How Your Tax Dollars Support the Boy Scouts of America

By Taylor, Larry A. | The Humanist, September-October 1995 | Go to article overview

How Your Tax Dollars Support the Boy Scouts of America


Taylor, Larry A., The Humanist


It was open house at the Police Department in Whittier, California, and my guide--a polite and intelligent Explorer Scout--wore a uniform similar in style to that of the Whittier police. "We're part of the department," be said.

And he was. According to the official procedure of the Boy Scouts of America, which provides the Explorer program nationwide, each troop or unit is actually owned and operated by the sponsoring or "charter" organization. In the case of the Whittier Police Explorer Post, that charter organization is the City of Whittier.

Available from the police department at its front desk is the pamphlet Introduction to the Whittier Police Explorers, published by the city. It explains that young people who are accepted into the program receive an 18 week training course on Saturdays at the sheriffs facility. An application form for membership is included, which pro vices a place on page three to indicate "religious preference."

Private or Public

The Boy Scouts of America has come under increasing fire for its rejection of atheists and gays and is currently in court defending itself against several discrimination lawsuits. In its legal briefs, it presents itself as a private group with an essentially religious basis that is exempt from discrimination laws, including California's Unruh Act. That act provides that:

All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are

free and equal, and no matter what their . . . religion

. . . are entitled to the full and equal accommodations,

advantages, facilities, privileges, or service in all business

establishments of every kind whatsoever.

The Boy Scouts' position results from the BSA practice of excluding from membership--as well as positions of adult leader ship--all who don't believe in God or who are homosexual.

Young children who, although they may not happen to use words like atheist or agnostic, still know they don't believe in a supreme being, fall under the religious ban. Adult leaders must not merely pledge such belief, they must sign the Declaration of Religious Principles, which indicates agreement with the BSA policy that no one can become "the best kind of citizen" without recognizing the "obligation to God." Agreement is important here. Criticism of this religious policy by BSA leaders has led to dismissal. Also dismissed were officials who simply testified for the plaintiff in a discrimination trial, including some officials who personally believe in a god.

Given this, the question naturally arises as to what a private religious group is doing in intimate association with a city government. Can the Boy Scouts of America so easily get away with having it both ways: being "private" for purposes of discrimination but "public" when it comes to taxpayer support of local units? And does the BSA really have the clout to induce the City of Whittier to discriminate against gays and atheists who may wish to join its Whittier Police Explorer Post?

Clearly it can and does. In fact, any city with a police or fire department having an Explorer program has effectively agreed to entangle itself with religion and discriminate in these ways. The discrimination goes beyond simply control ling who may become an Explorer Scout or an adult leader. Since future employers highly value Explorer service, cities with Explorer programs indirectly foster job discrimination. Another form of job discrimination faces officers or firefighters who wish to become adult leaders in an Explorer program. Putting "I was in charge of an Explorer Post" on a resume becomes impossible for an unbeliever because of the (sometimes arbitrary) veto of Boy Scouts of America officials.

In a free society, a city should not provide a public service only for a portion of its citizens. No city park greets visitors with a sign that reads, "No dogs, alcoholic beverages, or infidels allowed" Similarly, Whittier should not seek to prevent young atheistic Buddhists (for example) from providing volunteer service to the police department and receiving experience and training in return.

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