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Patrick Springer, Published July 21 2013

OK for gay Boy Scouts drew little backlash across region

FARGO – The decision this spring by the Boy Scouts of America to reverse policy and allow openly gay members so far has not produced a big backlash in the Northern Lights Council.

So far, just two organizations that sponsor troops, one in western North Dakota and one in western Minnesota, have indicated they will sever ties when the policy takes effect Jan. 1, a scout executive said.

Those reports, not yet official, have come from volunteer leaders, who already have lined up new unit sponsors, said Travis Christopher, the Northern Lights Council executive.

“That’s one or two out of 400,” he added. “We’ve already found new homes for them.”

Despite the controversy over the new membership policy, approved May 23, fundraising to date this year is running ahead of the same period last year, Christopher said.

The council, with headquarters here, covers all of North Dakota, northwest Minnesota, as well as parts of South Dakota and Montana, and serves 20,000 boys during the course of a year.

In terms of membership, there also is no sign of a backlash in the area so far, Christopher said.

“We have had a few families that have indicated they would be leaving Scouting,” he said. “We’ve not seen a mass exit out of Scouting.”

As fall approaches, with the return to school, Scouting representatives will continue to have discussions with sponsors.

The response so far from religious denominations appears cautious.

The Fargo Catholic Diocese, which covers eastern North Dakota, has been awaiting guidance from the National Conference of Bishops.

Tanya Watterud, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said this week that the conference referred inquiries to the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, which issued a statement after the new policy was adopted.

The advisory committee’s statement acknowledged the deep ties for many years between the church and Boy Scouts of America and said “we hope to maintain that relationship.”

The committee will continue to study the policy and how it will affect Catholic-chartered Scout units and will “work within the teachings of our Catholic Faith and with the various local bishops and the diocesan Scouting committees.”

The National Catholic Register, a publication that covers the church, noted that the new Boy Scout policy was careful to point out that sexual activity by Scouts is not condoned.

“No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” the policy states. The policy also notes, “Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522