GGG: BSA does not require belief in "Supreme Being?"

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GGG: BSA does not require belief in "Supreme Being?" larry a. taylor 2/17/96 12:00 AM

David C. Wise, is the Orange County, Calif., USA, Unitarian scout leader
expelled a few years ago from scouting for being a non-theist, despite
the fact that he was conforming to the beliefs of his own church,
the Unitarian-Universalist Association.

He documents several times the Boy Scouts of America has stated that
it does not require the belief in a "supreme being" for membership.

Date: 15 Feb 96 21:02:45 EST
From: "David C. Wise" <72747...@compuserve.com>
To: <lta...@cs.ucla.edu>
Subject: BSA: Townsend Letter

 >  I would appreciate a copy of the Townsend Letter you mentioned.

At the end of this EMail I appended the letter with a foreword which I intend
to post in the Scouting Forum library on CompuServe.  I have no objection to
your posting it elsewhere.


 >  -- Supreme Being --
 >  Is this a change of heart, an instance of hairsplitting, or plain
 >  ignorance?

Please pardon me for taking your question slightly out of context in order to
answer it.

First, this entire religious discrimination issue has as a root cause an
alleged BSA membership rule requiring "belief in a 'supreme being'."  Earlier
on, in the Randall case, I believe, BSA spokesmen were quoted in the media as
saying that they had no problem with the Randalls joining, but they had this
here "supreme being" rule that they just had to obey and so were forced
against their will to exclude these twins.  However, this "supreme being"
rule has three major problems:

 1. A number of religions, including ones that BSA officially recognizes
 (eg, Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism), are non-theistic, meaning that they
 do not require nor recognize belief in a "Supreme Being" god-concept.  Thus
 a "Supreme Being" rule, which specifically requires theism, would subject the
 practitioners  of these non-theistic religions to expulsion and exclusion
 from Scouting.

 2. BSA's officially published religious rules and policies prohibit BSA from
 defining or interpreting "God", "duty to God", or the practice of religion.
 Rather, BSA's officially published religious rules and policies require BSA
 to recognize each individual member's OWN family and religious leaders as the
 sole authority in all such definitions and interpretations as they pertain to
 that individual and that each individual should be judged by the standards of
 his OWN religious tradition.  By formulating and imposing a "Supreme Being"
 rule, especially in contradiction to members' religious leaders and
 traditions, BSA would violate all of its officially published religious rules
 and policies.

 3. The rule does not exist.  That is to say that no evidence can be found
 for the rule's existence and there is evidence that it does not exist.
 Nobody has ever been able to find a copy of that rule.  No BSA official is
 known to have ever produced a copy of that rule.  My direct requests for a
 copy from my local council were first met with a direct refusal and then
 with a personal promise from the Scout Exec, which was never fulfilled (only
 one of several broken promises).  In the Randall trial, that very same Scout
 Exec was ordered by the court to produce a copy of that rule and he was
 unable to comply.  Furthermore, BSA has officially stated at least twice that
 it does NOT require belief in a "Supreme Being" (McCleery, 26 Aug 1985, and
 Townsend, 21 Dec 1994).


My research of officially published BSA religious rules and policies
reveals a total lack of any rule or policy directly requiring any specific
beliefs, even "belief in God."  The only mention of "belief in God" is in the
official policy statement that BSA does not define nor interpret that term
(Religious Principles Interpretive Statement, Advancement Guidelines).  The
only religious requirements for membership are subscription to the Scout Oath
for all members and subscription to the Declaration of Religious Principle for
adult leaders.  Other than that, the only officially published BSA rules or
policies regarding religion are meant to restrict BSA's authority regarding
religion and delegating all religious authority to each member's own family
and religious leaders.  It is noteworthy that BSA has violated its own rules
by usurping all such religious authority.


The following is a short summary of officially published BSA religious policy:

 1. BSA does not define or interpret "God", "belief in God", "duty to God",
 nor the practice of religion, leaving all that instead to each member's
 family, religious leaders, and religious tradition.

 2. BSA strongly encourages, but does not require, membership in a religious
 association.

 3. BSA does officially recognize and accept that some members will choose to
 practice religion according to the dictates of their own personal convictions
 and will make every effort to determine the true nature of those beliefs as
 they apply to advancement in Scouting.

 4. Every member shall be judged by the standards of his OWN religion, not
 another.

 5. BSA does not judge whether a member performs his "duty to God," but rather
 only that member's religious leaders can make such a determination.

 6. A member's specific religious beliefs are not the business of BSA; rather
 they are the business of the member's religious leaders.

And, in response to the Paul Trout Affair of 1985 where BSA's new-fangled
"Supreme Being" rule caused the expulsion of Unitarian Scout Paul Trout for
not believing in a "Supreme Being" god and BSA ended up reinstating Scout
Trout (who went on to earn his Eagle) and immediately dropping the
"Supreme Being" rule as a "mistake" (Ben Love's own word for it):

        "It is NOT our POLICY to require a belief in a 'supreme being' in
        order to be a member of the Boy Scouts of America, adult or youth.  
        We do require adherence to the 'declaration of religious principles'
        for adults and adherence to the Scout Oath and Law for youth.  
        Interpretation and definition of 'duty to God' is not our business!  
        It is the business of parents and religious leaders."  (Letter from
        William McCleery III, BSA National Director, Relationships Division,
        26 August 1985)

In that same time-frame, Ben Love wrote a letter Herb Livingston of
Los Angeles dated 16 Oct 85 described as saying that "[BSA] is
nonsectarian; does not have a religious test for membership, and does
not define God."  I have tried to obtain a copy of that letter, but
Herb could not find it.


I can itemize BSA's violations of their religious policies, but to keep this
short:

 1. BSA does indeed define "God", as a literal supernatural "Supreme Being."

 2. BSA does indeed define and interpret "belief in God", as "belief in a
 Supreme Being."

 3. BSA does indeed define and interpret "duty to God", as requiring
 belief in a "Supreme Being."

 4. BSA does indeed define the practice of religion, as requiring belief
 in the supernatural.

 5. BSA has usurped the role of the members' religious leaders and
 completely ignores a victim's religious leader when it contradicts
 their prejudgement.

 6. BSA does not allow members to practice religion according to the
 dictates of their own conscience and does not make any effort to
 determine the true nature of those beliefs.

 7. BSA judges members by its own very sectarian standards, NOT by the
 standards of their OWN religion.

 8. BSA takes it upon itself to determine whether a member performs his
 "duty to God" and completely ignores the members' religious leaders (as
 BSA has twice ignored my minister's written certification that I do
 perform my "duty to God" in accordance with Unitarian Universalist
 teachings).

 9. BSA very definitely makes members' specific religious beliefs its business
 (even to the point of sending uniformed officials to the individual's place
 of business and interrogating him there about his religious beliefs,
 expelling him when he told them, quite correctly, that that was none of
 their business).

 10. BSA's attitude towards the religious training of its members is very
 definitely sectarian.


As noted above, while there is no specific rule requiring "belief in God",
the Oath does including doing one's "duty to God".  However, BSA officially
refuses to define or interpret that term and leaves said defining and
interpreting entire up to the individual's own religious leaders and
tradition.  This is as it should be.  In response to my minister's letter
to BSA National, dated 20 Jun 91, asking why non-Buddhist non-theists
are given the bum's rush while Buddhist non-theists are welcome, BSA said,
without addressing the question of Buddhists being non-theists, that
Buddhists "do their duty to God in accordance with Buddhist teachings."
Taken at face value, this would indicate that BSA would allow for non-theistic
forms of "duty to God"; ie, that "duty to God" in a non-theistic religion does
not require belief in a "supreme being" god.

This is supported by the definition of "duty to God" offered by the World
Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), with which BSA is affiliated and
whose rules BSA is required to obey (according to BSA's own claims in court
in the Welsh Trial).  That definition, as posted on CompuServe by a Canadian
Scouter who ironically was trying to support BSA religious discrimination,
follows:

        "Duty to God -- Under the title 'Duty to God', the first of the
        above-mentioned principles of the Scout Movement is defined as
        '__adherence to spiritual principles, loyalty to the religion that
        expresses them and acceptance of the duties resulting therefrom__'.  
        It should be noted that, by contrast to the title, the body of the
        text does not use the word 'God', in order to make it clear that the
        clause also covers religions which are non-monotheistic, such as
        Hinduism, or those which do not recognize a personal God, such as
        Buddhism."

This is how Buddhists can "do their duty to God in accordance with Buddhist
teachings" when Buddhism not only does not include a belief in God, but the
Buddha had actually actively taught against belief in any of the gods.
Buddhists adhere to spiritual principles and are loyal to the
religion which expresses them, even though those spiritual principles not only
do not include belief in a personal god, a supernatural "supreme being," but
would actually suffer from inclusion of such a belief.  Non-theist Buddhists
do indeed "do their duty to God in accordance with Buddhist teachings" without
need for belief in a "supreme being, just as non-theist Unitarians do their
"duty to God" in accordance with Unitarian teachings and equally well without
need for belief in a "supreme being."


