The Boy Scouts Win One for Moms, Apple Pie, and the Seventh-Inning Stretch

by Darryl Hart on July 20, 2010 · 39 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Politics & Power

boy scouts

Philadelphia, PA. The recent decision by a federal jury in Philadelphia on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is good news for people who love American liberty and for the philanthropies that sustain such voluntary associations. The specifics of the case were fairly simple. BSA rented a building from the city for $1 per year while also paying the costs for maintaining the facility. But owing to the organization’s prohibitions against gays, the city went to court to end the lease and evict BSA. Philadelphia attorneys argued that the Boy Scouts had violated the terms of the lease because their anti-gay policy was a form of discrimination at odds with federal law. BSA agreed that the city had the right to terminate the contract if they were indeed guilty of an unconstitutional policy. The question before the jury was whether BSA had in fact violated federal guidelines by barring gays.

On the surface, many Americans – as well as residents of Philadelphia – believe that BSA is at odds with the nation’s ideal of equality and freedom. One editor of a local newspaper opined that “Exclusions based on sexual preference – from membership in an organization to basic civil rights like marriage – should be eradicated.” BSA may, the editor conceded, do a lot of good, but constitutional protections for discrimantory policies “authorizes a form of bigotry that we would find intolerable in almost every other application.” BSA perpetuated “second-class citizenship for gay Americans.” “It’s a situation that is . . . unethical” “unconscionable” and “completely un-American.”

For some reason, no one seems to mind that BSA excludes girls.

But the principle of voluntarily excluding from an association those who are at odds with the organization’s expressed purpose is as American as apple pie. The reason is that political liberty is not simply for individuals but also for groups of persons who want to form associations for an expressed aim where rules for membership are different from those governing belonging to the civil polity. If all groups were forced to comply with the anti-discrimination policies of the federal government, conceivably churches could not exclude unbelievers, wine clubs would have to be open to tee-totalers, and neighborhood associations would be forced to include non-residents.

The latter two examples might seem silly but they do make a substantial point missed by many critics of the Boy Scouts. Chances are, those who abstain from drinking alcohol will not want to join a wine club and residents of the Upper West Side of Manhattan (NYC) will not want to join the community association of Glenside, Pennsylvania. And that’s the point. Organizations like BSA are voluntary associations; people join them voluntarily as opposed to being born into them. More to the point, residents of the Upper West Side do not regard themselves as second-class citizens for not being able to join Glenside’s civic association. More likely, the residents of Manhattan do not consider themselves inferior to anyone. The same goes for many Americans who are inclined to support gay rights. The second-class citizens in the BSA versus Philadelphia case are not homosexuals but the poor, benighted, and bigoted Boy Scouts.

Also worthy of mention is the logic that ties the alleged civil right of marriage to membership in BSA. This is another instance of the confusion that attends the quest to extend civil liberties without distinguishing between public and private forms of association. The last I checked, the Boy Scouts are not responsible for state or federal policy on marriage. Again, this is a simple reality for any voluntary association. Its scope and authority is not public but private. BSA does not perform gay marriages because it does not marry anyone.

Another interesting dimension of this case is that a jury decided the case. For that reason, no judge’s decision exists for legal reporters to scour for the prevailing constitutional theory. Instead, the decision simply reflected the votes of the jury (a unanimous group of six women and two men). If a federal judge had decided the case, one’s imagination would not have to work overtime to think that the decision would have been different. In which case, the average American may have a better grasp of the nature of American liberty than any judge, legislator, or newspaper editor who believes that political liberty means all Americans and the groups they form need to embody national standards of equality and fairness.

This piece originally appeared on July 16, 2010 at Philanthropy Daily.

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Bruce Smith July 20, 2010 at 8:03 am

What good is a liberty used to create divisiveness?

avatar Caleb Stegall July 20, 2010 at 8:09 am

“What good is a liberty used to create divisiveness?”

