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I Was an Atheist Child, and the Girl Scouts Didn’t Want Me

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by Lynn Stuart Parramore
February 7, 2013

The news this week from Scoutland brings controversy over a proposed end to the ban on gay Americans. But here’s another dirty little secret. The Boy Scouts also officially discriminate against atheists and agnostics. For much of their history, the Girl Scouts did, too, but in 1993, the national organization had the sense to stop this unfair and distinctly un-American practice.

That was too late for me. I was a Brownie in 1978, and wanted to become a Girl Scout. It was not to be.

I had a hard time fitting in as a kid. My Sunday school teacher’s eyes shot daggers at me when, after a lesson on the Virgin Mary, I asked, “Was Joseph a virgin, too?” I just didn’t take to the religion thing. Alongside my Bible, I read Bullfinch’s Mythology, and I much preferred the Greek gods. They fell in love and had adventures and didn’t seem to take themselves so seriously. There was laughter in heaven.  Jesus was sort of okay – I liked some of his sermons. But the Bible seemed filled with harsh desert people (mostly men) morbidly obsessed with death and suffering. What had they to do with me?

When I was eight, I became a Brownie and took much pleasure in my crisp little uniform and close association with mint chocolate cookies. I vaguely recall winding yarn around popsicle sticks and doing things like that to prove my craftiness. Like most Brownies, I yearned to join the green ranks of the Girl Scouts, so I dutifully earned Brownie points in preparation for the big event when I would be pinned by a troop leader and accepted into the upper echelon of girldom.

But something unexpected happened during the Induction Ceremony. The ritual of transition from Brownie to Girl Scout was very sacred and solemn and involved, among other things,  staring into a pool of water. It also required me to pledge an oath to God. (You can check out a video of some little tykes saying it here).

On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

This pledge didn't sit right with me, for the simple reason that as far as I could tell, God didn’t exist. To pledge an oath to him would be lying. I stood frozen when it was time to swear fealty to a non-existent being. Probably I could have gotten away with just mouthing the words, but a feeling in the pit of my stomach told me that was wrong. I sheepishly mumbled my dilemma to the troop leader and she looked at me with the exasperation adults get when confronting a pint-sized pain in the ass. “Well, that’s what it takes to be a Girl Scout.” Confused, ashamed, and a little defiant, I took off my sash and handed it to her.

That was that. I would never have those illustrious Girl Scout badges for basket weaving and what not proudly streaming across my chest. The green uniform would not be mine. Part of me was a little relieved, because I wasn’t the sportiest of children and joining the Scouts meant proving my fitness for things like orienteering and riflery. I still like the cookies, though.

Compared to the Boy Scouts, today’s Girl Scouts are known as the more progressive example of youth programming. According to The Atlantic, the Boy Scouts of America still “expressly prohibits membership (even as Cub Scouts) of atheists and agnostics.”  The Girl Scouts, on the other hand, are now cool with atheism and have shown a fondness for New Agey tenets. They've even drawn the ire of Catholic bishops. I’ll give them points for that.

by on Feb. 8, 2013 at 5:12 AM
Replies (11-20):
mikiemom
by Ruby Member on Feb. 8, 2013 at 10:35 AM

I don't remember God being a part of my Girl Scout troop but really I don't remember a lot other than the Corn dollies we made and the sewing - ugh the sewing lol.

But I loved the last link in the article New agey tenets - so that's what we are calling it these days lol I will have to remember that one.

romalove
by Roma on Feb. 8, 2013 at 10:40 AM
1 mom liked this

I was a Girl Scout leader.  Yes, there is message of "to God and my country" in the pledge, but no one in any troop I saw would have stopped a girl from being a Scout if she mouthed the words or just dropped the "to God" thing.  We did interfaith service things (Thanksgiving there is a huge one in my town) and other than that, it was fun, crafts, and service to the senior center and nursing homes in town.


frogbender
by Captain Underpants on Feb. 8, 2013 at 10:47 AM

My Girl Scout leader was non-religious when I was a child. I was a brownie back in 1984.

talia-mom
by Gold Member on Feb. 8, 2013 at 10:50 AM

Private organization.

Oh well.

meriana
by Gold Member on Feb. 8, 2013 at 11:08 AM

I don't remember what group it was, perhaps campfire girls. Anyway sis and I went to the very first level of whatever it was in about 2nd or 3rd grade. Then we kinda got kicked out because we wouldn't salute the flag. I was relieved since I really didn't want to have to go to those group things anyway.

JakeandEmmasMom
by Platinum Member on Feb. 8, 2013 at 11:41 AM
1 mom liked this

In all reality, this is similar to how my son's Cub Scout pack operates. There are badges and belt loops a scout can earn related to his specific denomination, but as a group there isn't anything religious that I've seen. It would be pretty easy fon an atheist child to fit in and just not do the religion stuff. Our pack is inclusive, regardless of what national rules are. That's how it should be for everyone. Change is usually in baby steps, and comes from inside the organization, not from outside pressure.

 

ETA:  I meant to quote Roma with this response.  I don't know what happened and it doesn't make sense without Roma's response for context.  Sorry about that.

romalove
by Roma on Feb. 8, 2013 at 11:59 AM


Quoting JakeandEmmasMom:

In all reality, this is similar to how my son's Cub Scout pack operates. There are badges and belt loops a scout can earn related to his specific denomination, but as a group there isn't anything religious that I've seen. It would be pretty easy fon an atheist child to fit in and just not do the religion stuff. Our pack is inclusive, regardless of what national rules are. That's how it should be for everyone. Change is usually in baby steps, and comes from inside the organization, not from outside pressure.

 

ETA:  I meant to quote Roma with this response.  I don't know what happened and it doesn't make sense without Roma's response for context.  Sorry about that.

Because I was a leader, I went to unit meetings.  There was zero religious anything in the meetings.  There are troops meeting in churches or synagogues with more religious bent, and many more meeting in schools and completely religion or mention of God free.  If there was something with this writer's troop, it was likely leader-centered and not the organization as a whole.

JakeandEmmasMom
by Platinum Member on Feb. 8, 2013 at 12:02 PM
1 mom liked this

 

Quoting romalove:


Quoting JakeandEmmasMom:

In all reality, this is similar to how my son's Cub Scout pack operates. There are badges and belt loops a scout can earn related to his specific denomination, but as a group there isn't anything religious that I've seen. It would be pretty easy fon an atheist child to fit in and just not do the religion stuff. Our pack is inclusive, regardless of what national rules are. That's how it should be for everyone. Change is usually in baby steps, and comes from inside the organization, not from outside pressure.

 

ETA:  I meant to quote Roma with this response.  I don't know what happened and it doesn't make sense without Roma's response for context.  Sorry about that.

Because I was a leader, I went to unit meetings.  There was zero religious anything in the meetings.  There are troops meeting in churches or synagogues with more religious bent, and many more meeting in schools and completely religion or mention of God free.  If there was something with this writer's troop, it was likely leader-centered and not the organization as a whole.

 That's exactly what I have seen.  I think it all comes down to the intent of the sponsoring group or person.

caito
by Silver Member on Feb. 8, 2013 at 12:08 PM

I plan on getting my atheist born and raised daughter into the scouts next year. If there was any thought in my mind that she'd be indoctrinated I wouldn't even consider it. I'll never ever let a future son be in the boy scouts. I don't like the way they run things.

JakeandEmmasMom
by Platinum Member on Feb. 8, 2013 at 12:16 PM

 

Quoting caito:

I plan on getting my atheist born and raised daughter into the scouts next year. If there was any thought in my mind that she'd be indoctrinated I wouldn't even consider it. I'll never ever let a future son be in the boy scouts. I don't like the way they run things.

 I'm registering my youngest the day she turns 5.  Their main focus now is empowering girls to become future leaders.  It isn't possible for me to be more on board with that focus than I already am.

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