Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Boy Scouts and discrimination

Be careful what you ask for, because you might not like what you get.

Six years ago, the Supreme Court ruled -- correctly -- that a private organization like the Boy Scouts could not be forced to accept gays as either Scouts or leaders.

Since then, however, the Boy Scouts have learned a lesson about the other side of freedom of association: the rest of society can choose whether it wishes to associate with you.

Parents have pulled their children out of Scouting. Cities, schools and governmental organizations have stopped sponsoring Boy Scout troops, or stopped providing them with subsidized services or facilities, or stopped listing them on employee charity forms.

The Boy Scouts have sued, claiming victim status. But as long as governmental services are provided (or not) based on objective criteria, the Boy Scouts have no leg to stand on. Cities aren't required to give the KKK free access to city facilities, and they are similarly not required to provide such access to the Scouts.

This is a shame. I was an Eagle Scout and an Order of the Arrow member. I was senior patrol leader for my troop. I spent 10 years in Scouting, and the experience was phenomenal. The Scouts, at their best, provide young boys with camaraderie, self-confidence, skills and experiences that can be hard for city dwellers to come by another way.

But the anti-gay facet of Scouting was never a factor in my experience. Had it been, the whole experience would have been different, and lessened. We recited the Scout Oath, but "morally straight" never meant "heterosexual"; it meant "upstanding and honest."

Similarly, religion wasn't central to Scouting back in my day. It was about camping, and knot-tying, and hiking, and being of good character.

Religion intruded on us only once while I was a Scout. Our longtime Scoutmaster bowed out, and the new Scoutmaster began holding mandatory "nondenominational" church services on campouts. They were nondenominational only if you were Protestant Christian, and many of us weren't; besides Catholics, we had Jews, Muslims and assorted nonbelievers in the troop.

I led the Senior Patrol in a boycott of the services, and told the Scoutmaster that most of the senior Scouts would quit if he didn't stop. That led to a meeting of troop parents in which the Scoutmaster was indeed told to knock it off.

Later, when I was finishing up work for my Eagle badge, I had to choose one part of the Scout Law to write an essay on. I chose "Reverent", and argued that it didn't mean "religious"; it meant having respect for religion and the beliefs of others.

I also asked my Scoutmaster to write one of the three required recommendations. To his credit, he did so.

I fondly remember my time in Scouting. But what Scouting has to offer is not tied to religious beliefs; it's tied to the values and citizenship it promotes. Some may argue that those values are rooted in religion. I disagree, but it's irrelevant. Whatever they're rooted in, they do not need religion in order to propogate. And the current Scout leadership, by emphasizing the religion over the common values, do a great disservice to both and to the value Scouting has provided to American society for decades.

So based on the values taught to me by Scouting, I conclude that they deserve everything they get. I only hope that they abandon their current folly before they do too much harm to future generations, for whom Scouting may not have the meaning or the value that it had for previous generations.

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Anonymous Marc Schneider said...

Unfortunately, I'm not sure you are correct about this. The government may well be required to provide space to the KKK if the only basis for denying them is the content of their message. I'm no expert on this, but I'm not sure the Scouts might not eventually win. Although it does seem to me that the Scouts cases might be different because the basis for denial is not their speech but their action, ie, discriminating against other groups.

10/18/2006 8:36 AM  
Anonymous Dyre42 said...

I checked out troops in San Antonio and was surprised to discover how many met at churches of one kind or another. I for one am curious as to how widespread thar phenomena is.

10/19/2006 12:38 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Marc: The government can't ban the KKK purely for the content of its message, but it can set broad criteria, including such things as "compliance with nondiscrimination rules." That excludes most hate groups.

Dyre: Churches have long sponsored troops, or provided places for them to meet. It's not necessarily a Boy Scout thing; churches have meeting spaces that they tend to use infrequently, so many of them see it as a community service to provide meeting space for groups. Years ago, I was part of a wargaming club that met at a church!

But I do agree that you'll see more and more troops either sponsored by, or meeting at space provided by, private organizations.

10/19/2006 7:34 AM  
Blogger Gary McGath said...

Nicely put. In many cases, I believe local governments have been offering special arrangements to the Boy Scouts that weren't available to all nonprofits. The case of free use of the public marina sounds like one of those; I really doubt that Berkeley's policy was that the members of any and all nonprofit groups had free use of the marina. Granting something to all nonprofits except the Boy Scouts would be more dubious.

The Boy Scouts need to learn that there's no First Amendment right to get stuff for free at the taxpayers' expense.

10/22/2006 9:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The number one sponsor of Boy Scout Troops in the USA is the United Methodist Church, second is the Church of Latter Day Saints or Mormans. As far as government sponsorship of troops or allowing
public use of facilities has always been minimal. The Boy Scouts
of America are an independent organization and do have the freedom of assembly and meeting as perscribed by the constitution.
It is is sad that a small very vocal minority is able to beat up on such a great organization because they may not be politically correct. What is going to happen if we tell gay groups they cannot use public facilities because they don't allow straights?
They would scream bloddy murder.
Thanks to the ACLU and other communist front groups this country is no longer ruled by the majority but a bunch of self serving whiners and cowards.
Jim T.

1/19/2008 1:32 PM  
Anonymous Brian Westley said...

The number one sponsor of scouts used to be public schools; the BSA didn't see anything hypocritical about being a private organization, yet have public schools as their largest sponsor.

However, the ACLU certainly saw something wrong, and threatened to sue any public school that continued to charter BSA units that practiced religious discrimination. So the dishonest BSA was sent packing.

1/23/2008 6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since there is now a fully nondiscriminatory Scout Program, Adventure Scouts "dot" org, schools, groups and governmental entities have another choice.

4/03/2008 7:11 PM  

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