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Boy Scouts shouldn’t abandon morality



A Boy Scout patrol does community service.

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.

Will Boy Scouts allow openly gay members and leaders?

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.


The real issue

A Boy Scout patrol does community service.

Members of a Boy Scout patrol collaborate on an Eagle Scout service project. PHoto: Greg Schechter, CC BY 2.0 Generic License.

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.

Remember your oath!

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.


This column was updated to reflect the version that ran in USA TODAY’s print edition on Jan. 30, 2012.


You may call BSA national headquarters at several numbers: 972-580-2400 (Try this one first). They are keeping track of the calls. Also: 2401, 2405, 2239, 2443, 2280, 2199.

The vote on this potential change could come as early as next Wednesday, Feb. 6.


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Considering that a ban on homosexuals did absolutely nothing to curb rampant sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts, and that homosexuality and pedophilia have no statistical, cultural, or scientific correlation, allowing homosexuals seems reasonable from a practical point of view.

Of course the Boy Scouts can do whatever they want as an (ostensibly private) organization – moral, discriminatory, or otherwise.

But any organization that endorsed anti-homosexual views while attempting to hide (and thus encourage) pedophilia within its ranks has no right to talk of “morality”.

Terry A. Hurlbut

You do realize, of course, that I do not accept your premises. I also remind you that Point Twelve of the Scout Law forbids any traffic with homosexuals or homosexuality.


“You do realize, of course, that I do not accept your premises.”

And I don’t accept yours. So what?

“I also remind you that Point Twelve of the Scout Law forbids any traffic with homosexuals or homosexuality.”

Define ‘traffic.’ Should you, as a hypothetical Scout, refuse to let a homosexual cut your hair? Serve you food? Drive you to work in a cab? Such a vetting process must be incredibly frustrating and time-consuming.

Terry A. Hurlbut

In this case, “traffic” means letting someone into the Troop who cannot, by definition, obey the Scout Law.

If you even bothered to read the article, you’ll note that the author described what happened when an open homosexual joined the troop and then couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

Allowing homosexuals to so serve, would be to abandon any attempt to enforce the contact regulations.


The author’s viewpoint is certainly not one held by all scouts. I am an Eagle Scout (with a silver star, as well as a brotherhood member of the Order of the Arrow). My troop, and many (or all) of the other troops in my district would have been overwhelmingly in favor of admitting openly gay scouts and leaders.

Was Jerry Sandusky gay? Were all of the scout leaders and Catholic priests who abused boys gay? The overwhelming majority of such abuse cases seem to be committed by straight men, so your argument that allowing gays into the Scouts would increase abuse seems invalid. Furthermore, your argument would suggest that we should also ban female scout leaders and women from other branches of scouting, such as the Venture Scouts.

Point twelve of the Scout Law is “reverent”. “Morally straight” is the final part of the Oath. Neither has anything to do with homosexuality (many churches and religious folk are completely fine with gays, and morally straight refers to one’s moral character, not their sexual orientation).

Terry A. Hurlbut

Well, that’s our opinion. And making the seemingly large assumption that you are correctly representing the opinions of your associates in Scouts, churches known to you, and so on, that’s their opinion, too.

Of course, I do not accept you or them as either representative or exemplary of the Boy Scout movement as I knew it, when I became an Eagle Scout in 1972. And I definitely do not accept those churches as properly exemplary of the Body of Christ. I predict that Operation Big Snatch, whenever it occurs, will leave you and them behind.

Jerry Sandusky was almost certainly bi-sexual. So must have been those bad Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters. But that’s less important than recognition, after Paul of Tarsus, that “homosexual offenders…shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. And such were some of you. But you [cleaned up your act].” I corinthians chapter 5. Look it up.

If this is the depths to which Scouting has truly sunk, then I recommend that all parents who have any sense of morality left, pull their sons out of Scouting.

An alternative does exist. It’s called Christian Service Brigades. If the Boy Scouts vote as you seem to want them to vote, I will promote them.

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