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Issue 394 – April 22, 2014

Dear Andy,

Our troop committee members, together with a district advancement representative, recently conducted an Eagle Scout board of review. We declined the candidate. The vote was unanimous. In the course of the conversation, we touched on the Scout Oath and Law. When it came to reverence, the Scout responded that he had no personal belief in God, and went on to state that he doesn’t believe in a power higher than himself. When we asked how he is reverent, the Scout replied that he allows others to have their religious beliefs, but has none, himself. This is an otherwise extraordinary young man and Scout. We were shocked at his response, but believed that, given his statements—spoken with conviction—our decision was clear. This was particularly difficult. This Scout is our Scoutmaster’s son.

We are now being accused by various adult troop leaders of being too rigid. We are being told that this Scout’s response to “reverence to God” should be allowed because the Scout was being honest and trustworthy. The source for our decision was the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT—Topic—which clearly states that all that is required is the acknowledgement of belief in God as stated in the Declaration of Religious Principles and the Scout Oath, and the ability to be reverent as stated in the Scout Law. This Scout clearly stated that he had no such beliefs.

At this point, those of us on the review believe that the Scoutmaster-father and the troop’s Assistant Scoutmasters did this Scout an injustice. How he passed through six prior Scoutmaster conferences and five prior boards of review without ever addressing this issue remains a mystery to us. There is an appeal in process as we speak. I would like your opinion on this. Thank you. (Name & Council Withheld)

Your excerpt from the GTA-Topic is accurate. You may want to know that there’s much more to support your decision…

“The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God and, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member… Only persons willing to subscribe to these percepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle…shall be entitled to certificates of membership.” This is an excerpt from page 1 of the BSA Youth Application—“Information for Parents.” The application further states on this page: “A parent or guardian must certify that he or she has read this information sheet for all applicants under 18 years of age.”

The current (12th Edition) of the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK (p. 430) states: “Scouts show their faith by doing their duty to God.” A description of the meaning of the Scout Oath (p. 22) states: “…To do my duty…to God… Duty is what others expect of you, but more importantly it is what you expect of yourself. Your family and religious leaders teach you about God and the ways you can serve…” The Scout Law (p. 25) states: “A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.”

Based on your description of the conversation during the board of review, I’d say you all were correct in reaching the decision you did.

I agree with you that one must wonder how this could have happened at this late point in this young man’s Scouting involvement. I encourage your troop committee to reconsider how they conduct boards of review in the future…beginning immediately. We have to keep in mind that they, after all, were likely the same people who sat on this Scout’s five prior reviews.

At this juncture, be sure to follow protocol, with a formal letter (no email) to the Scout, describing the facts leading you to your decision. It would be a good idea to copy both the Scout Executive and your council’s Advancement Chair, so that they’re not blind-sided.

The Scout does, of course, have the right to an appeal (see GTA Topics on this subject); however, in light of your description, it is not likely to be successful.

As for improper accusations of “rigid,” ignore them. These people are not only wrong, they’re wrong-headed and way out of line.
Hi Andy,

I’m the Cubmaster of my renewed pack, which I started from scratch. Our Committee Chair nominated me for the Wm. D. Boyce-New Unit Organizer Award. But we’ve just been told that, technically, I didn’t start a new unit; I merely reactivated an old unit that had been dormant for the past six years. Somehow, this doesn’t seem quite right, despite the “technicality.” Can you add any insight on this? (Donn, CM)

I sure can. Any unit that’s been “dormant” for six years is effectively… Dead. The only rationale I can guess my have been used to road-block this very appropriate recognition is that the new pack probably used the “old” pack number. That’s hardly grounds for denial and my call on the denial is that it’s pretty mean-spirited. Talk to your District Executive about this nonsense and ask him to champion your successful efforts.
Dear Andy,

I’d like to bring up a subject you’ve addressed several times: Female Scouting leaders tucking in their shirts. You’ve consistently advocated for tucking in Scout shirts, but the hems are too short on the female shirts to stay tucked in. My wife bought two BSA female shirts and, judging by the length and finished hem, they’re certainly cut too short to be tucked in. (James Kammerdiener)

I believe the best solution to your wife’s problem will be found at your local Scout shop. I’d suggest taking the shirt to them, explaining the length problem, and asking what they can suggest so that she can wear her uniform per the BSA standards. I’m hardly the only one, by the way, to advocate for neatly tucked-in shirts. The BSA, via Bryan Wendell’s “Byran On Scouting” online blogs, has clearly stated that all shirts—youth and adult, male and female—are to be tucked. No exceptions.
Dear Andy,

I’m an Eagle Scout with a total of three silver and one bronze palm that’s about to become gold. What’s the correct placement for my palms on the medal’s ribbon? And, since I’m turning 18 soon and intend to continue my Scouting involvement, what about palms on the “square knot”? I’ve asked our council’s Advancement Chair, whom I’m close friends with, and he said he wasn’t sure. Any advice would be much appreciated. (Alan L.)

You’ve earned 71 to 76 merit badges? Wow! I wish I had your problem! Palms are worn pinned to the medal’s ribbon (when you wear the medal on formal occasions) and, after you’re 18, on the Eagle square knot. Your problem’s simple: It’s gonna be bloody difficult to pin that many palms in that tiny knot patch! Is there a “solution,” like a “platinum palm”? Nope. Sorry!
Dear Andy,

Is there any sort of “expiration” on College of Commissioner Science training? (Lel Medford)

Nope. For this type of training, the BSA “unspoken rule” is once trained—trained forever.
Dear Andy,

I remember you joining us last year at the Greater Cleveland Council’s Baden-Powell Institute—Thanks! Your programs were tremendous! Several times that day, various presenters stated that a Scoutmaster conference could be done any time to the Scout while working towards a rank. Then I read part of the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK (p. 124, Step 3: “A Scout is Reviewed”): “After a Scout has completed all of the requirements for any rank from Tenderfoot through Life, his progress is reviewed in two stages: Scoutmaster conference and Board of Review.”

Excluding the rank of Eagle, why would a Scoutmaster conference be held before all the requirements are met? (I’m excluding meetings between Scoutmaster and Scout that isn’t a formal Scoutmaster conference.) (Paul Botzman)

Both Scoutmaster’s conferences and boards of review can be held whether or not a Scout is on the cusp of advancing in rank. In the case of the first, the purpose is to check in with the Scout to see how he’s doing in the troop and how his advancement process is progressing. In the case of the second, the purpose is similar, but with a slightly different focus: It’s to see how well the troop and Scoutmaster are doing in helping him advance. The only difference between these conversations and those closing out rank advancement is that the Scout’s handbook isn’t initialed and dated.
Hi Andy,

I’m a long-time reader who’s gained a substantial amount of understanding about Scouting from your columns. Thank you very much!

I have a simple question… If, in a proper boy-led troop, the Senior Patrol Leader is the leader of the troop, why do we persist in calling the adult volunteers “Adults Leaders”? Shouldn’t we have another term for them that doesn’t confuse the boys…and the adults? (John)

Adult “leaders” and “Scoutmaster” are both misleading terms, but they’ve become indelible parts of the American Scouting lexicon, in the same way “Class A” and “Class B” uniforms are referred to at ground level but appear nowhere in the more than a century of BSA publishing.

“Adult volunteers” or simply “Scouters” would be much better and less misleading. “Scoutmaster” would be better understood if B-P’s original meaning had been preserved: “Scout Teacher.” (In England, what we in America call teachers are there called masters… schoolmaster and headmaster. This was B-P’s original intention, but misunderstood in the U.S., where “master” roughly means “the guy in charge.”) I think we’re stuck with these designations, despite their perennial misunderstandings and misinterpretations!
Hello Andy,

We have a Scout who completed all of his Eagle requirements, except his board of review, before he turned 18 a couple of months ago. We didn’t re-register him when the troop re-chartered at the end of the year because he was over 18 (the online system didn’t allow it anyway due to his age). He’s still awaiting his review, and this is where the registration (or absence of it) comes into play. One council member says everything is okay because he was registered as a member of the troop when he finished his requirements, but another says he must be registered with the troop to have his review, which would mean he’d be having his board of review while registered as an adult.

Eagle req. 1 says a Scout must be active in his troop for a period of six months after earning Life rank, and “active” is defined as “being registered” for at least the time period indicated in the requirement (GTA Topic Then GTE Topic says: “An Eagle Scout board of review may occur, without special approval, within three months after the 18th birthday,” and is silent on the issue of registration. Further, Topic (paragraph 3) addresses the situation in which a man can achieve the rank of Eagle Scout long after his 18th birthday if he can prove that the requirements were completed before he turned 18, with, again, no mention of registration.

