Thursday, March 27, 2008

Are the Boy Scouts of America as Christian as Thomas Jefferson?

Red Stick Rant has linked to an Amazon entry for Governor Rick Perry's book On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting for.

This reminded me of something that has worried me about the Boy Scouts for the last several years. You'll probably recall that the Boy Scouts are officially an anti-atheist organization:

"Because of Scouting’s methods and beliefs, Scouting does not accept atheists and agnostics as members or adult volunteer leaders."

Now at this point some Christians may jump up and down in joy, proud that the Boy Scouts are striking the blow against secular humanism.

But just because the Boy Scouts are anti-atheist doesn't necessarily mean that they're Christian.

So what do the Boy Scouts believe? Here are some excerpts:

From the very beginning, the Scouting movement has encouraged its members to be faithful in the practice of their religious beliefs. The Tiger Cub Promise asks young boys to love God. The Cub Scout Promise, the Scout Oath, and the Explorer Code each call upon Scouts to pledge themselves to do their duty to God. At the same time, Scouting espouses no creed and favors no single faith over another faith. Rather, Scouting provides programs and ideals that complement the aims of all religions....

Scouting encourages a Scout to recognize an obligation or duty to God, but does not define what a belief in God is or define what constitutes a religious organization. As Scout leaders we must be careful not to favor one faith over another. In conducting Scouting activities, we must be sensitive to the need to encourage all Scouts to grow in their own religious beliefs and faiths. Remember that Scouts have a "Duty to God."

Now this would be OK if the Scouts simply stated that religion was solely the responsibility of the Scout's religious organization. In fact, Clifford himself (the Red Stick Ranter) argues the following:

I have no problem with the Scouting outlook vis a vis religion. Scouting is not a Christian organization, despite the claims of some radical leftists and Episcopal clergy (sorry, I repeat myself). Scouting takes no position on which faith a Scout should hold, only that a Scout should respect and practice the faith they profess.

Fair enough, but in some cases the Boy Scouts cross the line. In my view, the Scouts set up a religion of their own, with their own prayers. Here's an example:

Dear Lord, from your judgement seat on high,
Look down on a Scouter such as I.
Search me through and find me whole,
Then help me Lord to reach my goal.

Help me Lord to work for Thee,
Guard my homeland - Keep it free.
Help me to work with others and be kind,
Helpful with my hands and mind.

Keep me Lord, both well and strong
To help our growing boys along.

Control my thoughts, keep them right,
sound, clean weapons for life's fight.

Protect my morals, keep them high,
Grant this to a Scouter such as I.

And this idea of all religions being equally valid, and in holding religious services within your supposedly non-religious organization, brings to mind another organization. Perhaps there's a reason for this:

Freemasonry's relationship with the Boy Scouts started with a Freemason named Daniel Carter Beard. Beard was made a Mason in Mariner's Lodge No. 67, New York City, NY, and later affiliated with Cornucopia Lodge 563, Flushing, NY. In the late 1800's he founded a male youth program called the "Society of the Sons of Daniel Boone." By 1905, the program had become "The Boy Pioneers." The man who would create the first "Boy Scouts," and be known as its founder, was Lord Robert Baden-Powell of Great Britain. Lord Baden-Powell, who was not a Mason, read of Beard's program, and based on his own military experience, developed what is known as the "Boy Scouts." In 1910, the Boy Scout program came to America when Beard merged his organization into the "Boy Scouts of America" and became its first National Commissioner.

Beard, known affectionately as "Uncle Dan" by millions of Boy Scouts, worked tirelessly to create the Scouting Program that exists today. He developed the elements of the Scout badge and the Scout uniform, and wrote and illustrated various early publications of the Boy Scouts of America. Beard exemplified the Masonic ideals throughout the Scouting program.

That quote, by the way, appeared on a Detroit Area Council Boy Scouts web site.

Here's what the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) says about the Boy Scouts:

The Wisconsin Synod has historically voiced some objections to certain aspects of the Scouting movement. Scouting contains certain religious elements that promote a vague, Christ-less god and teach that all religions are equally valid ways of doing one's duty toward God. Scouting seeks to develop moral uprightness apart from faith in Christ in a way that can easily lead to work righteousness. The Scouting oath is an unnecessary oath that asks a boy to swear by something uncertain (his honor) to do something that is not in his power to do (his duty toward God). As Christians we recognize that it is God's will for us to trust in Jesus for salvation. We cannot do that on our own, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace, the gospel in God's Word and the sacraments.

And if you don't necessarily buy what the Wisconsin Synod says, there's always a higher authority...the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, circa 2006. While I disagree with the idea that the Constitution prevents public monies from being used for religious purposes, it is interesting to note that a three-judge panel from this esteemed (heh) court has determined that the Boy Scouts is a religion unto themselves:

The case was brought by self-declared agnostics Lori and Lynn Barnes-Wallace and Michael and Valerie Breen, along with a son of each, in protest of a lease of parkland in Balboa Park and Fiesta Island by the city of San Diego to the Boy Scouts of America.

The agnostics sued the city on a claim that the lease to the Boy Scouts – out of more than 100 leases, including to the YMCA, a number of Jewish groups, one of which conducts Sabbath services on parkland, and the Girl Scouts – violates the Establishment of Religion Clause of the First Amendment, and that they are suffering "inferior usage" thereby because they don't want to have to apply for permits, or pay usage fees, to the BSA. The case is Barnes-Wallace, et al. v. Boy Scouts of America, Nos. 04-55732, 04-56167.

A federal judge in San Diego granted the summary judgment to the agnostics, finding that the Boy Scouts are a "religion" because of the Boy Scout Oath, which includes doing one's duty to "God and my country," and the Boy Scout Law, which includes "reverence" as one of 12 precepts. Also, the Scouts require a belief in God as a condition of membership.

And potentially there are a lot of religions out there:

The case has drawn national attention because the federal judge's finding that the BSA is "a religion" imperils the future work of not only the Boy Scouts, but all organizations that recognize a transcendent higher authority, including community service organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis, Alcoholics Anonymous, which works directly with the courts and government, and veterans organizations like the American Legion, whose constitutional preamble begins "For God and Country," almost identical to the Boy Scouts Oath.

Wikipedia doesn't indicate that there's been any update to the case.

Perhaps I should pursue the "what is religion?" question, which could conceivably be applied to the Boy Scouts, the Freemasons, the Scientologists, pracitioners of U.S. civil religion, and New York Yankees fans.

[7:43: FOLLOWUP.]

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