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"Duty to God"

In the Scout Oath, a Scout promises to do his “duty to God,” and in the Scout Law he promises to be “reverent.”

The Boy Scout Handbook (11th ed.) explains a Scouts’ “duty to God” as “Your family and religious leaders teach you about God and the ways you can serve. You do your duty to God by following the wisdom of those teachings every day and by respecting and defending the rights of others to practice their own beliefs.”

The Handbook explains “reverent” as “A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.”

All levels of advancement in the Scouting program have requirements recognizing “duty to God”:

Bobcat Cub Scout
A boy is required to promise to do his best to do his “duty to God,” which means “Put God first. Do what you know God wants you to do.”

Wolf Cub Scout
A boy is required to “[t]alk with your folks about what they believe is their duty to God,” “[g]ive some ideas on how you can practice or demonstrate your religious beliefs,” and “[f]ind out how you can help your church, synagogue, or religious fellowship.”

Bear Cub Scout
A boy is required to “[p]ractice your religion as you are taught in your home, church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious community” or “[e]arn the religious emblem of your faith.”

Webelos Scout
A boy is required to either “[e]arn the religious emblem of your faith” or do two of the following:

“Attend the church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious organization of your choice, talk with your religious leader about your beliefs, and tell your family and Webelos den leader about what you learned.”;

“Tell how your religious beliefs fit in with the Scout Oath and Scout Law, Discuss this with your family and Webelos den leader: What character-building traits do your beliefs and the Scout Oath and Scout Law have in common?”;

“With your religious leader, discuss and write down two things you think will help you draw nearer to God. Do these things.”;

“Pray to God or meditate reverently each day as taught by your family, and by your church, synagogue, or religious group. Do this for at least one month.”;

“Under the direction of your religious leader, do an act of service for someone else. Talk about your service with your family and Webelos den leader. Tell them how it made you feel.”; or

“List at least two ways you believe you have lived according to your religious beliefs.”

First Class Boy Scout
A boy is required to “[l]ead your patrol in saying grace at the meals . . . .”

● Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle Boy Scouts

A boy is required to “[d]emonstrate Scout spirit by living the Scout Oath . . . and Scout Law in your everyday life.”


Policies

● Youth and Adult Volunteers
Boy Scouts of America believes that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. Accordingly, youth members and adult volunteer leaders of Boy Scouts of America obligate themselves to do their duty to God and be reverent as embodied in the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. Leaders also must subscribe to the Declaration of Religious Principle. Because of its views concerning the duty to God, Boy Scouts of America believes that an atheist or agnostic is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law for adolescent boys. Because of Scouting’s methods and beliefs, Scouting does not accept atheists and agnostics as members or adult volunteer leaders.

● Employment
With respect to positions limited to professional Scouters or, because of their close relationship to the mission of Scouting, positions limited to registered members of the Boy Scouts of America, acceptance of the Declaration of Religious Principle, the Scout Oath, and the Scout Law is required. Accordingly, in the exercise of their constitutional right to bring the values of Scouting to youth members, the Boy Scouts of America will not employ atheists, agnostics, known or avowed homosexuals, or others as professional Scouters or in other capacities in which such employment would tend to interfere with the mission of reinforcing the values of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law in young people.

● Declaration of Religious Principle, Bylaws of Boy Scouts of America, art. IX, § 1, cl. 1

“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. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them. The Boy Scouts of America, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and the organization or group with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.”

Bylaws of Boy Scouts of America, art. IX, § 1, cls. 2-4.
“The activities of the members of the Boy Scouts of America shall be carried on under conditions which show respect to the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion, as required by the twelfth point of the Scout Law, reading ‘Reverent. A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.’”

“In no case where a unit is connected with a church or other distinctively religious organization shall members of other denominations or faith be required, because of their membership in the unit, to take part in or observe a religious ceremony distinctly unique to that organization or church.”

“Only persons willing to subscribe to these declarations of principles shall be entitled to certificates of leadership in carrying out the Scouting program.”


Cases

Randall v. Orange County Council, Boy Scouts of America, 952 P.2d 261 (Cal. 1998)
Two atheist boys refused to recite the duty to God portion of the Cub Scout or Boy Scout Promise, or do their duty to God. The boys sued, and the Orange County Superior Court granted an injunction barring the boys’ exclusion from the program. On appeal, the California Supreme Court reversed, holding that Boy Scouts are not covered “business establishments” for purposes of the Unruh Civil Rights Act and could not be required under California law to change its duty to God requirements with respect to youth members.

Seabourn v. Coronado Area Council, 891 P.2d 385 (Kan. 1995)
A former Assistant Scoutmaster who refused to do his duty to God sued the Coronado Area Council alleging a violation of the Kansas Act Against Discrimination when his adult registration was terminated. The Riley County District Court entered summary judgment against the Assistant Scoutmaster, and he appealed. The Kansas Supreme Court held that Boy Scouts of America is not “public accommodation” within meaning of Kansas Act Against Discrimination and, therefore, Kansas law could not force Boy Scouts to change the duty to God requirements with respect to adult leaders.

Welsh v. Boy Scouts of America, 787 F. Supp. 1511 (N.D. Ill. 1992), 993 F.2d 1267 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1012 (1993)
An agnostic parent and son who would not affirm their duty to God sued after they would not be admitted. The District Court held that Boy Scouts is not a place of public accommodation within the meaning of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and denied plaintiffs’ relief. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that: (1) Scouting is not a place of public accommodation for purposes of Title II, and (2) even if it were, Scouting would fall within private club exception to Title II.

Copyright 2006 on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America