Religion and Boy Scouts
in Portland Public Schools
by Nancy Powell

April, 1997 -- What has turned out to be our most ambitious project started with an innocent looking sheet of paper. That single sheet kicked into action an "angry housewife." The sheet was sent home by the Portland Public Schools asking parents to sign their sons up for a YMCA basketball program. However as one read on, the paper disclosed the mission statement of the YMCA: to promote Christianity.

CRT member Nancy Powell did not take kindly to the cooperation by the school to enlist members for any organization which openly promotes religion. She obtained the guidelines of the Portland Public School System regarding this subject. These rules clearly forbid such entanglements between the schools and organizations as the YMCA and the Boy Scouts. She then spoke with the school principal, whose position was not that the school was wrong, but only that Mrs. Powell's son would not be exposed to further proselytizing.

A few days later, her 6-year-old son Remington came home wearing a hospital-type plastic bracelet with the message that her son was invited to join the Cub Scouts, an arm of the Boy Scouts for boys too young for the regular Scouting program.

This time it was simply too much.

There is no question but that the Boy Scouts of America discriminates against Atheists. It is not possible for a boy from an Atheist family to join Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts -- unless the family has no objection to the religious indoctrination that is a central part of Scouting and unless the family allows their son to take a god-oath at every meeting. Nancy again objected to the school principal. It was becoming obvious that this sort of thing would continue, protests or no protests.

Mrs. Powell started up the chain of command, step by step, until she finally contacted the School Board itself. At every stage, she pointed out to the various officials that solicitations of this type violate the Board's written policies which prohibit the schools' entanglement with exclusionary organizations that are engaged in religious advocacy. When she reached the School Board level she spoke with Mark Abrahms who promised to look into it.

Before reaching Mr, Abrahms, Nancy was met at every step with such statements as, "Why are you so opposed to the Boy Scouts?" She patiently explained that she has no such opposition; in fact, she supports the right of any organization to have whatever rules for admission that they want. What this mother was objecting to was the entanglement of our secular school system with religious organizations, and the schools' violation of its own guidelines. Incredibly, the school officials simply denied that either the Scouts or the YMCA were advocates for religion. The denials are doubly amazing considering that each of these organizations proudly proclaims its religious connection. For example, the Scout oath which is recited at every meeting starts, "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country…"

Then, Mrs. Powell made a surprising discovery. Both the national and local Parent Teachers Associations support her position. In fact, the PTA claims that every school official has been mailed official PTA guidelines mentioning that the PTA discourages any entanglement of public schools with the Boy Scouts. Not one person in the school system's chain of command had ever mentioned that fact. It was only through diligent searching that Mrs. Powell discovered this amazing statement.

Lanny Swerdlow, CRT president, has arranged for Lou Fredericks, spokesman for the Portland Public School System to speak to us about this issue at our April 8 meeting. Mr. Swerdlow issued a press release and there was an explosion of interest by the newspapers. First, an Oregonian reporter called and interviewed Mrs. Powell, sending a photographer to her home to get pictures of this mother and her children who are in the center of this controversy. Next, the Associated Press picked up the story followed by Willamette Week and the Portland Alliance. The newspapers papers will have reporters at the meeting. The Oregonian will have an article prior to the meeting and seating may be at a premium. We will be taping the whole proceedings for a later Bunk Busters television show.

One thing more that particularly struck Mrs. Powell was that two of the reporters who called her mentioned that they were only surprised that nobody has raised this issue before.

Whether you regularly attend meetings or not, this is a "must" meeting which involves no stranger, but one of our own. We must stand united to show our support for this cause. Please remember that all CRT meetings start promptly at 7:30 p.m.