I have rarely seen totalitarian impulses summed up so succinctly.

avatar Bruce Smith July 20, 2010 at 8:27 am

Not wanting divisiveness is totalitarian ?

avatar Empedocles July 20, 2010 at 8:30 am

Yes, we should get rid of all liberty that creates divisiveness. Any divisiveness of political opinion–out. Any divisiveness of religious affiliation–out. Any divisiveness of class–out, etc., etc..

avatar Bruce Smith July 20, 2010 at 8:54 am

Empedocles in democratic countries we eliminate divisiveness through social contract not through totalitarianism. Your rush and Caleb’s rush to label illustrates how quickly divisiveness arises in human society.

avatar Josh July 20, 2010 at 9:02 am

Yes, Mr. Smith, the world will only be a beautiful place once we have eradicated all differences, all disagreements, all divisions and distinctions that divide us. The American Dream will be realized when (and only when) no one individual can be distinguished from any other. When we are all coerced into sameness, then we will truly be free. You are indeed correct. But your phrasing was, as Mr. Stegall notes, much more succinct.

avatar David July 20, 2010 at 9:20 am

All Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia!

(Sorry, impulse reaction to the appearance of Grey Face.)

avatar James Matthew Wilson July 20, 2010 at 9:58 am

Given the original place of publication, this essay walks the correct line, but it is worth pointing out that the distinctions between public and private associations or between involuntary and voluntary ones are not very helpful. Indeed, they are misleading.

All associations are natural, because by our nature we are political animals. It is in accord with the nature of things that we form associations, from the family (which certainly requires some act of the will!) to the Boy Scouts, to the Church, to the polity. It is precisely because all these various associations and institutions are natural that it violates nature when one such association (the State) thinks it may liquidate or declare contrary to the law of things other associations. Since, indeed, the State is natural but posterior to the family and to most smaller associations, it has a particular responsibility not to violate them but, indeed, to buoy them up where possible precisely because they are the units of its own existence.

I am pretty sure what many call “divisive” we may more rightly call distinction within unity, the principle of sound hierarchical order.

avatar Steve K. July 20, 2010 at 11:50 am

Bruce,

I don’t keep up with this site as often as I’d like, but I didn’t figure you for someone who would hold a view like you expressed here. Are you really serious or are you having a joke?

avatar Empedocles July 20, 2010 at 11:55 am

I have been calling the effort to break up the natural bonds that hold groups of people together “neikophilia.” It is a soft ethnic cleansing; designed not to cleanse a place of the people, but to dissolve or liquidate the bonds that hold them together as a people.

avatar D.W. Sabin July 20, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Hart,
Inasmuch as the Great And Cheerful World Improvers don’t seem to care that the Boy Scouts do not allow girls , producing the Girl Scouts of America, then what might be so wrong with a Gay Scouts of America? The fact that the GSA might also be the abbreviation of the General Services Administration is a bit of confusion but we should be able to come to some form of consensus building exercise.

I can’t wait till they start censoring old “Our Gang” footage, blocking out the “He Man Woman Haters Club” . And, I just learned that one of the Buckwheats was a gall durned cross dressin gurl.

Any country that don’t know how to exalt a little healthy divisiveness ought to be banned from liberty on account of basic incompetence.

Frankly though, I don’t much care, having fired the Boy Scouts from my life after they turned experiences in nature into Passive-aggressive Machiavellian Snipe Hunts.

avatar David July 20, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I attempt to support the Boy Scouts and am determined to reclaim it for my son. However the Cub Scout experience (which I’ve had so far) has been dulled excessively by legally-oppressive safety rules (which vary from the common sense to the occasionally-paradoxically dangerous) and its culture has been diminished by “best friend” parenting styles which cheapen any attempt at developing the virtues of the little bugs.

Most activities lack the vital elements which would make them formative in favor of “fun” (juvenile distraction “fun”). Even the most somber events of the year (placing flags on military graves) is a lost opportunity. No one cares if the flags are tossed on the ground before planted there properly, or tells the boys not to walk upon the graves, or other sacred gestures to the honored dead. Even the peach about the loved ones who will visit the sites and what the flags mean to them is weak, lacking any connection between the boys and the service of those who’ve paid for their freedoms.

With my Den I attempt to make such points, but find that one voice against the mob of “lets just post the flags for the service project and get out of the heat, their just Cub Scouts after all” is exhausting turning to despair.

I mean to keep it up, if for the sake of the little good it will do.

avatar Robb July 20, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Will someone here help me understand one thing about this case (I am seriously looking for help!): Doesn’t the state have the “right” to exclude groups from its property that do not uphold certain values it holds dear (whether I agree with those values or not)? So, for example, would it be reasonable for the city where I live (a small town) to have a policy saying that it will not rent space to any group that espouses violence towards another (say, a racist skinhead group)?

