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Unitarian Universalist Association/Boy Scouts
of America Correspondence & Documentation

May 18, 1999, Boston
John A. Buehrens, President
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Love and Help pinWhat has happened to Boy Scout honor?

The Boy Scouts of America have sent the UUA yet another letter. This one rescinds the decision to reinstate BSA recognition of our Religion and Life Award for UU scouts. Moreover, they have taken the initiative to contact the press on the matter. Both steps seem to me astonishing. I have tried consistently to be cooperative with the BSA, while staying true to Unitarian Universalist principles. On receiving the letter, my first reaction was that there must be a lack of internal coordination within the Boy Scouts or a misunderstanding of our intentions.

Those intentions were explained to representatives of the Boy Scouts last September and were fully agreed to. 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, along with the manual, some separate materials that would be helpful to our young people and their advisers, showing forth our religious principles in

Opinion: Meg Riley

Boy Scouts should study
religious freedom, not just gays

September 29, 1999

relation to the issues that have been part of this controversy. 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.

I have personally written a short pamphlet, When Others (or You) Say 'God', designed to help young people from a pluralistic religious tradition understand some of the multiple ways in which the word 'God' is or can be understood. It seems to me that UU youth who choose to take the Scout oath need this because in the oath a scout promises "to do my duty to God..."

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. My question is this: does the BSA really mean to say that our teaching must stop where it makes them uncomfortable? That we cannot provide religious materials along with Scout materials? If so, what other faith groups will suffer from Boy Scout discrimination? After all, prejudice, once it takes hold in one's soul and is rationalized against one group can easily spread to include other objects of prejudice. Evidently Unitarian Universalists have now become such objects for the BSA. No wonder they have not been honorable in their dealings with us.

May 7, 1999
Lawrence Ray Smith, Chairman
Religious Relationships Committee

Dear Dr. Buehrens:

It has come to our attention that you have posted on the UUA web site a letter of April 28, 1999, 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 of April 23 from Thomas Deimler of the 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 Boy Scouts of America.

These circumstances were not contemplated when Mr. Deimler wrote his letter. Therefore, Boy Scouts of America 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, Chairman
Religious Relationships Committee

April 28, 1999, Boston
John A. Buehrens, President
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Dear Friends:

As you know, the UUA has been involved in discussions with the Boy Scouts of America regarding the status of our Religion in Life award. In May, 1998, the BSA informed us that, due to certain language in the Religion in Life manual, 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 dated April 23 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. They are most complimentary of the willingness of you and your staff to work closely with us in this endeavor. 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. . . . . Best wishes to you."

The UUA will now begin discussions with the Boy Scouts about possible service on the BSA Religious Relationships Committee. We would like to do this for three reasons.

First, many of the values of scouting are congruent with our UU principles. I myself became a Life Scout, and other UU ministers are Eagle Scouts. Scouting has played a significant role in the lives of many young UUs, no small number of whom are members of scout troops sponsored by their own UU congregations.

Second, the BSA bylaws contain a statement about the nature of God which many good people in many traditions would find impossible to accept. The BSA is already being challenged on issues of religious discrimination. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the public schools of Chicago, for example, over sponsoring Scout units which require a particular form of religious belief. If the BSA is going to adapt successfully to the religious pluralism of the 21st century, they will need counsel from groups like the UUA -- not just from religious conservatives.

Third, we believe that the BSA can and should adopt new policies with regard to volunteers, to membership and to homophobia. Along with many UUs involved in Scouting, it is our position that local parents, Scout Councils, and troop sponsors should assume a great role in volunteer and membership issues. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should not be allowed to continue as a national policy of the BSA. It will ruin the organization, costing them the support of millions of people, of foundations, and of the United Way in many areas.

Congregations and denominations that oppose homosexuality may have some right to influence the selection of leaders in troops which serve their own youth, but they should not prevent congregations and denominations like the UUA and the United Church of Christ (UCC) from conducting themselves in a way that represents our own religious values. For us, this will include an emphasis on comprehensive sexuality education and efforts to reduce homophobia.

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.

It is still not clear to me that the BSA can be redirected from patterns that in the long run will be institutionally self-destructive. I am very pleased, however, that we have been able to resolve any implication that they wish to practice an added discrimination toward Unitarian Universalists simply because we support the belief that it is not homosexuality but homophobia which is a sin.

Yours faithfully,
John A. Buehrens

February 26, 1999

Thomas Deimler, head of the Scouts Religious Relationships division, contacted Rev. Cynthia Breen today, and indicated that his managers and the ad hoc committee looking at the UUA's boy scout manual revisions needed additional time to review the UUA's material and gather feedback.

