Mormons pull 400,000 out of Boy Scouts
For decades, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was one of Boy Scouts of America's greatest allies and the largest sponsor of troops.
But on January 1, the Utah-based faith will deliver the latest blow to the struggling organisation when it pulls out more than 400,000 young people and moves them into a new global program of its own.
The change brings excitement and some melancholy for members of the faith and may push the Boy Scouts closer to the brink of bankruptcy as it faces a new wave of sex abuse lawsuits.
Losing the church will mean about an 18 per cent drop in Boy Scout youth membership compared with last year's numbers and mark the first time since the World War II era that the figure will fall below 2 million. At its peak in the 1970s, more than 4 million boys were Scouts.
Wayne Perry, a church member who is a past president of Boy Scouts of America and a current member of its national board, said the end of the long-term alliance will sting and force many regional councils in the US West to lay off employees and sell some camps.
However, Perry said he's hopeful the Boy Scouts can eventually bring back at least 20 per cent of the Latter-day Saints Scouts who liked the experience and want to keep pursuing merit badges in activities ranging from camping and lifesaving to citizenship.
The church's new youth program will weave in camping and other outdoor activities but there won't be uniforms or a chance to earn the coveted Eagle Scout rank - the highest in Scouting - long seen as a key milestone for teenage boys in the church.
The focus will be squarely on religion and spiritual development, with youth working toward achievements that earn them rings, medallions and pendants inscribed with images of church temples.
The split between the Boy Scouts and church ends a nearly century-old relationship between two organisations that were brought together by shared values but have diverged in recent years.
Amid declining membership,the Boy Scouts of America opened its arms to openly gay youth members and adult volunteers as well as girls and transgender boys, while the church believes that same-sex intimacy is a sin.
As of 2013, there were more than 430,000 Latter-day Saint boys in the Boy Scouts. The latest tally of the Scouts' total youth membership was about 2.2 million last year, and its press office confirmed that the church exodus would push that number close to 1.8 million.
Boy Scout membership has been declining steadily for decades, due to a variety of factors, including the allure of video games and the proliferation of youth sports leagues.
The split with the church comes at a challenging time for the Boy Scouts, which for years has been entangled in costly litigation with men accusing Scout leaders of abusing them as children.
Hundreds of new lawsuits loom after New York, New Jersey, Arizona and California enacted laws making it easier for victims of long-ago abuse to seek damages.
The organisation, headquartered in Irving, Texas, has not ruled out the possibility of filing for bankruptcy.