 >  -- Supreme Being --
 >  Is this a change of heart, an instance of hairsplitting, or plain
 >  ignorance?

BSA has amply demonstrated its ignorance of religion by blithely assuming that
ALL religions have the same beliefs as Christianity; they just use different
names for the same thing.  That was expressed in 1911 in the first Handbook
for Boys (page 249):

 "There are many kinds of religion in the world .  One important point,
 however, about them is that they all involve the worship of the same God.
 There is but one leader, although many ways of following Him."

[Page 250 contains the wording which still form part of the Declaration of
Religious Principle.]

Then in his 2 Aug 1985 letter to the New York Times, UUA President Dr. William
Schulz reported:

 "Raul Chavez, Communications Director of the BSA, claimed on the July 30
 Phil Donahue Show that belief in God as a "supreme Being" is common to all
 religions and therefore to require that belief as a prerequisite to Scout
 membership does not violate the non-sectarian nature of the organization.
 Unfortunately for Mr. Chavez, theological knots are far more intricate than
 the knots with which the Scouts are used to dealinq."

And when I tried to talk with my council's Scout Exec, the infamous
Kent Gibbs, he proclaimed his total ignorance about religion while at
the same time playing BSA's "God is whatever you say it is" game ["God
is whatever you say it is.", "Well, then, God could be ______.", "Oh,
no, that's not what it is.", "Well then what is God?", "God is whatever
you say it is.", ... ad infinitum, ad nauseum].  This was right before
he arbitrarily passed judgement on my religious beliefs.

So, yes, ignorance certain seems to play a very big part in BSA's actions.

However, the position of Relationships Division Director seems to affect the
person occupying it.  While all the rest of BSA can be fat, dumb, and happy
regarding religion and do whatever they damned well please without having to
answer for their actions or even to think about what they are doing (at least
this is how BSA conducts itself; the strongly centralized control by National
helps to cultivate this Nuernburg mentality), Relationships Division Director
DOES have to think about it because it is his job to explain BSA religious
policy to the outside and he has to be able to do so coherently and
intelligently.

Since officially published BSA religious policy is quite clear and explicit,
as I had outlined above, it seems inevitable the Relationships Division
Director to find himself drifting inexoribly away from the mainstream
attitudes at National, where official BSA policy is ignored and violated
at will.  This also seems to make the position of Relationships Division
Director a precarious one.

As Relationships Division Director in 1985, William McCleery III officially
explained BSA's position as:

        "It is NOT our POLICY to require a belief in a 'supreme being' in
        order to be a member of the Boy Scouts of America, adult or youth.  
        We do require adherence to the 'declaration of religious principles'
        for adults and adherence to the Scout Oath and Law for youth.  
        Interpretation and definition of 'duty to God' is not our business!  
        It is the business of parents and
        religious leaders."  (Letter from William McCleery III, BSA National
        Director, Relationships Division, 26 August 1985)

In the 1991 Welsh trial, which was directly created by BSA's abandonment of
its official religious policy in favor of reinstating a "supreme being" rule,
McCleery gave a deposition.  However, he was answering the questions too
truthfully, so , shortly into the deposition, the BSA lawyer had to take
McCleery off to the side, after which his answers were considerable more
guarded.  Within the year, McCleery had been replaced by Donald L. Townsend.

Townsend seemed to come into office as a full-fledged BSA lackey; one of his
first acts was to expel the UUA.  But then by 21 Dec 1994, after having had a
few years to think about official policy, he came out with this statement:

 "The Boy Scouts of America does not require you to belong to a specific
 church, temple or synagogue nor does it require a belief in a supreme
 being."

Elliott Welsh had also received a copy of this letter.  When he next saw BSA
head lawyer George Davidson in a homosexual case in Chicago, he asked George
about BSA's change of heart.  George Davidson acted as if he knew absolutely
nothing about the letter.

But then I included a copy of the letter in my Oct 1995 inquiry into my review
(which BSA has been delaying and stonewalling me on for over four years) and
pointed out that I had held and supported that letter's position all along,
Western Regional suddenly responded by tossing that hot potato into National's
lap.  A couple months later, I was informed by a Scouting Forum participant
that Townsend had been replaced as Relationships Division Director.

Woe be to an honest man in BSA.

