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Notes on Religious Values in Scouting
The Structure of Boy Scouting
Boy Scouting is an educational program developed and owned by the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America. The National Council, through assorted local councils (like the Great Sauk Trail Council which serves our area), licenses the program to different chartered organizations, to serve as one part of the chartered organization’s general program for youth. Chartered organizations include schools, PTO’s, churches, fraternal organizations, businesses and community groups. This can be described as a franchising operation; it is the chartered organizations - the schools, churches, and community groups - that actually own and operate a troop, while BSA only licenses the program. The troop and “the troop committee work on behalf of the chartered organization, [and] must be operated within the organization’s policies. The chartered organization must also approve all adult leaders.”1 The chartered organization - church, school, etc. - runs the troop, not the BSA.
This distinction is important, as it allows for considerable variation in program and emphasis, according to the needs of the youth program for each organization.
Religion and Boy Scouting
The Charter and Bylaws of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America adopt the following 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. 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 acknowledgement of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them. The Boy Scouts of America, 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 the organization or group with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.
Every Boy Scout leader is required to subscribe to this declaration of religious principle. Every Boy Scout is required to subscribe honestly to the Scout Oath and Law, which recognize “duty to God” and “reverence toward God” in order to be admitted to the program.
Troop 8 is chartered to St. Thomas the Apostle (Roman Catholic) church in Ann Arbor. As such, it forms a part of St. Thomas’ youth program, along with St. Thomas grade school, CCD (Sunday school) classes, the teen youth group, and assorted sports teams. The pastor of St. Thomas, as head of the chartered organization, is in charge of the troop. He must approve all troop leaders and Committee members. The troop is overseen by theTroop Committee, a group of parish and community volunteers appointed by the pastor.
St. Thomas has always welcomed participation by non-Catholics in our youth program, including our grade school and our scout troop activities. We believe that respectful sharing of religious belief and practice is important to all traditions. At present, half of our scoutmasters are non- Catholic. Our scouts and parents currently include Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Unitarians, and persons who do not adhere to a particular organized religion. Some of these joined after the demise of their own troop, some because of our extensive and active program, some because of affiliation with St. Thomas school, and some because of friends or schoolmates in Troop 8.
In keeping with the chartering rules of the Boy Scouts of America and with the character of our chartering organization, the Troop 8 program is not value or religion neutral. We teach, through outings, camping, service work, and example, the values inherent in the Scouting program, which are grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition. We encourage religious participation and the pursuit of Scouting’s religious awards as offered by the various denominations of our members. And we provide a program and a moral environment aligned with the tenets and beliefs of our chartering organization, the Roman Catholic Church of St. Thomas.
We recognize that some families may not feel comfortable with participation in a Catholic youth program, even one whose activities are generally not religious in character. We would be glad to help you locate a troop or other youth program more suited to your needs.