Can the Obamas Help the Boy Scouts See the Light?

President ObamaWith reports indicating President Obama will accept the traditional role of honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America, the Secular Coalition calls on him to use his power to move the Boy Scouts beyond their "traditional values" and to practice the American values of diversity and tolerance. The Coalition also hopes the First Lady, likely to become Girl Scouts' honorary president, uses her position to promote that group's enlightened embrace of diversity.

March 9, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

You and the First Lady have been invited to become Honorary Presidents of the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts of America, respectively; this gives each of you an opportunity to advance our national conversation about diversity and tolerance.

In recent months, many civil rights groups, ours included, have asked you to decline the traditional role of honorary president of the Boy Scouts because of the group's official policies that discriminate against Americans who do not conform to its "traditional values." In fact, in response to requests from Scout troops around the country to expand inclusion, the Boy Scouts' Executive Board resolved in 2002 to formally prohibit participation by gays and nontheists, effectively institutionalizing discrimination against countless thousands of American children.

Because the Secular Coalition's mission is respect and visibility for nontheistic viewpoints and those who hold them, our concern is particularly the Boy Scouts' exclusion of young Americans who do not hold a god belief or have questions about faith. At the Boy Scouts' Legal Issues website (which responds to all the litigation their anachronistic policies invite) the organization states: "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."

By contrast, the Girl Scout promise reads, "On my honor, I will try: To serve God* and my country." The asterisked note explains that "God" can be replaced, in the spirit of religious tolerance, with "whatever word" these girls and young women feel represents their beliefs. Further, rather than discourage questions, the Girl Scouts celebrate an annual World Thinking Day; the current triennial theme is how to change the world!

Mr. President, you have spoken repeatedly and eloquently about ending discrimination, perhaps most famously in your Philadelphia speech on race. You have also decried inequality based on gender, once saying the idea of your daughters suffering gender discrimination made your blood boil. At your White House website, you identify discrimination – against gays and lesbians in the armed forces, women and seniors in the workplace, people with disabilities in schools and even small farmers in the agricultural sector – as a scourge your administration will work to eliminate.

And yet by all accounts, you will soon become the symbolic leader of an organization which unapologetically discriminates against American citizens based on its backward and inaccurate view that those of us who have no religion have no values. This is a view we are confident you do not personally hold.

We therefore appeal to you to use this opportunity to advance your vision of a more inclusive and less divided America. You could begin by accepting the honorary role only on the condition that the Boy Scouts agree to review their discriminatory policies. Additionally, perhaps you and the First Lady, in your respective capacities as honorary presidents of the Boy and Girl Scouts, could arrange for a summit in which leaders from the two organizations discuss expanding access to their valuable programs so more young Americans might benefit from them. Finally, we hope the First Lady would use her position to spotlight the Girl Scouts' tremendous success in actively embracing diversity.

We understand that, as president, you must choose your battles carefully. But we also hope you will choose, in the end, to lead the Boy Scouts as you lead our nation, with the vision and courage and ideals that earned you the office you now hold.

Ron Millar
Acting Director

cc: Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States

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