A Scout’s guide to earning and wearing a religious emblem

Representing an array of faiths — from the African Methodist Episcopal Church to Zoroastrianism — religious emblems encourage Scouts, Venturers and adult volunteers to strengthen their faith-based journey within Scouting.

This journey aligns with the 12th point of the Scout Law — reverent — and the “duty to God” part of the Scout Oath.

While the BSA is secular and members are not required to belong to any religious organization, BSA members are required to acknowledge a belief in God.

Earning a religious emblem helps turn that “acknowledgement” into something deeper and more meaningful.

To learn more about religious emblems, including how to earn them, wear them and promote them within a Scout unit, I talked with Jason Noland. He’s the CEO of Programs of Religious Activities with Youth, or PRAY. PRAY is one of several faith organizations with which the BSA partners to administer religious emblems programs.

“Religious emblems are important because they help connect young people deeply to their faith and implement Scouting as part of a congregation’s youth ministry within the denominations where they belong,” Noland says.

What are religious emblems?

They are medals created by the various religious groups represented in Scouting. Their purpose is to encourage youth and adults to grow stronger in their faith as part of their Scouting experience.

Why are religious emblems important?

Studies by the BSA have shown that Scouts who earn a religious emblem stay registered longer in Scouting’s programs.

Considering that nearly three of every four units is chartered to a faith-based institution, this connection is vital to sustaining those relationships.

How are these emblems different from regular advancement?

In one sense, they are not different at all. Just like earning a merit badge, a Scout has to take the initiative to start the process to earn a religious emblem.

However, a young person doesn’t ask his or her Cubmaster, Scoutmaster or Venturing advisor to help with that process. He or she contacts the religious institution. At most institutions, there’s already a process in place for earning these emblems.

What role do adult leaders play?

An important one. They can encourage young people to earn the emblems, connect them with the appropriate faith leader and present the awards in a meaningful way.

Units with a Religious Emblems Coordinator have a designated adult who promotes emblems and tracks which ones have been earned.

What resources are available?

Many of the faith organizations have their own websites, including the National Jewish Committee on ScoutingNational Catholic Committee on Scouting and more.

The official website of PRAY has a ton of great info, like this Duty to God poster you can print and share.

What are the steps to earning a religious emblem?

  1. Obtain the specific booklet for your religion by checking with your local Scout Shop or contacting the religious organization directly.
  2. Ask parents to review the program guidelines.
  3. Become a member of your religious institution, if necessary. Note that some programs require participants to be official members of the religious institution and that age and grade requirements vary from program to program.
  4. Find a counselor. Each program sets its own guidelines as to who may serve as counselor. Some programs require clergy to serve as counselors; other programs allow parents or other family members to fill the role.
  5. Complete the requirements and obtain the proper signatures.
  6. Order the emblem itself. These emblems are not available from your local council Scout Shop. Follow the instructions in your booklet to order the emblem.
  7. Receive the emblem in a meaningful ceremony, preferably in the member’s religious institution.

How do you get the medal itself?

Unlike other advancement, these emblems are not purchased through the local council Scout Shop. You buy them through the faith organization that administers the emblem program.

The instructions for ordering are highlighted at the end of the booklet. Emblems should be presented in a meaningful ceremony, like any other award in Scouting.

Many units do this on Scout Sunday, Scout Sabbath or Scout Jumuah.

Depending on the grade and emblem, it may take anywhere from 6 to 14 weeks for the emblem to arrive. So plan accordingly.

What about adult emblems?

Unlike youth religious emblems, adult awards are based on service to Scouting and their faith.

Most require a nomination form, letters of reference and clergy signature.

Their approval also goes through the appropriate faith organization. Because most units are interfaith and multidenominational, it is not uncommon for adults to receive the emblem of other faiths in recognition of their service.

How/where are emblems worn?

All faiths have emblems or medals that should be worn as part of the official uniform and are appropriate for those events.

A silver knot on purple cloth may be worn by youth members who have received their religious emblem. For adults, the knot is the reverse: purple on silver cloth.

If you earned both, you may wear both at the same time.

A reminder about the BSA’s position on religious principles

From the Guide to Advancement:

5.0.5.0 Religious Principles

From time to time, issues related to advancement call for an understanding of the position of the Boy Scouts of America on religious principles. The Boy Scouts of America does not define what constitutes belief in God or practice of religion. Neither does the BSA require membership in a religious organization or association for membership in the movement. If a Scout does not belong to a religious organization or association, then his parent(s) or guardian(s) will be considered responsible for his religious training. All that is required is the acknowledgment of belief in God as stated in the Declaration of Religious Principle and the Scout Oath, and the ability to be reverent as stated in the Scout Law.

