Boy Scout memo: legal challenges, pressure from churches cited in policy change
Updated: February 7, 2013 at 8:18 am
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The recent push for a change in anti-gay membership policies within the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is being prompted primarily by worries over “looming legal challenges” amid pressure from both inside and outside of of the Scouting program, according to details related in a memo from Boy Scouts of America leaders at a local Scout council in North Carolina. The Feb. 3 memo, obtained by qnotes late Monday afternoon and published in its entirety at the end of this article, comes during a week-long debate following news that Boy Scouts leaders might rescind their controversial ban on gay members during a national board meeting near Dallas, Texas, this week.
“As participants in a conference call with key national BSA leadership on Friday, February 1, we heard that one of the primary reasons for considering this change is based on looming legal challenges to our continued right to set our own membership standards,” reads a memo from local leaders at the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Old Hickory Council to several hundred local volunteers and council representatives.
• “Looming legal challenges” are primary reason for changing national policy now
• BSA fears it would not receive favorable rulings at today’s Supreme Court
• With no national policy, individual units can retain current policy without threat of national legal challenges
• Churches with largest number of chartered units are in favor of policy change
• Pressure to change policy has come from membership and chartered partners, as well as external organizations
• Scouts worried about continued financial toll of current policy
• Policy change does not alter Scouting or its programming
[Ed. Note — This writer is a former Boy Scout, dismissed in 2000 from a Scout troop in the Old Hickory Council after coming out as gay and starting a gay-straight alliance at his high school. See this Feb. 4 editorial for more.]
The memo was sent by Old Hickory Council President Robert Rogers, Commissioner Bruce Bradley and local Council Scout Executive Steve Wilburn. In the memo, the three local leaders relate that legal concerns have yet to be mentioned in the significant recent media coverage of the Scouts’ potential policy changes. They also briefly recount the past legal history of the policy and relay concerns that future court challenges might not withstand legal scrutiny.
“This right [to maintain anti-gay membership policies] was challenged in 2000 and the BSA prevailed in a narrow 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision,” the memo reads, citing the 2000 Supreme Court case, BSA v. Dale. “If a similar challenge were heard in today’s Court, it is nearly certain that the BSA would lose its right to uphold the current policy, and the decision would dictate a change at every level of the organization.”
Changing national policy now, the leaders wrote, would guarantee autonomy for local units.
“As we understand it, by not having any stated policy on sexuality at the national and local council levels, the ability for local chartered organizations to continue their right and responsibility to choose and approve only those leaders who align with their organizations’ beliefs, policies, and principles, is protected,” the memo reads.
The memo also revealed a diversity of opinions within their Scouting’s own ranks.
“A number of religious organizations who are the top chartered partners with the BSA nationally have come out in support of this potential change because it allows their local churches more control over their leadership and membership standards,” Old Hickory Council leaders wrote. They continued, “It is also true that there is pressure from within the BSA membership and from many of our current chartered partners to change the policy, in addition to pressure from outside our Scouting family.”
According to the Boy Scouts of America, the top five faith organizations with the highest number of chartered units are the Mormon Church, United Methodist Church, Catholic Church and various Presbyterian and Lutheran denominations.
The leaders also acknowledged the substantial financial toll the Boy Scouts of America’s anti-gay policy has had on fundraising.
“It is true that significant funding of Scouting at the national and local council levels has been lost due to the current policy,” the memo reads.
And, if the policy is changed, local leaders insisted it would not adversely affect the organization’s operations.
“A change in this single policy does not change the wonderment and enthusiasm of the children who count on you to guide them through the adventure of Scouting, nor does it change the program’s mission,” the memo reads. “We know that each of you will have your own reaction to this possible change, and we hope you will keep the youth in your units foremost in your thoughts as you think about your own role in Scouting.”
National Boy Scouts of America officials said last week they were considering dropping their national ban in favor of local autonomy.
“This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs,” Scouts spokesperson Deron Smith said in a statement. “BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.”
