The Boy Scouts of America, since its founding in 1910, have always required its members to promise to do their Duty to God. In addition to the Boy Scout Oath and Law, the newly founded BSA organization drafted religious principles to guide its membership. While BSA has not changed these principles since 1910, it has paid it more lip service than not.
However, while the religious principles might not have changed, BSA has issued various position statements to either reaffirm and/or clarify them.
In 1970, BSA issued a new policy: "The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship . . ." On March 16, 1978, BSA added the words "Supreme Being" in its religious policy. Prior to this date, the words "Supreme Being" are not to be found in BSA's religious policy. On October 10, 1985, the BSA National Executive Board approved a
resolution reaffirming BSA's position on Duty to God. On June 12, 1991, the BSA National Executive Board once again approved another resolution reaffirming BSA's position on Duty to God.
One might wonder why BSA felt the need to keep passing resolutions reaffirming BSA's religious principles. As it turns out, while BSA's Declaration of Religious Principles have not changed since 1910, American society and culture had.
The first publicly recorded incident regarding the BSA's religious
policy was in 1970 when Life Scout James Clark was denied advancement to Eagle Scout when he declared he was an atheist at his board of review. After the incident became public, the BSA reversed itself when Clark's father stated that his son was "not old enough to be committed to a philosophy" and the pastor of the church which chartered the troop "recalled...that the youth led prayers at the meetings." This incident caused the BSA to issue their new policy (mentioned above).
In 1973, Claude Taylor, a 10-year-old Cub Scout, was expelled for crossing out "God" from the Cub Scout promise. I doubt many could imagine such a thing happening in 1950s America, much less the professional BSA employees who ran BSA in 1973.
In 1985, 15-year-old Paul Trout of West Virginia, was denied promotion to Life Scout because he was not religious. Not only was
he denied the rank of Life Scout, but his membership in Scouting was terminated. This incident for the first time publicized BSA's religious membership requirement in both the print and network news coverage. Paul, and others, were even on the The Phil Donahue Show to discuss the issue. Given the publicity the incident caused, you can understand why a reaffirmation was needed in 1985. Especially as BSA reinstated Paul as a Scout.
In 1991, another reaffirmation resolution was needed because BSA was being sued for refusing to allow a father (Elliott Welsh) to register as his son's (Mark Welsh) Tiger Cub Adult Partner.
Tiger Cub Adult Partners have to complete a BSA adult leader application which includes the applicant's agreement to the Declaration of Religious Principles. The father refused to sign such a
declaration, and he and his son were asked to leave.
In 1990, Mark Welsh filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against BSA on the grounds of religious discrimination.
In 1991 two nine-year-old twins, William and Michael Randall, were
expelled from their Cub Scout Pack when they refused to say the word "God" in the Cub Scout Oath. They filed a lawsuit and were later reinstated by the Courts, pending continuing legal action.
Since 1980, there have been several other lawsuits against the BSA for religious discrimination. To date, BSA has won all of them.
However, for every lawsuit filed, that one incident represents
countless other incidents which were never challenged in the courts. One example, in a 1992 article (The Chronicle of Philanthropy), Emory Saladin, an 11-year-old boy "whose father was dismissed as a Cub Scout leader several years ago because he would not sign a required religious declaration, said the Boy Scouts officials "kind of felt like people who didn't believe in God didn't deserve to live.""
In 2002, BSA's religious policy shifted once again when it
expelled a 19-year-old Eagle Scout -- Darrell Lambert -- for not being able to express a belief in a "Supreme Being."
This section has information and resources on both the lawsuits against BSA and the issue of how a Scout can fulfill his Duty to God.
Realizing the importance of spirituality to the worldwide Scouting movement, it is interesting to find that many Scouting Associations
do not require their members to pledge themselves to do their Duty to God.
In the United States, on October 23, 1993, in a landslide 1,560-375 vote, the Girls Scouts of America adopted a measure to permit any of its 2.6 million members to substitute another word or phrase for "God" in their Oath. In an official statement at the time, GSA President B. LaRae Orullian stated that the change is "a very strong
statement that Girl Scouts continue to be on the cutting edge, and this is a continuing effort to show that we have strength in diversity and that we are an inclusive organization."