51 Comments

  1. How should BSA addressing the large amount of “nones”? Scouts who believe in a higher power (as they are required to do to be scouts) but are not part of any religious organization? Is there an emblem that recognizes a duty to god but not specific to a sect/religion?

    • Charlie.. Good questions that many want to know about but are afraid to ask. I’ll leave Bryan to answer the first part. On the last part.. Is there a emblem that recognizes Duty to God but not specific to a sect/religion? No.

      But there is a patch collection of Duty to God that I have seen some summer camps and more in BSA encouraging many to start on the spiritual journey: https://www.praypub.org/duty-to-god

    • Hey Brian…When I teach the Protestant Classes (God & Me, God & Family, God & Church and God & Life) I open them up to all of my Scouts in my troop and neighboring troops whether they go to a particular church or not. Having taught these classes for over 20 years I’ve seen Scouts and Scouters find a church home after exploring and learning through the classes.

      I really enjoy teaching the God and Church Program, as I typically have many scouts from different denominations and faiths taking this class. In my class that I’m teaching now, out of 15 Scouts I have one Catholic Scout, two Jewish Scouts and one Hindu Scout taking the class as well as Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopals & Lutherans. I highly encourage them to also work on their on faith’s award and give them the info in order to do these classes.

      I have taught on the philosophy of the 12th Point of the Scout Law…That ‘A Scout is faithful to his religious duties and he respects the beliefs of others.’ What better way to respect the beliefs of others than to learn about their and other Scouts faiths.

    • ‘but not specific to a sect/religion?”

      The religious awards are created by religions. This is why there is no Shinto award, because there is no coordinating body that has created a Shinto-based award. There is a non-denominational Christian award, though — that’s basically what PRAY exists for.

      Last I heard, I believe the requirement for a religion to create a religious award was that it had to sponsor at least 20 Scouting units. So even if a group of Shinto priests from a specific Shinto sect got together to create a Shinto religious award for the BSA, since there are no Shinto shrines/sects that sponsor a BSA scouting unit, they would not be eligible to create a Shinto religious award.

      The “at least 20 Scouting units” requirement was created to stop adherents of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster from creating a religious award for their “faith”, which kind of seems like discrimination to me.

      • it’s something i think the BSA or a program partner like PRAY might want to think about. Scouts being brought up in households where there are not members of any religion, where parents are educating the scouts about doing a duty to God in lieu of a religious leader… this is a rapidly growing segment of the scouting population. Something to service them while other scouts work on specific religious emblems would be a good idea. Something that maybe at least exposes them to World Religions and has them do some exploring of the options out there.

        • Theoretically, a religious award should be worked on at home, so a Scout shouldn’t be left out, sitting in the corner, while other Scouts work on that.

      • The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster seems like they’re making fun of a belief in God. It’s not discrimination. If they don’t have a belief in God, then they shouldn’t be a Scout because it’s a requirement to have some sort of belief and not ridicule it. We had an adult use this exact phrase last year in Scouts. Their son then started saying it and my son brought it home. I do not ridicule their non-belief in any sort of higher power and I expect the same respect.

    • The religious awards programs are set-up for the Scouts to ‘grow stronger in their faith’ and not for a Scout to ‘learn about other faiths.’ The awards also require that a pastor/clergy sign-off when then material has been completed – that would be imposible for someone that is not a member/regular attender of a faith community.

      • “The awards also require that a pastor/clergy sign-off when then material has been completed – that would be impossible for someone that is not a member/regular attender of a faith community.” Except for the Independent Protestant one – it does require a clergy, but not one belonging to a specific denomination. There are enough independent clergy around that you could find one. I am one such clergy and am planning to offer this as a group course, similar to how a merit badge counselor sometimes does it.

      • I read an article in Scouting magazine only a few months ago about some new religious emblems for the Sikh faith. The individual who spearheaded the creation of the emblems, Kavneet Pannu, did indeed encourage people from other faiths to work on them to learn about their religion. The article is called ‘Scouter Kavneet Pannu helps teach Scouts about Sikhism’. Perhaps that is not the case for all emblems, but it is for these.

    • If a Scout generally considers themselves to be nominally Christian, but not belonging to a specific denomination, there is what I call the generic Protestant emblem. It is listed as “Protestant and Independent Christian Churches”. I would like to see some other options develop in this program. I use the Duty to God patches when I teach some of my workshops.

    • Along the same lines, how does BSA address Scouts of mixed religious background? For example, one parent may be Jewish, and the other parent Catholic; or one parent is Presbyterian and the other is Muslim. Many kids in these situations, follow customs and traditions of both faiths, or maybe neither.

