Yes, the Boy Scouts of America is a private club and as such, has the right to exclude from membership anyone it chooses for pretty much any reason it wants. It doesn’t even have to be consistent. The Supreme Court ruled this was so a long time ago.
But it bothers me that they exclude gay people from participation. The official policy is “While the B.S.A. does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the B.S.A.”
They also exclude atheists because, they say, that to be a proper scout, a boy must have a belief in some higher power. In the strictest sense, this would exclude many eastern religions, but they do make accommodation for them.
All of this is based on the scout oath and the scout law, which are as follows:
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
Gays, they say, are not “morally straight,” and atheists, because they do not believe in God, can have no duty to God and, bizarrely, they believe that this means they cannot be reverent.
Perhaps this is due to the large percentage of troops sponsored by churches. There were about 2.7 million scouts (a decrease from a high of 4.2 million in 1988). 413,000 (15%) are LDS, 287,000 (11%) are Catholic, 371,000 (14%) are Methodists, and 108,000 (4%) are Baptists. These groups all oppose same sex marriage and most do not consider gays morally straight. Two other main-line churches, Lutheran and Presbyterian account of 247,000 (9%) of scouts. In total, these six religious organizations account for over half the scouts in the country. If we were to look further, I would guess all religious organizations sponsor closer to 2/3 of all scout troops. In the LDS church, scouting is very intertwined with the spiritual development of boys and the LDS church is so important to scouting that there are special rules for LDS troops that do not apply to others.
The stances against gays and atheists bothers me a great deal. I was in scouting from age 12 (when we joined the LDS church) until age 18. Order of the Arrow, Vigil Honor. Just before my 18th birthday, I became an Eagle Scout. I have been an Assistant Scoutmaster and a Scoutmaster. Three of my four brothers are Eagle Scouts, and the one who did not get it was, in my, opinion, possibly the most deserving, and he was a Scout Executive for some time.
It was through scouting I became very familiar with denominations other than LDS, because the Fort Smith LDS church did not have much in the way of a Scout Troop, and we became affiliated with one sponsored by a Catholic Church.
I cherish the Eagle award I have, signed by the President of the United States, the Honorary President of the Boy Scouts of America, even though at the time, it was Richard Nixon and it was signed shortly before he resigned. A picture I clipped out of a magazine of Gerald Ford in a Boy Scout uniform while he was President was framed and on the wall for years.
I learned about honor and respect and duty and have tried to live by the scout law, but I fail often. They are ideals to strive for, principles worthy of trying to uphold. Lord Baden Powell put together a good organization, one I feel is being diminished by conservative right-wing and evangelical religious principles. I do not remember this being an issue when I was a scout.
Followed to its illogical extreme—where everything seems to go these days—I can see Buddhists and Hindus being excluded, the Muslims, because the right wing knows none of them have a duty to America or to God as they define God.
All this is fine and good for Scouts, because they can include or exclude anybody they want. The issue is my response. It is not my nature to ignore this. Is my obligation filled with this writing (I will make sure it gets the BSA)? Should I renounce my Eagle and if so, how best to do this? Or is there something else more effective? Please post comments to this and give me your opinions.