Should an openly homosexual troop leader be allowed to take adolescent boys on an overnight camping trip, along with a heterosexual troop leader?
Should a 15 year-old boy, who is the only openly homosexual Scout in his local troop, be allowed to tent with a heterosexual boy on a camping trip?
These scenarios were presented in a national survey Boy Scouts of America (BSA) distributed to 1.1 million adult volunteers and Scouts’ parents in March 2013. The survey questioned respondents about their support for the BSA’s long-standing policy that prohibits membership to “open or avowed homosexuals.” A resolution on the policy is slated for consideration by the approximately 1,400 members of the BSA National Council this May. Under the resolution, the BSA would grant membership to youth who identify as homosexual, while maintaining the prohibition on membership for openly homosexual adults.
Over a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the BSA’s policy on homosexuality, the national youth organization continues to face mounting pressure to allow open homosexuality in its ranks. In recent years, this effort has gained a number of outside allies, including big corporations, the media, some mainline liberal churches, and various political leaders. The BSA’s proposal to change its membership policy regarding homosexual youth is a compromise it hopes will please both sides of the debate. However, both homosexual activists and pro-family organizations have criticized the resolution—with one side saying it does not go far enough, and the other viewing it as opening the door for the eventual promotion of homosexuality in the Scouts.
How the BSA National Council votes on the membership standards resolution will determine the future mission and values of the Scouts, and whether, in the near future, open homosexuality will be presented as acceptable to the millions of elementary and adolescent boys involved in Scouting.
Incorporated in 1910 and chartered by Congress in 1916, the BSA describes itself as a “values-based youth development program,” with more than 2.7 million youth members between the ages of seven and 21, and more than one million volunteer leaders (in 2012). The BSA’s stated mission is “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetime by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”
“The Boy Scouts train boys to be leaders and men of character better than any organization I have had experience with,” says Bob Stevens, assistant Scoutmaster and Chaplain for Boy Scout Troop 15 at Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh. A number of former presidents, 289 current members of Congress, including seven of North Carolina’s representatives, and 181 NASA astronauts participated in Scouting as youth or leaders.
Current Membership Policy. As a private, nonprofit organization, the BSA may set specific standards for membership, and currently requires that applicants “possess the moral, educational, and emotional qualities that the Boy Scouts of America deems necessary to afford positive leadership to youth,” and that applicants “be the correct age, subscribe to the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle, and abide by the Scout Oath or Promise, and the Scout Law.” Additionally, the current BSA membership policy, which applies to both youth and adults, states:
While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.
According to the BSA’s March 2013 survey, the majority of BSA parents, unit leaders, council and district volunteers, and chartered organizations support the current membership policy. Specifically the survey found that the current policy is supported by:
• 61 percent of parents.
•62 percent of unit leaders.
• 64 percent of council and district volunteers.
• 72 percent of chartering organizations.
• 51 percent of major donors.
The prohibition against open homosexuality has been part of the BSA’s membership policy in some form since 1978, when a position statement to the BSA Executive Committee stated: “We do not believe that homosexuality and leadership in Scouting are appropriate….” The BSA reiterated that position in a formal policy in 1991, which stated that:
Homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.
The BSA adopted the 1991 policy following a controversy over the revocation of the adult membership of Eagle Scout James Dale. A freshman at Rutger’s University, Dale applied and was approved to serve as an assistant Scoutmaster in 1989. As a result of openly acknowledging his homosexuality, becoming co-president of the college Lesbian/Gay Alliance, and providing an interview to a newspaper about his “advocacy for homosexual teenagers need for gay role models,” the Monmouth BSA Council revoked Dale’s adult membership on the grounds that the BSA “specifically forbid(s) membership to homosexuals.” Dale filed a lawsuit against the BSA in 1992, which ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000.
In defending the decision to revoke Dale’s membership, the BSA argued that, “homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values embodied in the Scout Oath and Law, particularly with the values represented by the terms ‘morally straight’ and ‘clean.’” The BSA also said it did “not want to promote homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior.”
In a landmark decision in June 2000, the Supreme Court upheld the BSA’s constitutional right to pick and choose its own members, ruling that forcing the Scouts to accept homosexual members “would significantly burden the organization’s right to oppose or disfavor homosexual conduct.” In the majority opinion, then-Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote:
Dale’s presence in the Boy Scouts would, at the very least, force the organization to send a message, both to the youth members and the world, that the Boy Scouts accepts homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior.
As Justice Rehnquist pointed out, allowing selfidentified homosexuals in the Boy Scouts would put a stamp of approval on homosexuality for millions of young boys. The normalization of homosexuality throughout society—from the classroom to the home—has been the chief aim of the homosexual rights movement since its inception. In fact, one of the “imperatives for gay liberation” that gay commune founder Carl Wittman outlined in his 1969 “Gay Manifesto” was to “free the homosexual in everyone.” What better way to achieve Wittman’s goal than by influencing the views and values of the next generation of male leaders through the Scouts?
Nondiscrimination policies that include the term “sexual orientation,” such as the policy proposed in the BSA resolution, are one of the major tools employed by homosexual activists to advance their agenda. In recent years, the effort has expanded to include transgendered individuals by adding the terms “gender expression” and “gender identity.” The goal is to get the terms associated with homosexual, bisexual, and transgender behaviors added to the list of protected categories in housing, employment, public accommodations, healthcare, and education. The addition of these terms is dangerous, because it essentially equates sexual behavior with immutable characteristics, such as race or color, helping to normalize homosexuality in society. Ultimately, pro-homosexual nondiscrimination policies limit or restrict the ability of private or religious organizations to deny services, membership, or employment to individuals who do not adhere to their values.
John Stemberger is an Eagle Scout and president of the Florida Family Policy Council, who recently founded OnMyHonor.net, a national coalition of Boy Scout leaders, parents, and donors who support the current membership policy. Stemberger agrees that those pushing for a change to the BSA policy are seeking more than just access for homosexuals. In an interview with FOX News, he explained that the current policy “allows anyone to participate, regardless of sexual orientation,” but prohibits open homosexuality. He said the BSA is being “bullied” by those seeking “full-blown gay activism in scouting, and that’s what they can’t have under the current policy.”
The Supreme Court’s decision in Dale certainly weakened the legal effort to force the normalization of homosexuality upon the Scouts via the courts. But the cultural campaign by homosexual activists to bully the BSA into changing its membership policy has only escalated.
Leading the effort against the BSA’s membership policy are groups such as: Scouts for Equality, which was founded by Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, who was raised by two lesbian mothers; GLAAD; and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). As a result of their effort to portray the policy as a form of discrimination, the BSA has lost: access to public facilities; the right to participate in state charitable fundraising programs in some states; and the funding of some major corporations, including UPS, Merck, Intel, and some United Way groups.
Timeline. Following is a timeline of recent events leading up to the BSA’s decision to review its membership standards regarding homosexuals:
BSA Proposed Membership Standards Resolution
On April 19, the BSA’s Executive Committee released a resolution proposing that: “that the Boy Scouts of America amend its membership standards policy so no youth can be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone, while maintaining the current membership policy for all adult leaders of the Boy Scouts of America.”
The resolution also states that, “any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting,” and that “the Boy Scouts of America does not have an agenda on the matter of sexual orientation, and resolving this complex issue is not the role of the organization, nor may any member use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda.
To fully grasp the impact of allowing openly homosexual youth in Scouting, it is important to understand the significant relationship between the BSA and the Church. The majority (70.3 percent) of chartering organizations for the BSA are faithbased, mainly churches, whose relationship with the Scouts dates back 100 years. Chartering organizations are responsible for providing meeting facilities and leadership within the local Scouting troop.
While there are differing opinions about homosexuality among religious chartering organizations, the majority of Boy Scout troops are chartered by more conservative churches, specifically the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), the Roman Catholic Church, and the Southern Baptists.
As noted earlier, 72 percent of chartering organizations support the current membership policy. Representatives for both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have issued statements in support of the BSA’s current membership policy. The SBC went a step further in February, when its Executive Committee unanimously passed a resolution, urging the BSA National Council to retain “the current policy of moral rectitude that has marked the Boy Scouts of America for more than 100 years.”SBC president Frank Page also commented on the new BSA resolution, describing it as “more acceptable to those who hold a biblical form of morality than what was being considered before,” but emphasizing that the SBC would “still prefer no change in the policy.”
