From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Boy Scout founders wanted boys to reverence God, whatever their religion

by Father Terence Tully, for the Inland Register

(From the July 5, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Life and religion do not necessarily go hand in hand. In a similar way Scouting and religion may not go hand in hand, in spite of the opening words of the Scout Oath: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God.” The words “In God We Trust” are imprinted on the coins and currency of the United States, but do not guarantee that all citizens of our country believe in God and trust in God’s mercy.

The founders of world Scouting and of the Boy Scouts of America wished Scouts to reverence God and obey his commandments. But they directed Scouts to seek guidance from their parents and religious leaders as to the specific teachings, prayers, liturgies and other practices of their faith. How complicated this can be is illustrated on pages 413 to 416 of the Boy Scout Handbook, where 28 religious emblems (medals) are named and pictured, along with addresses for the Scout to write for requirements and counselors. Included are emblems of Jewish, Moslem, several Asiatic religions plus various Christian churches.

Add to this mix a book called The Scouting Trail which I bought in a Scout shop while touring Ireland in 1987. It is the handbook for the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland, and contains no mention of religious emblems because the Scout program itself integrated religion into its normal Scout activities. For example, the Scout Oath, which is called the Scout Promise, reads: “On my honour, and with the grace of God, I ... (Name) ... promise to do my best to love, honour and serve Christ my King, His Holy Church, and His Blessed Mother, to help my neighbour at all times and to obey the Scout Law.” Points of the Irish Scout Law are similar to the Scout Law of the Boy Scouts of American, though the wording is different.

Along with this religious tone, Irish Scouting includes camping, hiking, cooking, first aid, use of the compass, citizenship responsibilities, and all the skills and ideals we expect to find in Scouting. But apparently Baden-Powell, founder of Scouting, had difficulty at first in accepting Irish Scouting a part of his movement because of its emphasis on one particular religion. The difficulty was overcome when Irish Catholic Scouting agreed to be counted under the umbrella of another separate association called the Boy Scouts of Ireland.

Ad Altare Dei came first

The religious emblem program seems to be the right way to encourage Scouts in their diverse religious beliefs. The first religious emblem was a Catholic medal, the Ad Altare Dei Cross, created by Father James E. Dolan for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1926, as I read in a brief history called “Scouting in the Catholic Church, 1910 through 1935.” The medal recognizes Catholic boys in Scouting who faithfully served as altar boys. The 18-page history booklet was written by David L. Peavy in 1994. Eventually the emblem was approved by the National Catholic Committee on Scouting for use by dioceses all over the country.

In my own memory the requirements for the Ad Altare Dei Emblem have been revised several times and are now based on the Seven Sacraments as a help for the Scout to develop a fully Christian way of life.

The emblem programs are one many ways to help Scouts do their duty to God. I hope more and more Scouts of all religions will earn these emblems. But I invite everyone interested in Scouting to pray that Scouts and adult leaders may create other and perhaps better ways to do our duty to God within the fun and adventure of Scouting.

Coming Events
  • Catholic Camporee, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2001, 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Boy Scout Camp Easton on the east shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Theme: Religious Emblems for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Boys and Girls.
  • Bishop’s Recognition Day, Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, 1115 W. Riverside Ave., Spokane, 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, 2002. Bishop William Skylstad will confer religious emblems on Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Boys and Girls.

For information on the Diocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting and its activities, contact Father Terence Tully, diocesan Scout chaplain, 221 E. Rockwood Blvd, Apt. 308. Spokane, WA 99202-1200. phone (509) 458-7674; or James Burgen, chairman of Diocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting, 303 W. 8th Ave., Spokane, WA 99204. Pager phone (509) 880-5498. Click here for he National Catholic Committee on Scouting’s web site!

Inland Register archives

© The Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved