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UUA & BSA - '98 Controversy


    In 1998, BSA once again decided to take issue with the religious teachings of the UUA, as presented in their religious emblem program, Religion in Life. Below is the correspondence between BSA and the UUA on this issue.

May 7, 1998 - Lawrence Ray Smith to Jennifer Harrison
Dr. Smith is Chair, Religious Relationships Committee, Boy Scouts of America
Ms. Harrison is Director, Youth Programs, UUA

June 11, 1998 - Rev. John Buehrens to Lawrence Ray Smith
Rev. Buehrens is President of the UUA

September 30, 1998 - Rev. John Buehrens to Lawrence Ray Smith

October 23, 1998 - Lawrence Ray Smith to John Buehrens

February 1999 - Summary of communication between Rev. Cynthia Breen, Rev. Keith Kron, and Thomas Deimler
Rev. Breen and Rev. Kron are members of the UUA staff. Mr. Deimler is the Director of the Relationships Division, Boy Scouts of America.

April 28, 1999 - Open letter from Rev. John Buehrens

May 7, 1999 - Lawrence Ray Smith to John Buehrens

May 18, 1999 - Open letter from UUA President John A. Buehrens

1999 - Letter to registered UU Scouters about the formation of the National Unitarian Universalist Association of Scouters, Incorporated
Mike Healy is a delegate from UU Area Church of Sherburne, Mass., also serves as the area president of Area 1 (the New England area) of the BSA.

May 7, 1998

Ms. Jennifer Harrison
Director, Youth Programs
Unitarian Universalist Association
25 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108-2800

Re: Religion in Life

Dear Ms. Harrison:

As you know, the Religious Relationships Committee is responsible for reviewing the content of the religious award manuals of the various religious organizations to ensure adherence to Boy Scouts policies. It has come to our attention that the UUA apparently has been recommending a version of the Religion in Life manual which was never submitted to or approved by the Committee for use in obtaining the Unitarian religious award in the Boy Scouting and Exploring programs.

This version of Religion in Life contains several statements which are inconsistent with Scouting's values. Boy Scouts is not a "secular organization" as stated in Religion in Life; Boy Scouts is an ecumenical organization which requires belief in God and acknowledgment of duty to God by its members. The reference to the "trouble" some Unitarian Universalists may have regarding the duty to God inappropriately incorporates doubt in an award process that is designed to forge a stronger link between a youth's Scouting values and religious life.

We note with considerable dismay that this version of Religion in Life also includes an official expression of disapproval of Boy Scouts' membership policies relating to known or avowed homosexuals. The Committee believes that this expression of disapproval has no place in a Boy Scouting/Exploring youth religious award manual.

The current version of Religion in Life does not adhere to Scouting policies and is inappropriate for distribution to Scouting youth in connection with the administration of the Religion in Life religious award. Until such time as the UUA materials can be redrafted to a form acceptable to the Committee, youth may not be awarded a Unitarian Universalist religious emblems in Scouting or wear the emblem on a Scout uniform. This includes the Love and Help emblem as well.

Sincerely,
Lawrence Ray Smith, PH.D.
Chair, Religious Relationships Committee
Boy Scouts of America
522 East Lane
Kerrville, Tx 75028
(210) 895-5936

June 11, 1998

Lawrence Ray Smith, Ph.D.
Chair, Religious Relationship Committee
Boy Scouts of America
522 East Lane
Kerrville, TX 78028

Dear Dr. Smith:

Our Youth Office received your letter of May 7 stating that Scouting youth may no longer be awarded the Unitarian Universalist Religion in Life award for Boy Scouts nor the Love and Help award for Cub Scouts. You do this because our manual for the Religion and Life award includes statements designed to help Unitarian Universalist youth deal with the tension that they may feel between Unitarian Universalist religious principles and certain aspects of BSA current policy, particularly with regard to discrimination against gay Scouts and leaders and with regard to those whose conscientious ethical and spiritual principles may not include a belief in God.

Surely the Religious Relationships Committee of the Boy Scouts of America cannot intend to tell a religious group what we may teach with regard to our own religious principles. We teach our youth, as a matter of religious principle, that discrimination against people simply by virtue of their belonging to a particular category of human being is wrong. We cannot be expected to ignore the question of discrimination against gay scouts and leaders in our guidance to boys studying our religious principles and history.

Unitarian Universalism also has a special openness, ministry and mission to those who may have trouble with traditional ideas about God. This too is a matter of religious principle with us. We know that we are not alone in regarding doubt, as well as piety, as a part of faith. Moreover, if a good Buddhist Boy Scout said, "No, I do not believe in a God," would you exclude that child for following the teachings of his own faith?

You attempt to define the Boy Scouts of America as an 'ecumenical' organization, and object to our reference to it as 'secular.' I believe that you misunderstand both words. 'Ecumenical' is a distinctively Christian term properly used only with regard to inter-Christian cooperation. It is not appropriate to an organization that aspires to inter-faith relationships. Rabbis and imams would not find it appropriate at all. Moreover, because the BSA is grounded in moral and civic values, but not in a particular religion per se, the term 'secular' is quite appropriate. Many BSA leaders, including members of the National Council, would repudiate the implication of your statement that the BSA is an entirely Christian organization. Or do you really wish to exclude Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and members of other minority faith communities?

Your committee is charged with a great responsibility: to help the BSA relate to the increasing religious pluralism of American society. Judging by your letter, you are in danger of failing in that task. You risk exposing the BSA to charges of discrimination -- not only against a sexual minority, but against entire religious groups, starting with Unitarian Universalism, a movement which has deep spiritual roots in America's commitment to religious freedom, to democratic values, and to minority rights.

Some of our congregations date back to the time of the Pilgrims; others are associated with the American Revolution, the abolitionist movement, the struggle for women's rights, for civil rights, etc. Our members have long cooperated with the BSA. Our churches sponsor troops, our members serve as adult leaders (some on the National Council), and our youth regularly win awards. Hundreds have received the Religion in Life award in recent years. I myself became a Life Scout, and attended a World Jamboree. As a pastor in New York City in 1990, I helped to organize a troop for boys then living in the city's welfare hotels.

Because of our long-standing concern for religious pluralism, we could be helpful to your committee. It saddens me when I see mistakes like your letter that threaten to deny Scouting and support of Scouting to boys who could benefit from it.

I have consulted Tom Deimler, the staff member of the BSA who works with your committee, and have agreed with him to take part in a meeting about all these issues in September or October. In the meantime, I must tell you that I believe that your letter has put your committee and the BSA in an untenable and nearly ridiculous position.

We will not acquiesce in such discrimination. We will not stop distributing a Religion and Life manual that reflects our religious principles. We will not stop providing Religion and Life awards and Love and Help emblems to Scouts and Scout leaders. If you and the BSA honestly believe that it will promote or defend Scouting to refuse our awards or to have Scout officials tear them off the uniforms of boys, I think that you are sadly mistaken. Most Americans will see such actions for what they are: blatant discrimination against children on the basis of their religion.

Yours regretfully,
John A. Buehrens
President
Unitarian Universalist Association

September 30, 1998

Lawrence Ray Smith, Ph.D.
Chair, Religious Relationship Committee
Boy Scouts of America
522 East Lane
Kerrville, TX 78028

Dear Dr. Smith:

Yesterday we had a very good meeting with Tom Deimler, Director of the Relationship Division of the BSA, and with Mike Healy, an active Unitarian Universalist who also serves as area president for the BSA in the Northeast region. We agreed on two steps that taken together would allow the UUA and the BSA to resume an appropriate relationship.

For our part, the UUA will publish a new, revised edition of the Religion in Life manual. While continuing to assert as a matter of religious principle our belief in the worth and dignity of every person -- regardless of race or creed, gender or sexual orientation, ability or disability -- the revised manual will be written so as not to offend the BSA in any way.

Authors of the new edition will be the Rev. Keith Kron of our Faith in Action Department and the Rev. Cynthia Breen, UUA Director of Religious Education, both of whom were present at the meeting. Where we feel it necessary to help Scouts working on the award or Scout leaders acting as advisors to more fully explore Unitarian Universalist understandings of 'duty to God' or current BSA policies, the new edition will simply reference other helpful publications available from our Youth Office. This will avoid including in a manual for a BSA award material which the BSA finds inappropriate.

In return, I ask that the Religious Relationships Committee invite a Unitarian Universalist representative to join the Committee. We think it appropriate, given our willingness to resolve this dispute over the Religion in Life manual, to be invited "inside the tent," as it were. There we hope to join other religious groups in a spirit of inter-faith cooperation, helping the BSA to meet constructively the varied challenges of diversity.

Since I would like to convey word of both these steps to the UUA Board of Trustees when they meet in Boston on October 24, it would be helpful if you could respond to me promptly following the meeting of your committee on October 13. Obviously, we would also like to see the Religion in Life award re-instated to official BSA recognition, and to convey to concerned Scouts and others news of this agreement in a timely fashion.

As we discussed with Mr. Deimler and Mr. Healy, there have been some regrettable mis-understandings in the past both about some BSA terms and procedures and about the UUA's intentions. We do, however, desire to have a constructive relationship in which each organization can be true to its own sense of mission.

I trust that you and the Committee will accept this letter as it is intended -- in a spirit of reconciliation and in the hope for relational renewal. Please recognize that we need in return a communication from you that will both welcome us to the Committee table and hold out hope for official reinstatement of the award once the new manual is published.
It would be good to have a letter from you that can be released soon along with mine.

Yours in hope,
John A. Buehrens
President

cc. Tom Deimler
Mike Healy

October 19,1998

Dr. John A. Buehrens, President
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
25 Beacon Street
Boston MA 02108

Dear Dr. Buehrens:

Thank you for your letter dated September 30, 1998, which I received on October 10, 1998. I'm pleased to learn that you had a very good meeting on September 29, 1998, with Tom Deimler, Director of the Relationships Division of the BSA and Mike Healy, active Unitarian Universalist and Area President for the BSA in the Northeast Region.

Regarding the manual for the Religion in Life and the Love and Help Awards, I'm glad that there is a mutual agreement to offer a revision acceptable to both of us. Let's move quickly to resolve this.

As chair of the National Religious Relationships Committee of the Boy Scouts of America, I am asking our Relationships Division Director, Tom Deimler, to work with the already designated members of your staff as the new editions of the booklets are developed. The material would then be reviewed by our Religious Relationships Committee. As you are aware, our concern is whether the revised material will be consistent with Scouting's values and appropriate for use by Scouts. If it is, we would
authorize the awards for use by Scouts and for display on Scout uniforms. At that point we can discuss the other matters in your letter.

Sincerely yours,
Lawrence Ray Smith, Ph.D., Chairman
Religious Relationships Committee

February 22, 1999 - Summary of communication between Rev. Cynthia Breen, Rev. Keith Kron, and Thomas Deimler. Rev. Breen and Rev. Kron are members of the UUA staff. Mr. Deimler is a member of the Religious Relationships Committee, Boy Scouts of America.

    The UUA has persisted with every reasonable effort to persuade the Boy Scouts of America to reinstate official recognition of the Religion in Life award for Boy Scouts and Explorers, as well as the Love and Help award for Cub Scouts.

    A complete revision of the Religion in Life manual has been prepared by the Rev. Cynthia Breen and the Rev. Keith Kron of the UUA staff. The revision is designed to respond to expressed BSA concerns, while maintaining a clear articulation of UU principles. The manual is used for religious education and coming of age programs as well as by Scouts. UUA President John Buehrens has written the foreword to the new 4th edition.

    The revision was submitted to the Religious Relationships Committee of the BSA in time for their meeting on Feb. 11. The response from the BSA indicated a desire for some further revisions. On Feb. 18, Breen and Kron sent a "final revision" to Thomas Deimler of the Religious Relationships Committee. They wrote, "We trust that the newly formed sub-committee assigned to review our situation will give this prompt attention."

February 26, 1999 - Thomas Deimler, head of the Scouts Religious Relationships division, contacted Rev. Cynthia Breen today, and indicated that his managers and the ad hoc committee looking at the UUA's boy scout manual revisions needed additional time to review the UUA's material and gather feedback.

    A reply from the BSA has been requested by March 1, so that the new edition can be printed before General Assembly.

