Real Clear Religion’s Jeffrey Weiss thinks that, regardless of what happens with the Boy Scouts and gay scouts and leaders, the organization will still hold the line (unfortunately from his point of view, I suspect) against atheists and agnostics.
Since I share Matthew Franck’s bleak view, I don’t think so.
Here’s the dynamic that will inexorably work its way out. What begins as a local option, with different councils and troops taking different views, will move toward uniformity. As the weight of opinion within scouting changes, those who favor the new orthodoxy will have less and less patience with those who hold morally traditional views. Churches that have long sponsored scout troops will either withdraw their sponsorship or be encouraged to do so by those who wish to solidify the new face of scouting.
To be sure, churches that have found ways to parse Scripture that don’t put them at odds with the new orthodoxy will continue to sponsor troops, so scouting will continue to have a substantially religious cast. But the religion will be modernist and accommodationist.
As such, I really don’t think that these sponsoring churches will erect barriers against atheists, so long as they’re “ethical” and “morally serious.” They will be loathe to impose even their minimal theology on anyone who wishes to embrace the new modernist, pluralist, accommodationist vision of scouting.
So Mr. Weiss has nothing to worry about.
I would add (from my experience as the father of a young man who need only pass his final board of review before he attains the rank of Eagle) that scouting in its current form is already quite tolerant of anyone who wishes externally to conform himself to the American mainstream. So long as you can recite the Scout Law and the Scout Oath, no one asks what you do with your private life or whether you in fact are a person of faith. Atheists who respect the religion of their fellows and do not seek to disrupt the relatively anodyne civil religion of scouting can certainly work their way through the ranks. Everything else–faith (or lack thereof) and sexuality, for example–is a matter for the scout and his parents.
That we cannot leave well enough alone is a testimony to the sad state of our culture.