These religious emblems represent a youth or adult’s devotion to a supreme being. To help your group get started, check out our guide to the awards and how to earn them.
The 12th point of the Scout Law, Reverent, represents a Scout’s obligation to personal reflection and spirituality. Religion is an important component of Scouting, and it can bring both you and your boys closer to a higher power.
But discussing this sensitive subject with your unit’s youth members isn’t always easy, especially in such a diverse society. Knowing what to say without offending anyone can be tricky.
Don’t worry, though, because with the help of some user-friendly materials and a little planning, your Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturers can earn religious emblems that represent their devotion to faith.
Religious awards are available for adults, too, but only through nomination after years of service.
Adults who earn these awards have given dutiful service to the Scouting program and to their religious institution.
To better understand these awards, you should know that the Boy Scouts of America espouses no official religion. Instead, each religious institution has developed its own emblem program to serve its followers, beginning in 1939 with the Ad Altare Dei emblem for Roman Catholics.
With the help of an approved religious counselor and completion of an emblems program, Scouts can earn a medal and its accompanying square knot that are both approved for wear on the BSA uniform.
But they don’t have to stop there. Scouts can earn additional age-appropriate religious emblems as they advance through the Scouting program.
So how do you get your Scouts started? The BSA has teamed up with Programs of Religious Activities with Youth (PRAY) to coordinate the religious emblem program for most faiths. PRAY CEO Mark Hazlewood says it is a leader’s duty to “promote emblems of all faiths” to the troop.
To make that easier, Hazlewood and his staff have created a packet of information for leaders that includes a promotional DVD, troop meeting scripts, handouts, and even details about a promotional patch that your troop can earn by committing to fulfill its “Duty to God.” These resources can be found at www.praypub.org.
The BSA stresses that Scout leaders should provide information and not religious instruction. If you are an approved religious counselor, that instruction occurs in a setting separate from any official unit function.
But before you talk to your Scouts about these emblems, we’ve compiled some information that can acquaint you with the many faiths that have emblem programs.
Also, we’ve included the name of each adult award and a photograph of the medal or pin that honorees receive.
Bryan Wendell is Scouting magazine’s associate editor. He wrote about Scouters’ knot awards in the January-February issue.
African Methodist Episcopal Church
Founded: Early 1800s. The church was born in protest against slavery, and its members hope to spread the gospel of Christ through their actions and words. Adult award: God and Service.
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
Founded: 1820. Its followers preach racial justice while prioritizing the salvation of the whole person—mind, body, and spirit. Adult award: God and Service.
Armenian Apostolic Church of America
Founded: 1973. The Western Prelacy of this Christian church looks to preserve the tradition and values of the Armenian Church within the Armenian community. No adult award.
Armenian Church of America
Founded: 1898. The Armenians say they were the first nation to formally accept Christianity as their official religion. There are 1 million Armenians in the United States and Canada. No adult award.
Founded: 19th century. The Bahá’í Faith stands for unity and peace among all of the world’s religions. Followers believe that each religion was suited to the needs of people at a certain time in history. Adult award: Service to Humanity (in green for women and blue for men).
Founded: 16th century. The second-largest denomination in the United States (behind Catholics) derives its name from its belief that all followers of Jesus Christ should be baptized. Adult award: Good Shepherd.
Founded: Around 500 B.C.E. Buddhism grew out of the teachings of Buddha in eastern and central Asia. Buddhists believe that suffering is a part of life and can be overcome by physical and spiritual purification. Adult award: Bodhi, meaning “awakening.”
Founded: A.D. 33. Eastern Catholic Churches are in union with Rome but organize under a structure based in the style of Constantinople. Adult award: Saint George, named after the prominent military saint.
Founded: A.D. 33. Pope Benedict XVI leads this church, which represents one-sixth of the world’s population. Roman Catholics believe that at communion, bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Adult award: Saint George.
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Founded: Early 1800s. The church seeks “wholeness in a fragmented world” through community, spirituality, and justice. Adult award: God and Service.
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Founded: 1870. This group is a historically African American denomination organized to separate from what was then a white-dominated church authority. Like all Methodists, members believe that acceptance by Jesus Christ has nothing to do with one’s status in life. Adult award: God and Service.
Church of Christ, Scientist
Founded: 1879. Mary Baker Eddy founded the church in Boston. Followers of Christian Science believe in the immense healing power from God realized in prayer. Adult award: God and Service.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Founded: 1830. The LDS movement, founded by Joseph Smith, bases its teachings on the Book of Mormon, which followers believe was transcribed from plates of gold by Smith. The Book of Mormon, they believe, is a guide to further understanding the Bible. Adult award: On My Honor.
Churches of Christ
Founded: 18th or 19th century. Followers generally believe in the Bible as their sole resource for practicing their faith, rejecting formal creeds or statements of faith. Unlike in other denominations, each individual Church of Christ is autonomous and self-governing. Adult award: Faithful Servant.
Community of Christ
Founded: 1830. Known until 2001 as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Community of Christ followers “proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.” Adult award: International Youth Service.
Founded: A.D. 33. Adherents believe that their church is the same church established by Christ and his Apostles. Followers do not recognize papal authority over their activities. Adult award: Prophet Elias, named after the man who adherents believe performed
miracles through the power of God.
Founded: Late 19th century, though its roots date back much earlier. Episcopalians consider their religion between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. They believe that all are welcome by God and that there are no outcasts. Most dioceses allow women to be ordained as priests. Adult award: Saint George Episcopal.
General Church of the New Jerusalem
Founded: Late 18th century. The New Church, as it is known, was founded on the writings of the Old and New Testaments and on the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, a theologian. Members believe that Jesus Christ revealed himself to Swedenborg as a vessel for his word. Adult award: Open Word Award.
Founded: No established founding, but beliefs date back to 1500 B.C.E. Hinduism, which has its roots in India, is the world’s third-largest religion. The religion is a diverse system of thoughts that encompasses a variety of religious traditions. Adult awards: Saathi, or parent, and Bhakta, or mentor (not pictured).
Founded: Early seventh century. The world’s second-largest religion (behind Christianity) stands for total surrender of oneself to God, or Allah. The Five Pillars of Islam represent the fundamental duties that each Muslim must fulfill. Adult award: Allaho Akber, meaning “God is great.”
Founded: About 4,000 years ago. Judaism was developed among the ancient Hebrews. Jews believe in one transcendent God who continues to govern the universe. They believe that Moses was instructed by God to author their founding religious text, the Torah. Adult award: Shofar, the name of the horn used in religious services.
Founded: 15th or 16th century. Lutheranism is a Christian faith that identifies itself with the teachings of Martin Luther, the German monk. Lutherans believe in God “by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone.” Adult award: Lamb.
Founded: Early 20th century. Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual master, publicly stated that he was the Avatar (or spiritual being) of his time. He began a life of silence from 1925 until his death more than 40 years later. His followers believe in a concept of nonduality, meaning that God is inherent in all animals and inanimate objects. Baba also believed in reincarnation. Adult award: The Ancient One. No emblem exists for this award. Instead, recipients wear the religious award square knot.
Founded: 1457. The Moravian Church is a Protestant denomination that started in what is now the Czech Republic. Followers value Christian unity, virtue, missions, and music. Adult award: The Order of David Zeisberger, named after the Moravian missionary.
Polish National Catholic Church
Founded: 1897. The church, founded in Pennsylvania, preaches acceptance of all who wish to worship, and it allows bishops and priests to get married. Adult award: Bishop Thaddeus F. Zielinski, who was Prime Bishop until 1978.
Presbyterian Church in America
Founded: 1973. The PCA is the second-largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States and lists as its key values evangelism, missionary work, and education. Adult award: God and Service.
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Founded: 16th century. PC (USA) is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States and attributes much of its heritage to the writings of John Calvin, the theologian. Presbyterians adhere to a pattern of religious thought called Reformed theology. Adult award: God and Service.
Protestant and Independent Christian Churches
Founded: No formal founding. Thousands of congregations of independent churches exist to serve the needs of worshippers who seek something different in their religious affiliation. Adult award: God and Service.
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Founded: 17th century. The Quakers got their start in England and typically don’t follow any formal creeds or organizational hierarchy. The concept of “inner light,” meaning the power inside each of them that was given by God, is crucial to the Quakers’ beliefs. Adult award: Friends.
The Salvation Army
Founded: 1865. The Salvation Army, well-known for its charitable contributions during the holiday season, extends a helping hand throughout the year. The church seeks to bring salvation to the poor. Adult award: Scouters Award.
Founded: 1961. This faith has Jewish-Christian roots and affirms the worth of all human beings. There are more than 1,000 congregations worldwide. No adult award.
United Church of Christ
Founded: 1957. This Protestant church gives its member congregations great freedom in their ways of worship. The church stresses “testimonies of faith” rather than “tests of faith.” Adult award: God and Service.
Founded: 1968. The largest Methodist denomination has about 8 million members in the United States. Followers emphasize Christian living and the importance of the Holy Spirit’s work in the world. Adult award: God and Service.
United Pentecostal Church International
Founded: 1945. The church bases much of its theology on the concept of salvation, which requires its followers to be “born again” through Baptism or other means. Adult award: God and Service.
Founded: 1889. Followers of the church believe in the “power of affirmative prayer” and that the spirit of God lives with every person. Adult award: Distinguished Youth Service.
Founded: 5th century B.C.E. Zoroaster, the ancient Iranian prophet, gives his name (and his teachings) to this religion. Believers of Zoroastrianism worship one God, Ahura Mazda, who is seen as the counterpoint to chaos and disorder. Followers believe that good deeds and a good life can help stave off the chaos of the world. No adult award.
Earning Youth Emblems
Seeing your Scouts grow closer to their faith is a reward in itself, but seeing them proudly wear a medal and square knot makes their feat even better. There are four basic steps for your boys to get started:
Step 1: Purchase the proper booklet. Many of these are available at your local Scout council service center. If not, check out www.praypub.org to learn how to order the materials.
Step 2: Have parents review the program guidelines. Each program is different and has its own requirements.
Step 3: Talk to religious leaders. The emblems programs require involvement from the religious institution.
Step 4: Complete the requirements and purchase the emblem. After approval of the requirements, check out the instructions in the booklet for details on how to order the emblem. Present it in a meaningful ceremony.
Keeping Adults Motivated
If any of your unit’s quality adult leaders need some additional motivation for staying involved in Scouting, why not consider nominating them for a religious award? Adult religious awards are joint recognitions on behalf of the local BSA council and the faith community. This recognition can be just what adults need, says PRAY’s Mark Hazlewood.
He says that volunteers who may feel “burned out” after years of working with Scouts often find new enthusiasm when their service is recognized by the community.