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Ask Surly Amy: The American Heritage Girls

Dear Surly Amy,

My daughter’s Girl Scout leader has decided she will be changing affiliation to The American Heritage Girls next year.

My daughter can switch and stay with her friends in the AHG troop, go to a different Girl Scout troop and leave her friends behind, or quit both. I have since found out many disturbing facts about AHG; affiliation with BSA, inclusion of liberal amounts of Bible quotes in their guide book, an endorsement by Dr. James Dobson, a requirement to be a US citizen to volunteer, among others.

To say the least I have some misgivings. I don’t want my daughter, an avowed atheist, to be told that she is less than because of her non-belief, or that homosexuality is wrong, or that non-citizens are unworthy, etc. I really want this to be her choice but how do I convey to her the subtle messages that may be used to shape her opinions on an ongoing basis without making it seem that I forbid her to join?

Proud Girl Scout Dad

Dear Proud Girl Scout Dad,

I’m not sure of the age of your daughter but if at all possible I would simply tell her the honest truth of the situation. If she is of an age where you say she can decide on her own to be atheist, I would have to assume that she is smart enough to make a decision on what after-school group she would like to attend.

Another alternative is to give your daughter some options. Camp Quest is a wonderful event that happens over the summer. Perhaps your daughter would like to go there instead? She would be surrounded by freethinking camp leaders and there is a huge new atheist friend potential there. Heck, I would WAY rather go there than sell cookies any day.

I raise money for Camp Quest by making and selling these necklaces. Camp Quest rules.

If she wants to stay with the Girl Scouts instead of going to American Heritage, let her know that the new Girl-Scout friends she will meet and the good times she will have are SO TOTALLY worth starting over for. Same goes for Camp Quest. Also, let her know that being brave, standing up for what is correct and starting anew is something to be very proud of. And if she decides she really wants to stay with the American Heritage group, remind her not to be bossed around by anyone. She should always think for herself and be proud of who she is.

If she stays with the group have her tell you what happens at each meeting so you can discuss overt religiosity or exclusivity on behalf of the councilor or the planned activities.

I would attempt to convince her of the benefits of  starting over with a different group. Leaving your friends can seem really scary at first but forcing religion on a young girl can be even scarier.

I would also, if possible, explain to the ex Girl Scout leader how disappointed you are in her jumping ship and changing the organization. Let the group leader know that her decision is alienating former members and explain that your daughter is not religious. I understand that explaining non-belief is not always an option but as a minority we are often dismissed and it is important to let other people know we exist.

Good luck and I hope this can be a fun and exciting new learning experience for your daughter and not something sad.

More info on Camp Quest is here.

Photos by me.

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Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. You might also consider the Badell-Powell Service Association http://bpsa-us.org/. Named after Boy Scout founder Baden-Powell, it’s independently affiliated with the World Federation of Independent Scouts, but not with either BSA or GSA.

    It’s a coed group that welcomes people of all or no faith and gender orientations. It focuses on the traditional outdoor scouting skills.

    One former Eagle Scout who resigned his position as a den leader and returned his Eagle Scout badge over this, and who is now the acting commissioner of the BPSA, recently shared his story over at Friendly Atheist.


  2. There’s also the possibility that some other girls in the troop will ALSO be uncomfortable switching to AHG. The one leader making a decision for the entire troop doesn’t mean all the girls in the troop endorse it. And if the girls are okay with it, they might not know what the switch entails. Your daughter should talk to her friends in the troop and explain to them what changes will come, and why she disagrees with them, and why she finds GS better. She might end up not being the only one to switch troops. (If your daughter is young, then you should try talking to some of the other parents.)
    Heck, maybe ALL of the girls will want to move to another GS troop!

    1. That’s a great point. She may not have to choose between leaving her friends and staying in a discriminatory organization if many of her friends feel the same way about AHG.

    1. Apparently Girl Scouts of America and Campfire Girls (they’ve since dropped the “Girls” part) were separately founded with the intention of being the girl’s arm of the already existing scouting movement…I’m not clear what the schism was about, or how one became recognized and the other not, but I think the Campfire Girls were the first to drop the god requirement. I don’t know if any quarrel exists between the two organizations today, besides Campfire going co-ed and GSA not.

  3. I went to a Salvation Army daycamp, although I was an athiest. The experience was very… enlightening? as to what their ideals and actualities were. I went because it was a camp that my BF could also attend (we lived in different states, so it was hard to arrange). The religious aspect was only slightly more than public school was (which I believe to be way too high), and I was amazed that my knowledge of their religion was more than the rest of the campers. Although the religious aspect was there, the camping activities are what stayed with me… hiking, swimming, and sleeping in cabins or teepees, and putting toothpaste under the boy’s doorknobs.

    So if your daughter does decide to stay with her friend, it is not a betrayal, as she might find the loyalty to the friendship to be quite strong. Just keep your ears open for if there become problems of her being excluded or bullied.

    1. hiking, swimming, and sleeping in cabins or teepees, and putting toothpaste under the boy’s doorknobs.


  4. I would also like to endorse Campfire. I was a Campfire girl as well as a camp counselor for years, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. For me, Campfire was almost an lgbt organization. At least it was for the adults, lol. Campfire in my area is run by gay women, and hosted a women’s retreat every year at camp. So I had a week every summer of luxury and lobster. Good memories.

  5. Thank you to everyone who offered advice.

    The fact that the Catholic church has started singling out GSA because of bogus links to Planned Parenthood (see quickies for 5.11) seems to have played a part in the decision as I pointed out in the comments over there. The GSA leader is looking for someone to take over her troop so she is sensitive to the possibility that everyone would be comfortable with the switch, the problem is it is a small troop (10 girls) and a small community so if even half switch it effectively kills the troop and leaves little choice but to quit.

    The suggestions for Camp Quest and other camps might be something she would like to do, but they aren’t really a substitute to an after school program. The suggestion for Campfire and Badell-Powell (which I didn’t know about) might be a possibility but, as this is a small community, they might not be readily available.

    Whatever she decides to do, the advice on how to help her understand what she is being shown is very helpful.

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