Boy Scouts reaffirms ban on gays. Is it out of step with the times?

The Boy Scouts of America announced Tuesday that it was affirming, after a secret two-year review, its ban on gay members. The decision elicited widespread criticism and raised questions about whether the world’s largest youth organization was out of step with the times – and its own principles.

Everyone from scout leaders to legal analysts pointed to the cultural currents moving toward more inclusion of gays in US society, from President Obama’s announcement that he now personally supports gay marriage, to the end of the US military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, to the Episcopal church’s decision to bless same-sex unions.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is on the wrong side of history on this issue and will “wither away” if it sticks to this policy, says David Cohen, professor at the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Pointing to the 2000 Supreme Court decision that upheld the private group’s right to choose its members, he adds via e-mail, “just because the Supreme Court has said the Boy Scouts are allowed to have this policy does not mean that it is just or that it is consistent with basic human compassion.”

In its statement announcing the decision to continue the ban on both gay scouts and leaders, the Texas-based Boy Scouts of America (BSA) cited support from parents and said the decision was the result of a two-year review by a panel that represented “a diversity of perspectives and opinions.”

Further, the statement, which did not identify the panel members, said, “the review included forthright and candid conversation and extensive research and evaluations – both from within Scouting and from outside of the organization.”

But group members say the move flies in the face of the organization’s own stated values.

“It is reprehensible that BSA would exclude gays,” says Michael Reinemer, a current Scout leader and former Boy Scout who lives in Annandale, Va. While the Boy Scouts is a private organization, he says, “it is also an American institution that develops character. Its highest level of leadership training (Wood Badge) requires involvement in bringing diversity to your scout unit.”

While the Boy Scouts may have the right to discriminate, the public also has the right to choose other options for young boys, says Professor Cohen, adding, “as each successive public opinion poll shows, Americans are not comfortable with bigotry against lesbian and gay individuals. Continuing this policy is a recipe for the Boy Scouts to wither away and be remembered as a bigoted organization that refused to change with the times.”

The BSA, however, said support from parents was an important reason for keeping the policy.

“The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” Boy Scouts chief executive Bob Mazzuca said in a statement.

“We fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.”

The BSA leadership, however, has grown more conservative and does not fully reflect the larger membership, says Northwestern University law professor Andrew Koppelman.

Professor Koppelman, coauthor of “A Right to Discriminate? How the Case of Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale Warped the Law of Free Association,” commends the BSA, noting that it does “important and valuable work in inner cities,” but adds that the leadership is not representative of those troops in major urban areas, such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

The group was not always so conservative, he says, pointing to the aggressive anti-prejudicial moves that mark the history of this iconic, century-old entity.

Scout troops in the Deep South took in African-American members during the years of official segregation laws when no other institutions were doing so. Even earlier in its history, he points out, the BSA was a leader in welcoming Jewish and Catholic members. “And this was during an era early in the last century when there was strong prejudice against both those groups,” he says.

This turn away from inclusive policies coincides with what Koppleman points to as the increasing influence of religious sponsors on the BSA. He notes that in 1995 roughly 40 percent of  scout troops were sponsored by religious groups, but by 2001, that number had grown to 62 percent.

One group in particular, the Mormon Church, has a strong influence within the organization, he points out, primarily because the church requires Boy Scout participation for members of its own youth ministry. While Mormons represent roughly two percent of the US population, he adds, they make up 12 percent of the Boy Scouts, and Mormon churches sponsor some 23 percent of BSA troops.

The group’s decision to adopt a divisive policy is particularly unfortunate for troops in hard-hit inner cities, points out Koppelman.

“This policy makes it much harder to raise funds for the organization,” he says, which is particularly tragic for troops doing fine work with young boys in areas with few other resources. “This decision would not matter so much if the Boy Scouts were not such an important group in so many ways,” he adds.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Bibi Chapman on 07/18/2012 - 09:26 am.

    STANDING STRONG. . .BOYS SCOUTS OF AMERICA!

    I truly BEG to differ! Most of Americans do NOT believe embracing immorality is discriminating against homosexual lifestyles; rather, stating what the act is, while still loving the persons involved in said acts. Liberal television seems to think their voice is the only voice to be heard and correct on the matter. . . NOT SO!

