I was for many years a Boy Scout, eventually reaching the rank of Life Scout. I was also a patrol leader and had every skill award on my belt. If I recall, I was one merit badge and a service project away from Eagle Scout when biology kicked in and I abandoned scouting in favor of a more dedicated pursuit of the female of the species. For many years since, I had regretted that I never went that last mile and achieved Eagle Scout. So much so, in fact, that I sometimes whimsically mused about contacting the scouts and asking if I could somehow complete it now, even though I am well into adulthood. Whenever the subject of scouting came up in conversation, I spoke with pride about my days in the BSA. I would talk about the many fun times I had on camping trips and other activities. It was a big part of my childhood, and gave me memories of adventures I likely would have never had otherwise. But now, if the subject of scouting ever comes up, I remain in awkward and embarrassed silence.
I am not gay, so I am not personally affected by the ban on homosexuals, but it still offends me. However, I believe neither in gods nor any other superstitions, and thus I am personally affronted by their rejection of my harmless kind. It seems a strange and unfair reaction that when religious zealots killed thousands of innocent people on 9/11, non-believers have ironically become a popular whipping boy in the aftermath. Newsflash: They were not atheists who flew those planes into the WTC. Say what you will about their sanity, but those terrorists were religious people who believed in their god deeply enough to die in its service. How deeply would the leadership of the BSA like our children to believe in their god?
I would not be allowed to join the scouts today because of my beliefs, despite my impeccable scouting record. I could lie, if I was so inclined, and say I believed in the gods they insist exist, but does scouting wish to encourage dishonesty? By setting inflexible, absolutist standards, they are encouraging dishonesty, whether they intend to or not. Do they honestly expect that young gays will honestly stop being gay, and that young atheists will suddenly become believers, just to become boy scouts? Of course not. They will be forced to lie about themselves to get into the scouts, so that they too can enjoy all the activities which other children, who have been deemed to be ‘better’ than they are, enjoy with impunity. This will not stop the ‘sinners’ of atheism and homosexuality from being among the scouts; it will only increase their ‘sin’ by forcing them to become unwilling liars as well.
Since when did scouting become such a puppet of the religious right? I remember it as a kind and benevolent organization, teaching children to cooperate with each other to achieve worthy goals, not teaching them to exclude others because of differences. What have gays or atheists done to offend the leaders of the BSA? Is their character so frail that these things are a threat to them? Are they so small as to believe that their heterosexual children will suddenly turn gay if they breathe the same air as a homosexual? Is their faith in the truth of their gods so weak that they fear those who believe otherwise will detract from their belief? How much further down this slippery slope before they begin to decree that other ‘differences’ are unworthy of scouting? Perhaps anyone who doesn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus should be banned. Perhaps overweight kids should be banned. Perhaps non-whites should be banned. Once you let the genie of intolerance out of the canteen, where does it end?
I once loved the Boy Scouts of America and was proud to be among its alumni. Now I am deeply ashamed of them beyond any words I can conjure to express it. They have taken a step away from the benign and nonjudgmental organization of which I was once so proud, and have taken a small step in the direction of something that has a slight whiff of the stink of Hitler Youth. The leaders of the BSA have sown the merit badge of bigotry to their uniforms. I hope they are proud of it, for no pious sash of holiness can cover its ugliness. I believe, and I hope, that one day this will be looked back upon by future, more enlightened, leaders of the BSA as one of the lowest points in their otherwise respectable history.
I wish I had never had to write this letter.
Richard E. Bamford, Jr.