Like all good Cub Scouts, William and Michael Randall promised to do their best to help other people, honor their country and obey the Law of the Pack.
But when it came to pledging a “duty to God,” the twin 10-year-olds from Anaheim Hills refused.
“I don’t think he’s real,” Michael said. “Nobody has his signature, nobody has any clothes that he wore, nobody knows if he’s dead or something. I just think that he’s a fairy-tale.”
Said William: “My brother took the words right out of my mouth.”
The fourth-graders’ stance has put them at loggerheads with Boy Scout officials who say they won’t alter the time-honored Scouting pledge for a pair of young atheists.
“The Scout Oath and Pledge have been part of the movement since 1910,” said Blake Lewis, national spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America. “You can’t pick and choose the parts you want to obey.”
Today, an Orange County Superior Court judge will begin the task of determining whether the boys can be excluded from the organization on religious grounds or if the 80-year-old institution will have to accept them and their views on God.
The Randall boys’ case has drawn national attention and is one of several high-profile court battles accusing the venerable institution of discrimination. Other cases have alleged bias against girls and homosexual Scoutmasters.
In a Chicago case that closely mirrors the Randalls’, a judge is expected to rule any day on whether an 8-year-old boy can be barred from Scouting because he does not believe in God. Recently, two Southland den leaders were ousted because Boy Scout officials accused them of being atheists.
“Atheism is contrary to the duty-to-God principles in Scouting,” Lewis said.
In the Randall case, the boys were happy members of a Culver City den for about two years before running into trouble.
According to their father, attorney James Grafton Randall, the twins’ den leader never made them fulfill the “duty-to-God” requirements. “As far as he (the den leader) was concerned the word God meant the same thing as Good, and there was no problem,” James Randall, who is representing the boys, said in court documents.
But that arrangement ended when the family moved to Anaheim Hills and the boys started attending Cub Scouts Den 4, Pack 519.
In January, the den leader called the twins’ mother and asked if her sons are atheists, James Randall said. The den leader said that if the boys did not believe in God, they would have to drop out of the organization, James Randall said.
Angela Cutts, the den leader, has refused to comment on the case.
Randall alleges that his sons were excluded from the Cub Scouts den because of their views on God. He filed suit, contending that the Boy Scouts of America is a public organization and cannot discriminate on religious grounds.
Attorneys for the Orange County Council of the Boy Scouts argue that the Randalls were not legitimate members in the Anaheim Hills den because they never completed the proper forms.
George A. Davidson, attorney for Boy Scouts of America, insists that the boys were not expelled from the den, but only told that they could not advance in ranks without completing the religious requirements.
More important, he contends that the organization is a private institution, not public, and has the right to choose its members. At issue, he said, is freedom of association, not freedom of religion.
The Randall twins seem quite concerned about their personal freedoms.
They talk about how in the first grade they refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance because of its “one nation, under God” phrase. According to the boys’ father, the principal of the school let them alone after they told him they “had the right to life, liberty and a piece of happiness.”
To the Randall boys, uttering the word God in the Scout pledge is the same thing. “I don’t have to say an oath with the word God in it,” said William, who, like his brother, is 5 feet 4 inches tall and a husky 160 pounds. “It’s my right.”
When the lawsuit was filed last February, the boys entered the national spotlight. They filed for, and were granted, a temporary restraining order allowing them to stay in the organization without having to swear an oath to God. That order, however, was stayed last April by an appellate court.
Since then, the boys have not been to a Cub Scouts meeting.
Despite their intellectual demeanor, there have been accusations from both within and outside the Scouting world that the twins are being used as pawns to advance their father’s legal career.
Father and sons reject that notion.
“Me and my brother said: ‘Let’s do it,’ and we did it,” said Michael. “He never forced us.”
In fact, the boys said, their father has repeatedly asked them if they wanted him to drop the case.
“Me and my brother said: ‘No,’ ” Michael said emphatically.
After months of legal wrangling, the boys said they are prepared to give the judge their opinion of the situation.
“I don’t think it’s very fair,” said Michael. “I was kicked out just for telling the truth, and the Boy Scouts teach people to tell the truth.”
William said he wants to tell the judge and the Scouts that his view on God will be kept to himself and is not like a contagious disease. “They don’t have to worry. It won’t spread around the pack.”
Both of the Randall boys said they feel confident that they “will prevail,” as Michael put it.
“I don’t want to lose this case,” he said. “If I do lose, I’ll feel upset. . . . I guess I would have to start my own club or something, but for now I’d like to stay in Boy Scouts.”
“Me too,” William said.