UU Humanists Engage UUA on New Boy Scouts Memorandum of Understanding

The Unitarian Universalist Association recently signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) a move toward reconciliation after years of separation. This MOU was pursued at the direction of the 1999 General Assembly, which passed an Action of Immediate Witness calling upon the UUA to, as President Peter Morales writes, “seek reinstatement of the curriculum and emblem and to encourage UUs to join scouting to work for change within that organization.” The MOU also came after the BSA had taken significant steps toward inclusion of gay scouts and leaders.

However, UU humanists, agnostics, and atheists, along with others in the freethought community, expressed deep concern around the BSA’s continued insistence on a belief in God in its membership policies and bylaws. Seeking to work with the UUA to understand better the MOU and to ensure the place of humanism in any UU-connected scouting, an ad hoc committee consisting of three board members (all senior Humanist ministers) and the president of the UU Humanist Association met with UUA President Peter Morales and sent a follow-up letter.

The Committee was reassured on several levels while also finding the need to continue working for the “change within [the BSA]” called for by the Action of Immediate Witness.

As Morales pointed out, “the MOU explicitly refers to Humanist teachings as one of Unitarian Universalism’s sources of wisdom.” Morales went on to note the importance of humanists individually within Unitarian Universalism, saying, “Our faith affirms the worth of every person and affirms many ways to live a good and moral life. We cherish and respect the humanists, agnostics, and atheists among us. They are our ministers, our Sunday school teachers, our parishioners, leaders within the UUA and wider movement—and we look forward to their being scouts and scout troop leaders.”

Morales pointed to several ways that the UUA hopes to see the BSA continue to grow their inclusion, “especially around the issues of religious inclusion and gender identity. We feel that these are issues that UUs are wellsuited to addressing, and we are committed to engaging in an ongoing conversation with the BSA about them.” In other words, Morales hopes that this new MOU allows the UUA to pursue change more rigorously and with greater success than we were able to while separated from the BSA. He specifies, “With this MOU, the UUA will have a representative on the BSA’s Religious Relations Committee. At this table...the UUA is committed to voicing our values for radical inclusion.” Morales also points out that on the local scouting level, the individual congregation hosting a scout troop holds the highest authority — even higher than that of the BSA. In other words, even while the UUA is working for more inclusive BSA language, congregations are free to ignore the current religious language offered by the BSA, and Morales certainly expects that UU congregations will. He writes, ”Just as our congregations provide community for theists and humanists, Christians and Jews, pagans and Buddhists, we hope that congregations will sponsor troops that are diverse and welcoming and thus be models of inclusiveness.”

Morales made the point that this is just an initial step in a continuing process. “The Unitarian Universalist Association, even while moving with gratitude into this new relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, recognizes that the BSA’s requirement for scouts and leaders to affirm a religious belief is at odds with our noncreedal faith tradition. We will continue to work to move the BSA toward greater inclusion.”

The Board of the UU Humanist Association (UUHA) is disappointed that a strong and immediate refutation of the BSA’s belief requirement by the UUA doesn’t seem to be in order. John Hooper, the president of the UUHA said:

“What concerns us most about the MOU is the uncertainty that its implementation will truly make optional the BSA’s onerous (to some) ‘duty to God’ requirements that currently apply to membership and at virtually every level of advancement. However, we see this as a disagreement in tactics, not substance. Peter told me that he believes, along with his UUA colleagues who are closest to the BSA discussions, that we can get further by taking several steps. The UUHA has offered to do all we can to help the UUA fulfill the long overdue response to the 1999 UUA General Assembly Action of Immediate Witness, which also calls for scouts ‘to be treated equally and fairly despite their religious beliefs or the degree to which their families may practice them.’”

Peter Morales plans to join UUs and other interested attendees for breakfast at the American Humanist Association Annual Conference in Chicago on Sunday, May 29, 2016, where he will address this and other issues important to Humanism and Unitarian Universalism.

The UU Humanists will continue to work with Peter and the UUA as the MOU is put into practice. We understand the need for longterm relationships to change systems from within — even while we decry the currently noninclusive religious language offered by the BSA. We look forward to a time when the UUA’s work has paid real dividends, and we can celebrate national BSA language that includes people of all and of no faith as respected ethical agents and strong leaders. We especially urge the UUA representative on the BSA’s Religious Relations Committee to repudiate BSA discrimination against nonbelievers and actively strive for the elimination of the requirement that an atheist or humanist individual and/or his parent must sign a declaration of belief in God in order to participate fully as a BSA scout or leader.

Amanda Poppei's picture

Amanda Poppei is the Immediate Past President of the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association (UUHA), Senior Leader at Washington Ethical Society in Washington, DC, which is affilitated with both the American Ethical Union and the Unitarian Universalist Association. She is also an at-large member of the board of the UU Humanist Association.

Amanda has a Masters of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC and a BA in Religious Studies from Yale University. She was the ministerial intern at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, MD, and served as a chaplain at the Washington Hospital Center, where she completed a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. In 2007, Amanda won the National Capital Area Big Sister award from Hermanos y Hermanas Mayores/Big Brothers Big Sisters for her work with a little sister, with whom she has been "matched" for more than seven years. She also received the 2006 Anti-Racism Sermon Award from the Joseph Priestly District of the Unitarian Universalist Association for a piece entitled "The Tip of the Iceberg." Amanda is a Unitarian Universalist minister, and has a strong background in interfaith work from her chaplaincy and seminary experiences. Before attending seminary, she worked as a fundraiser for a national literacy nonprofit.