Boy Scouts to Atheist: Accept A God or Get Out

By Michael L. Betsch | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - The assistant scoutmaster of a Pacific Northwest Boy Scout troop must either profess his belief in a "supreme being" or face banishment from the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). However, 19-year-old Darrel Lambert said he's been an atheist since the ninth grade and he's sticking to his convictions.

Lambert's track record with the Seattle-based Troop 1531 is impressive. Throughout his 10-year scouting career he earned 37 merit badges to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout; served as a quartermaster and three-time senior patrol leader; and has dedicated himself to more than 1,000 hours of community service.

But Lambert is also passionate in his rejection of the existence of any supreme being, even though the BSA's regional Chief Seattle Council informed him that expressing a reverence for Mother Earth would be an acceptable form of worship.

Although Lambert admitted to his scout troop's review board that, for years, he had intentionally neglected to demonstrate the principles of faith and reverence to God contained within the Scout Oath and Law, he was awarded the BSA's highest honor last year -- Eagle Scout. His mother is his troop's scoutmaster.

Mark Hunter, spokesman for the BSA's regional Chief Seattle Council, said he could not comment or speculate whether Trish Lambert influenced members of the Eagle Scout review board that approved her son's Eagle Scout application, which mandates all applicants must, "Demonstrate that you live by the principles of the Scout Oath and Law in your daily life."

Ironically, Lambert addressed parents Monday night in the basement of a chapel at a retirement home, the Seattle Times reported. He urged those in attendance to look beyond the issue of his atheism and support his proven dedication to the Boy Scouts.

"I think the only power higher than myself is the power of all of us combined," Lambert said.

Additionally, Lambert said he wants to see the 92-year-old BSA repeal its national membership requirements, which includes on its application a Declaration of Religious Principle. He proposed that individual troops be given the right to devise the standards by which they extend their membership to Scouts and adult leaders.

Hunter said Lambert would be permitted to continue his leadership role and interact with members of Troop 1531 while he takes some time to "search out his feelings on this."

"If they're truly what they are," Hunter said, "his membership will be terminated."

Atheism rejected in court

A similar battle erupted in 1991 when twins Michael and William Randall refused to recite the Boy Scout Oath's reference to God and faced expulsion from the Orange County, Calif., Boy Scouts Council, said BSA spokesman Gregg Shields.

"At the time, they were eight-years-old ... and they said they were agnostics," Shields noted. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines an agnostic as "a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable."

The Randall twins' father, an attorney, argued a successful seven-year case in an Orange County district court only to have it overturned by the California Supreme Court in 1998.

Shields said the twins fulfilled all of the requirements to become Eagle Scouts, but since the California Supreme Court ruled that the BSA could legally refuse to accept them as members, they were never awarded with the BSA's highest honor.

Teenage rebellion normal

"We recognize that in your early teenage years you go through a formative period where you question and you prod beliefs and you think about and you explore ideas," Shields said. "That's natural and to be expected."

But Shields said Lambert is now an adult who has chosen to lead a group that requires its young members and adult leaders to believe in a supreme being. He stressed that the organization places a high importance on the spiritual development of scouts to recognize a being greater than themselves.

"We expect an adult has the ability to make their own mind up about a belief," Shields said. "If one doesn't agree with the Boy Scout belief system, then perhaps boy scouting is not for that person."

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