This article was last modified on April 10, 2006.


On the Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America have come under attack in recent years regarding their stand against homosexuals and atheists. Funding has been cut off from certain groups and individuals, protests have been staged and lawsuits have been filed. As a former Boy Scout, I have lived through the program and am familiar with it first hand (at least from the youth angle albeit not from the administrative end). I would like to address my time in Scouting and some of the controversies that circle it today.

My Time in Scouts

I have spent many years in Scouting, starting when I was very young in Cub Scouts and continuing up through high school. I left the program when I was seventeen, having started but never completing my Eagle Scout rank. I had been asked not to pursue the Eagle Scout rank. In the many years I spent in the program, I had many good experiences and some less positive ones as well.

The bad experiences amount basically to the taunting received from other boys, typically the older ones. I cannot say this problem was something directly connected to Scouting, though. Whether in Scouts or at school or anywhere else, I think older boys naturally find younger boys to torment. I don’t agree with this and unfortunately certain of us receive more taunting than others, but I cannot hold Scouting responsible for this.

The good? Scouting instilled in me a love for camping and nature I could not have received elsewhere. My father was not an outdoorsman, and would not venture into the woods without an RV. This is not real camping. Scouts taught me how to identify plants, basic first aid, cooking skills and how to avoid drowning by inflating your pants. They also taught me a variety of other things with less of a connection (geology, meteorology, archery, Indian lore, etc.) but which probably helped me in high school and college having been taught simplified versions of theories I would examine later.

As for the homosexual and atheist exclusions, I have no recollection of these issues ever being addressed. We had no openly gay members or openly atheist members. And more realistically, keep in mind that these are boys. Our sexuality was probably not fully realized until part of the way through the program, and even then it was never discussed. Nothing about personal relationships ever was mentioned in the Scouting program. Atheism is even less of an issue, because the boys could not possibly have had the knowledge to decide if they were atheist, agnostic or Christian at this point. Few of them ever thought about this, and when we did attend church services (non-denominational) it was no different than joining our parents. We listened to the sermon and went back to the camp, not being lead into one belief or another. Some vague worship of God was involved, but with many of the aspects of Scouting being Indian-based, this was not strogn nad could be interpreted to fit almost any belief.

Mormon Control of Boy Scouts

In the fourth season premiere of Penn and Teller’s “Bullshit!”, they pushed the case that Mormons have have entered the Boy Scouts and subsequently hijacked the organization to push their own agenda on the people involved. They cite the Mormons running an unusually large amount of troops and the Scouting program becoming more and more strongly and vocally opposed to atheists and homosexuals since the 1980s.

But I am unclear how they have made the connection between this and the control of Scouting. Running troops does not in any way mean you have some sort of influence over the organization as a whole. My troop, for example, was based in a Catholic church. At no time did I feel that the troop had any say over the local district or even over the boys in the troop itself. Most of the boys in the troop were Catholic, but this was not part of the Scouting. We did not have to attend mass (although many did) and the outings were not religion-based.

The current CEO of Scouting is apparently Roy Williams. Williams is a former scout himself, even being a member of the honor society and having achieved the Order of the Arrow. He went on to be in the Air Force before returning to Scouting as an adult. No mention is made of him being Mormon, and hailing from Texas it would not be a safe assumption to believe that he is. So, the question is this: if the head of the organization is not Mormon, and the local troops do not affect the upper levels, how is the Mormon church influencing Boy Scouts? They seemingly are not.

Exclusion of Homosexuals

As I said in my personal experience section, homosexuality is not something that comes into play for many of the boys. By the time they are old enough to have significant others, most of the boys will have dropped out of scouting to pursue other interests. In high school, relationships and school functions (or sports) take precedence over scouting.

Now, leadership is another issue. While the Boy Scouts say they will not actively seek out knowledge of someone’s sexual orientation, they do state that “We believe an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law.” (News Release, June 28, 2000) Which values they are referring to is unclear. There is nothing regarding sexuality, and unless they believe homosexuals have some sort of natural desire to pursue immorality, there is no reason to believe they cannot uphold the scout laws.

