This spring Scout Master and fellow humanist, Jeff Cook, approached me about supporting the creation of a humanist workbook for scouts who desire to earn a humanist medal as part of Boy Scouts of America’s Religious Emblems Programs.
The Religious Emblems Programs, according to the Boy Scouts of America, “are programs created by the various religious groups to encourage youth to grow stronger in their faith.” These emblems are approved by the Boy Scouts of America and, once earned, are worn on the official uniform. At present, there are 26 religious groups represented within the Emblems Programs including not only Christian and Jewish denominations, but also Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Jain, Meher Baba, Moravian, and Nazarene faiths. However, still not represented are the unwelcomed atheists, humanists, and non-religious.
The 105-year relationship with the Church of Latter-Day Saints and other organizations has led the scouts to become more conservative. But with the 2013 acceptance of gay members and 2017 opening the doors to transgender boys and enrollment of girls, things have started to shift away from century-old stances on membership. In a public statement on the changing status of the scouts’ membership and rebranding, Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh said, “As we enter a new era for our organization, it’s important that all youth can see themselves in Scouting in every way possible. That’s why it’s important that the name for our Scouting program for older youth remain consistent with the single name approach used for the Cub Scouts.”
So with the launching of its new name “Scouts BSA” and its changing organization perspective “Scout Me In,” Jeff Cook and I believe the timing is right to re-approach the topic of acknowledging and welcoming atheists, humanists, and non-religious amongst their ranks. Despite the Scout Oath that specifically states “I will do my best to do my duty to God,” we are forging ahead with creating a humanist scout workbook based on the American Humanist Association’s Ten Commitments.
The AHA Ten Commitments is a character education tool. Its original purpose was to provide guiding principles on teaching values in American public schools. However, when Jeff sent his first scout workbook draft it occurred to me the Commitments provided a perfect framework for scouts to practice humanism. The Ten Commitments outlines basic tenets of humanism such as promoting a democratic world that values and respects every individual’s worth and dignity, and adhering to being globally responsible and personally sustainable.
The kid version of the Ten Commitments includes:
- Altruism: “I will help others without hoping for rewards.”
- Caring for the World around Us: “I will help take care of the Earth.”
- Critical Thinking: “I will question everything I’m not sure about.”
- Empathy: “I will stop to think about how others feel.”
- Ethical Development: “I will try to be truthful, kind, and fair.”
- Global Awareness: “I will be a good neighbor to the people who share the Earth with me and do what I can to make the world a better place for everyone.”
- Humility: “I will stand up for everyone’s right to be themselves and to find their own happiness.”
- Peace and Social Justice: “I will help people solve their problems and handle disagreements without fighting.”
- Responsibility: “I will tell the truth, help others, keep my promises, obey the law, and be a good citizen. This will give me a better life.”
- Serve and Participation: “I will help my community in ways that let me get to know those who need my help.”
Scouts will be able to earn their humanist medal through activities highlighting the humanist values and principles of the Ten Commitments. Scouts will be guided in acting altruistically and empathically towards others; showing care and concern for our earth; and displaying humility and ethically responsible behavior in working towards peace and social justice. Some of the activities developed coincide with existing Scout expectations, such as being a good family member or citizen, being of help to others, taking care of oneself, and keeping outdoor conservation in mind.
It’s our hope the Scouts BSA will recognize with this humanist medal how much we are striving for the same results in raising conscientious, respectful, ethical, and responsible young adults. And they uphold their new inclusive vision for all youth to see themselves in scouting whether they are gay, transgender, female, religious, or non-religious.