When 15-year-old Boy Scout Paul Trout went before a local review board in April that was examining his credentials for the rank of Life scout, he was surprised at the many questions he was asked about his religious beliefs and his concept of creation.
"I had no idea what to say at first. I was not prepared for anything like this," Trout said in an interview at his home here.
Trout, who has been in scouting since the age of 8, said he answered that although he respected the rights of others to believe in God, he did not hold such a belief himself.
The local council in Charlottesville, where Trout attends school and is a member of Troop 105, referred the matter to national officials of the Boy Scouts, who instructed the local council to block Trout's elevation in rank. They also said that one of the requirements for being a Boy Scout is the belief in a Supreme Being.
"Youth and/or adult members of the Boy Scouts of America must meet certain membership requirements. One of these requirements is belief in a Supreme Being," Ben H. Love, chief scout executive of the Boy Scouts of America, said in a letter last month to Trout's parents, Anita and Robert Trout, who had protested the denial of their son's promotion.
"If a person does not have belief in a Supreme Being, then they cannot be a member of the Boy Scouts of America," Love wrote.
Before Love's letter, said Anita Trout -- who until this year was a den mother for Cub Scouts -- no one had told Paul Trout that he could no longer be a Boy Scout.
The Trouts contend that neither the Boy Scout handbook nor registration materials specify that explicit belief in God is a requirement for membership.
"Paul is not a dishonorable person. Neither is he a hypocrite," the Trouts wrote to the Boy Scouts of America after their son was denied the Life rank. "We cannot express strongly enough our feeling that an injustice has been done."
"When a boy joins the Boy Scouts he agrees to 'Understand and intend to live by the Scout Oath and Scout Law' . . . . If the time comes when he changes his mind, and cannot subscribe to the Scout Oath and Law, then he no longer meets the membership requirements and should resign. If he does not do so, then his leaders will take the appropriate action," Love wrote in another letter to the Trouts.
The first lines of the Scout Oath, as they appear in a recent edition of the Boy Scout handbook, read: "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country." The Scout handbook states that all Scouts are expected to be reverent, in addition to trustworthy, loyal, helpful and eight other qualities in the famous Scout Law.
Paul Trout said that although he has recited the Boy Scout oath many times, he considered the reference to God in the same category as that in the Pledge of Allegiance, and had not taken it literally.
Love's office said yesterday that Love was in Munich at an international scouting convention and could not be reached for comment.
But his administrative assistant, Harold Sokolsky, said, "They're equivocating . . . . The Scout oath is not a casual utterance."
Sokolsky said that Trout "has a conflict. Maybe he didn't have one when he was 11 years old, but he does now. He has to decide between his ideology and ours."
Sokolsky denied that Love's letters to the Trout family could be interpreted as expelling Paul Trout from the Boy Scouts. Membership decisions are made by individual Scout troops in consultation with regional councils, not by the national office, he said.
Asked how the Trouts should interpret Love's letters, Sokolsky said, "They can infer what they want."
However, Trout's scoutmaster, Albert Magahee, said the correspondence from the Boy Scouts' national office to the local council strongly suggested that the council deny Trout's promotion and revoke his membership, and that the council thought it had to follow the national office's suggestion.
"He is no longer a troop member r a member of the council," Magahee said yesterday.
"I hated to lose him. He was the best-disciplined and most helpful of the boys in my troop," he said.
Anita Trout said that she and her husband have no plans to take legal action against the Boy Scouts. "We have no quarrel with the Boy Scouts if they want to be a religious organization, but they should be above board about it right from the start."
Paul Trout, who said he first decided he would join the Boy Scouts when he was just 4 years old and found a copy of the handbook at a second-hand sale, said he is still hopeful that he eventually will be allowed back into the Scouts. "I hope to be reinstated -- and make Eagle," Trout said yesterday.