, there were several other lawsuits involving essentially the same issues.[49] Ultimately, the courts ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts of America in each case.

The courts have repeatedly held that the Boy Scouts of America, and all private organizations, have a right to set membership standards in accordance with the First Amendment protected concept of freedom of association. In particular, in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the BSA's Constitutional right to freedom of association gave them the authority to expel a gay assistant Scoutmaster.[7]

After the Dale decision, public opinion in some communities turned against the BSA; corporations, charities, and even some local governments criticized the policy, threatening to either cut off financial support or block the Boy Scouts from using public buildings for their meetings. While some segments of the public criticized the organization, other groups became more enthusiastic in their support of the Scouts.[50]

Since the Supreme Court's ruling, the focus of lawsuits has shifted to challenging the BSA's relationship with governments in light of their membership policies. A number of lawsuits have been filed by or with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union over issues such as government association with the BSA and the conditions under which the BSA may access governmental resources.[51]

Governmental sponsorship of Scouting units

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken legal action to stop governmental organizations from serving as the chartered organizations (sponsors) of Scouting units. The U.S. Department of Defense announced in 2004 that it would end direct sponsorship of Scouting units in response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU.[52][53] "The ACLU of Illinois charged that the Boy Scouts' policy violates the religious liberty of youth who wish to participate but do not wish to swear a religious oath, and that direct government sponsorship of such a program is religious discrimination."[54]

The BSA agreed in 2005 to transfer all charters it had issued to governmental entities to private entities in response to a request from the ACLU.[55] Previously, about 400 Scouting units had been sponsored by U.S. military bases and over 10,000 by other governmental entities, primarily public schools.[56]

Access to governmental resources

In certain municipalities, the conditions under which the Boy Scouts of America can access public and nonpublic governmental resources have become controversial, sometimes resulting in litigation.[57] Historically, the BSA (and the Girl Scouts of the USA) has often been granted preferential access to governmental resources such as lands and facilities.

When a private organization such as the BSA receives access on terms more favorable than other private organizations, it is known as "special" or "preferential" access whereas "equal" access is access on the same terms. For example, state and local governments may lease property to nonprofit groups (such as the BSA) on terms that are preferential to or equal to the terms they offer to commercial groups, in other words they may give nonprofit groups either special or equal access. Special access includes access at a reduced fee (including no fee) or access to places off-limits to other groups. The categorization of access as "special" or "equal" is not always clear-cut.

Some cities, counties, and states have ordinances or policies that limit government support for organizations that practice some types of discrimination. When the BSA's membership policies are perceived as contrary to these laws, some government organizations have moved to change the terms under which the BSA is allowed to access its resources. Private individuals have filed lawsuits to prevent governmental entities from granting what they see as preferential access.[58] The BSA on the other hand has sued governmental entities for denying what it sees as equal access.[51]

In response to these changes and litigation, the federal government passed laws mandating the BSA's equal access to local and state-level governmental resources. The Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, enacted in 2002, requires public elementary and secondary schools that receive U.S. Department of Education funding to provide BSA groups equal access to school facilities.[59] The Support our Scouts Act of 2005 requires state and local governments that receive HUD funding to provide BSA groups equal access to governmental forums (lands, facilities, etc.). State and local governments still have flexibility regarding the provision of special access to the BSA.[60]

Recent litigation

Recent litigation has been primarily about access to governmental resources.


  • A US District Court's ruling against the BSA on the favorable terms under which the City of San Diego leases public land to the local BSA Council was referred to the California Supreme Court by the Federal Appellate Court. See Barnes-Wallace v. Boy Scouts of America.
  • Philadelphia has revoked the favorable terms under which the City of Philadelphia leases public land to the BSA. The local BSA council has sued the city over the breach of contract. See Cradle of Liberty Council v. City of Philadelphia.[61] On September 26, 2008, the US District Court said that the Council's claim that the city's actions were designed to impinge BSA's First Amendment rights had merit and that BSA's suit could proceed.[62]


  • In July 2003, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision by a U.S. District Judge that excluded the BSA from an annual workplace charitable campaign run by the state of Connecticut because of the BSA's policy on homosexuals. In March 2004, the United States Supreme Court declined to review the case.[63]
  • In March 2006, the California Supreme Court ruled in Evans v. Berkeley that the City of Berkeley did not have to continue to provide free dock space to the Sea Scouts.[64] In October 2006, the United States Supreme Court declined to review Evans v. Berkeley.[65]
  • In September 2006, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that recruiting by BSA in public schools did not violate the state's nondiscrimination laws.[66]
  • The U.S. Army gives the BSA special access to a base, Fort A.P. Hill, for its national Scout jamboree and the U.S. Department of Defense spends approximately $2 million per year in taxpayer funds to assist the BSA in staging it. On April 4, 2007 the US Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling on the basis of a lack of standing to sue, thus allowing the 2010 and future Jamborees to go forward with continued DoD support (see Winkler v. Rumsfeld).[51][67]

Reaction to Boy Scouts of America's membership policies

There has been opposition to BSA's membership policies from organizations and individuals. Some within the Scouting movement, as well as long-time Scouting supporters, parents, chartered organizations, and religious organizations have expressed opposition to the policies in ways ranging from protests to forming organizations that advocate inclusiveness. Some push for a voluntary change within the BSA, others seek involuntary change by filing lawsuits, still others choose to disassociate themselves from the BSA or encourage others to do so.

Perhaps the most vocal opponent of the policies has been the American Civil Liberties Union, which has brought or been a participant in fourteen lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America from 1981 to March 2006.[68] A few members of the U.S. Congress have also spoken out against the BSA's policies.[69] Since the Dale decision, some Eagle Scouts (about 100) have returned their Eagle Scout badge to the BSA in protest.[70][71]

The Unitarian Universalist Association's opposition to the BSA's membership exclusions led to a dispute between the organizations. In 2001, the Union for Reform Judaism's Commission on Social Action, citing a commitment to ending discrimination in all forms, issued a memorandum recommending that congregations stop hosting BSA troops and that parents withdraw their children from all of the Boy Scouts of America's programs.[72] Additionally, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ issued a statement urging the BSA to change policy and stated that, "Discrimination against anyone based on sexual orientation is contrary to our understanding of the teachings of Christ."[73]

The Secular Coalition for America has urged Congress to revoke the federal charter of the BSA, stating: "Our government must not entangle itself in religious organizations; nor should it establish, with government imprimatur, a private religious club."[74]

Loss of support

Some public entities and private institutions have ceased financial or other support of the BSA, primarily as a result of conflicts between their nondiscrimination policies and the BSA's membership policies. About 50 of the 1300 local United Ways, including those in Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle, have withdrawn all funding.[75] The BSA has also lost all funding from several large corporations that had been regular donors, such as Chase Manhattan Bank, Levi Strauss, Fleet Bank, CVS/pharmacy, and Pew Charitable Trusts.[75] For example, Pew Charitable Trusts, which had consistently supported the BSA for over fifty years, decided to cancel a $100,000 donation and cease future donations.[75] A number of public entities (including the cities of Chicago, San Diego, Tempe, Buffalo Grove, Berkeley, and Santa Barbara, as well as the states of California, Illinois, and Connecticut) have canceled charitable donations (of money or preferential land access) that had historically been granted to the Scouts.[75][76][77]

Eagle Scout filmmaker Steven Spielberg had been a long-time supporter of Scouting, depicting a young Indiana Jones as a Boy Scout in the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and helping to create the Cinematography merit badge. Spielberg resigned from the BSA Advisory Council in 2001, saying, "it has deeply saddened me to see the Boy Scouts of America actively and publicly participating in discrimination."[78]

Efforts to change the membership and leadership policies

There have been numerous efforts (other than litigation) to change the BSA's membership policies regarding atheists and leadership policies regarding gays but all have failed. At the BSA annual national meeting of local council representatives in Boston in 2001, nine local councils submitted a resolution to give more discretion for membership and leadership standards to local councils and chartered organizations;[79] this resolution and two others also seeking to liberalize the homosexuality policy were considered by the BSA National Executive Board but the initiative failed in 2002.[80]

Some current and former Scouts and Scout leaders formed organizations that advocated the removal of atheism restrictions on membership and homosexuality related restrictions on leadership. In 1991, William Boyce Mueller, a former Cub Scout and grandson of original Boy Scouts of America founder William Dickson Boyce, helped start an advocacy group of gay former Scouts called the "Forgotten Scouts".[81] The Coalition for Inclusive Scouting was another organization. Both of these organizations are apparently inactive now.[82]

Scouting for All seeks to promote tolerance and diversity within the BSA.[83] Scouter Dave Rice co-founded Scouting for All in 1993, initially for the purpose of changing the BSA policy on sexual orientation. In 1998, the Boy Scouts of America dismissed him after 59 years of membership for "involving Scouting youth" in his effort. Rice, who is not gay, stated that he obeyed all rules and guidelines and that he never misused his leadership status or promoted an agenda during troop meetings. He maintains that the Boy Scouts of America violated its own rules by summarily dismissing him without granting him a chance to present evidence to a regional review board as is required by the BSA's "Procedures for Maintaining Standards of Membership".[84][85]

Support for the Boy Scouts of America

The membership controversy and subsequent litigation, some of which has been in response to the 2000 ruling in BSA v. Dale, has prompted a number of expressions of support for the BSA organization, program, or policies. In 2002, the National Executive Board of Boy Scouts of America reiterated its support for the policies and affirmed that "the Boy Scouts of America shall continue to follow its traditional values and standards of leadership".[86]

Support from federal government

The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have overwhelmingly passed resolutions in support of the Boy Scouts of America. In November 2004, the House passed a resolution, by a vote of 391 to 3, recognizing "the Boy Scouts of America for the public service the organization performs".[87] Then, in February 2005, the House passed a resolution by a vote of 418 to 7, stating that "the Department of Defense should continue to exercise its long-standing statutory authority to support the activities of the BSA, in particular the periodic national and world Scout jamborees."[88]

Bush BSA Jamboree

President Bush addresses the 2005 National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia.

The U.S. Congress has twice passed bills in response to the governmental resources access controversy. In 2001, the U.S. Congress passed the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, which encouraged the BSA's access to educational facilities. In July 2005, the Senate voted 98 to 0 in favor of the Support Our Scouts Act, enacted in December 2005, which encourages both governmental support of the Boy Scouts in general and federal support of the national Scout jamboree.

Senator Bill Frist, one of the sponsors of the Support Our Scouts Acts, spoke highly of the BSA, saying:

"This unique American institution is committed to preparing our youth for the future by instilling in them values such as honesty, integrity, and character."

Of the Act, Frist explained:

"This legislation will allow the Boy Scouts to fulfill its mission without the distraction of defending itself against senseless attacks."[89]

President of the United States William Howard Taft began serving as the first Honorary President of the Boy Scouts of America in 1911; the tradition has been followed by each succeeding U.S. President.[90] In July 2001, President George W. Bush addressed the National Scout Jamboree and, although he did not directly discuss the controversies, reiterated his support for the organization. At the Jamboree, Bush commended the Scouts for upholding "values that build strong families, strong communities, and strong character" and said that the Scouts' values "are the values of America."[91]

In January 2009, the American Humanist Association and eighteen other nontheistic organizations sent an open letter to then President-Elect Obama urging him not to serve as the Boy Scouts' honorary president because of the Scouts' positions on religion.[92] He did so anyway and received the BSA's annual report from a group of Scouts in February 2009.

Support from others

A wide range of individuals, commentators, and conservative groups have spoken out in support of the Boy Scouts of America. The BSA legal website provides a list of editorials written in support of the BSA.[93]

A conservative civil libertarian group, the American Civil Rights Union (not to be confused with the ACLU), set up the Scouting Legal Defense Fund, and routinely helped with lawsuits.[94] In a legal brief filed in support of the BSA, the American Civil Rights Union argued that "To label [the BSA's membership policies] discriminatory and exclusionary, and a civil rights violation, is an assault on the very freedom of American citizens to advance, promote, and teach traditional moral values."[95] In 2000, a group of current and former members of the BSA created the group "Save Our Scouts", in order "to support and defend the principles of the Scout Oath and Law". This group has subsequently closed as a charity due to failure to file annual reports.[96]

Eagle Scout Hans Zeiger, author of Get Off My Honor: The Assault on the Boy Scouts of America, told the Washington Times, "Scouts' honor is under attack in American culture". Zeiger applauds what he sees as the BSA's courage in resisting political pressure to admit gays, saying, "Regardless of what leads to homosexuality, it is a thing that has an agenda in our society and is very harmful to the traditional family and is causing a tremendous amount of harm to young men. The Boy Scouts are one of the few organizations that have the moral sense to stand against the homosexual agenda".[97]

An online petition, which had received over 375,000 electronic signatures, showed support for the Scouts from those who are "deeply troubled by the recent attacks which have come against the Boy Scouts simply because the Scouts have taken a stand for faith and moral values." The petition further asserted that, "As a private organization, the Boy Scouts has every right to set standards for leadership and morality."[98]

Following the Dale decision, a number of independent research organizations conducted surveys to determine American public opinion on the controversy. In these surveys, more respondents supported the BSA position than opposed it.[99]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), a longtime supporter of the Boy Scouts of America, teaches that homosexual activity is immoral.[100] The LDS Church is the largest single sponsor of Scouting units with over 30,000 units nationwide, which comprise about 13% of BSA's youth members.[10][101] The LDS Church has stated that it would withdraw from the Scouting program if it was ever compelled to accept homosexual Scout leaders.[10][102]

The United Methodist Church, the second-largest sponsor of Scouting units, has taken no public position on the homosexual controversy.

