Boy Scouts of America: Replacing "Prejudice with Principle" Since 1910
"Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend a hand
For the times they are a changin’" – Bob Dylan
Let's pretend for a moment that the Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) organization-wide ban on allowing homosexual members isn't purely based on fear, hatred, and transparent homophobia. Let's pretend they're merely trying to do what's best for the heterosexual young men of this country with rights afforded them by the Constitution. To do so, we have to momentarily suspend all of our preconceived notions about respect and acceptance - those inconvenient values that we were all taught in adolescence. We have to imagine that principles like decency and regard toward our fellow man are limited to people who share our moral, ethical, and religious positions. We have to deny "The Golden Rule," and we have to adopt new principles of intolerance and exclusion. In short, we have to deconstruct our humanity and reorient our views to match an outdated sense of conviction - which is exactly what the BSA has been doing for over a century.
Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640 (2000)
To their credit, there's (shockingly) nothing illegal about denying inclusion based on sexual orientation; in fact, there's actually legal precedent allowing for this type of discrimination.
In 1990, a young Scoutmaster named James Dale openly admitted his homosexuality during an interview with a local newspaper in New Jersey. As a consequence of his disclosure, Dale was discharged from his position with his troop by BSA officials. He then filed suit in the New Jersey Superior Court alleging that he had been discriminated against based on his sexual orientation in a place of public accommodation. Initially, the court ruled that Dale's homosexuality didn't violate the Boy Scouts' First Amendment right of expressive association, allowing for his reinstatement. However, the Boy Scouts then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 in favor of the Boy Scouts.
The majority opinion expressed by Chief Justice Rehnquist was based on Roberts v. United States Jaycees, in which the Supreme Court asserted that the First Amendment protected the right to associate for any number of endeavors (e.g. political, social, and religious pursuits). Since the Boy Scouts list their primary purpose as the inculcation and development of certain values in young men, the court ruled that, by forcing the Boy Scouts to allow membership to a homosexual, their ability "to instill values into young people" would be compromised. Furthermore, the court found that an openly gay Scoutmaster in uniform would be in direct opposition to the Scouts' expressive message regarding same-sex relations.
In conveying his dissent, Justice Stevens argued that Dale's sexual orientation wasn't contrary to the Scouts' founding message - which discusses morals and ethics, but nothing directly in the way of sexuality. He went on to point out that specific directions were conspicuously communicated to Scoutmasters regarding matters of sexual education. The summary of these guidelines is that Scoutmasters are to abstain entirely from the topic and to direct sexual inquiries to parents, clergy, doctors, or other appropriate professionals. He went on to say that laws allowing for discrimination of any sort are designed to "replace prejudice with principle."
Regardless, of Justice Stevens' views, the Supreme Court's decision remains the final word on the matter. However, as a result of the national exposure of the case, the Boy Scouts have come under intense scrutiny over the past decade, leading to a loss of sponsors, suspended donation campaigns, and declining membership. Last year, they repeated their desire to ban openly gay individuals, which had the unintended effect of inviting a firestorm of controversy.
On the Wrong Side of History
Recently, the Boy Scouts suggested that they may alter their exclusionary policies involving homosexuals in their organization. Last week, Deron Smith, Director of Public Relations for the Boy Scouts, released a statement on the group's website addressing the issue. In a brief message, he wrote that there are ongoing discussions about "removing the national restriction regarding sexual orientation."
Such a move wouldn't remove the ban universally. Instead, each unit sponsor would have the choice to allow or ban homosexuals from their respective troops. While this may seem like more of a savvy business move for the group than anything resembling a shift in general ethical conduct, it's also an encouraging sign that a century of casual bigotry may finally be on its way out. A vote on the issue is likely to occur at their board meeting being held on February 6th.
This announcement comes as a welcome surprise to individuals who have been denied the right to participate in the program in the past. Last year, after the Boy Scouts reaffirmed their anti-gay policy, eight-year-old Hunter Kalat abruptly quit his troop out of respect for his married mothers. Although he had been looking forward to several Boy Scout activities, he says that he feels he made the right decision.
Of course, there are always two sides to every story, and not everyone is pleased about the coming changes. Rob Schwarzwalder has been one vocal opponent, stating that he would likely remove his twin sons from their troop if it is made open to homosexuals. Relying on the support of an invisible army of homophobes, Schwarzwalder stated, "There would be a large number of troops who will leave if this goes forward... If [there are] those who feel so strongly about having open homosexuals in Scouting, why not have the moral courage to start their own troops and not apply pressure to a group that does so much for so many?”
Moral courage? Oh, the irony. As if adopting an inclusive policy rather than a discriminatory one in the quest for a better world for future generations would hinder the efforts of "a group that does so much for so many."
Rights and Responsibilities
I have the right to stick my thumb in a light socket, but that would be painful. I have the right to call your mother ugly, but that would be mean. I have the right to vote for my dog for President of the United States, but that would be senseless. I have the right to carry a shotgun with me to Applebees, but that would be paranoid and dangerous (not to mention cumbersome). Just as I possess all of these rights, the Boy Scouts have the right to exclude homosexuals from their organization, but actually invoking such is counter-intuitive to their religious principles and the progress that we've made as a society over the last few decades.
It's time for all of this to stop; isn't it all starting to get a little old? Aren't we, as a people, past the blatant contempt and hostility toward everything we don't agree with or understand? Have we learned nothing from Women's Suffrage or the Civil Rights Movement? Why do we insist on confusing the hell out of our children - teaching them one thing and then acting out the opposite? We tell them that they should show respect and treat others how they'd like to be treated, but then we sling fistfuls of hatred at unsuspecting parties - always under the guise of a bogus moral high road. When we exclude, belittle, and hate by example, it inspires following generations to do the same.
Boorstein, Michelle & Gowen, Annie. Boy Scout Community Divided over News That National Group May Lift Ban on Gays." Post Local. The Washington Post. 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 5 Feb. 2013
Capeheart, Jonathan. "The Boy Scouts' No-Brainer Decision on Gays." Post Partisan. The Washington Post. 4 Feb. 2013. Web. 5 Feb. 2013.
Smith, Deron. "Media Statement." Membership Policy. Boy Scouts of America. 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 5 Feb. 2013.