February 22, 1999

The UUA has persisted with every reasonable effort to persuade the Boy Scouts of America to re-instate official recognition of the Religion in Life award for Boy Scouts and Explorers, as well as the Love and Help award for Cub Scouts.

A complete revision of the Religion in Life manual has been prepared by the Rev. Cynthia Breen and the Rev. Keith Kron of the UUA staff. The revision is designed to respond to expressed BSA concerns, while maintaining a clear articulation of UU principles. The manual is used for religious education and coming of age programs as well as by Scouts. UUA President John Buehrens has written the foreword to the new 4th edition.

The revision was submitted to the Religious  Relationships Committee of the BSA in time for their meeting on Feb. 11. The response from the BSA  indicated a desire for some further revisions. On Feb. 18, Breen and Kron sent a "final revision" to Thomas Deimler of the Religious Relationships Committee.   They wrote, "We trust that the newly formed sub-committee assigned to review our situation will give this prompt attention."

A reply from the BSA has been requested by March 1, so that the new edition can be printed before General Assembly.

October 23, 1998

The news that the Boy Scouts of America have decided not to equitably resolve their dispute with the Unitarian Universalist Association was received on Friday, Oct. 23, with great "personal disappointment" by UUA President John A. Buehrens.  Buehrens, Cynthia Breen, Director of Religious Education, and Keith Kron, Director of the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns, met with Thomas Deimler and Mike Healy, representing the Boy Scouts, on Sept. 29 in Boston.  Following that meeting, Buehrens wrote to Lawrence Ray Smith, Chair of the BSA Religious Relationship Committee, telling Smith of the "very good meeting" which would result in the forging of a new and positive relationship between the Scouts and the UUA.

A response from Smith to Buehrens, dated Oct. 19, offers little encouragement and says, in part, "our concern is whether [the UUA's] revised material will be consistent with Scouting's values and appropriate for use by Scouts." Buehrens' statement to Unitarian Universalists, released to the press on Oct. 23, says, "Dr. Smith's response ... shows that the BSA attitude toward religious diversity remains less than warmly welcoming to Unitarian Universalists and others who consider doubt, as well as piety, as a potential part of 'duty to God.'"

The news that in May, 1998, the Scouts had ordered the UUA to stop conferring its "Religion in Life" award stirred passionate response among Unitarian Universalists, members of the interfaith community and the general public.

The Scouts claimed that the UUA's "Religion in Life" award contains statements which are "inconsistent with Scouting's values," objected to the UUA's reference to the "trouble that some Unitarians Universalists may have regarding the duty to God," and complained that the UUA disapproved of "Boy Scouts’ membership policies relating to known or avowed homosexuals." (Full text of May, 1998 BSA letter)

UUA President Buehrens, a Life Scout, called the Scouts' action "untenable," and said most people would see the Scouts action as "blatant discrimination against children on the basis of their religion." (Full text of Buehrens' letter)

The controversy between the UUA and the BSA has resulted in extensive media coverage. E-mail, calls and letters received at UUA headquarters have been overwhelmingly in favor of the UUA's stance.  A petition drive by members of the Fairfax, Virginia UU congregation, focused to appeal to former Scouts, ministers and people of faith and calling on Scouts executives to change their discriminatory policies, was delivered to Scouts headquarters in early October.  The October 23 BSA letter represents a disappointing stage in this ongoing controversy.

Other Background

  • Letter from Rev. William F. Schulz to the Editor, New York Times, August 2, 1985
  • UUA Resolution and Principles
  • Court Cases
    • Curran v. Mount Diablo Council, BSA . Timothy Curran, a former Eagle Scout, had his application to become an assistant scoutmaster rejected by the Mount Diablo Council of the BSA after Curran publicly stated that he is a homosexual.
    • Findings of Fact, Pool & Geller v. Boy Scouts of America. "Taken together, the Boy Scouts' policy of excluding homosexuals adds up to one thing -- it is not the Scout Oath or the Scout Law, it is not role models, traditional family values, history, the consensus of religions, some need for standardization or any other of the purported rationales that animate this policy; it is prejudice"
    • Supplemental Findings of Fact, Pool & Geller v. Boy Scouts of America. "Complainants believe that their proposed Findings and Conclusions cover the vast majority of points the Boy Scouts make and explain the evidence and law that the Boy Scouts do not discuss. Accordingly, rather than review each point with which they disagree, Complainants will focus on rebutting the specific points that appear to lie at the heart of the Boy Scouts' arguments."
  • Affiliated Organizations
    • "Scouting for All" is a movement started by Steven Cozza when he was a 12-year-old scout. It promotes the idea that boy scouting should be open to all boys, without exclusion of gay youth and adults.
  • This site contains comprehensive background on the Boy Scouts and opposition to their policies on this issue.

Related Media Coverage  

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