By Jim Coufal
(Cazenovia, NY – Sept. 2012) My comments may offend some readers. I can’t apologize because what I write is mostly the facts of what has occurred with the Boy Scouts of America, but yes, with some editorial comments. Further, our right of free speech carries no guarantee that someone will not be offended by that free speech.
I do believe Americans have gotten overly sensitive to perceived slights, including both those who perceive one of the “isms” in any speech and those that see pussyfooting, damned politically correct notions.
Among the goals of the BSA are the aims to build character and train boys for leadership. This admirably has happened many times over the years, largely in an era of unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It has only been since the 1980s that the religious right, especially the Mormon Church, has captured the BSA.
In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that as a private organization BSA has the right to discriminate against gay people by expelling them or barring them from joining. As one writer notes, they have been enforcing that policy “with gusto,” expelling gay and lesbian scouts and scout leaders across the country. And they have done the same with atheists. They have openly affirmed and reaffirmed the policy.
Is this a lesson of tolerance?
It is fair to ask, “How does this teach character and provide skills for leadership?”
What it teaches is discrimination and provides the unspoken message that some persons are simply unworthy of consideration. It teaches that a gay person can’t be a good person. One scout said a gay person does not present a desirable role model; a scout leader said a gay couldn’t be the best kind of citizen.
They are talking about neighbors, fellow citizens, even relatives and talking without evidence, often in the face of contradictory evidence, condemning them to some sort of lower-class citizenship. And since the Scouts must put duty to god before country, others and self, they also condemn non-believers in the same way – emotionally, unthinkingly.
Perhaps it points out the leadership lesson that, if you have connections, you use them, but with care. Why do I say this? Because, the three biggest sponsors of the BSA are the Mormon, Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist churches, whom many call the strongest purveyors of bigotry in the country.
The BSA is suffering for its intransigence in this matter. Many United Funds have cut support to the BSA (e.g., Harrisburg, Penn., and others across the country). On the other hand, many have continued such support (e.g., Carlisle, Penn.).
Many Eagle Scouts have turned in their medals, often with polite but scathing remarks.
Major media have strongly questioned the BSA on this policy. And in a recent 5-year period, scout enrollment went down 13 percent.
It has also been found that for a century, the BSA has had a confidential blacklist known as the “perversion files,” which was to be a defense against sexual predators. While it apparently worked in many cases, it also has been found that many predators were allowed to continue in their position and to molest scouts well after their proclivities were known and they were on this list.
In 2010, Kerry Lewis won nearly $20 million in a jury verdict against the Scouts, a prime example of the lax enforcement of the guards against perversion. Further, the list was never given to the police – shades of the Catholic Church.
When the BSA gives the excuse that major sponsors support their policy so they can’t afford to offend them, they overlook the fact the Girl Scouts have the same sponsors but have a commendable policy and record of no discrimination.
Further, the example this rationalization provides is expediency trumps principles. A Southern Baptist who chairs the BSA Religious Relationships Committee has said the no-gays policy is unlikely to change as long as it has the support of the churches most active in sponsoring Scout units.
Is this a rationalization or a double standard?
The scouts receive federal monies, use of government facilities at little or no cost, use of local schools, wanting on the one hand to be a public entity and on the other to be treated as a private organization. Like religion itself, the Scouts are treated as something special and beyond the law.
Famous American pollster, James Zogby, wasn’t pointedly speaking of the BSA when he said, “Left unchecked, those who prey on ignorance and fear to spread hatred, and those who sow the seeds of division and intolerance threaten to tear apart the very fabric of our nation and compromise the values of openness and inclusion that have made America united and strong.”
The BSA fits this description.
The only way to change their policy is to speak out against it and to stop supporting it financially. Yet, some gays who have been expelled by the BSA have had the heart to tell parents to go ahead and enroll their children as scouts. This is a choice each parent must make, but should do so in full knowledge of BSA policies and actions and the long-term impacts that bigotry will create.
Jim Coufal of Cazenovia is a part-time philosopher and full-time observer of global trends. He can be reached at email@example.com.