Note! I am NOT suggesting the BSA is such a group at all but I think you see the analogy. The BSA is using state (city) property is it not? And at a preferential rent, correct? What is wrong with the people of Philadelphia, through their elected officials, saying “We prefer not to rent to groups that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation?”

Go ahead… enlighten me.

avatar AML July 20, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Robb, there is an important difference between this boy scout case and the example you are citing.

The BSA have a contract with the city of Philadelphia. The city sought to void the contract on the grounds that the BSA is a discriminatory organization in violation of federal law. The jury ruled that the BSA are not, in fact, in violation of federal law, so the contract has not been voided.

In the future, the city of Philadelphia is presumably free not to enter into any more contracts with the BSA, but it must honor its existing contracts unless the organization can be proved to be in violation of federal law or in violation of any of the other terms of the contract.

I am not a lawyer, but this is how I would understand the situation.

I hope this helps.

-AML

avatar Robb July 21, 2010 at 9:48 am

AML – Thanks. I lacked some of the context and understand the point of this decision now. I appreciate it.

avatar Bruce Smith July 21, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I believe no one should lightly deny anyone their freedom of association. To do so initiates the “thin end of the wedge” potentially leading to Iranian-style clerical fascism where homosexuals and apostates are hoisted with ropes around their necks on crane jibs. Denial of freedom of association for sexual orientation when the evidence points to human beings being hard-wired for bi-sexuality is particular pernicious. Here’s why. Primatologists believe that all apes including ourselves share a common ancestor. It is impossible to determine from the fossil record whether this common ancestor was bi-sexual. It is equally impossible to determine this from our ape cousins since chimpanzees, for example, are heterosexual and bonobos who closely resemble chimpanzees are bisexual. However, we know that when human primates are thrown together as a single sex in constrained situations such as boarding schools, prisons, monasteries, nunneries, ships, etc. sexual behavior is prone to switch to homosexuality. Primatologists believe the reason for this is that sex is used for resolving conflict, bonding for dominance and counter dominance purposes as well as its more normal reproductive function. In addition there would appear to be two strategies used amongst primates for successful rearing of offspring. The female disguises from the male whether any offspring is his in the case of the bonobos and avoids domination by males through the use of counter-domination bonding in which female homosexual activity aids that bonding. In the case of the human primate the opposite occurs where the female seeks to bond the male to their offspring. For the sake of lengthy child nurturing periods it is threatening to the parental bond that homosexual activity should be regarded as a normal hard-wired propensity. I believe this is the motivating force for homo-phobia. To exemplify this point the manifestation of the taboo against sexual activity outside of the male/female partnership can be seen in the shape of the burkha a sort of Islamic version of the Middle Ages chastity belt albeit often welcome by the females who wear it. Nevertheless, to deny a homosexual freedom of association when in all likelihood it’s case of “the pot calling the kettle black” (psychological denial) and there is clear evidence of a bi-sexual father or mother wanting to participate in the successful rearing of their offspring in the Boy or Girl Scouts seems to me more a matter of triumphalist and sanctimonious libertarianism than a moral, non-hypocritical and reasoned approach. How, for example, can you claim to be in principle against central government social contract interference in freedom of association matters and then widely supportive when a court rules for your homo-phobic beliefs? Both are social contract conflict mediating organizations at the end of the day! Furthermore claiming to believe in God does not appear to have been an impediment to the practice of pedophilia in the Catholic Church and in my view on the emerging evidence of the cover-ups and reluctance to take church reform seriously on the issue is a far more serious candidate for denial of freedom of association with organizations like the scouts. Likewise you can go on to argue that libertarians who believe the legislative ban on the use of recreational drugs is wrong are the kind of individuals you might also want to deny freedom of association with scout organizations. Finally, from the perspective of the child who simply wants to join his or her friends in the scouts what do you tell that child their parent’s offense or sin is when the scouts refuse to let the child join? How un-Christian and immoral to visit the so-called sins of the parents on the child! Sounds more like the Salem witch-hunt to me! For a nation that’s on its knees through lack of shared-purpose I repeat we don’t need more divisive nonsense of this anti-gay kind.

avatar David July 21, 2010 at 4:41 pm

The purpose of Boy Scouts is not friends spending time together.