  2. Wait, you linked to the Pray website, you linked to the Jewish site and the Catholic site, but you didn’t link to the single largest religious denomination in Scouting, the LDS site? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormons) has more Scouts than the Jewish and Catholic Scouting groups put together. Kind of seems a little discriminatory to not link to the LDS site. I’d link in this comment, but comments with links never appear on these blog posts.

  3. The page seems to have eaten my previous post, but you linked to the Pray website, the Jewish site, and the Catholic site, but didn’t link to the LDS site, even though the LDS Scouting group is larger than the Jewish and Catholic Scouting groups put together. Seems a little discriminatory.

  4. I have noticed that the number of Scouts in my troop earning religious awards has declined significantly over the past couple of decades. I believe one reason is that there are too many levels to most religious awards (2 or 3 levels in Cub Scouts/Webelos; another couple in Boy Scouts). And the Cub levels are VERY easy, whereas the older levels take much more time and effort. I think that boys who graduate from Cub Scouts/Webelos, who have already earned an easy medal, are much less inclined to work for the Boy Scout age level award(s).

  5. Hey Bryan thanks for the great post! So, I know an adult leader can still wear the religious knot earned as a youth, but does that mean he can still wear the youth medal too? Thanks for the information!

  6. You didn’t mention device pins to wear on the square knot for boys who earn the award at different ages, e.g., Cubs, Webelos, Scouts, Venturers = four pins worn on the square knot.

    I encourage the Scout to receive the award at a service at his own religious organization, since they are the ones making the award. But the square knot is a Scouting award, and I like to present it at a Court of Honor or Pack Meeting, so other Scouts can see that we value it.

  7. Not sure if my last post got through (if not go ahead and delete this one), but if a Scouter can wear both his youth and adult religious knots together, does that mean an adult Scouter can continue to wear the medal he earned as a youth along with the one he earns as an adult? I have a committee waiting on an answer, lol. Thanks Bryan!

    • Good Afternoon Edward, yes, an adult may wear any medal that he has previously earned. Similar to the Eagle medal, an adult may wear it along with the knot. I don’t see many adults wearing youth religious emblems, but there is nothing to stop them. I have worn mine to a Scout Sunday service.

    • No, an adult would only wear the adult religious emblem of his/her faith if they have received that. The youth religious awards are only worn by youth members.

  8. According to the Insignia Guide: “Two Badges With the Same Meaning: Cloth badges and embroidered square knots are representative of metal pin-on awards and are designed for the convenience of the wearer. Generally, when a cloth badge or knot is worn, the metal one is not worn.”

    I would take this to mean that if a youth decides to wear the youth religious award square knot, they should not wear their medal.

    In regard to Luanne Hagee – again according to the Insignia guide: “The square knot, silver on purple, may be worn above the left pocket by a youth member or an adult member who earned the knot as a youth.”

    • Generally, medals aren’t worn when the class-A shirt is worn outside of something like a Court of Honor. For instance, while working as summer camp staff, although the class-A shirt is mandated at times, medals generally aren’t worn. For all of these times the square knots are worn.

      If you want to buy a second shirt without square knots specifically for Courts of Honor, then more power to you. Or if you want to take them off and add them on each time then more power to you. In my experience, people with knots and medals either add the medal during a Court of Honor, or never wear the medal — I’ve never seen someone wear a medal without their shirt also having the appropriate knot.

      • I think I wore my Eagle medal for a while without the knot when I first joined my son’s troop. But I think that was because I hadn’t sewn the knot on yet. Now with the knot, I often forget to put on the medal for ECoH’s.
        Also note that medals are appropriate to wear on a suit jacket lapel when you are attending an occasion where relevant medals would be worn. So, for example, I would expect to see parishioners at a religious awards ceremony wearing the religious awards they earned — be it youth or adult, same or different house of worship, field uniform or worship dress. (Yes, this deviates from the IG in that adults may wind up wearing a youth award, but I value the show of solidarity with the people receiving an award over ageist boundaries.) Needless to say, customs in your community that would specify what is/isn’t worshipful would trump anybody’s insignia guide.

  9. Thanks ProScout Zach and Scouter Bill! That helps a lot. I think, gilsonh, that medals are still worn for formal occasions even if the knot is also being worn; for example, at a Court of Honor the Eagle medal can still be worn even if the rank patch or square knot are also on the shirt. So there is a time and place for the metal insignia even with the square knots already in place.

    But to Luanne’s point, I seem to find a number of instances where a metal medal (haha) earned as you youth may still be worn as an adult, and since religious awards do not fall under the BSA’s jurisdiction, it may be up to each denomination to determine what is allowed.