Richard Land, president emeritus of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has warned that a reversal of the BSA’s position on homosexuality could lead to a “mass exodus” of the Church from Scouting. In an executive summary of the resolution study process, the BSA acknowledged that, “Many religious chartered organizations … estimate a membership policy change that includes both youth and adults could cause the BSA to incur membership losses in a range from 100,000 to 350,000.”
Scouts Canada is an example of what could happen to the BSA if the membership policy regarding homosexuality is altered. In 1998, Scouts Canada loosened its standards to allow membership to not only homosexuals, but also girls and atheists. Over the five years following that change, membership in Scouts Canada declined by about half, and membership continues to dwindle.
Bob Stevens—who is one of many BSA leaders at the local level who support the current membership policy—believes that any change to the policy regarding homosexuality will ultimately lead to “the end of scouting.” But he warns of a broader impact.
“The issue could lead to a domino effect,” Stevens says. “If the Boy Scouts can’t hold their ground, then how long will it be before churches and Christian schools will be pressured to compromise their standards?” He added, “With this new resolution, the National Board of the Boy Scouts has succumbed to opinion polls over eternal principles.”
Whether the BSA’s proposal to change its membership policy regarding homosexual youth will lead to a massive loss of members remains to be seen.What is clear is that neither side of the debate is satisfied with the BSA resolution, and the battle for the Scouts is far from over.
In a statement, FRC President Tony Perkins called the BSA resolution “a completely unworkable solution that neither side can support.” He explained that:
While the Scouts are desperately trying to straddle the fence, the reality is that true morality isn’t dictated by age. If it’s wrong at 30, then it’s wrong at 13. What this resolution would suggest is that homosexuality is acceptable until a boy is 18—and then, suddenly, it’s not.
Perkins continued, “The resolution specifically references homosexual youth, but this is a distinction without a difference because advancing into leadership positions is integral to the Scouting experience.”
For their part, homosexual activists have criticized the resolution as not going far enough. HRC described it as discriminatory “toward gay and lesbian parents, leaders and in employment,” and asked, “What message does this resolution send to the gay Eagle Scout who, as an adult, wants to continue a lifetime of scouting by becoming a troop leader?” Both HRC and GLAAD have pledged to continue their campaign to pressure the BSA into ending its prohibition against open homosexuality for both youth and adults.
The policy change recommended by the BSA resolution also has legal implications. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian civil liberties organization, has warned the BSA that “Altering the national membership policy will undermine [the Supreme Court’s decision in Dale] and expose councils, local troops, and the national organization to a flood of litigation.”
Impact of Allowing Open Homosexuality in the Scouts
According to OnMyHonor.net, the harms of changing the BSA membership policy to allow open homosexuality include:
Any change to its long-standing national prohibition on membership to “open and avowed homosexuals” places the BSA’s mission and values at significant risk. If approved by the BSA National Council this May, the proposal to grant membership to youth who identify as homosexual would give tacit approval to homosexuality, and open the door for its promotion in BSA troops nationwide.
As the Supreme Court confirmed in its landmark 2000 decision, the BSA is a private, nonprofit youth organization with the First Amendment right to determine its membership standards according to its values and mission. Changing the current membership standards regarding sexual orientation will significantly modify the values and mission of the Scouts, and could expose the BSA to lawsuits.
“Scouts is not about sexuality; it’s about teaching boys to hike, to tie knots, and to successfully make that difficult journey from adolescence to manhood,” said FRC’s Perkins in an interview on the North Carolina Family Policy Council’s Family Policy Matters radio program. “The last thing that parents involved in Scouting want is for their kids to be sexualized through the Scouts by interjecting this element of homosexuality.”
As recently as July 2012, the BSA appeared to agree when it explained its decision to leave the long-standing membership policy intact:
Scouting is not the place to resolve divergent viewpoints in society and … if samesex attraction is going to be introduced or discussed, it should be with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting— but outside of the Scouting program.
This May, the BSA National Council should reaffirm that position by voting against the proposed resolution. The BSA should maintain the current national policy prohibiting membership to “open and avowed” homosexuals of any age, and leave the issue of sexual orientation to parents, where it belongs.
Alysse ElHage, M.A., is associate director of research for the North Carolina Family Policy Council.