Can you clarify whether it’s mandatory that a Scout be currently registered in order to have his Eagle board of review? (Ken Schnipke, Troop Advancement Coordinator, Kettering, Ohio)

The first thing I’m going to do is use your question as a bit of a “soap box” to advocate for helping Scouts get to Eagle rank—if Eagle is a personal goal of theirs—well before the stroke of midnight of their 365th day as a 17 year-old! Far too many folks think Boy Scout advancement operates like the one-rank-a-year Cub Scout advancement program. Far too many others think that, since Eagle rank is the “culmination” of one’s youth Scouting experience it would naturally come at the very end, like earning a college degree after putting in the four, five, or (sometimes) six years it takes to get to commencement. And even others—Scoutmasters often included—think that a boy isn’t “mature” enough to “understand the significance” of Eagle rank if he’s “only” 13 (or 14 or 15) years old—which is, of course, utter nonsense or he wouldn’t have completed all the requirements with aplomb! Of all the Eagle boards of review I’ve ever sat on in which the candidate is 17 or 18 years old—and it’s a bunch!—every single one of them without exception has stated, “I wish I’d done it sooner” or “My advice to the new Scout: Don’t wait or let anybody hold you back!”

Now to your Scout’s situation: Of course he needn’t be registered, if he’s crossed the 18th birthday line (can you even imagine how many fewer Eagles we’d have these days if that sort of “rule” applied?!)—which is why the GTA is silent on this subject. But trying to convince wing-nut who’s steadfast in his misconception just isn’t worth the time or effort when there’s a simple solution that makes the whole lame argument go away: Immediately register this young man as either “Scouter College Reserve” or “Scouter Reserve.” (Yes, I know some folks would be righteously opposed to taking this pathway, but sometimes it’s better to just pay the parking ticket than to go to court over a broken parking meter…unless you really enjoy pitch-forking water upstream.)

Everything else you’ve described about this young man is just fine. Do plan on holding his board of review sooner rather than later, of course.
Dear Andy,

I’m a volunteer for a troop in a situation where both our Boy Scout troop and the church’s Cub Pack meet on the same night at the same church. At a recent pack meeting, a Cub needed first aid. I was shocked to discover that the pack didn’t have its own first aid kit. When I mentioned this, I was told that the troop and pack share the same first aid kit, so the pack doesn’t need its own—they just dip into the “community first aid kit.” At other, times the pack leaders “borrow” items from the troop’s supplied. The pack’s Committee Chair’s position on this is that the troop should treat the cubs as their “little brothers.” But does that mean the Cub parents aren’t responsible for supplying what the pack and their Cub Scout sons need, on their own? Our troop isn’t exactly huge, and we have limited supplies. Personally, I think this pack is a separate entity from a troop and should have its own first aid kit and other supplies. Am I off the mark here? (Name Withheld, Longhorn Council, TX)

I’m not seeing a lot of “Scout spirit” here. If both the pack and the troop agree to collaborate in keeping the first aid kit well-stocked, and assuring that it’s available, where’s the problem? It’s not exactly like we’re talking about the “emperor’s gold” here! Plus, sharing subtly encourages the pack to transition its boys into the troop—which is the ultimate goal.
Dear Andy,

A parent of one of my Scouts asked about alternative requirements for the aquatic-based requirements for Second Class rank. The Scout has an issue with water in general and his mother’s fear is that he’ll be held back as a result of this. Under what circumstances are alternate advancement requirements allowed, and who determines what they should be? (Jim Boyle, ASM, Old Colony Council, MA)

The BSA does have provisions for Scouts with significant, permanent, and medically authenticated disabilities and special challenges. A little research will help. There’s a good section in BOY SCOUT REQUIREMENTS-2014 (and all prior editions) and also the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT. That said, “an issue with water,” if that is the only description, doesn’t fit the BSA criteria for considering and developing an alternate requirement. You’ll need to know much more, and have the Scout’s specific condition verified in writing by a licensed medical practitioner before proceeding along the alternative course.

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 394 – 4/22/2014 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2014]


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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