I understand that Scouting has a deep religious undertone, and that many religions have anti-homosexual views. But this should not affect Scouting. First, many religions accept homosexuals if they are not practicing. Second, if they are practicing, it is not the place of others to judge them. Many straight men do all kinds of morally questionable things in their sexual lives. As long as these things do not affect the youth, what difference does any of it make? None. The only thing holding back homosexuals is society itself, still not comfortable with alternative lifestyles.

Some people in Scouting (though to my knowledge no one of importance) hold the belief that homosexuals are more likely to molest children than straight males or that homosexuals can somehow convert kids to become gay simply by being around them. All responsible research has debunked these outlandish claims.

Exclusion of Atheists

Stating again that Boy Scouts is a religious organization, it seems sensical to exclude atheists. However, with atheism and secular humanism growing in both America and the world, people are increasingly accepting the idea that someone can be morally upright and atheist at the same time, just as someone can be very religious but still do unspeakable things.

There is no reason an atheist child could not join Scouting and fit in with the other children. The religious element is so minor that other than the religious service during Summer Camp, nobody would even bother to notice. And this service is so generic and non-denominational that an atheist could sit through it without feeling overly awkward, I would imagine. Ideally, Boy Scouts could adapt to suit the needs of the atheist, but since the organization is openly religious it’s really the atheist’s responsibility to adapt, not the organization’s.

My biggest concern, however, is with the public funding. A clearly church-based group should not be receiving tax money and assistance from the military and other government groups. The Boy Scouts are not pushing one view over another (which I appreciate), but an argument can still be made that the organization is still violating the church and state separation. I do not have the legal background to adequately decide on this one way or the other, but I do think it would be worth the time of anyone who wanted to explore the issue further.

Exclusion of Women

With a name like “Boy Scouts” you would expect it to contain boys. Girls would more likely be found in Girl Scouts. Yet, the Boy Scouts have been sued to admit women on the grounds that the Eagle Scout award is considered a greater achievement than anything Girl Scouts has to offer. Yes, the Eagle Scout is an honored position. But admitting women to Boy Scouts is not the solution. Three things to consider.

First, the accomodations to be made would be staggering. If a troop only had one girl, she couldn’t share a tent or room with the boys. That’s not a risk the troop could take and privacy would definately be a concern. Harrasssment would be an issue (one girl surrounded by one hundred boys is always a problem). While it’s true that the situation could be adjusted for women (such as was done in many workplaces and elsewhere), would the outcome be worth the cost? I happen to think not.

Second, the problem here is not with Boy Scouts, but actually with Girl Scouts. Rather than join the Boy Scouts, why not encourage the Girl Scouts to offer a program that would be more rigorous and more respected? There seems to be no reason why this could not be achieved.

Third, because one program is better than another does not mean you have a right to the better program. Yale or Harvard are probably better educational institutions than community colleges. But if someone is denied entrance to Yale, they can’t sue on the grounds that they’d receive a better education from Yale than from what is available to them. That’s silly. Or to use a gender example, compare the girls and boys basketball team. If the boys had a winning team and the girls did not, this does not mean the girls have a right to sue to get on the boys’ team. If only one team was available (like football) there might be an exception, but this is not the case with Scouting.

Conclusion

While I feel the Boy Scouts of America need to change their ways, I also respect their right to include or exclude whomever they choose. I sincerely hope they realize in this modern world that they are catering to a smaller demographic all the time. Further, as stated, I do not support public funding for religious groups. If this funding were cut, perhaps this is exactly the motivation the scouting organization would need to reexamine its policies. If not, and they chose their beliefs over funds, I wish them luck. While I cannot accept their views, I can respect anyone who has the courage and integrity to stand for their beliefs when revenue is on the line. After all, being true to yourself is more important than cash in the eyes of the “morally straight”, is it not?

Surely we will see the Boy Scouts continue to grow and change in our lifetimes. And for better or worse, I welcome these changes in the decades to come.

Also try another article under Miscellaneous
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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