Inclusion and diversity in youth groups

Youth groups provide valuable opportunities for American children to learn, discover, and be exposed to the diversity of other children and adult role models who have differing backgrounds and beliefs. That’s why federal and state governments have encouraged the existence and expansion of youth groups through grants and tax privileges that have allowed these organizations to flourish with taxpayers’ support.

The Boy Scouts’ ban on atheists

Unfortunately, some youth groups have discriminatory policies that prohibit certain children or adults from participating in or leading youth group activities because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious views. The Boy Scouts of America in particular, prohibits participation by children or adults who are nonreligious.

Previously, the organization also banned LGBT children from participating in the Boy Scouts, but this policy was changed following public pressure and threats from several state legislatures to end the tax-exempt status enjoyed by the organization. In 2018, the Boy Scouts announced it would start accepting girls into its programs.

Given its national prominence and its impact on thousands of children across the nation, the Secular Coalition for America urges the Boy Scouts of America to remove its religious test for scouting to be more inclusive of atheist boys, girls, and their families.

Discrimination on the taxpayers’ dime

Tax-exempt status is a privilege, not a right. Despite state anti-discrimination laws, a private organization has a right to exclude a person from membership through their First Amendment right to freedom of association. However, private organizations that receive public funds or enjoy a special tax status should not be able to uniformly ban the membership of nontheists. Organizations like the Boy Scouts are free to discriminate as a private organization, but they should not be allowed to do so while retaining their privileged tax status.

Taxpayers should not be forced to support private organizations that explicitly discriminate. Congress and state legislatures should create laws that exclude these discriminatory private groups from receiving government grants and from enjoying beneficial tax statuses. Private organizations wishing to enforce certain requirements on their membership can continue to do so without government interference while ensuring that taxpayers are not supporting groups that are discriminatory.