The Boy Scouts of America says it stands with the Black Lives Matter movement and will require all Eagle Scouts to earn a “diversity and inclusion merit badge.”
Starting July 1, the scouts will also begin requiring all workers to undergo “diversity and inclusion” training and start reviewing all “property names, events and insignia, in partnership with local councils, to build on and enhance the organization’s nearly 30-year ban on the use of the Confederate flag.”
“This is not a political issue,” the organization’s National Executive Committee said in a “Dear Scouting family” letter released Monday. “It is a human rights issue and one we all have a duty to address.”
Using the word “murders,” the Irving, Texas-based organization condemned the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, Black people whose deaths set off rounds of protests across the country.
The BSA’s move comes four months after the organization, facing mounting legal costs from defending itself against lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of boys, filed for bankruptcy protection.
“I think this is a big deal to the extent that all these traditional, Christian-oriented organizations are trying to get their houses in order with regard to systematic racism,” said Alvin Tillery Jr., a political science professor at Northwestern University. “This is an organization that is super-embattled and they’ve had to adopt more progressive stances because nobody wants to have anything to do with them.”
Tillery said he applauds the BSA for taking this stance, but said the organization is reacting to current events and not shaping them.
“Society is passing them by, and they have to catch up,” he said.
"This is a strong move and a strong statement," added Ben Jordan, a history professor at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee, and author of "Modern Manhood and the Boy Scouts of America."
But the BSA's historic record on race is better than many other long-running youth-oriented organizations, "and that surprises a lot of people," Jordan said.
Founded in 1910 and long-considered a bastion of traditional values, the BSA didn’t integrate until 1974, and many troops continue to be separated along racial lines. But from the start, the BSA's national leadership did not endorse segregation or discrimination and as far back as the 1920s they actively encouraged African Americans to join, Jordan said.
"They were taking inclusive stances when the Ku Klux Klan was riding high," Jordan said. "There were even some racially mixed troops in the 1920s." And by 1944, there were more than 100,000 Black boy scouts, he said.
The BSA reported in 2019 that it had more than 1.18 million Cub Scouts, nearly 799,000 Boy Scouts and about 800,000 adult volunteers.
Those figures were a decline from 2016 when the BSA had more than 1.26 million Cub Scouts, nearly 830,000 Boy Scouts and some 960,000 adult volunteers.
The BSA angered conservatives in 2014 by lifting its ban on openly gay members and by allowing openly gay adults to be scout leaders a year later. Then in 2017, the organization allowed transgender boys in the ranks for the first time.
That same year, the BSA announced that it would allow girls to join the Cub Scouts, which had been exclusively for boys, and that it was setting up a program that would enable older girls to reach the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.
But when the BSA announced that it was changing the name of a program for 11- to 17-year-olds to the more gender-neutral Scouts BSA, starting in February 2019, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it was ending a 105-year partnership with the BSA and starting its own youth program.