Scouts & God by Phillip E. Johnson

Scouts & God

The New York Times reported on November 3, 2002, that a Seattle-area Eagle Scout named Darrell was asked to reconsider his outspoken atheism or leave the Boy Scouts. That this local story received national coverage doubtless reflects the determination of the elite press to take any opportunity to embarrass the Scouts for having excluded homosexual scoutmasters in an attempt to avoid the kind of catastrophe that has engulfed the Catholic Church. Darrell joined the Scouts at age nine and dropped his belief in God five years later, after studying evolution in ninth grade. Thereafter, when reciting the Boy Scout Oath, he either mumbled or omitted the words by which the scout swears to do his duty “to God.”

No one took notice, and Darrell achieved the top scout rank of Eagle in high school despite making no effort to hide his atheism. Seattle-area scouting officials decided to make an issue of his unbelief only after Darrell, now a 19-year-old college freshman and a volunteer leader in a troop headed by his own mother, disputed the statement of a scouting official at a training session for adult leaders that an atheist could advance in scouting only by lying about his beliefs. Scouting officials have so far held firm to their position that, however worthy he may be in other respects, a Boy Scout cannot fulfill his obligation to be “reverent,” or take in good faith the Boy Scout Oath, if he denies that God exists.

It is not likely that the courts will intervene, since the Supreme Court held in the “gay scoutmasters” case that the Scouts have a right to set their own membership standards. So this ruling will stand unless the officials are swayed by petitions on behalf of Darrell from local Scouts and their parents, or similar letters in the newspapers.

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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

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