SEATTLE (AP) -- An Eagle Scout who has earned 37 merit badges in a decade with the Boy Scouts said Monday he has been kicked out of the organization for refusing to declare a belief in a higher power.
Darrell Lambert said he had just been informed of the decision by the Chief Seattle Council, the Scouts' regional governing body.
''They kicked me out today,'' he told The Associated Press. ''They said my registration will be sent back to me.
''Am I bitter? No. Disappointed? Yeah. We're in the 21st century. Our country was founded on religious freedom, and the Boy Scouts of America are still discriminating.''
He said he planned to appeal the decision within the Scouts and had 60 days to do so.
The issue arose about a month ago, after Lambert attended a Boy Scout leadership training seminar. There, he argued with a Scout leader of a different troop over whether atheists should be expelled.
The council said last week it would give him about a week to declare his belief in a higher power.
Lambert refused, saying that to lie would make him a bad Scout.
The Houston-based Boy Scouts of America did not return calls seeking comment Monday.
As a private organization, the Boy Scouts is permitted to exclude certain people from membership. The association's ban on gay leaders was reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000.
On membership applications, Boy Scouts and adult leaders must say they recognize a higher power -- whether it be through organized religion or an unstructured faith. References to God are also included in the Scouts' oath and Scout law.
Lambert, 19, of Port Orchard said he has been an atheist since ninth grade, when he concluded that science had disproved the accounts of creation given in the Bible. Previously, he said, he had been agnostic.
He had declared his atheism to the Scout leaders overseeing his Eagle Scout application last year, but was still granted the award, which cannot be revoked -- even if he is kicked out of the organization.
''They commended me on my honesty,'' Lambert said.
Lambert said the organization is arbitrary about which membership guidelines it enforces. The Scout oath require Scouts to be strong, for example, but ''we're not kicking people out for not exercising regularly,'' he said.
''They are picking and choosing which rules they go by,'' he said.
Scouting is for boys ages 11-17. Lambert serves as an adult in his troop and also in the Explorer Search and Rescue program, which handles rescue attempts on Washington's Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas. He spent last summer fighting wildfires in Oregon, Nevada, California and Colorado, and he is working toward his associate's degree in arts and sciences at Tacoma Community College.
In his spare time, he babysits for his sister's three children.
His mother, Trish Lambert, told CNN that no one in their family attends church, and that her husband is also an atheist.
''Darrell's not just fighting this for himself. He's fighting this for all the Scouts that have no real belief in God,'' she said.
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