Related issues

These are additional membership controversies.

Scouting membership in the United States

The Boy Scouts of America is by far the largest source of Scouting to boys in the United States of America. The BSA is the only Scouting association available for boys to join throughout most of the country. The situation is different in some countries where there are a number of Scouting associations.

After the founding of the Boy Scouts of America in 1910 and having received the endorsement of Baden-Powell, the BSA began an active campaign to absorb all other Scout-type youth organizations in the United States.[103] As a result, almost all competitors had ceased to exist within a few years.

The BSA has litigated to protect what it sees as its right to Scouting in the United States. After receiving a federal charter in 1916, the BSA sued an early competitor, the United States Boy Scouts (USBS), in 1917 and were subsequently granted an injunction that barred the USBS from using the terms "Boy Scout", "Scout", "Scouting", or any variation thereof.[104][105]

By 1930, the BSA claimed to have stopped 435 groups from unauthorized use of "Scouting" or similar words as part of an organizational name or for commercial products.[106] Currently, the BSA actively protects its registered trademarks of words like "Scouting" and its claimed right to the word "Scout" (by association) through legal means.[107]

BSA membership size

Annual Membership since 1999
Year Tiger Cubs,
Boy Scouts,
Varsity Scouts
Venturers Total
1999[108] 2,181,013 1,028,353 202,486 3,411,852
2000[108] 2,114,405 1,003,681 233,828 3,351,914
2001[108] 2,043,478 1,005,592 276,434 3,325,504
2002[108] 2,000,478 1,010,791 293,323 3,304,592
2003[108] 1,914,425 997,398 288,395 3,200,218
2004[108] 1,875,752 988,995 280,584 3,145,331
2005[109] 1,745,324 943,426 249,948 2,938,698
2006[110] 1,701,861 922,836 244,256 2,868,963
2007[110] 1,687,986 913,588 254,259 2,855,833
2008[111] 1,665,635 905,879 261,122 2,832,636
change (since 1999) -23% -11% +28% -16%

BSA records show that the number of Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts had dropped by about 14% (as of end of 2007) since the Dale Decision in 2000.[108][112] It is unclear why membership had dropped and whether the membership policy controversy has had an effect on membership levels.

During the same time period, membership increased in other youth organizations, such as the Girl Scouts of the USA and the BSA's Learning for Life program.[113] Both the US Census Bureau and the US Department of Education recorded an increase in total available youth during this time frame.[112]

Some local councils have reported membership size numbers in excess of their actual number of members.[114][115][116] "Volunteers say paid Scout leaders have created fictitious 'ghost units' for years to increase membership numbers, leading donor groups and charities, including the United Way, to make larger contributions."[114] To help ensure that membership numbers are reported correctly, the BSA adopted new membership validation procedures for use beginning in 2006.[117]

Historical membership controversies

There have been membership controversies in the past that have been resolved such as the exclusion of women from some leadership positions, those related to the breakup of Exploring, and those resulting from racial segregation.

See also


  1. "Boy Scouts & Public Funding: Defending Bigotry as a Public Good". Retrieved May 25, 2008. 
  2. "Discrimination in the BSA". BSA Discrimination. Retrieved September 4, 2006. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Core Values". Retrieved October 2, 2006. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "Duty to God". Retrieved May 25, 2008. 
  5. "Supreme Court Won't Review Berkeley Sea Scouts' Case". Retrieved May 25, 2008. 
  6. Margaret Downey (November 1999). "Challenging the discriminatory practices of the Boy Scouts of America". Humanist. Retrieved May 25, 2008. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Decision of Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division, A-2427-95T3, Dale v. Boy Scouts (1998)". Rutgers School of Law-Camden. Retrieved September 2, 2007. 
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External links

Sites supportive of the Boy Scouts of America's policies
Sites critical of the Boy Scouts of America's policies
Other sites