 David C. Wise
 72747...@compuserve.com
 dwi...@aol.com


[PROPOSED LIBRARY SUBMISSION OF TOWNSEND LETTER]

Almost all of the past decade's BSA religious problems that we've
witnessed and experienced stem almost directly from BSA's implementation
of a rule requiring belief in a "Supreme Being."  Interestingly, no such
rule can be found to exist anywhere and such a rule would directly
violate BSA's officially published religious policies of not defining
nor interpreting "God," "belief in God," "duty to God," nor the practice
of religion.  Instead, BSA officially leaves such definitions and
interpretations entirely up to the member's family and religious leaders
and, indeed, several definitions and interpretations of these terms have
nothing at all to do with the idea of a "Supreme Being."  The problems
started when BSA heavy-handedly imposed its own "Supreme Being"
definition and interpretation on those religions which do not share that
specific and sectarian belief and expelling and excluding individuals
solely on that basis.
   

However, officially BSA does not require belief in a "Supreme Being" and
BSA has recently acknowledged that fact again in an official letter.  A
copy of that letter follows this intro, but first a little background
information.


In the early 1980's, BSA briefly experimented with a definition of "God"
as any "Supreme Being", thus attempting to broaden "duty to God" by
explicitly separating it from Judeo-Christian ideas of divinity.
Apparently, BSA honestly believed that ALL religions worship a "Supreme
Being", however, that is not the case (Buddhists, Unitarians, Taoists,
and Confucianists being the most obvious examples).  When that
supreme-being rule caused the expulsion of Unitarian Star Scout Paul
Trout in 1985, the ensuing uproar caused BSA to reconsider that rule and
BSA ended up reinstating Scout Trout (who went on to earn his Eagle) and
immediately dropping the "Supreme Being" wording as a "mistake" (Ben
Love's own word for it).

At the time, BSA issued an official statement of their position in a
letter to a Unitarian minister:

 "It is NOT our POLICY to require a belief in a 'supreme being' in order
        to be a member of the Boy Scouts of America, adult or youth.  We do
        require adherence to the 'declaration of religious principles' for
        adults and adherence to the Scout Oath and Law for youth.
        Interpretation and definition of 'duty to God' is not our business!  
        It is the business of parents and religious leaders."
        (Letter from William McCleery III, BSA National Director,
        Relationships Division, 26 August 1985)

But then a few years later, Ben Love started enforcing that "supreme
being" rule again, even though nobody could find that rule anywhere.  BSA
became very ruthless in its expulsion and exclusion of individuals
strictly on the grounds of belief in a "supreme being" and then blocked
all attempts by its victims to resolve the problem (and still does so
despite the retirement of Ben Love).  Even though Ben Love had personally
promised the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)
face-to-face that BSA would observe its religious policies as given in the
Interpretive Statement, he broke his word (so much for Scout's Honor) and
violated those policies willfully.  Whereas DOZENS of letters of protest
had resulted in Paul Trout's reinstatement, BSA now routinely ignores
THOUSANDS of letters of protest.


And now on 21 December 1994 BSA again stated officially that it does not
require belief in a "supreme being", though National's lawyers seem to be
denying that any such statement has been made.  The salient statement is:

 "The Boy Scouts of America does not require you to belong to a specific
 church, temple or synagogue nor does it require a belief in a supreme
 being."


That letter follows:

                                                 National Office
                                1325 West Walnut Hill Lane
        P.O. Box 152079, Irving, Texas 75015-2079
                                         214-580-2000


December 21, 1994


[ Recipient's name and address removed to guard his privacy ]


Dear Mr. [recipient]:


Charles Pigott has shared your correspondence with me and asked me to
respond.

Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has had an ongoing
commitment to encourage moral, ethical and spiritual growth of our youth.
It has been our opinion that no boy can grow into the best kind of citizen
without recognizing a duty to God.  Scouting is not a religion but Duty to
God is a basic tenet of the Scout Oath and Law.  Virtually every religion
is represented in the membership of Scouting and therefore the Boy Scouts
of America does not attempt to define or interpret God.  The Boy Scouts of
America does not require you to belong to a specific church, temple or
synagogue nor does it require a belief in a supreme being.  Any Scout that
can repeat the Scout Oath and Law in good conscience is welcome to
participate.

The Declaration of Religious Principle was part of the foundation upon
which the Boy Scouts of America was built.  Over 90 million young
Americans and adults have enjoyed a quality Scouting program based on
traditional family values and the Declaration of Religious Principle.  We
appreciate that there are some individuals who may disagree with our
standards.  The BSA respects the rights of others to disagree. Conversely,
we expect those who do not believe in our standards to exercise the same
respect for the rights and values of the BSA.

Thank you for your interest and past support of the Scouting program.


Yours in Scouting,

[signed]

Donald L. Townsend, Director
Relationships Division

--
Larry A. Taylor, UCLA Computer Science
lta...@cs.ucla.edu
You don't have to read this, it's only a standard disclaimer.
  Trust me. I'm almost a doctor.