April 28, 1999 - Open letter from Rev. John Buehrens, President, UUA

Dear Friends:

As you know, the UUA has been involved in discussions with the Boy Scouts of America regarding the status of our Religion in Life award. In May, 1998, the BSA informed us that, due to certain language in the Religion in Life manual, we could not award the Religion in Life emblem to our scouts. We strongly protested this decision. It pleases me to tell you that this conflict has been resolved: the UUA has revised its Religion in Life manual to the satisfaction of the BSA without abandoning the UU values at its core. I want to share with you a portion of the letter dated April 23 which I received from Thomas Deimler, Director of the Relationships Division of the Boy Scouts of America. The letter reads, in part:

"Many thanks for your early response to matters concerning the revision of the Religion in Life booklet. . . I am very happy to report that the committee has unanimously expressed their endorsement of this new material. They are most complimentary of the willingness of you and your staff to work closely with us in this endeavor. Thus the Boy Scouts of America now reauthorizes the awarding of the Religion in Life emblem [by the UUA] to Scouts and the wearing of that emblem on a Scout uniform. . . . . Best wishes to you."

The UUA will now begin discussions with the Boy Scouts about possible service on the BSA Religious Relationships Committee. We would like to do this for three reasons.

First, many of the values of scouting are congruent with our UU principles. I myself became a Life Scout, and other UU ministers are Eagle Scouts. Scouting has played a significant role in the lives of many young UUs, no small number of whom are members of scout troops sponsored by their own UU congregations.

Second, the BSA bylaws contain a statement about the nature of God which many good people in many traditions would find impossible to accept. The BSA is already being challenged on issues of religious discrimination. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the public schools of Chicago, for example, over sponsoring Scout units which require a particular form of religious belief. If the BSA is going to adapt successfully to the religious pluralism of the 21st century, they will need counsel from groups like the UUA -- not just from religious conservatives.

Third, we believe that the BSA can and should adopt new policies with regard to volunteers, to membership and to homophobia. Along with many UUs involved in Scouting, it is our position that local parents, Scout Councils, and troop sponsors should assume a great role in volunteer and membership issues. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should not be allowed to continue as a national policy of the BSA. It will ruin the organization, costing them the support of millions of people, of foundations, and of the United Way in many areas.

Congregations and denominations that oppose homosexuality may have some right to influence the selection of leaders in troops which serve their own youth, but they should not prevent congregations and denominations like the UUA and the United Church of Christ (UCC) from conducting themselves in a way that represents our own religious values. For us, this will include an emphasis on comprehensive sexuality education and efforts to reduce homophobia.

The new edition of Religion in Life will be available from the UUA Bookstore this summer. Along with each copy, the Association will separately provide a letter from me, along with resources appropriate to dealing with issues of homophobia and religious discrimination.

It is still not clear to me that the BSA can be redirected from patterns that in the long run will be institutionally self-destructive. I am very pleased, however, that we have been able to resolve any implication that they wish to practice an added discrimination toward Unitarian Universalists simply because we support the belief that it is not homosexuality but homophobia which is a sin.

Yours faithfully,
John A. Buehrens

May 7, 1999
Lawrence Ray Smith, Chairman
Religious Relationships Committee
Boy Scouts of America

Dear Dr. Buehrens:

It has come to our attention that you have posted on the UUA web site a letter of April 28, 1999, in which you state that the UUA has revised its "Religion in Life" manual to the satisfaction of the Boy Scouts of America, referring to a letter of April 23 from Thomas Deimler of the BSA.

Your letter goes on to say the following: "The new edition of Religion in Life will be available from the UUA Bookstore this summer. Along with each copy , the Association will separately provide a letter from me, along with resources appropriate to dealing with issues of homophobia and religious discrimination." Unfortunately, this simply reopens the entire issue of using boys as a venue to air your differences with the policies of the Boy Scouts of America.

These circumstances were not contemplated when Mr. Deimler wrote his letter. Therefore, Boy Scouts of America is not in a position to authorize the awarding of the Religion in Life emblem to Scouts and the wearing of that emblem on a Scout uniform.

Sincerely yours,
Lawrence Ray Smith, Chairman
Religious Relationships Committee

May 18, 1999 - Open letter from UUA President John A. Buehrens

What has happened to Boy Scout honor?