It is not a socializing activity group (though socializing is part of the procedures followed). The purpose of Boy Scouts is to cultivate virtues in boys; virtues which express a certain view of civic life. This view of civic life is necessarily Christian. Only in recent memory has anyone within that tradition expressed the possibility of homosexuality being compatible. Boy Scouts originates before the lifetimes of such a line of thinking and preserves the previous received wisdom.

It has nothing to do with visiting anything upon anyone. There is no punishment in being non-received into membership. Exclusion from Boy Scouts represents no particular loss to the individual for which a membership in the Boy Scouts is paradoxical. In fact, to suggest that letting little Johnny into Boy Scouts even though Boy Scouts opposes (not as a matter of lobby, but philosophical disposition) homosexually as a aberration of nature and contrary to the virtues seems quite harmful.

avatar Caleb Stegall July 22, 2010 at 10:40 am

Freedom of association includes freedom of non-association.

avatar Bruce Smith July 23, 2010 at 10:54 am

No it does not when it’s used to persecute others through ignorance of human nature.

avatar Caleb Stegall July 23, 2010 at 11:46 am

This from the “we will force you to be free” manner of reckoning I suppose. Bruce, you may want to check into getting a guillotine … I hear they are useful in the pursuit of this style of freedom.

What was I possibly thinking calling you totalitarian?

avatar Bruce Smith July 25, 2010 at 10:21 am

Stegall. The message is persecuting people of different sexual orientation through the withdrawal of freedom of association because of lack of diligence in understanding human nature is totalitarian. More commonly we call it bigotry.

avatar Thomas McCullough July 25, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I haven’t and do not consider bi-sexuals evil. What has, in my experience, been an almost constant attribute of evil people is an insistence that everyone is, at bottom, just like them, but we all else lack the honesty, nerve, whatever, to be what we are.

I have thought that Foucault’s weltanschauung is only explicable as his answer to the question, “How can I articulate human reality to normalize my tastes for recreational sado-masochism.” (Noam Chomsky once described Foucault as the most amoral man he’d ever met.)

So, “evidence” shows that we are all bi-sexuals, Mr. Smith? Let me guess: that means we are all like you, right?

I go back and forth about the positions Mr. Stegall expresses, but I would not be disturbed about him being in a position of authority. You in a position of authority would scare the shit out of me.

avatar Caleb Stegall July 25, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Bruce, you better stick to the sex lives of bonobos and leave the political philosophy to others.

avatar James Matthew Wilson July 25, 2010 at 5:31 pm

It is unfortunate that this discussion has unfolded just as it has, given the effort of my “Fired for the Natural Law” essay to clarify the diverse accounts of nature and the natural available to us and to argue for one far richer than the slavish adherence to the interspecial (!) status quo. The level of abstraction to which that essay pressed was intended to show the point at which arguments about homosexuality dovetail with larger questions about our understanding and response to the order of creation. And so, while I am glad to see the points raised on this thread, I would like to see them refashioned in response to the argument I set forth. To wit, I accuse most modern persons of crude vacillations between Marx and “Darwin”, between an abuse of nature as mere potency and a crude moralism that takes the existence of something for its moral validation (a position, I observed, that Darwin would never have taken, but one of which those with a taste for a supcon of Darwin seem to relish). We can certainly do better than either of these positions; indeed, we already have, and we are selling that legacy for a mess of totalitarian hedonism.

avatar George Marshall August 12, 2010 at 7:58 pm

@David: This view of civic life is necessarily Christian.

Actually, it is not. The BSA is not a Christian group. One of the fundamentals of Scout law is that one should be reverent, but not necessarily Christian. The BSA has a number of religious awards scouts can earn but they include Islam, Judiasm, B’hai [sp?] and specific awards for various branches of Christianity. I don’t remember all of them.

It has been a long time since I was a Scout leader, but as I remember the controversy, it had nothing to do with gay marriage, but did have to do with having gays as scout leaders. I am not sure what their thoughts are on gay scouts, but as far as I know, it’s probably a form of don’t ask…don’t tell.

Certainly, as a private group, the BSA does have the right to exclude gays if it wishes. I think the Girl Scouts have chosen a different path. At the same time, however, the city of Philadelphia can, after completing its contracts, not renew them. In addition, those who disagree with the BSA policy have every right to voice those opinions. I don’t see this ruling as much beyond what it is, an interpretation of the law. It’s not a win for Mom, apple pie or the 7th inning stretch. And, it will probably not be long before the BSA policy is changed, as it should be.

avatar David August 12, 2010 at 10:19 pm

While the BSA does recognize religious awards of non-Christian religions it’s important to note that your religious group confers the reward. BSA merely allows you to wear it on your uniform if your religious organization applies for such recognition.

However, prayers at events are denominationally non-specific Christian. I’ve never heard of a troop that opened a den meeting with a Muslim or Hebrew prayer. (There is one exception to this and that is that anyone could charter … in fact even a single person in the “lone scout” program … a troop or pack specifically for a mosque.)

They are certainly more explicitly Christian than say, Masons. There are generic Christian materials in literature and by far most Scouts in the country are in troops chartered by Christian churches or charities.

Whether generic non-denominational American Christianity is truly Christian is something for fundies, Catholics and theologians at large to argue about.

For the purposes of our discussion I think my attribution of “explicitly Christian” is reasonably defensible.

I cannot speak to your contention about the pragmatism behind the position of the National Council to defend the right maintain their freedom of association. That certainly wasn’t in the briefs they filed, or in the press releases they issued. They said, being and active homosexual violates the principles of founding and continuing membership of the BSA.

avatar George Marshall August 12, 2010 at 11:06 pm

David, not to put to fine a point on it: You are correct that scouting is often sponsored by Christian churches. But, there is absolutely no requirement to be a Christian to be a scout. So yes, in Christian church sponsored troops, Christian prayers are likely to be used, but it is not one of the core beliefs of scouting that you be Christian. And, while it is likely that most scouts in the US are Christian since most people in the US are Christian, anyone who believes in a god can be a scout. As the article said, the only “religious” groups discriminated against, at least in employment, are atheists and agnostics. I do wonder whether Christian/Jewish denominations that are more accepting of homosexuals have withdrawn support for their sponsored scout programs because of National Council’s stand.

And, you are correct, the BSA does not allow homosexuals to be leaders or scouts. Again, it’s been a long time since I was a scout leader and I don’t remember homosexual scouts being specifically excluded. In my experience in both cub and boy scouting, the subject never really came up. I also wonder how the ban on homosexual boy scouts is enforced. Is there a test? Your experience is more recent than mine. Has it been an issue at all in your cub scout experience?

avatar JimWilton August 18, 2010 at 5:45 pm

The following is from the 2004 Boy Scouts Youth Leadership Policy (from Wikipedia):

“Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs. Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position.”

I am a former Eagle Scout. I chose not to get my son involved in Scouting because of this policy and because of the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policies against atheists and agnostics.

The court case cited clearly reached the correct result. It is a matter of contract interpretation. It is also clear that private clubs and organizations such as the Boy Scouts and the KKK have a U.S. constitutional right to discriminate. Governments must abide by their contracts, but are clearly within their rights on contract renewal not to do business (or to subsidize) organizations that have immoral core beliefs that are out of sync with public policy.

avatar David August 18, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Jim,

You say discrimination like it’s a dirty word.

avatar JimWilton August 19, 2010 at 9:41 am

I don’t think it is. Private clubs discriminate all of the time and it is usually a positive thing. The VFW, I suspect, only accepts veterans as members. A women’s book club might only accept women.

The Boy Scouts’ policies on homosexuality are offensive. It makes me a little sad because the take over of the organization by anti-gay elements happened since I was involved as a child. Gay rights wasn’t a prominent issue when I was 10 or 11 years old and when the issue came up the Boy Scouts chose to take a position against the direction of society and in favor of stigmatizing and excluding homosexuals.

But even though the Boy Scouts have a right to their policies, I don’t have give them money or join the club. I also have a right to speak out and to ask that my government not subsidize organizations with policies like this. My sons’ generation has very little problem accepting homosexuality among classmates and friends. At some point, in the next 20 years or so, the Boy Scouts are going to be faced with the choice of changing this policy or becoming marginal and irrelevant as an organization.

avatar David August 19, 2010 at 10:02 am

Jim,

It is clear that you and the BSA have differing opinions as to whether there remains a cohesive world view and goal for Scouting if they change their position. I think this is an important point.

