Last week, a group of atheist and agnostic organizations, led by the American Humanist Association, sent a letter to Barack Obama urging him to decline the invitation to become honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America, a role accepted by every American president beginning with William Taft in 1910 (when the organization was founded).
The letter reads:
Dear President-Elect Barack Obama:
In light of your campaign promise to bring the nation together in a spirit of change we need, we, the undersigned nontheist organizations, urge you to take this opportunity to signify that discrimination against atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other nontheists will not be condoned.
Thus we write to urge you to decline the title and role of honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America. The BSA has acted vigorously in recent years to expel atheist and agnostic members and employees. This policy expresses the Declaration of Religious Principle, Bylaws of Boy Scouts of America, part. IX, § 1, cl. 1:
The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law." 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 and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.
The BSA has elected to set itself apart as a private organization that may discriminate in ways contrary to the laws and practices required of local, state, and federal authorities. Accepting the title and role of honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America would thus send the message that institutional discrimination against people who don’t happen to believe in a god is acceptable.
Many presidents of the United States have taken on the title of honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America. However, this tradition was established when discrimination against nontheists was, unfortunately, socially acceptable. Given that nontheists now make up a sizeable minority of the American population-having more numbers than Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews combined-the BSA is clearly out of touch with the spirit of pluralism, tolerance, and inclusiveness that compose today’s American values. By contrast, in 1993 the Girl Scouts of the United States of America adopted more inclusive policies.
Therefore, please decline the title and role of honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America until such time as the organization reforms its bylaws and practices to be non-discriminatory.
Yours in Unity,
American Ethical Union
American Humanist Association
Atheist Alliance International
Center for Atheism
Center for Inquiry
Center for Naturalism
Council for Secular Humanism
Freedom From Religion Foundation
Institute for Humanist Studies
International Federation for Secular & Humanistic Judaism Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers Secular Coalition for America Secular Student Alliance Society for Humanistic Judaism