Chambersburg Harrisburg Lancaster Lebanon York

Atheists, Boy Scouts and the United Way

It’s always shocking to catch a respected organization or person in a lie. Citizens of York County are having that experience with the United Way of York County.

Both of York’s daily newspapers have written articles about whether the United Way will continue to support the Boy Scouts, in light of their exclusionary policy toward the LGBT community. This issue has received a great deal of publicity recently, and some United Way agencies, such as the Capital Region agency that serves Harrisburg, have decided to stop funding the Boy Scouts.

Not so the York County United Way, according to Robert Woods, its executive director. A story in the York Daily Record on October 11, 2012, written by Tim Stonesifer, includes the following paragraph: “Woods stressed that the two United Way organizations have ‘very different’ anti-discrimination policies, and the York group’s anti-discrimination policy applies only internally, not directly to partner organizations.”

Really? The United Way of York County’s own website ( states their position quite differently:

United Way organizations ensure that each organization in which they invest is a non-profit, tax-exempt charity governed by volunteers and that each organization submits to an annual, independent financial audit, provides services at a reasonable cost and maintains a policy of non-discrimination. A vast network of volunteers and the simplicity of corporate payroll deduction keep administrative expenses low.

Either Woods is not familiar with his own organization’s policies, or he cynically assumes that everybody else is too lazy to actually look them up. PAN has brought this contradiction to the attention of the reporter, who has contacted the United Way, seeking clarification. We will pass along any response we receive.

Why is this an issue for PAN? While we strongly oppose the Boy Scouts’ treatment of their LGBT members and volunteers, we are directly affected by the Boy Scouts’ long-standing bigotry against atheists and agnostics, as expressed in their bylaws:

Section 1. Declaration of Religious Principle, clause 1. The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.” The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them. The Boy Scouts of America, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and the organization or group with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.

PA Nonbelievers wrote to the United Way of York County in September, asking how it can reconcile its own stated philosophy with the Boy Scouts’ clear policy of discrimination. To date we have not received a reply, although apparently the United Way will simply state that it doesn’t care whether its partner agencies discriminate.

So what have we learned? The United Way of York County is so determined to maintain its partnership with the Boy Scouts that it will lie about what its published rules for member agencies actually mean. And it is so contemptuous of atheists and agnostics that it does not deign to respond to us at all.

Pam Zerba
Editor, PANViews

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  • Rennyrij

    The variegated LGBT subject has become large enough, that even the UK, home of “Lord” Baden Powell who started Boy Scouting, is considering changing Baden-Powell’s Boy Scout statutes. I wonder, if Robert Baden-Powell had not inherited the baronetcy and therefore never have been entitled “Lord”, whether the BSUSA would have accorded him the “respect” given him. In the bible, “Lord” refers to the divine. Not so in social government. I have read accounts of atheists and gays being summarily kicked out of Boy Scouting, and it is a bad thing. It proliferates bigotry and lies. It’s high time they changed their highest award to “Community and Country” Award, and used the word “community” in any place where “God” is referred to, now. Removing “God” and homophobia from their program does not negate the good that Boy Scouting can do. It actually opens the door to more understanding. Mark Twain said, “Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul.” It’s time for the BSA’s petrified opinions to become things of the past.