Marginalization does nothing to hinder the goals of the BSA, what good is it to have an effect on society when it is not the effect you seek to have? To simply return to the mainstream what it already has is less than simply nothing, it is a waste of resources. Why go to all this work to simply return things to being how they are?

The BSA is a means of calling boys to something more than what is expected of them in society at large. To build within them the tools to contribute more meaningfully.

This could be said of a thousand things. Well, everyone likes having TVs, it is silly to oppose television. Or everyone likes fast food, you’re just going to marginalize yourself by promoting healthy living. The BSA holds the position that homosexual behaviors and the lifestyle around homosexuality has a detrimental effect on individuals and society and cannot be reconciled with the whole of their world view.

They may very well be wrong. Perhaps all America wants is just another fun camping and knot-tying young-boys-in-uniform-for-parades babysitter.

Secondarily, for myself, let it be said, I don’t sit in judgment of your virtue. If I had to speak on the topic I would be compelled to say that I was the greater sinner, just as I am compelled to adhere to the rest.

avatar JimWilton August 19, 2010 at 6:27 pm

David, in an odd way, I think we agree. I also believe that virtue is found by reference to an internal compass — not by consensus.

We do disagree on substance — at least on this issue. I am encouraged that this is one area where public opinion is moving in a positive direction — just as in the 1950s our society’s views began to move away from a mistaken view that one race is inferior to another. It sounds like you disagree.

We also share some affection for the Boy Scouts. But you view this policy as a core tenet and that its abrogation would undermine the organization. I tend to think that the policy is a mistake and inconsistent with Scout values, including Christian values.

We could probably have a good discussion and reach more common ground on the Scouts’ atheist / agnostic policy issue (denying membership to professed atheists or agnostics). I disagree with the Boy Scout policy on this issue — but I think that this policy is very defensible based on traditional Scout recognition of God as a central reference point. If the Boy Scouts accepted my view on the atheist / agnostic policy — they would be a different organization. I don’t think that would be true if the anti-homosexual policy were to change.

By the way, I respect your Christian point of view of self as a sinner and the humbleness that comes from that. There is great strength in that view.

avatar David August 19, 2010 at 10:57 pm

There is great strength in weakness.

And I appreciate that both of us are making efforts to keep this conversation polite and constructive. I hope I don’t test that now.

I am glad you see that at least part of what you’d change in Scouting would alter its identity. Can I ask why you would want to see that change?

In one case, you believe Scouting (and it sounds Christianity) would be unchanged by the acceptance (even celebration of) homosexual relationships. It’s obvious and needlessly agitating to visit this disagreement between us.

But in the other case, you recognize that the BSA identity is threatened by an acceptance of those who don’t affirm theism. Why then not either dismiss the desire for change or form an organizational refocused around this new center and the consistent application of a different world view?

avatar JimWilton August 20, 2010 at 12:27 pm

David, yes, let’s certainly avoid a discussion of whether homosexuality is an absolute good or an absolute evil.

The theism issue is interesting to me. I think the Boy Scouts are an example and the issue bears on other situations in society where virtues of tolerance and inclusiveness are in tension with a desire to maintain the integrity of a tradition.

Let me try to summarize the situation with the Boy Scouts, because I think it is a good illustration. Scouting clearly recognizes faith in God as a virtue to be cultivated. The Scout Oath includes a promise to “do my duty to God and my Country.” The Scout Law also states that a Scout is “reverent”.

However, it would be a mistake to view this too narrowly. Just as “country” refers to any country in which the Scout unit is organized, “God” is a generalized sense of “God” — or, more accurately, Scouting recognizes that devotion to God will occur in a specific context. Each troop or unit may be sponsored by a church or by a secular organization and all are accepted by the National organization as equally valid. So tolerance is a virtue that is implicit in principles of Scouting. Relationship to “God” is deemed important but is also held to be a personal matter. So the conception of “God” and prayers at Scout meetings are left to the local Scout unit in the case of religiously sponsored units — or to individual Scouts in the case of secular sponsored units. And awards such as the “God and Country Award” are administered by the local church and not by the Scout organization.

