(CNSNews.com) - Frustrated by an unsuccessful campaign to achieve religious recognition from the Boy Scouts of America, a Seattle-based Wicca church has launched its own youth program, which is based on tolerance for different beliefs, including differences in sexual orientation.
SpiralScouts founder Pete 'Pathfinder' Davis believes that many of the things the Boy Scouts are doing are "socially inappropriate." He said he created to the SpiralScouts to "fill the void left by prejudicial treatment of other established children's programs."
Davis, who serves as the Archpriest of the Wiccan Aquarian Tabernacle Church, said his main argument with the BSA is that the group has refused to recognize Wicca as an acceptable form of worship, but at the same time, the BSA incorporates the symbols of myriad Christian denominations into its Religious Emblems program.
He said the Scouts rejected a Wicca badge that was designed and submitted by a well-known Wiccan priestess.
In 1999, Davis created the SpiralScouts as the Aquarian Tabernacle Church's "answer" to the Boy Scouts and other youth organizations that subscribe only to "traditional" faiths. Today, the SpiralScouts welcomes children of all ages (four and up) and backgrounds, including Wiccans, pagans, atheists and homosexuals.
Davis said practicing Wicca is not a mandatory activity for the 50 SpiralScout units currently operating across the U.S., Canada and Switzerland. Beyond fostering a respect for nature, it is up to each SpiralScout unit leader to decide whether they will teach children the principles and philosophy of the Wiccan religion.
The vast majority of the SpiralScout units are operated by Wiccan groups and churches, he said.
"When we started to formalize the program, we designed it in a fashion that it's oriented towards earth religion, but so is Scouting, whether they realize it or not," Davis said. Unlike the "pervasive" use of Christianity contained within the BSA, the SpiralScouts was created to accommodate the spiritual beliefs of any minority religious group, he said.
SpiralScouts describes itself as a work in progress. It says it offers children the opportunity to develop interpersonal and life skills and a pagan world view, in addition to learning "the usual handicrafts of scouting and woodland lore."
Boy Scouts dismiss rejection
According to BSA spokesman Gregg Shields, religious emblems are the property of approved religious scouting organizations and are awarded at their own discretion. For example, he said the National Catholic Council on Scouting and the National Jewish Committee on Scouting each have their own unique religious emblem.
"There is no national Wiccan organization," Shields said. "So, that's why there is no religious award for Wiccans."
He encouraged any Wiccan group that would like to charter a troop in their community to submit an application to their local BSA council for consideration.
Focus on tolerance
According to the SpiralScouts membership requirements, it is imperative that parents and leaders promote religious and cultural tolerance so their children may learn to co-exist with society as a whole. Specifically, the group encourages children to accept the "differing roles of male and female throughout nature and culture."
Contrary to the Boy Scout policy of excluding homosexuals - a policy upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court - the SpiralScouts welcomes homosexuals within its ranks. Davis explained that the Wiccan religion accommodates homosexuals because its philosophy is focused on the "balance of polarities" of that exist in nature.
For example, Davis said the SpiralScouts mandates that leaders of individual units should include both a male and a female. However, he said the rules are flexible because some adults, such as homosexuals, "believe themselves to be embodying masculine or feminine characteristics."
Davis believes that such a male/female balance of leadership ensures a SpiralScout's positive integration into the real world. "Children are not born with prejudices," he noted. "They have to learn prejudice and intolerance from others."
Defiance of 'extreme right'
According to the group's handbook, "SpiralScouts is something new, something perhaps of historic proportions for modern Paganism. It certainly will have an unmistakable impact on Pagan children growing up in this era of Christian extreme-right domination of our culture."
According to the SpiralScouts' interpretation of the pagan philosophy, children participating in the program will learn to honor "both the maleness and femaleness we all harbor within us," as the handbook put it. "Perhaps, if we are lucky, even a few parents who may need some brushing up on these same skills may reap benefits just from being there with the children while the kids learn these things."
See Earlier Story:
Boy Scouts to Atheist: Accept A God or Get Out (30 Oct. 2002)
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