Trouble for the Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts of America, long considered a wholesome activity for young boys that taught them useful skills and bred good citizenship, is now under siege. I was never a boy scout myself but if I recall correctly, it had a policy of requiring them do at least one good deed every day and the William stories by Richmal Crompton would have as a recurring comic plot line the mayhem that would ensure when her title character would fall behind in his good deeds and try to get back of schedule by cramming many good deeds into one day.

This article recounts the history of the organization, saying that from the beginning, the overarching ethos was an “ethnically, neutral American chauvinism” that sought to transcend the existing denominational strife between Christian sects and promoted the idea that good citizenship required an appreciation of one’s obligation to god. Catholics and Mormons, at that time viewed with suspicion by the dominant Protestants, were allowed to form troops and the national Jamborees would see all of them participating together.

Initially, the organization did not take a stand on sexuality, leaving the topic to be discussed by boys’ families. But with the 1970s came sweeping changes in cultural mores and more openness about the existence of gays in society and this led in 1978 to the first statement by leaders that homosexuality was not appropriate for leadership in scouting.

The BSA has been subjected to various court challenges to its discriminatory policies against homosexuals and atheists. They won a major victory in 2000 when the US Supreme Court ruled that it was a private organization and not a public accommodation and thus not bound by the anti-discrimination rules governing the latter. Following that, on February 6, 2002, “the National Executive Board of the BSA passed a formal resolution that expressly excluded atheists and homosexuals from membership. Furthermore, the Executive Board resolved that all Councils and sponsoring organizations must sign a statement to the effect that they will enforce all policies of the BSA including the exclusion of homosexuals and atheists as members. All those applying for membership must also agree to abide by these policies.”

But other cases have exposed an ugly history of abuse and cover-up that draws comparisons with the Catholic church. The release of the damning ‘perversion files‘ is the latest embarrassment.

Similarly, their policies against allowing atheists and agnostics into the group are also under pressure because that makes it presumptively a religious organization and thus runs into Establishment Clause trouble when it seeks taxpayer and other government support for its activities.

But the legal issues may be the least of the troubles for the BSA. Times are changing and attitudes along with it. Their anti-gay policies in particular are changing the image of the group from that of a wholesome, character building organization to that of a narrow-minded intolerant club. Being associated with the group is increasingly seen as negative and business and civic groups are breaking ties with it. The United Parcel Service (UPS) has cut funding for the BSA. So has Intel. And the Cleveland United Way has removed it from the list of organizations it funds.

The BSA will be forced to change its policies on accepting homosexuals and atheists and agnostics into its membership and leadership or continue to lose members and funding. The only question is when they realize this.


  1. raven says

    Xpost from Ed Brayton’s blog.

    federal land use, and other assistance for their massive Jamborees. The 2005 Jamboree cost taxpayers approximately $8 million.


    The one advantage the BSA has over the many similar organizations, Wiccan Scouts (there really is one, after the BSA refused to follow their own rules and charter a Wiccan troop), etc..

    The summer camps in scenic mountain and shoreline areas. There are thousands of these frequently on or near forest service or BLM land. AFAICT, many of these are leased from the federal government.

    By law, organizations that discriminate cannot get preferential leasing terms from the federal government. That includes the BSA. Hey, BSA, the Wiccans are coming for your summer camps!!!

    4. raven says:
    December 1, 2012 at 10:59 am
    Barnes-Wallace v. Boy Scouts of America – Wikipedia, the free …
    en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Barnes-Wallace_v._Boy_Scouts_of_America

    Jump to District Court‎: They alleged that the lease was unconstitutional. The case was filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of California. … BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA; CITY OF SAN DIEGO; and BOY SCOUTS OF …

    The City of San Diego was sued for leasing a shoreline property to the BSA for $1 per year.

    They lost. Because the BSA are bigots who discriminate against large sectors of the population.

  2. raven says

    The BSA will be forced to change its policies on accepting homosexuals and atheists and agnostics into its membership and leadership or continue to lose members and funding. The only question is when they realize this.

    Likely never.

    The BSA is controlled by fundie and Mormon religious fanatics.

    They usually go down with the ship rather than adapt or change.

    The BSA claims explicitly that you can’t be a good person and good citizen and be an atheist or agnostic.

    The evidence for this is…well, there isn’t any. This is just bigotry.

  3. Burgher says

    I was a Scout, but decided to forgo the rank of Eagle Scout because of their policies on religion. I wasn’t going to lie and say I believed in a god just to get the rank of Eagle. I stayed with the program until I turned 18, then I started working at one of their summer camps (and did so for 7 years). I can honestly say that there were more gays and atheists working at that camp than anywhere else I have ever worked in my life.

  4. Rodney Nelson says

    From the OP:

    But with the 1970s came sweeping changes in cultural mores and more openness about the existence of gays in society and this led in 1978 to the first statement by leaders that homosexuality was not appropriate for leadership in scouting.

