The youth organization is finally reconsidering its ban on gay members. But it looks like another taboo will remain for a long time.
Now that the Boy Scouts of America is reconsidering mandatory discrimination against gay men and boys, might the organization also consider ending its mandatory religious discrimination, targeting non-believers? Not likely. Gay and lesbian people still encounter bias, of course, but in increasingly isolated segments of society. Bias against atheists remains much more respectable.
Secularist groups have protested government support for the Scouts, given its exclusion of the godless, but with a predictable lack of success or support, even from gay rights groups fighting the exclusion of gay people. The Human Rights Campaign, which courts religious groups, declined to join protests of the BSA's ban on atheists. GLAAD celebrates the proposed elimination of a national ban on gay scouts and leaders, without apparent concern that only godly gay people will benefit from it. But if gay atheists feel abandoned by gay rights groups, their abandonment was probably politic.
A majority of Americans would likely offer at least mild support for the BSA's officially non-sectarian, religious requirements, just as they support the recitation of prayers at every presidential inaugural. To qualify as a Boy Scout (or, it seems, as president), you have to swear a loyalty oath to God as well as country. And you have to subscribe to this Declaration of Religious Principle:
The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God ... 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.
"Whatever," non-believers might respond, many of whom probably joined the Scouts by professing fealty to these assertions with the same insincerity and resentment that I mouthed the words to the New York state prayer in elementary school. Reciting that prayer annoyed and alienated but didn't harm me. In fact, it helped shape my commitment to rights of speech and silence, which perhaps made me a better citizen, although not in ways that the drafters of the prayer intended.