Members of the Boy Scouts of America’s national executive board are expected to take up discussion of the potential policy change at a meeting in Irving, Texas, this week. Significant national pressure has been mounting on the organization for at least a year to make changes to their policy. The matter has gained renewed attention since the Scouts’ official’s announcement last week. On Sunday, President Barack Obama said the Scouts should do away with their anti-gay policy. On Monday, several openly gay Eagle Scouts, a gay parent and a parent of a gay Scouter denied his Eagle Scout award delivered 1.4 million petitions to rescind the anti-gay ban to the Boy Scouts’ national offices.
qnotes reached out to press officials via phone and email at the national Boy Scouts of America offices in Texas to confirm the details of the Feb. 1 conference call as related in the Old Hickory Council memo. This newspaper also asked if the Scouts’ primary purpose for considering the national policy change was prompted by genuine concern for gay youth or the organization’s mere legal self-interests. Our requests for comment were not returned by press time.
N.C. lawmakers honor Scouts amid controversy
State lawmakers in North Carolina passed two resolutions (House, Senate) honoring local Boy Scouts of America members and leaders last night. The resolutions came as a part of local Scouts’ annual “Report to the State” at the North Carolina General Assembly. Nearly 87,000 boys and some 33,000 young adults in North Carolina currently serve in membership or leadership roles with the Boy Scouts.
Addressing the resolution on the floor, lead House sponsor Rep. Bert Jones (R-Caswell, Rockingham) praised Scouting as a benefit to North Carolina and its young men.
“For all the things you learn in Scouting, the most important are those timeless values that are taught to boys and they are largely embodied in the 12 points of the Scout law, and that is a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent,” Jones said.
North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby presented the annual North Carolina Boy Scouts Report to the State.
“Since 1910, the Boy Scouts of America have helped develop exemplary character in the young people of our land,” Newby told members of the House, including 10 members who once earned their Eagle Scout awards. “The 12 points of the Scout Law as recited by Rep. Jones are as important to civil society today as they were 103 years ago. Likewise, the Scout Oath emphasizes the value of integrity: ‘On 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.’ These timeless ideals echo our founding documents such as the preamble to our state constitution, which reminds us of the source of our liberties.”
The resolutions passed with unanimous support in both the Senate and the House. Among the supporters were cosponsors Reps. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) and Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford). Both Democratic officials are also outspoken supporters of the LGBT community.
“The Boy Scouts do many great things and just like in any situation where we are trying to move people from one place to the next, it doesn’t always suffice to be confrontational,” Brandon, the state’s only openly gay lawmaker, told qnotes via phone from Raleigh on Monday. “There are a number of things the Boy Scouts do well and we want to honor them and in the same sense we want to create an open dialogue.”
Brandon also said the recent attention on the Boy Scouts is indicative of continuing changes in American society.
“I think the Boy Scouts of America is moving in the right direction with the times,” Brandon said. “There’s an understanding that how we define ourselves sexually has nothing to do with our abilities and our interests and it makes better sense not to have policies that try to force [discrimination].”
Glazier said he hopes the leaders of the Boy Scouts of America follow the lead of President Obama, who serves in recognition of his elected office as the Scouts’ honorary president.
“I am very supportive of the vital life skills and training the Scouts provide and have provided millions of children in the United States,” Glazier said in a brief statement via email. “I am equally hopeful the Scouts will follow the President’s encouragement from the other evening and make scouting equally available to all boys and their parents, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, fully living up to the Scouting creed. The timing of this House resolution could not be better as the BSA will consider and, hopefully, end their policy to the contrary this week.”
Old Hickory Council, BSA, Memo
From: Diane Clinard <[redacted]@bsamail.org>
Date: Mon, 4 Feb 2013 10:10:07 -0600
Subject: Boy Scouts of America
Date: February 3, 2013
Old Hickory Council, BSA, Volunteers
Chartered Organization Representatives
Robert Rogers, Old Hickory Council President
Bruce Bradley, Old Hickory Council Commissioner
Steve Wilburn, Old Hickory Council Scout Executive
As you know, the Boy Scouts of America National Council is considering a change in its policy related to homosexuals as leaders and members. The current policy is that no avowed or open homosexual can be registered as a leader or member in the Boy Scouts of America – in other words “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The change, which will be discussed at the upcoming National Executive Board meeting on February 6, would eliminate any national or local council policy regarding sexuality. However, each local chartered partner organization would have the authority to establish its own standards for leadership and membership in its Cub Scout pack, Boy Scout troop, and/or Venturing crew, in accordance with that organization’s mission, guidelines, and beliefs.
As participants in a conference call with key national BSA leadership on Friday, February 1, we heard that one of the primary reasons for considering this change is based on looming legal challenges to our continued right to set our own membership standards. This has not been mentioned in the recent media releases on this topic. This right was challenged in 2000 and the BSA prevailed in a narrow 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision. If a similar challenge were heard in today’s Court, it is nearly certain that the BSA would lose its right to uphold the current policy, and the decision would dictate a change at every level of the organization. As we understand it, by not having any stated policy on sexuality at the national and local council levels, the ability for local chartered organizations to continue their right and responsibility to choose and approve only those leaders who align with their organizations’ beliefs, policies, and principles, is protected.
A number of people have expressed concern about the shifting of responsibility for setting membership standards from our national organization to the local level. Chartered Partners have always agreed, as part of their annual agreement with Scouting, to accept the responsibility for selecting and approving leadership in their Scouting programs. Many go beyond the minimal guidelines set by the BSA. For instance, some churches who are chartered partners only allow members of their churches to serve in leadership roles. Others have their own additional measures in place. A number of religious organizations who are the top chartered partners with the BSA nationally have come out in support of this potential change because it allows their local churches more control over their leadership and membership standards.
There have been numerous media reports about the proposed change, and we are sharing the following points to help clarify some questions many of you have.
* First and foremost, no decision has been made yet – the National Executive Board doesn’t meet until February 6. At this point, it is unclear what the outcome of this discussion might be.
* We are sorry that all of us found out about this possible change through the media. Our Scout Executive was informed about this subject in a conference call on Monday afternoon, and we have been developing communications since then. This memo was withheld until after this past Friday’s conference call.
* Beyond what we have stated above, we don’t know all issues which might be influencing the consideration of this policy change or the timing of this discussion. Speculation about the reasons would be – well – just speculation at this point. Some of the recent articles have insinuated various reasons, but we should not accept any of these as fact. It is true that significant funding of Scouting at the national and local council levels has been lost due to the current policy. It is also true that there is pressure from within the BSA membership and from many of our current chartered partners to change the policy, in addition to pressure from outside our Scouting family.
* If the decision to change is made, it simply means that there is no longer a national or local council policy on sexuality. Local chartered partner organizations can still set their own policies for leadership and membership. Chartered partners have always had the responsibility for selecting and approving the leadership of their Scouting units. Our council will fully support the decisions of all of our chartered partners and we will still provide criminal background checks, ineligible volunteer files, training, etc. to help assure the safety of youth.
* Since Scouting is an outreach program for our chartered partners, the policy under consideration would allow chartered partner organizations to set membership guidelines that are aligned with their organizations’ missions, policies, and beliefs – much like churches do in selecting leaders for their other outreach programs.
* If the policy does change, no chartered organization would be forced to accept any leader or youth member that does not meet that organization’s standard for leadership/membership.
* The current policy does not allow avowed or openly homosexual leaders or members – in other words, “don’t ask – don’t tell.” If this policy change takes place, local chartered partners will be able to adopt more stringent or less restrictive guidelines for membership within their own units, or just adopt the policy currently in place.
* As always, families will still have the opportunity to join Scouting units that best fit their own needs, desires, and beliefs.
We encourage you to share your thoughts with our local council leadership, and especially with our national organization’s leadership, who will ultimately decide on this issue. Your input and comments are important. Please feel free to share this memo with any other volunteers or parents. We will try to keep you posted on any additional information we receive, and would be glad to answer any questions that you might have regarding this topic.
Your leadership in providing a great quality Scouting experience is very important for the youth and families in your Scouting units. A change in this single policy does not change the wonderment and enthusiasm of the children who count on you to guide them through the adventure of Scouting, nor does it change the program’s mission. We know that each of you will have your own reaction to this possible change, and we hope you will keep the youth in your units foremost in your thoughts as you think about your own role in Scouting.
National Contact Information:
www.scouting.org/ContactUs <http://www.scouting.org/ContactUs> (972) 580-2900
Old Hickory Council Contact Information:
Steve Wilburn, Scout Executive
Robert Rogers, Council President
Bruce Bradley, Council Commissioner
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About the author: Matt Comer was the editor of QNotes, first hired to serve in the role in October 2007, with his tenure ending August 23, 2015.