The Boy Scouts of America have sent the UUA yet another letter. This one rescinds the decision to reinstate BSA recognition of our Religion and Life Award for UU scouts. Moreover, they have taken the initiative to contact the press on the matter. Both steps seem to me astonishing. I have tried consistently to be cooperative with the BSA, while staying true to Unitarian Universalist principles. On receiving the letter, my first reaction was that there must be a lack of internal coordination within the Boy Scouts or a misunderstanding of our intentions. Those intentions were explained to representatives of the Boy Scouts last September and were fully agreed to. It was agreed that the UUA would issue a new edition of the Religion and Life manual; that the manual would contain nothing objectionable to the BSA; and that the UUA would then make available, along with the manual, some separate materials that would be helpful to our young people and their advisers, showing forth our religious principles in relation to the issues that have been part of this controversy. Unitarian Universalism has long been a strong supporter of equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and we have a responsibility to our young people to instruct them in the religious values which underlie our commitment to this struggle.

This is all we have done. We have prepared a new manual, which they have accepted and which we will publish. We have also prepared some materials aimed at advising young people whose religion teaches "the worth and dignity of every person" how they might want to respond to slurs aimed at another person's, or their own, sexuality, or supposed sexuality. These materials are coordinated with our comprehensive new curriculum on human sexuality, Our Whole Lives.

I have personally written a short pamphlet, When Others (or You) Say 'God', designed to help young people from a pluralistic religious tradition understand some of the multiple ways in which the word 'God' is or can be understood. It seems to me that UU youth who choose to take the Scout oath need this because in the oath a scout promises "to do my duty to God..."

In the course of this controversy I learned that the BSA actually knows that what it is doing in response to the so-called 'gay' issue has more to do with politics than with children's safety. The BSA knows the difference between pedophilia and homosexuality. It does training on the subject. Yet they continue to practice arbitrary discrimination. Ignorance is one thing. Knuckling under to anti-gay pressure groups is quite different, and entirely unworthy.

The UUA will continue to teach its religious principles and to help its young people to apply them. This is our religious duty. My question is this: does the BSA really mean to say that our teaching must stop where it makes them uncomfortable? That we cannot provide religious materials along with Scout materials? If so, what other faith groups will suffer from Boy Scout discrimination? After all, prejudice, once it takes hold in one's soul and is rationalized against one group can easily spread to include other objects of prejudice. Evidently Unitarian Universalists have now become such objects for the BSA. No wonder they have not been honorable in their dealings with us.

Rev. John Buehrens
President, UUA

Law Office of Michael P. Healy
847 Washington Street
Holliston MA 01746
508-429-7700

Re: National Unitarian Universalist Association of Scouters, Incorporated

Dear ________,

I am an active Unitarian Universalist and an active member of the Boy Scouts of America. For the past year and a half I have been acting as a facilitator between the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Boy Scouts of America attempting to resolving the disagreement between these two (2) organizations regarding the Unitarian Universalist Religion and Life award, as it related to the Boy Scout program. Considerable progress has been made in resolving the dispute as the pamphlet concerning the Religion in Life Award has been re-written and approved by the National Boy Scouts of America Organization. However, some outstanding issues remain.

To reach closure on this issue, it has been decided to establish a National Unitarian Universalist Association of Scouters, which will administer the award in the future, including the distribution of the pamphlet directly to Scouters and their Leaders. Further the group will be responsible for preparing any required revisions of the award requirements and pamphlets in the future.

The purpose of the Association will be to maintain and expand the use of Scouting as a youth ministry and to help instill stronger ethical values in young people in Unitarian Universalist Congregations. The Association will also be responsible for ministering the Religion and Life Program.

The vast majority of other religious denominations have Scouting associations, which have been functioning for many years. The Unitarian Universalist Association by not having a Scouters Association is an exception to the general rule.

It is Dr. John Buehrens' judgment as President of the Association, and my judgement, that it will be in the best interest of both the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Boy Scouts of America to form a Scouters Association for our denomination at this time.

Your name has been given to me as an individual that is both a Unitarian Universalist and registered Scouter. To make the Association successful and eliminate the existing conflict between the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Boy Scouts of America at the national level, I request that you consider joining the Association and be an active participant in resolving this conflict.

Please note that both Dr. Buehrens and senior members of the professional management staff of the National Relationships Division of the Boy Scouts of America fully support this approach and believe it will create both a stronger Scouting Organization and stronger units within our Unitarian Universalist churches.

If you should have any interest in assisting with this topic, I request you complete the enclosed form and return it to the office by April 1st.

If you should have any questions, please feel free to contact me at my office or my home at (508) 429-5055.

I look forward to your anticipated assistance.

Sincerely,
Michael P. Healy

 

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