Obama Asked to Decline Honorary BSA Presidency

For Immediate Release: January 14, 2009
Contact: Henry Huber, Assistant Director of Communications
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

Accepting Boy Scouts of America Offer Would Send Message That Bigotry is Acceptable

Amherst, New York (January 13, 2009)—The Center for Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism, in collaboration with the American Humanist Association and seventeen other nontheistic organizations, have banded together to call for President-elect Barack Obama to decline an invitation by the Boy Scouts of America to receive the honorary presidency of the group. The BSA makes no attempt to downplay the fact that it does not allow a substantial segment of the population to join—and ejects members in good standing—for the simple reason that they do not believe in a deity. What these nontheistic groups perhaps find most offensive is the Scouting bylaw that claims, “no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God.”

“That the Boy Scouts discriminate is not disputed, and that should be sufficient to reject their offer,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, Center for Inquiry president and CEO.  “But significantly, the Boy Scouts discriminate based on the unfounded suspicion and fear of tens of millions of normal, ethical American citizens, who through their exercise of freedom of conscience doubt the existence of God. The claim of the Boy Scouts that nonbelievers cannot be good citizens is starkly at odds with President-elect Obama’s message of inclusion. ”

Noting the mandatory religious participation infused into every level of advancement in Scouting, both CFI and the Council expressed hope that Obama does not feel politically obligated to continue entangling the private religious organization with the religiously-neutral U.S. Government.

“The Boy Scouts enjoy many kinds of special treatment by the government, from the unusual Congressional charter that formed the organization to the free use of public lands for jamborees,” said Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of the Council’s flagship magazine, Free Inquiry. “The tradition that the President of the United States serves as honorary president of BSA is just the frosting on this towering cake of government support. If Barack Obama is going to be the kind of president his campaign rhetoric led us to expect, it is a tradition he should reject.”

The full text of the letter appears below:

January 13, 2009

Dear President-Elect Barack Obama:

In light of your campaign promise to bring the nation together in a spirit of change we need, we, the undersigned nontheist organizations, urge you to take this opportunity to signify that discrimination against atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other nontheists will not be condoned.

Thus we write to urge you to decline the title and role of honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America. The BSA has acted vigorously in recent years to expel atheist and agnostic members and employees. This policy expresses the Declaration of Religious Principle, Bylaws of Boy Scouts of America, art. IX, § 1, cl. 1:

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 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.

The BSA has elected to set itself apart as a private organization that may discriminate in ways contrary to the laws and practices required of local, state, and federal authorities. Accepting the title and role of honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America would thus send the message that institutional discrimination against people who don’t happen to believe in a god is acceptable.

Many presidents of the United States have taken on the title of honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America. However, this tradition was established when discrimination against nontheists was, unfortunately, socially acceptable. Given that nontheists now make up a sizeable minority of the American population-—having more numbers than Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews combined-—the BSA is clearly out of touch with the spirit of pluralism, tolerance, and inclusiveness that compose today’s American values. By contrast, in 1993 the Girl Scouts of the United States of America adopted more inclusive policies.

Therefore, please decline the title and role of honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America until such time as the organization reforms its bylaws and practices to be non-discriminatory.

Yours in unity,

American Atheists

American Ethical Union

American Humanist Association

Atheist Alliance International

Atheist Nexus

Camp Quest

Center for Atheism

Center for Inquiry

Center for Naturalism

Council for Secular Humanism

Freedom From Religion Foundation



Institute for Humanist Studies

International Federation for Secular & Humanistic Judaism

Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers

Secular Coalition for America

Secular Student Alliance

Society for Humanistic Judaism

The Center for Inquiry/Transnational, a nonprofit, educational, advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New York, is also home to the Council for Secular Humanism, founded in 1980; the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), founded in 1976; and the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health. The Center for Inquiry’s research and educational projects focus on three broad areas: religion, ethics, and society; paranormal and fringe-science claims; and medicine and health. The Center’s Web site is



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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.