    Thank you, Boy Scouts of America for STANDING STRONG against opposition. It’s better to be on the wrong side of man and the RIGHT SIDE w/GOD! For, God’s “thoughts” are clear on homosexuality, just as His thoughts are clear on all acts of sin. Since, God is the only person that has finally say on man’s eternal destination, I say “Boys Scouts of America, It’s better to be safe than sorry. Honor, God publicly now and Jesus will publicly honor you before the FATHER, later!”

    GOD BLESS the Boys Scouts of America! I pray that EVERY organization founded upon the WORD of GOD follows suit. . . STAND STRONG AGAINST ALL ODDS NOW AND GOD WILL STAND STRONG W/YOU NOW AND INTO ETERNITY!

    Bibi

    Loving people, despise sin. . .including my own!

  2. Submitted by Bill Roehl on 07/18/2012 - 10:41 am.

    As an Eagle Scout With a Son…

    I have noted several times on other public forums following the release of this decision that I will not allow my son to participate in the BSA, even though it is a lifelong dream to have him attain the same rank, until they change their policy to reflect modern times.

    From the Scout Law:

    A Scout is Friendly.
    A Scout is a friend to all. He is a brother to other Scouts. He offers his friendship to people of all races and nations, and respects them even if their beliefs and customs are different from his own.

    A Scout is Kind.
    A Scout knows there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he wants to be treated. Without good reason, he does not harm or kill any living thing.

    A Scout is Clean.
    A Scout keeps his body and mind fit and clean. He chooses the company of those who live by high standards. He helps keep his home and community clean.

    This particular decision goes against these three parts of the Scout Law. It is hard to be a friend to all and respect their different beliefs when the organization demonizes a group; it’s difficult to be kind when the organization believes that hateful actions are acceptable; and most importantly, I will not allow my son or myself to be associated with a group who choose to live by such low standards as to ignore their own laws.

    Bill Roehl
    Eagle Scout – Troop 251 – Clarks Green, PA – February ’95

  3. Submitted by Dave Arthur on 07/18/2012 - 11:05 am.

    BSA Conservatism

    BSA does a lot of great things, and provides wonderful opportunities for boys. But it’s leadership and some of its policies are clearly out of step with a great many Americans when it comes to religion, and in particular, the role of religion in society. An increasingly large percentage of the people of of faith in this country don’t find same-gender relationships to be a moral issue, or even a religious issue. Quite a few mainstream Christian denominations allow the consecration of such relationships and/or ordination of clergy in such relationships. Likewise for the two largest Jewish groups in the US — representing over 80% of American Jews.

    BSA also teaches that religious beliefs are “necessary to the best type of citizenship” … i.e. agnostics and atheists are inherently inferior citizens. While most people of faith find belief in God something that enhances their own civic lives, I suspect the ones that aren’t fundamentalist/traditionalist largely would find the notion that it makes them superior citizens arrogant and also degrading to non-believers. And the notion that the “right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family” etc. can only be realized by excluding homosexuals is a way of dealing with such differences that I suspect most would find disturbing and destructive.

    BSA is by definition a faith-based organization, and that is fine. But the views and policies of their leadership show them to be representative of only the most conservative/fundamentalist religious groups in our country. And that is pretty unfortunate.

  4. Submitted by Dave Arthur on 07/18/2012 - 11:52 am.

    BSA Conservatism

    BSA does a lot of great things, and provides wonderful opportunities for boys. But it’s leadership and some of its policies are clearly out of step with a great many Americans when it comes to religion, and in particular, the role of religion in society. An increasingly large percentage of the people of of faith in this country don’t find same-gender relationships to be a moral issue, or even a religious issue. Quite a few mainstream Christian denominations allow the consecration of such relationships and/or ordination of clergy in such relationships. Likewise for the two largest Jewish groups in the US — representing over 80% of American Jews.

    BSA also teaches that religious beliefs are “necessary to the best type of citizenship” … i.e. agnostics and atheists are inherently inferior citizens. While most people of faith find belief in God something that enhances their own civic lives, I suspect the ones that aren’t fundamentalist/traditionalist largely would find the notion that it makes them superior citizens arrogant and also degrading to non-believers. And the notion that the “right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family” etc. can only be realized by excluding homosexuals is a way of dealing with such differences that I suspect most would find disturbing and destructive.

    BSA is by definition a faith-based organization, and that is fine. But the views and policies of their leadership show them to be representative of only the most conservative/fundamentalist religious groups in our country. And that is pretty unfortunate.

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