    Another major change happened to the Boy Scouts in the 1970s. The Mormon Church decided to make Scouting their official young mens organization.

    From wikipedia:

    Religious organizations host/sponsor over 60% of the approximately 123,000 Scouting units in the United States and use the Scouting program as part of their youth ministration. Officials from various religious organizations—including the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches—are included on the BSA National Executive Board, its Advisory Council, and the BSA Religious Relationships Committee. [footnotes removed]

    With officially homophobic churches like the Catholics and Mormons having representation on the National Executive board, don’t expect any easing of the BSA policies towards GBLTs and atheists any time soon.

  5. slc1 says

    Essentially, the Mormon and Catholic churches hijacked the organization. When I was in scouting a million years ago, most troops were sponsored by secular organizations (the one I belonged to was sponsored by a local department store and the meeting place was in the parking lot of that store).

  6. Erp says

    Actually the LDS has had Boy Scouts as their young men’s program in the US since before 1920. Their numbers were not big enough to really influence the BSA until far later (though the BSA was quite late in cracking down on LDS discrimination against black youth in LDS troops).

    I believe the majority of the troops are still sponsored by secular or church groups that don’t care. The problem may be that the Catholic and LDS are organized to influence BSA policy while other more tolerant sponsoring groups are not.

  7. Mano Singham says

    Oddly enough, the Mormons may be able to come around sooner on the issue of homosexuality than the Catholic church. All it seems is for the prophet to have a ‘revelation’ and the church abruptly changes course, no? Isn’t that what happened with their policy of exclusion of blacks from the priesthood?

  8. dano says

    You are correct Raven but here in MN we (BSA of MN aka Northern Star) own our own land and do not have to worry about government leased land. As I stated in earlier post
    I do not see anything changing due to the few making waves. We are not worried about losing support from one company because the odds are in our favor and there are hundreds still standing behind us. This is a private organization and if you do not like our rules you don’t have to join & to be honest I don’t think I would want you as part of our troop whether as leader, committee member or simply as a driver to an event. We do not want to cause waves, we only wish to comtinue our scouting traditions and help build the leaders of tomorrow. As I have stated many times before I would not allow a man to go camping with a Girl Scout troop especially if the accomodations consisted of an open format cabin just as I would not allow a homosexual male to do the same for Boy Scouts. You are asking for trouble regardless what you might think is politically correct. I could care less about being PC and am more concerned about keeping our scouts safe. I am not a girl scout leader for that reason….could I be the answer is yes but unless forced to be my answer will always be no thank you as I believe there are women that would be better suited for the position.

  9. Tracey says

    In the late 1980s, I worked as a lifeguard on a military base. One summer the base hosted a huge Boy Scout gathering–several hundred boy scouts, put up for free in wooden barracks (leftover from WWII, in perfect condition). The federal gov’t paid for hundreds of boys to use the barracks, the electricity, the showers, all at no cost to them.

    Every day the boy scouts would swarm the pool for hours and hours of free swimming; we were ordered to let them in at no charge even though the pools were strictly for military personnel only. They were more than the capacity of the pool so the capacity rule was waived and extra lifeguards were brought in (and paid for by federal dollars) to keep them safe. Meanwhile, active-duty military soldiers couldn’t use their own pool because the boy scouts filled it to over-capacity.

    While they were guests at the base, the boy scouts were also free to attend the movie theater (I think it cost $2 back in the 1980s) and I heard some grumbling from the active-duty folks who couldn’t attend their own theater because the boy scouts overwhelmed the capacity of that, too.

    The boy scouts were entitled little shits back then–there was never a thank you, never a hello or goodbye from any of them, and we had our hands full trying to keep them from killing themselves by diving into the shallow end, shoving each other off the diving board, and shenanigans in the showers.

  10. dano says

    Tracey, I will say the quite belated thank you to the base, its miltay personal & life guards who I am sure made this an extremely memorable event. Thanks again!

  11. Nathan & the Cynic says

    My best friend and I made Eagle in the same summer. Now we wonder how long it will be before seeing “Eagle Scout” on a resume will be interpreted as “this person is likely a bigot” instead of its current overwhelmingly positive connotation. My friend is already inclined not to let his son join when he’s old enough.

  12. Mano Singham says

    This is the public relations problem that the scouts face. Any group that depends on a large membership for survival has to be concerned when people actively avoid being associated with it for fear of negative reactions.

  13. Paul Neubauer says

    Mano notes:

    Cleveland United Way has removed it from the list of organizations it funds.

    My local (Delaware County, East Central Indiana) UW dropped the Scouts without fanfare last year. I don’t flatter myself that I had any significant influence on that, but for a number of years, instead of the pledge card that they wanted back (“whether you are making a pledge or not”), I turned in a letter explaining that I could not contribute because of the Boy Scouts. They never really issued any explanation and didn’t even include the checklist of funded organizations anymore, but they have very quietly dropped the BSA. (I did confirm that BSA is not being funded.)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *