Boy Scout Religious Emblems – An Underappreciated Gem?

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BoyScoutReligiousKnot166This April we celebrated both Easter and Passover. What better topic for an April Boy Scout Roundtable than a review of Boy Scout Religious Emblems? The Towpath District of Seneca Waterways Council hosted Annaliese Parker of the Seneca District. Annaliese completed her Wood Badge in 2007 and one of her ticket items involved the promotion of religious emblems for both the Boy Scout and the Cub Scout programs. She came prepared with a display, a PowerPoint and handouts. For those who missed – and those you didn’t take notes – here’s a recap of the highlights and some interesting tidbits outside the presentation we learned along the way.

No man is much good unless he believes in God and obeys His laws. So every Scout should have a religion… Religion seems a very simple thing: First: Love and Serve God. Second: Love and serve your neighbor.

– Lord Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys, 1908

First interesting tidbit: Let’s start with some topical background info. The folks at BSA nation have introduced the replacement for the Centennial Award. It’s called “Scouting’s Journey to Excellence.” Instead of all-or-nothing, (i.e., you either earn it or you don’t), the Journey to Excellence award comes in three Olympian flavors – Gold, Silver and Bronze. Each unit will rate itself on thirteen criteria, earning different level of points for each item. Total points at the end of the year will determine whether the unit earns a gold, silver, bronze or no award. Here’s the interesting tidbit. Instead of 13 criteria, wouldn’t it have made sense to have twelve, each mapped back to a particular point in the Scout Law? Along those lines, and relevant to this month’s meeting, there is no item that addresses “a Scout is Reverent.” You’d think, since we’re already measuring rank advancement, they’d also encourage participation in any religious emblems program by measuring the number of religious emblems earned by the unit.

The quote above, along with the Cub Scout promise, Boy Scout Oath and the Venturing Oath, all suggest, “Duty to God” lies at the heart of the Scouting movement. All levels of scouting require and encourage a reverence toward God. It doesn’t matter which god, and, because of this broad inclusivity, BSA itself doesn’t offer specific religious awards. Instead, individual faith groups have created national committees which have created religious emblem programs for specific scouting groups. These programs are run by the religious organizations, not by the Boy Scouts.

Annaliese offered us 5 Ways to Promote Scout Religious Emblems. Just click the title. It’s linked to the list.

Second interesting tidbit: If a boy earns a religious emblem as a Cub Scout, he should wear the religious knot (purple background with a silver knot) on his uniform as a Boy Scout, even if he hasn’t yet completed any Boy Scout level religious emblems. In addition, there is a device pin for each level of a religious emblems program (depending on the program, there can be up to four devices). Devices, like the knots, are purely a BSA construct (i.e., they are not provided by the religious institution but may be purchased at the local scout shop).

The religious institution may also provide a pin or a medal to be worn around the neck. While the knot is a permanent fixture on the uniform, these are only worn during formal occasions.

Annaliese also provided us with 4 Easy Steps to Begin a Scout Religious Emblem Program. As before, just click the title and it will take you to the list.

Third interesting tidbit: Every Board of Review should ask the Scout how he lives up to the twelfth point of the Boy Scout Law (“A Scout is Reverent” for those who skipped the third paragraph). Why is this important? When a boy goes to his Eagle Board of Review, he will no doubt be asked the same question. It’s important boys understand reverence must be an integral part of his life. One participant estimated that for every 100 boys going before their Eagle Board of Review, 3 will suffer delays because they provided insufficient answers to questions on their duty to God.

One other thing to remember: Just because a boy has a religious award doesn’t mean he gets a pass on the question. One of the Roundtable participants relayed a story where a boy with a religious award was asked about reverence at his Eagle Board of Review. The boy said the award used to mean something to him, but lately he’s begun to question his faith. The rest of the review was quite bumpy and the boy almost did not get approved.

At the meeting Annaliese distributed Frequently Asked Questions about Scout Religious Emblems Programs. Just click the title and it will take you to the FAQ.

Fourth interesting tidbit: The Boy Scout religious knot is only knot that can be worn by both adults and by boys. This is sort of a trick question. While both the Arrow of Light knot and the Eagle Scout knot are designated knots worn by adults for awards earned as boys, unlike the religious emblem award knot, they do not wear these knots on their youth uniforms.

Bonus tidbit: Finally, adults can earn a different religious knot as an adult. This knot has a silver background with a purple knot. It is bestowed by specific religious institutions to registered adults as recognition for outstanding service. Unlike most adult knots, the adult religious knot is an award, not a training knot. Adult scouters cannot nominate themselves for religious awards. If you know an adult Scouter active in a religious institution who actively promotes that religion’s emblem program, contact your local scout executive to find out what it takes to nominate that scouter.


  1. Dale McIntyre says


    Great post. This is an excellent way to provide some of the benefits of roundtable to those of us who can’t do Thursday nights. We hold a small group Bible study in our home each Thursday night – duty to God in action! -d

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