Declaration of Religious Principle
From the earliest days of the Boy Scouts of America, the charter and bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America recognized the scout’s and the scouter’s duty to God.
“The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God and, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and organization or group with which a member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.”
Declaration of Religious Principle
But from the earliest days of the Boy Scouts of America, the organization also understood that it was not a church, a synagogue, temple, or mosque. The Boy Scouts of America understood then and continues today to understand that it is absolutely nonsectarian, and that it is the duty of the parents and the religious organization to which the family is connected to provide guidance and education in the spiritual development of the youth.
The Boy Scouts of America understood then that in order for the movement to reach all youth in America, it must embrace the plurality of faiths practiced by the people of America. Although the scouting movement in America originated with the YMCA, its first Chief Scout Executive, James West, understood that the organization must welcome and respect all beliefs and faith traditions. James West, during his 32 years as Chief Scout Executive, worked tirelessly to bring all faith traditions to the scouting movement.
Religious Organizations and Boy Scouts of America
Today we can proudly state that Boy Scouts of America serves the needs of all American youth, regardless of their families’ religion, faith or beliefs. Boy Scouts of America welcome to its ranks a diverse palette of faith traditions: Protestant and Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Ba’Hai, Zoroastrian, and Universalist Unitarian, among others. Even among this limited group of faith traditions that sponsor boy scout units and provide religious awards for their scouts, the views on nature of God range widely, including nontheistic, monothesitic, and polytheististic faiths. Faiths such as Buddhism and Jainsmi, do not consider the existence of a Creator God to be necessary, but rather focus on the individual’s thoughts and behaviors as a way of spiritual development.
Respect for the Convictions of Others
With the wide ranging perspectives on the nature of God embraced by Boy Scouts of America, including monotheistic, polytheistic, nontheistic beliefs, scout leaders and scouts alike must acknowledge that respecting the beliefs of others is a core principle taught in scouting. From the earliest days of the Boy Scouts of America, the organization defined the 12th point of the scout law, “Reverent,” as “...He is faithful in his religious duties, and respects the convictions of others in the matters of custom and religion.”
This point is further emphasized in the Declaration of Religious Principle, which may be found in Boy Scouts of America’ Charter and Bylaws.
The activities of the members of the Boy Scouts of America shall be carried on under conditions which show respect to the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion, as required by the twelfth point of the Scout Law, reading, “Reverent. A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.
Declaration of Religious Principle
The activities of Boy Scouts of America to be carried out under conditions that show respect for the convictions of others include all unit, district, council and national activities: from troop or pack meetingss; from district roundtable meetings to council camporees and national jamborees. The activities of Boy Scouts of America to be carried out under conditions that show respect for the convictions of others include scoutmaster conference and boards of review, including Eagle boards of review that are held by the district or council.
Duty to God Requirement
Beginning in 2015, Boy Scouts of America has revised advancement requirements to include the question of Duty to God at each rank. Boy Scouts of America believes that the new duty to God requirements help to prepare youth as they advance through the program, and give the youth the opportunity for reflection and introspection on the youth’s beliefs. Boy Scouts of America has published guidance for scouters and scouts on the new Duty to God requirements, which may be found here.
Under the new Duty to God requirement, the scoutmaster or board of review members may ask a scout, “How have you done your duty to God.” This question may not become a dialog between the adult(s) and the youth. The adult(s) may not evaluate the youth’s response, applying standard of what is sufficient or insufficient in the youth’s response. Furthermore, it is no longer permissible for a scoutmaster or board of review to ask a scout to affirm a belief in God or a higher power. Although the parents or legal guardians of the youth affirm for the youth on the national application that the youth believes in God or a higher power, the Boy Scouts of America policy states “...the Scout should not be held to a standard of belief or activity…” In other words, scouts are not required to ascribe to specific statement of faith or religion.
Denying belief in God or a Higher Power during a conference or board of review will result in the conference or board of review being placed on hold and the parents being notified. However, as previously stated, the scout should never be asked to affirm his or her belief.
Embracing Diversity of Beliefs
Boy Scouts of America now recognizes and includes among its chartered partners a diverse group of faith traditions that have equally diverse views of the nature of God. Boy Scouts of America includes within its membership the Abrahamic religions, eastern monotheistic, polytheistic and nontheistic religions, all of whom view God or gods in different ways. Given the diverse faith traditions recognized by Boy Scouts of America, it is equally important for scouts and scouters to understand that that there is no wrong answer to the question “How do you do your duty to God?”
Scouts may have questions about the nature of God. Such questions are natural and proceed from reflection and introspection and lead to spiritual growth. Boy Scouts of America does not prescribe requirements that scouts adhere to specific faith or beliefs. Scouts should never be made to feel that they must explain or justify their beliefs. Indeed, Boy Scouts of America recognizes that the religious education and guidance in the development of the scout’s beliefs is the responsibility of the family and the religious organization to which the family is connected.
Duty to God
The Declaration of Religious Principle and the Scout Oath were drafted from a distinctly monotheistic view. However, the Boy Scouts of America welcome and include within its ranks, and, indeed, recognize through national committees and religious emblem programs, nontheistic and polytheistic, in addition to monotheistic religions.
Scouts and scout leaders across the country affirm that they will “do my duty to God and my country,” when their beliefs of the nature of God vary widely, and when no standard of belief exists within the Boy Scouts of America. Buddhists and Jains, for example may not believe in a Creator God, but nevertheless affirm that they will do their duty to God. Buddhists believe that the Buddhas were men who achieve enlightenment through their spiritual journeys, but are not God or gods per se. Jains hold similar beliefs, although they also hold that those who attain enlightenment become perfect like gods. Hindus affirm that they will “do my duty to God” when, in fact, many believe in not one God but many gods.
Addressing Questions about the Nature of God
With the change to the program in 2015, unit, district, and council personnel may ask a scout how he or she has done his or her duty to God. However, unit, district, and council personnel may not engage with the scout in a dialog about the nature of God to determine if the scout’s religious beliefs or religious practice meets some standard.
Scouts should be counseled to think carefully about how they do their duty to God. Do they respect the beliefs of others? Do they follow their own beliefs and practice the tenets of their faith? Do they treat others as they wish to be treated? Reflecting on these questions should help to inform a scout how to respond to the question, “How have you done your duty to God?”
Summary and Conclusions
Scouts should be prepared to respond to the question: “How have you done your duty to God?”
However, scouts cannot be required to affirm any specific belief, or ascribe to any specific religion’s tenets. Scouts cannot be required to declare membership with any religious organization. No standard may be applied in evaluating how scouts have done their duty to God.
If a scout declares or states a that the scout does not believe in God, the board of review will be placed on hold, and discussions will be held between the parents and the district or council personnel."