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Jane Ahlin, Published July 21 2012

Ahlin: Let us consider a new oath for the Boy Scouts

Perhaps you have heard the new Boy Scout Oath: 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, although if I am gay, I also promise on my honor to lie about it.

OK, OK, the very last part is mine; however, in effect, that’s what the Boy Scouts of America organization is saying to its membership and supporters.

Put me in the group sighing and shaking our collective head over the recent determination by the special committee made up of unidentified BSA volunteers and professionals who decided after two years of study that discriminating against gay Americans is the best way for Scouting to “serve more youth.” The self-destructive reasoning stands in stark contrast to that of the Girl Scouts of America, who, according to ABC News, have had a diversity policy and non-discrimination clause since 1980. It also stands in contrast to the policies of Campfire Boys and Girls and the National 4-H Council, both of whom operate under policies of inclusiveness.

The national Boy Scouts organization drew a line in the sand back in 2000 when a lawsuit filed by a gay scoutmaster named James Dale reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled that as a private organization, BSA can both restrict its membership and deny employment or leadership positions to those the organization deems to be in conflict with its values. In short, Dale and any other “open or avowed homosexuals” were out the door.

Twelve years later, BSA has reaffirmed its position. Given what has and has not happened across the culture during that 12 years, one wonders how the organization can continue its institutionalized notion that being gay – at least being honest about being gay – is somehow immoral. After all, the U.S. military is finding that ending the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is an easy transition. More to the point, the terrible pedophilia scandals of the Catholic Church and, more recently, Penn State, have pointed up the difference between normal homosexuals (think Anderson Cooper) and criminal pedophiles (think Jerry Sandusky).

Actually, the Boy Scouts themselves were ordered to pay out $18.5 million in a 2010 Oregon case, a sex abuse trial that also revealed several dozen other sex abuse lawsuits settled out of court by BSA. To its credit, BSA instituted a Youth Protection program that is viewed as an excellent sex abuse education program for boys, leaders and parents.

However, the point is, BSA problems with pedophiles were not helped by its policy against gays; what has helped is education about the ways criminals prey upon children. In fact, it’s important also to note what hasn’t happened in the past 12 years, particularly concerning other youth-focused organizations that have chosen to be inclusive. It’s true that the Girl Scouts had a bit of a dust-up over palm oil in their cookies and 4-H had a state fair cheating scandal in South Dakota; however, there have been no headlines concerning those organizations – or Campfire Boys and Girls – that have to do with the sex abuse of children.

Frankly, by now it should go without saying that including gays and lesbians in quality youth programs is no different than including both olive-skinned brown-eyed kids and easily sunburned blue-eyed kids.

What has held true for those other organizations is that a policy of inclusiveness has made sexual orientation a non-issue in the important work of providing wholesome activities for youth. That they vet leaders and volunteers for past criminal behavior is a given. They just don’t confuse sexual orientation with illegal behavior.

Interestingly, the Northern Star Council – the largest BSA Council in Minnesota – has chosen to welcome gay Scouts into their troops. According to an article in the Star Tribune, a spokesperson for the group explained the difference of their policy from that of the national BSA by saying, “Every council is reflective of (its) community.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Northern Lights Council of our area chose to welcome openly gay members for the same reason?


Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.