So, I think, two virtues are here and they are somewhat in tension. The first is recognition of the importance of some theistic religion on a personal level and the second is tolerance of all theistic religions on an organizational level. In some ways, this tension is a mirror of the tension in the U.S. Constitution between the “free exercise” and “establishment” clauses. The free exercise clause prohibits government interference in personal faith but the establishment clause guarantees tolerance under the law by prohibiting government preference of one faith over another.

This gets back to the point I mentioned in my last post where I think we may agree — virtue and a sense of an internal compass is essential to genuine religious experience. Consensus or the sense of religion as a club or a social glue is not.

In practice, the Boy Scouts extend the scope of their tolerance beyond theistic religions. The Boy Scouts expressly recognize Buddhist chapters and Buddhism is a non-theistic religion.

Where I differ with the Boy Scouts is with their decision to exclude individual Scouts on the basis of their expressed atheist or agnostic beliefs. In other words, the Scouts — while they tolerate and endorse organizations that that are non-theistic — reject individuals when their personal “internal compass” does not include acceptance of any of the myriad forms of worship of God. I don’t think that this is a principled position based on my (perhaps our) view of religion as a something that grows from the heart rather than being imposed by society.

However, the Boy Scouts — unlike our US Constitution — expressly equates “God” with reverence and religion. So, although I disagree with the policy, I think that there is an argument for it based on the organizational documents of the Boy Scouts.

I don’t think that there is a similar principled defense for the Boy Scouts’ homosexual policy. Since the organization tolerates all theistic religions (leaving individual beliefs about what is “morally straight” up to local units and individuals) it is inconsistent for the National organization to impose a ban on Scouts who are homosexuals — where, as is certainly the case, individual units or Scouts may find homosexuality consistent with their internal moral compasses.

I think it is a mistake for the Boy Scouts to become a specific church or to endorse a specific religion — and I believe that it is inconsistent with the Boy Scouts own core principles to do so. The Boy Scouts’ homosexual policy violates these principles and is ultimately destructive of the organization.

I am interested in your thoughts.

avatar David August 20, 2010 at 2:38 pm

If I am to be consistent (particularly after having admitted to seeking the deconstruction the delusions concerning the personification of organizations), I must say that the Boy Scouts do not believe anything. However, in joining the Boy Scouts you are agreeing that you support the mission written and supported by other members active and historical. This is an important difference.

Because the Boy Scouts aren’t anything. The Boy Scouts are its constituent members and only holds to it’s mission as long as a critical mass of those members sufficiently support that same mission.

All organizations thus change over time and change more rapidly when gatekeepers, wardens and parliamentarians of the organization fall lax in their duties. As those in positions of responsibility themselves fail to protect the mission, by allowing new members less committed to the cause, they encourage historical drift.

As those new members, less committed, occasionally (or as a matter of course) ascend to positions of responsibility the drifting erodes the mission further to the point where only by deliberately ignoring the cognitive dissonance can the organization continue, else it must reform with a new mission and a new commitment to purpose.

Both the YMCA and the BSA were formed as a direct opposition to progressive social and political movements at the turn of the last century. The YMCA (with a few notable attempts to correct this) has long abandoned its original charter and become a “community center”. The BSA has resisted better; however, both in their inception did not even accept Catholics, Africa-Americans or girls.

I’m not saying that accepting Catholics started the slide, nor do I think a reformed BSA that excluded Catholics would restore some virtue lost. But I am saying that the BSA became a different organization when it admitted Catholics because organizations are communities of persons and the persons had changed.

How this continued to evolve over time is a matter of historical curiosity and I don’t need to recount it here. However, in my own experience there are plenty of members of the local council that see Scouting primarily as a youth activity organization.

It is in my interest to marginalize those persons to prevent further drift.

This is my responsibility to current and historical members to uphold the mission of the organization I joined. In the fulfillment of my obligation, I encourage others to fulfill theirs or to voluntarily marginalize themselves to avoid conflict within the community.

Admitting Buddhists in a local council, was probably considered within the mission because whatever drift might result it would be contained. But as you point out, as non-theists this presents a critical failure of judgment on their parts.

I suspect that Scouting will continue to change. While I’m still a member though, I am committed to see its mission through. When the mission officially changes I’ll have to consider whether I can remain a member.

