When I was a Boy Scout, we learned many useful skills — everything from tying knots to filleting a fish. I also learned about the chaos that can be unleashed in a Boy Scout troop when one member is gay.
Troop leaders had a problem when nobody wanted to share a tent with one of my fellow Scouts after he ignored requests that he stop touching other boys. After much disruption, he was asked to leave. Soon, such an act of responsibility could become far more complicated if leaders have to deal with the sensitive subject of homosexuality without protective and simple guidance from the national Boy Scouts of America.
Next week, the BSA board will vote on whether to overturn the Scouts’ ban on openly gay members and leaders. They are describing it as a matter of local choice, but it would be a prelude to surrender. Embattled local councils and troops would lose the national policy shield, and judges could determine that sexual morality is no longer a core value of the organization, an issue key to protecting Boy Scouts’ First Amendment freedom of association.
The new policy, as BSA spokesman Deron Smith puts it in a news release, allows local groups “that oversee and deliver Scouting (to) accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.”
In other words, liberal churches and other sponsors that have jumped the shark on sexual morality could now allow openly gay men and boys into Scout troops. The idea that homosexual behavior is not acceptable would no longer be a part of the organization’s message and thus, according to the Supreme Court’s reasoning, no longer allow local troops to follow the old policy. This could destroy the Boy Scouts, a bastion of traditional values.
To many parents, the issue is not just about the right to express disapproval of homosexual conduct. Boy Scouts, like Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky scandal, learned hard lessons about failing to protect boys. In Scout’s Honor, a 1994 book, investigative reporter Patrick Boyle revealed decades of cases in which hundreds of Scout leaders abused boys.
Some point to pedophilia, attraction to prepubescent children, as the sole cause of the abuse. But, for the Boy Scouts, males being attracted to other males is a key part of the issue, both from a moral and a practical point of view. As with the Catholic Church’s scandal, many of the victims were young men, not children.
Just months after the BSA completed a two-year review of the policy on gays and agreed to keep it in place, courts continue to uphold the Boy Scouts’ right to express its moral viewpoint. Based in part on the Supreme Court’s 2000 decision upholding the BSA policy, the Scouts just won another legal victory when the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed a decision to evict them from San Diego’s Balboa Park after an ACLU lawsuit.
The Scout oath requires boys and leaders to be “morally straight.” This needed no explanation in saner times. The Scout leadership needs to stay true to its values and ignore corporate pressure from within and cultural pressure from without. The only way that will happen is if BSA board members get an earful from local Scout leaders and parents who won’t let Boy Scouts walk away from its long-held principles.
Robert Knight is an Eagle Scout and Senior Fellow for the American Civil Rights Union, which has filed friend of the court briefs in all major First Amendment cases involving the Boy Scouts.