Published February 1, 2013
[See also Mr. Whelan’s addendum and his CNN debate on the topic.]
Imagine that a group of girls is going on a long camping trip, supervised by adult volunteers who are young men you barely know. Would you let your 15-year-old daughter go?
Nearly every parent, I think, would recognize the folly, even though the men might well be models of good behavior. Why should our common-sense response be any different if the 15-year-old is a boy and the possible, even if not-likely-to-be-acted-on, sexual attraction of the adult supervisors is homosexual rather than heterosexual?
Sadly, in the face of intense pressure from ideologues, the Boy Scouts of America are reportedly on the verge of abandoning their long-held policy against gay scout leaders. Among the many corporations facing petition campaigns from gay activists, Merck and UPS recently announced that their charitable foundations would no longer contribute to the Boy Scouts.
Under the policy change that the Scouts’ national board will consider next week, the churches, schools and civic groups that sponsor troops would each be free to adopt their own policies on gay leaders and scouts.
Yet this proposed revision is incoherent and unworkable. The national Boy Scouts leadership obviously recognizes that it’s legitimate to disapprove of homosexual conduct, as the revised policy would let troops continue to exclude gays. But the change would deprive those troops of the protection that only a uniform national policy provides.
Different troops routinely interact at summer camps and other gatherings, and the staffers at those camps come from various troops. If the Scouts abandon their national policy, a troop that is chartered by a church that opposes homosexual conduct on moral grounds loses much of its ability to protect its scouts from being subjected to actions and statements that contradict the church’s teachings.
Consider, for example, something as simple as how a camp staffer might explain the meaning of the scout oath to be “morally straight.” Or how leaders and scouts from a pro-gay troop might provocatively highlight their new position with scouts from other troops.
Under the new policy, in which the national organization “would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position” to troops, what is to stop that from happening?
The legal problems with the revised policy are even more severe–and could spell ruin for lots of troops and scoutmasters.
In 2000, the Boy Scouts won a big Supreme Court victory against state laws that bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That victory rested heavily on the fact that the Boy Scouts taught that homosexual conduct was contrary to their values.
But if the national group abandons that teaching against homosexual conduct, it paves the way for activists to sue troops that adhere to the traditional policy and to threaten troop leaders with personal liability.
Few troops could afford the expense and hassle of defending against these suits.
It’s equally clear that, whatever short-term peace the change might buy, it won’t appease the ideological opposition in the long run. Anyone who believes that it’s wrong for the Boy Scouts to require troops to exclude gays will also believe that it’s wrong for the Boy Scouts to allow troops to do so. The proposed surrender to pressure will just set up the next surrender to pressure.
As the father of a soon-to-be Eagle Scout, I’ve taken part in summer camps, a canoeing trip in remote northern Ontario and several other overnight outings. I can attest that privacy is often at a minimum. Injecting the aura of possible sexual attraction would degrade the experience.
Boy Scouts range in age from 10 up to 18, and Cub Scouts are as young as 7. Boys become scouts in order to hike, camp, shoot guns and arrows and learn other outdoor skills.
And many parents choose the Boy Scouts to provide the environment for these activities precisely because, in an age awash in the wreckage of moral relativism, the Scouts have stood strong. Those parents who wish a different environment for their sons should join other groups or build their own.
The Boy Scouts are–or at least have been–a great organization that has done so much to help transform young boys into fine men and to serve America’s communities. Unfortunately, in the warped progressive understanding of diversity, all organizations must be the same. The Boy Scouts are a target of the Left precisely because they have, until now, upheld traditional moral standards.
Among the virtues set forth in the Scout Law, a scout is trustworthy and brave. The leaders of the Boy Scouts will betray those virtues if they cave to pressure and abandon their national policy. The Boy Scouts deserve better.
Edward Whelan is president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC.