Traditional Values, or a New Tradition of Prejudice? The Boy Scouts of America vs. the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations


President William Howard Taft, a Unitarian leader whose liberal faith had been viciously attacked by religious conservatives in the 1908 presidential campaign, used the White House as a platform in 1911 to launch a new nonsectarian organization for youth: The Boy Scouts of America (“BSA”). Lately, however, the BSA itself has come under the control of religious conservatives – who in 1992 banned Taft’s denomination from the BSA’s Religious Relationships Committee, and in 1998 threw Taft’s denomination out of its Religious Emblems Program. The denomination’s offense: A tradition of teaching its children that institutionalized discrimination is wrong. Unitarian Universalist religious leaders had objected to the BSA’s new policy construing the Boy Scout Law’s statement that a Scout is “brave, clean, and reverent,” to mean both that homosexuals must be shunned as not “clean” and that agnostics or atheists are insufficiently “reverent” to be Boy Scouts. The BSA’s leadership retaliated against the denomination, openly punishing Unitarian Universalists and their children. This article examines how the BSA leadership’s current notions about “traditional values” have placed the youth organization at odds with a liberal religious denomination that is itself deeply rooted in American traditions and values. The article briefly reviews the denomination’s history and values, and its place in American history, then examines the conflict with the BSA’s recent leadership – documenting, in the process, the BSA’s policy of discriminating against Unitarian Universalists and their children. The article concludes by showing how the BSA’s policies and actions directly contradict assertions that both the BSA and its governmental sponsors make – in high-profile court proceedings – as they seek to justify continuing public sponsorship of the BSA and its discriminatory policies. The underlying documentation of the BSA’s actions against Unitarian Universalists is presented as an appendix, for easy reference by judges and scholars.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Constitutional Law | Human Rights Law | Juvenile Law | Law and Society | Organizations Law | Religion Law | Sexuality and the Law

Date of this Version

May 2006