Since FFRF instituted its atheist badge program for those in Boy Scouts (or Girl Scouts), we have sent out 38 badges to those who have earned them.
Scouts who wish to earn this badge are asked to help disprove BSA’s misguided claim that nonbelievers cannot be good citizens. The Scout is required to send FFRF a short essay that addresses BSA’s claim that nonbelievers can’t be good citizens.
To apply for a badge, submit a brief essay, which should include your full name, age, mailing address and contact information to: [email protected]
The following are excerpts from the essays of some of the Scouts who gave earned an “A” badge (and who gave FFRF permission to use their names).
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I am an atheist Eagle Scout. I earned the highest rank almost two years ago, but I recently left Boy Scouts for many reasons. Among them was the fact that I felt closeted at Scout meetings. I had finally had it after enduring six years of a prayer before and after meetings and even being coerced into saying a prayer before my troop on numerous occasions.
I follow all the 12 points of the Scout law except one: Reverent. I cannot pledge my duty to a God which I do not believe exists. And to my leaders, that is reason enough to say that I am not an Eagle, that I have broken the Scout Oath. Although, to me it feels more like an Oath of Silence.
I think it is just wrong for the BSA to judge someone solely on their beliefs. I have good atheist friends from Scouts who I know are good people. I also know some rotten theists who earn the Eagle rank. This shows that whether or not someone believes in God has no bearing on their character and their ability to earn the Eagle Scout rank.
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This essay is from our Girl Scout Troop. We are 6th- and 7th-graders from Long Island, N.Y.
We strongly believe that everyone on this Earth is born to be good, regardless of their beliefs and culture. Growing up, our parents are our examples of how to be good people and citizens of our country. Religion is a learned custom or belief and if our parents don’t have one, we as children will have to learn and believe what we are taught. There is nothing necessarily wrong with believing in a higher power, as it can be inspirational and a way to guide you in your life.
Being a good citizen embodies both the Boy Scouts’ and Girls Scouts’ laws. Doing good deeds daily is more important than preaching from a human-written book. Serving your fellow humans, especially in our military, is such a big sacrifice that it’s the ultimate show of service for others. That’s just one example of good citizenship.
Being Girl Scouts, we have done quite a lot of service within our community and it’s very fulfilling to do good for others without any payment. Service to others is our way of showing that a good deed shows good character. When we serve others, it is how we show compassion, kindness, love, care and empathy to others.
Belonging to a religion is just a belief, while being a good person shows character, strength and conviction that will help make the world a better place.
Troop 3537, Wantagh, N.Y.
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I am an Eagle Scout. In my Eagle Board of Review, one of the last questions they asked me was if there was anything I would change about Scouting. I said I felt the organization was very theocentric and would have liked it better if it didn’t endorse one religion over another. They assured me that they believed the BSA tried its hardest to make things as inclusive as possible. However, there are dozens of examples where this is false: Prayers at meals, church services, the Twelfth Point of the Scout Law (Reverence), and other constant admissions of faith. Personally, I have always taken the Twelfth Point to mean that I should respect the fact that there are those who disagree with me, and that I should respect their right to. However, I doubt anyone out of my troop would accept that. In fact, when I was being coached for my Board of Review, I was told that many reviewers would not pass me if I did not make an admission of faith. Thankfully, I was not asked. I have no doubt that eventually Scouting will discard these shackles of favoritism and truly embrace all walks of life.
Frank J. Yagl
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Luckily for me, I never experienced any of the problems that so many other atheist Scouts have, but that could be due to the fact that all of my troops were sponsored by the U.S. military rather than churches. The only time religion had any impact other than lip-service in the Scout Oath and Law, was when it came to rank. I left Scouts at 17 with a rank of “Life Scout.” While my leaving was not directly tied to the fact that I am a lifelong atheist, the fact I left as a Life Scout was, as I had no way of obtaining the required letter of “religious recommendation” for my Eagle Scout badge, without violating the Scouting ideals of trustworthiness and honor.
Despite the BSA’s admonition “that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God,” I feel that I have done just that, starting with the fact that I refused to compromise my morals even though it meant I would never attain something that I had spent (at that point) so much of my life working toward.
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What is it that makes an “obligation to God” valuable? It is obvious that such an obligation can result in both good and bad consequences. It is obligation to God that causes jihads, legitimizes homophobia and stifles critical thinking skills. On the other hand, obligation to God can help teach moral lessons and can provide incentives for helping others. However, I have yet to see any demonstrably good deed that could only be achieved by the religious. Atheists are perfectly capable of serving the community and bettering themselves, not out of obligation to God, but out of obligation to themselves and to their community.
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I’m 35, and I became an eagle scout in 1999, while having become an atheist in 1997 and mostly keeping quiet about it, due to a variety of reasons a teenage boy might in a world where he was already struggling to become an adult among adults who held their imaginary friend in such high regard.
In my own way, I’ve been fighting for your cause for decades. With the country in its current incarnation, I felt it was important to get these words out in the public eye as often as I could.
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I’m an Eagle Scout — at least I used to be one, until I returned my pin to the BSA 15 years ago because of the organization’s stance on atheism. I’m so happy to see the new FFRF atheism merit badge and would love to add one to my heavily adorned sash. I wrote a piece for the Washington Post (wapo.st/2IYUVr4) about my action back in 2002. It is shameful that the BSA has not yet seen the light.