Unitarian Universalist Association/Boy Scouts
of America Correspondence & Documentation
May 18, 1999, Boston
John A. Buehrens, President
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
May 7, 1999
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
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.
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.
Lawrence Ray Smith, Chairman
Religious Relationships Committee
April 28, 1999, Boston
John A. Buehrens, President
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
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
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
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
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.
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.
- 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
UUA/Scouts Main Page