Seeing as you found your way to the internet, I’m sure you know that Barack Obama will become President of the United States next Tuesday. But his electoral victory also puts him on track to lead another massive national organization: The Boy Scouts of America. Every president since William Taft has accepted the BSA’s honorary invitation, but there are growing questions about whether Obama should and/or will do so.
Among those voicing concerns are a group of non-theistic organizations who sent a letter to Obama imploring him to reject the title. They accuse the BSA of actively purging atheist and agnostic members and employees from the organization, and object to article IX, § 1, cl. 1 of the BSA bylaws, which states that “no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God.”
The BSA is indeed a private organization and has the backing of the Supreme Court to enact its discriminatory policies. That being said, Obama has the right (perhaps even the responsibility) to publicly frown upon an organization that not only bars boys on the basis of their beliefs about God, but also teaches those boys who do make the theological cut that there is something fundamentally ‘Un-American’ about atheists and agnostics.
I can understand Obama’s hesitancy to spend his political capital on a symbolic gesture when so many policy opportunities in the religious liberty arena need attention, but this is a chance to send a message: the religious beliefs of all Americans will be valued and respected in the new administration. At the very least, if Mr. Obama does accept, he should use his honorary bully pulpit to try and bring “change we can believe in” to the Boy Scouts of America.