In an introductory post to a newsgroup, I mentioned at one point that my partner and I have been active in starting a CUUPs (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) chapter in our area, and also that I had just started training to be a Girl Scout leader. The combination of those two statements resulted in quite a bit of discussion from people saying "Isn’t Scouting a Christian thing? How are you getting to do that?" I soon realized that there’s a lot of confusion going on, and figured I’d try to dispel it.
I think some of this confusion is coming from the perception that there’s one big Scouting organization somewhere, and all the publicity in recently years over the Boy Scouts of America’s policies regarding homosexual members. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have always been separate organizations. The BSA was founded in 1910. The Girl Scouts of the USA were founded in 1912. They are not the same, and the decisions of the BSA do not reflect the policies of the GSUSA.
Yes, I’m openly pagan. Yes, I have been a Girl Scout leader while being openly pagan. The primary troop leader each year knew that I’m not Christian, and didn’t express any concern about it. There’s not a word in the screening and recruitment process about any requirement that leaders or scouts be Christians. One year there were two pagan, one Buddhist, and five Christian girls in our troop. There was another who didn’t express any kind of religious views herself, but whose mother described their family as "mostly atheist." There wasn’t any trouble due to that diversity between the girls or the parents in the troop as far as I know.
From the official GSUSA web site:
The "motivating force in Girl Scouting" is spiritual. Girl Scouts respects the spiritual values and beliefs of its members, leaving the interpretation of spirituality to each individual and the family.
The Girl Scout Law embodies the core values of Girl Scouting. Our "motivating force," described by the constitution as "spiritual," is consistent with the values of many religions. Religious leaders have often praised the "rules for living" contained in the Girl Scout Promise and Law, which are so compatible with the values they bring to young people through their own religious education programs.
Girl Scout policies, summarized below, ensure that all Girl Scouts are treated equally in regard to their religious beliefs:
–Every Girl Scout group shall respect the varying religious opinions and practices of its membership in planning and conducting activities.
–When a Girl Scout troop is sponsored by one religious group, members of different faiths or religious affiliations within the troop shall not be required to take part in religious observance of the sponsoring group.
The Girl Scout Promise and Constitution do mention "God." The leader’s guide* says:
In the Girl Scout Promise, the word "God" is used to represent the spiritual foundation of the Girl Scout movement. "On my honor, I will try to serve God" is how the Promise appears in print, the same as it has been since the beginning of the movement over eighty years ago. Most girls when saying the Promise will use the word "God." For some girls, however, words other than "God" may be used to express their spiritual beliefs. Because Girl Scouting encourages respect for the beliefs of others, girls may substitute for the word "God" in the Girl Scout Promise the word that most closely expresses their personal spiritual beliefs.
It goes on to explain that the leader should work with a scout, her family and her religious leaders to find the appropriate word or phrase for that scout if "God" isn’t right for her.
I’ve found nothing in the Girl Scout materials that’s offensive to me as a pagan or a Unitarian Universalist. I cannot, in fact, find anything that I could see as being offensive to anyone of any spiritual path. There are religious awards for scouts from various religious organizations – you can find some of them listed at Programs of Religious Activities with Youth. One that isn’t listed there but is of special interest to pagans is the Covenant of the Goddess’ Hart and Crescent Award (The Hart & Crescent materials are also available online, with the CoG’s permission.)
I have seen mention of Christian Girl Scout troops. I imagine those troops wouldn’t be as accepting of me or my daughter, but then I wouldn’t seek them out. If I did have a personal encounter with a troop that wasn’t supportive of spiritual diversity, I’d try to work things out with the troop’s leaders, then go to the local GS Council of necessary, as it would clearly violate the GSUSA’s policies. There’s no place in Girl Scouting for any kind of proselytizing by anyone of any faith.
And yes, I do strongly encourage other pagans to be involved with Girl Scouting and open about their beliefs. The GSUSA has a real problem in some areas with getting enough adults involved to serve the number of girls who want to be scouts, and this is one of the ways we can serve our daughters and communities and do a little activism to improve people’s awareness and attitudes regarding pagans. Need I mention that it’s fun, too?
As for sexual preference, I can’t speak for the experience of any openly homosexual or bisexual people with the GSUSA, but I’ve found absolutely no overt or covert messages in any GSUSA publications regarding homosexuality, bisexuality or heterosexuality – and I’ve looked. Apparently the GSUSA just consider sexuality to be a private matter. There’s certainly no place for any overtly sexual activity at any official scouting activity, so that’s a perfectly reasonable stance as far as I’m concerned.**
*The Guide for Junior Girl Scout Leaders, page 6, copyright 1994 Girl Scouts of the USA
**In May 2001, after this article was written, I came across a marvelous pin at the Badge and Sash – the official Girl Scout store. It’s a gay pride flag with the words Girl Scouts Celebrate Diversity on it.
Originally published February 23, 2001