I don’t know if this responds properly to your point, but it does sum up how I’m approaching the problem personally.

avatar JimWilton August 22, 2010 at 1:26 pm

David, thanks for your thoughtful response. I don’t think I have convinced you that a primary value of the Boy Scouts is (within the realm of theistic religion) to leave the specifics of religion and morality to the local post and the individual. If I had convinced you, you would not view acceptance of Catholic troops as a change within the Boy Scout organization, but rather as an affirmation of a determination to leave religion and virtue as values that are defined from the bottom up by the individual and the local post rather than from the top down by the organization.

avatar David August 23, 2010 at 9:22 am

You did convince me. However, I was pointing out that such “leaving it up to the local troop” wasn’t original. That’s the change I was referring to. I think that the current organizational leadership is probably better described by your evaluation than mine (though it differs from the origins of the BSA).

I should also point out that my repeated admissions concerning the commitment to the project of developing virtue in our young men is being even now abandoned by much of the rank and file membership. When/if they come into positions of authority, it is very likely like that Scouting will make it’s next official metamorphosis into a mere “camping and crafts” youth activity organization.

I don’t know how soon that means affirming non-theists will be welcome, but without some national revival or reclamation the evolution of Scouting will take it along the same route as the YMCA in the next few decades.

avatar JimWilton August 24, 2010 at 6:18 pm

I agree with you regarding a modern trend in Boy Scouts toward a secular “camping and crafts” organization (and I agree that a trend toward secular purposes is not limited to the Boy Scouts). Of course there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that as a goal — but I agree that a major purpose of the original organization is lost.

I am not ready to concede that the approach of looking to local units to define the specifics of the spiritual values in Scouting is a modern innovation. I expect that early units in England may have been sponsored entirely by Protestant churches. However, I am not aware of the Boy Scouts ever adopting a specific creed. Certainly the Boy Scouts would not have grown into the large, international organization that it has become if all scouts had to become Methodists or Presbyterians. And so, I think that the introduction at the national level of a definition of homosexuality as immoral or not “morally straight” is inconsistent with original core beliefs of Scouting — that morality and values are defined in the heart and in the local church — and not by fiat from the National organization.

Certainly the modern Boy Scout policy on homosexuality has upset Unitarian, Northern Presbyterian and other liberal church sponsors of local Boy Scout troops. And so, ultimately with this centralized approach the values promoted for Scouts are determined by the vote of whoever happens to be on the National Board of Directors. This year it might be an anti-homosexual policy. Next year the value might be tolerance of homosexuality and support of gay marriage. I think it is better to leave the issue as an issue of the heart to be determined locally.

David, I appreciate your comments — and the fact that we can have a conversation like this, despite our different views. I actually discovered this website within the past week or so — and, in general, I have found the articles posted to be thoughtful and sincere.

Best wishes, Jim

avatar David August 24, 2010 at 11:39 pm

I fear I will begin to tread into self-congratulation here. What a shame that our civil conversation is cause for complement, so far has the republic fallen!

I wonder Jim; to what end our civility? Perhaps the only end possible, to itself that is. We have done a noble thing in exercising self control and exhibiting charity to each other, but not much more. You and I can cooperate and coexist, but could we ever be in community? Not without abrupt change to one or both.

How strange is the world that I would trust you to baby sit my children, while our anthropologies are incompatible? We are like ships that happen in the same harbor from time to time, but with completely different star charts.

But I bet if pressed I would find your definition of marriage more compatible with many on this site than they might find mine. For I am no believer in either romantic love or marriage as a vehicle for the carnal appetites even of heterosexual faithfuls. The truth is that the question of sexual identities doesn’t even appear on my map.

One thing that impressed me about Orthodox marriage ceremonies, there are no vows. There is almost the impression that marriage is something that happens to you, rather than something you chose. This, to me, is a better thing. But my definition of marriage isn’t the one coded into American law any more than yours is.

The cognitive dissonance is deafening.

I’m working on this in my mind. The more intensely I read and comment on this website, the more I think I need to turn away from diagnosis (no matter how enlightened and precise) and turn towards praxis.

I may need to do my own living (and writing) and less responding.

Thank you for your patience as I continue to be less than I ought.

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