    I think I will wait for Bryan to pop in with the official verdict before making a decision though!

    • From the Insignia Guide:

      Page 77 – Religious Emblems:

      “The square knot, purple on silver, No. 5014, may be worn above the left pocket by adult members presented with the recognition. Adults may wear both knots if they satisfy qualifying criteria.
      When a square knot is worn, the medal is not worn.”

    • The overarching guideline to all awards, including the Eagle rank, is to keep the uniform neat and uncluttered. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t display those awards and recognitions we have earned, but we shouldn’t wear more than is appropriate for our position or the occasion.

      From the Scoutmaster Handbook, 5th edition, 1959:

      “While Scouters may wear the insignia to which they are entitled, a ‘total display’ may not be in the best taste if the uniform looks over decorated. Unauthorized insignia or incorrect wearing of authorized insignia is always wrong. Scouters must set the example for Scouts in this matter. The Scoutmaster who wears only his Scoutmaster emblem, council or community strip, troop numeral, and service star on his uniform is never guilty of poor taste.”

  10. Ah. I see that Bart popped in with similar thoughts just as I made my last remark. Thank you sir!

    Bryan, this conversation on when to wear medals and/or/vs. knots might make for a very helpful blog post in the future! I have noticed a LOT of confusion on this not only in my committee and in this conversation, but also at round tables and University of Scouting events. An official blog post could go a long way towards clarifying this subject!

  11. The “How/Where” section doesn’t tell me where on the uniform the medal is worn. My son recently received his On My Honor medal. Does he wear it on the uniform? Or only the square knot? Thanks!

  12. “Wear thy medal as long as thee canst”
    In my humble opinion, the youth award should be worn by the youth. The knot is a recognition you have earned it, “in your youth”. One would not wear the AoL, only the knot. Eagle medal? On one’s civvies, special occasion, perhaps. Ultimately, I have no objection, but hey, that’s just me, I am not the Uniform Police.
    True Story: I met a young man at the University of Scouting, he had on his uni ( I recognized) the Eagle, the God and Country, the Ner Tamid, and the Ad Altare Dei. I introduced myself and said, ” You know, I have to ask, how did you come by that collection of awards?” This is what he told me:
    His Troop was sponsored by a Methodist Church, his mom was Jewish, his dad Catholic. He said he asked the clergy involved and found no objection to earning the faith awards of each religion in turn….

  13. Suggestion – there seem to be lots of questions about WHERE and WHEN medals are worn, and if/which youth medals may be worn as an adult. Bryan, could you maybe add a post to your blog clarifying these questions? I think a lot of people would appreciate it. Thanks!

  14. For something like the Lutheran Lamb adult religious emblem, which is an award on a neck ribbon for 10 years of church service plus 10 years of Scouting service, I would never object to someone who wore that neck ribbon plus their adult knot at an appropriate ceremony. It is simply too rare for me to discourage someone from wearing the neck ribbon — and wearing the neck ribbon is likely to promote a conversation about how others can earn it too (recognizing that it is by nomination and requires pastor and church board signatures as well as Council exec signature).

    • Back some 40 years ago when I revised and/or created the Eastern Orthodox Scouting Emblems and requirements, I remember several stipulations recognized by the (then) Religious Relations Division, 1) A Scout could earn the medal from any church/group from that group with the permission of the boy’s parents and pastor (vote taken in order for a boy to learn about another denomination, such as the one that sponsored his unit.) Adult awards also could be given to a registered adult who performed outstanding service to boys of a denomination yet was not a member of that denomination, for instance, a good Scoutmaster of a troop sponsored by another church. Also, in our small town with 4 troops, a Scoutmaster with a boy working for Eagle would have his pastor or religious leader notified of the availability of Religious awards (for a dual presentation or one close in time, we all knew each other; although a small town, the boys tended to join the troop of their friends or a close sponsor not usually the one of their church.)

  15. Actually the 20 unit requirement predates the flying spaghetti monster and was put in place to stop recognition of a Wiccan award, Hart and Crescent.

  16. I have a question. A Scout earns, as a Cub Scout and/or Webelos, their faith’s religious award/medal and are awarded the silver with purple background religious square knot. The Scout crosses over into Boy Scouts. Are they still allowed to wear the silver with purple background religious square knot that they earned as a Cub Scout and/or Webelos on the Boy Scout uniform? Or do they needed to earn the faith’s religious award/medal that relates to the appropriate age of Boy Scouts BEFORE they can were the silver with purple background religious square knot on their Boy Scout uniform?

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