I’m a Boy Scout, and I’m here to recruit you

Editor's Note

Most folks have heard me rant and rave at least one time about the Boy Scouts of America and their anti-gay leadership and membership policies. The discrimination by the Boy Scouts of America is something I’ve experienced firsthand, being dismissed from Scouting after I came out at 14 and started a gay-straight alliance at my Winston-Salem high school.

Other than ranting and raving, though, there isn’t much that can be done to thwart the obviously immoral policies of this “private” organization. In 2000, the Supreme Court sided with the Boy Scouts in a case challenging their membership and leadership requirements, which ban openly gay or bisexual youth members and adults as well as individuals who identify as atheist or agnostic. Curiously, these rules have never appeared in a youth edition of The Boy Scout Handbook.

Recently, I received an email from a parent of a first grader in Winston-Salem. A local Cub Scout pack had come to her son’s school, spoke about the organization during class time and passed out literature on how to join.

The mother, an atheist, was livid. How was she supposed to explain to her young son why he wouldn’t be able to join the Cub Scouts like many of his friends would? She felt he was too young to understand the intricacies of Scouting’s membership and leadership policies, so she simply told him the family already had too much on their plate.

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In an email to the members of the board and in a letter to the editor published by The Winston-Salem Journal, the mother asked why no notice was given of a discriminatory organization’s presence at her son’s school, while four separate notifications were sent home regarding President Barack Obama’s back-to-school speech.

She wrote: “Recently President Obama made a 15-minute speech to children about working hard and staying in school. I got a verbal message from the teacher, a note and two calls letting me know about the speech. Is the president’s message that scary? Why does a positive message from the president require so much parental warning, while a discriminatory organization gets free rein to recruit during the school day with zero parental notification?”

Donald Martin, Winston-Salem Schools superintendant, responded to the mother’s email: “The boy and girl scouts are allowed to advertise meetings — typically they have a back-to-school fall recruitment meeting that is held in the evening. We also have a special facility use arrangement with both the boy and girl scouts.”

Martin added, “There should not have been a meeting with representatives of the boy scouts held during the school day that required students to attend. I’m sorry that this happened and we will review this topic at our next elementary principals meeting.”

In a follow-up email Martin said his system’s partnership with the Scouts was first established over a decade ago.

Winston-Salem schools also partner with the local Boy Scout council to offer middle school students the “Learning for Life” program. In the program, students travel to the council’s reserve, Raven Knob, where they participate in life skills and community-building activities led by camp staff and Boy Scouts officials. Unfortunately, Learning for Life’s little taste of the Scouting program is all gay or atheist youth will ever see of the organization.

It is shameful for schools, by law open to all citizens, to partner with organizations that unapologetically uphold discriminatory membership requirements. When we consider the response to student-organized gay-straight alliances by officials in this school system, we see a clear disconnect.

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“We can’t allow this gay-straight alliance to be school sponsored,” I was once told. “If we did, we’d have to allow every club who wanted sponsorship. What would we do if the KKK or another hate group wanted to start a school club?”

If their actions concerning the Boy Scouts are any indication, I’m guessing school officials would have no choice but to allow the KKK club. They already have one club with stringent discriminatory policies and philosophies, how could they legally deny access to another? After all, the same Supreme Court decision protecting the Boy Scouts’ private membership and Free Association rights would also protect hate groups like the KKK.

Further, the federal Equal Access Act mandates open and accessible schools. The law was originally passed to protect Christian groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but the Act has also been used by students seeking to establish gay-straight alliances. Because schools already allowed non-curricular clubs like Bible studies, they had no choice but to allow the gay-straight clubs.

For schools, working with the Boy Scouts is dangerous and obviously wrong. Their partnerships will inevitably lead to some of their students being discriminated against — something that should never happen in public schools. Secondly, their Boy Scout partnerships could very well open schools to other discriminatory groups seeking equal access.

For the Boy Scouts of America, these membership policies are hurting their ability to be the organization they once were. Their actions today are absolutely antithetical to the purpose and mission with which they were charged at their founding a century ago, and outlined in their Congressional Charter: “…to promote…the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance and kindred virtues.”

The Boy Scouts’ anti-gay and religiously-exclusive policies are tarnishing their sterling history and the honored place they once earned — but lost long ago — in American society and culture.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

15 Replies to “I’m a Boy Scout, and I’m here to recruit you”

  1. Rock on brother!! Tell it like it is!

    Maybe if the school continues to provide a venue for the BSA or allows them to pass out literature, the mother in question could pass out pamphlets for Camp Inquiry and volunteer atheists could attend the class to explain what the camp is about and invite the first graders to attend!

  2. As a Scoutmaster I find it interesting articles such as yours always have a phrase early in the piece saying something to the effect: “…BSA’s discrimination policy…”. Journalists seem to enjoy using the trick of telling their audience what they should think and building on it from there.

    BSA does not have a discrimination policy. They have a policy of extending membership to heterosexual individuals and those that believe in a higher being, God, only. Your use of the word “discrimination” is an attempt convince people BSA has some sort of ill will toward the gay and atheistic members of our society. Not true! In truth and to express it in Scouting parlance, it’s more of a “We don’t walk the same path” policy. That is all there is to it.

    “Working with the Boy Scouts dangerous and obviously wrong”. There’s that trick again, “obviously wrong”. Schools working with Boy Scouts is a very natural thing. Scouting promotes scholarship and always has. Why wouldn’t schools encourage membership in an organization which forwards the same ideas as they do? This is a healthy alliance as is the gay-straight alliance mentioned in your article.

    Concerning the mention of a KKK club in your article I would like to point out many schools have an African-American, Hispanic or some club based on ethnicity. What would happen if students wanted to form an Caucasian club? I have serious doubts that it would ever be allowed by administrators as it would be deemed “racist.” In wondering, are Caucasian students allowed to join African-American clubs? If not, it would seem they discriminate.

    In your next-to-last paragraph you imply BSA is working against it’s original Congressional Charter. You go so far as to quote a passage from that charter which ends in the words “kindred virtues”. The virtues referred to include the support of the traditional, nuclear family. BSA still upholds this idea as a proven way to live a healthy, productive life. At no point has BSA said it is the only way. It is the way they have chosen and it is a choice upheld by the highest court of our land!

  3. Greg S. needs to do some more research before he comments on the BSA’s membership policy.

    I think Matt would have been better to quote from the BSA’s first Handbook, in which the new organization promised the American people “That every American boy shall have the opportunity of becoming a good scout.” Yet, within four short years, the BSA broke that promise by allowing local councils to ban boys from becoming members because they happened to be African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, or whatever the local council felt was detrimental to the image of Scouting in the local community. It was not until the NAACP sued the BSA in 1974 that the last BSA council dismantled its segregated scouting program. One also must recall that the last council to drop its ban on African Americans was in 1942!

    So, the BSA has a long history of discrimination. At least 64 years of supporting Jim Crow across the country. And while the CSE in the NAACP lawsuit pledged that the organization would not discriminate on the basis of race, one has only to look at the BSA’s oral arguments in Dale (2000) to realize that the basis for the BSA’s 1914 racial policy has not changed. In 1914, the BSA felt that if African Americans (and other ethnic minorities) were allowed to join, then their very presence as Scouts in the local community would send a message that the BSA approved of individuals that the community considered to be social inferiors. In 2000, this is the same argument the BSA made before the US Supreme Court. If New Jersey forced the BSA to accept gay youth, then the BSA believed that a message would be sent to the local community that gay youth/adults are not inferior. A message that the BSA vehemently did not wish to send.

    Recently, the BSA has argued in federal courts that because of the Dale case, it is not bound by racial discrimination laws and may discriminate on the basis of race, because it is a private religious youth organization. The most recent National Camping Standards have reversed the BSA’s position that it is not bound by the ADA and that councils should feel free to build new facilities that take do not make any provisions for scouts physically disabled.

    So, before you start blasting Matt, you might want to find out when the BSA will fulfill its promise it made to the American public in 1910. From their recent actions, it seems that the BSA will be very similar to the KKK – a White Heterosexual Anglo-Saxon Protestant only organization. In that case, it too will go the way of the KKK. One can only hope that the Congress will revoke its charter and allow other organizations to develop that wish to offer scouting to ALL American boys.

  4. So where exactly does “every boy deserves the chance to be a scout” fit into these restrictions Greg S? Discrimination is discrimination…no matter what pretty clour you try to paint it! Nancy S.

  5. Somebody needs a dictionary. I can’t imagine having such a small vocabulary as to completely misunderstand the meaning of the word “discrimination,” as Greg has.

  6. Well if you read the bible and follow the morals of it you will see why boy scouts stand for. But this country was great tell we started to take our morals away and God will not take care of the county and we are seeing us lose our power in the world. Just because we have lost our morals. But this is all in God plan . if parent taught the morals the Boy Scouts stand for imagine what this county would look like. Less crime , violence and more people being saved and will live with God for ever. But it is there loss not mine.

    But you do got to remember that kids don’t understand this and just want to go have fun and play with their friends. But kids should not be forced to think the way the parents do. Some of these kids will say stuff and as you talk to them they have no real opinion to this but that their parents tell them how to think and that is wrong.

  7. The bible aside, I have no issues with the Boy Scouts and their membership policies. (As bigoted as it is, and I use that term lightly) Why do the girl scouts have no problems with this?

    The issue I have is they are publicly funded yet claim to be a private membership. Why are my tax dollars going to something that is discriminatory towards a minority?

    Take away public funding and this issue will be put to rest.

    Don, “if parents taught the morals the BS stand for”? Is that what the baby boomers did and we ended up with the sexual revolution of the 60’s? People need to stop with this holier then thou crap.

  8. The sad reality is that the Scouts are on the wrong side of history. Many of us have sons involved in an imperfect compromise that sees the benefits, and recognizes that the ban is something at the national level but is rarely translated into anything tangible in a troop. But the stats show that young people are much more open to their glbt friends, and will be less willing to have their children participate. Scouting will either change or die out.

    An intersting read is the book “Scouts Honor” which gives a fair treatment of the issue.

  9. It is articles like these that make me wonder if people have nothing better to do than start arguments. Give me a break… comparing the Boy Scouts to the KKK?

    As for the atheist mother, give it a break. Sorry your kid can’t join, but I’m sure there are plenty of other orgs your kid can join. Does that mean none of the other children should be denied the opportunity of learning about the BSA? That’s like saying unless every child can participate, you can’t promote the program at our school. I guess we’ll need to take football out of all our high schools, as girls typically don’t play that sport.

    Why not support the BSA and other organizations to help build community and the character of our children.

    And Brett… show me where the Boy Scouts receive public funding–they don’t. If you find it, send it to me at teamrecess@yahoo.com.

  10. For information purposes:

    From Fox News:
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,164547,00.html
    “Critics of the Boy Scouts, like the American Civil Liberties Union, make one strong argument against the organization’s private status. The Boy Scouts enjoys massive and unique tax-funded support from governments both local and federal. On the local level, for example, the city of San Diego was targeted because it allowed the Boy Scouts’ headquarters to operate in a city-owned park for $1 per year and to use other city-owned facilities without any rent. On the federal level, the Pentagon provided an estimated $6 to $8 million from 1997 to 2001 to assist a Boy Scouts Jamboree — an event which is traditionally held on military bases.”

    In some cities, public accommodation laws require that organizations, employers, restaurants, hotels, etc. not discriminate against people based on sexual orientation. That’s partly the reason why the Scouts were stopped from using San Diego’s publicly-owned park.

    It could be argued that the Boy Scouts are a “public accommodation” because:
    http://www.religioustolerance.org/bsa_1.htm
    The BSA is the largest youth movement in the world. Between 1992 and 1996, the BSA total assets in the U.S. increased from 277 million to 441 million dollars.
    BSA’s federal charter obligates them to serve all boys.
    Other than discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and religious belief, BSA has no barriers to membership. It aggressively recruit new members.
    Many troops are sponsored by government agencies (e.g. public schools, military base, fire department) and thus cannot discriminate on the basis of religion.
    Federal laws have been passed to allow the military to provide transportation for Scouts and to loan them equipment without charge. Every national Boy Scout jamboree since 1981 has been held on a military base.
    All recent presidents of the U.S. have been honorary presidents of the BSA.
    Many local councils receive substantial funding from the United Way. Such United Ways have a national and local policy of not ordinarily funding any charitable organization which discriminates on a basis of religion or sexual orientation. Some United Ways have stopped funding the Boy Scouts. However, many still continue such funding.
    BSA operates and licenses retail stores to sell Scouting materials and literature to both BSA members and the general public.
    Groups that are much smaller and private than the Boy Scouts have been recognized as public accommodations. One example is Big Brothers of the National Capital Area.

  11. 9The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

  12. sounds like greg s is trying to defend the kkk.

  13. Ken honey you need to take a Xanax and have a shot of whiskey dude. You are scary! People have been predicting the end of days since there were days. You can find references to the Rapture occurring as far back as 1200 years ago. For those that bought their Rapture tickets then, a lot of folks were disappointed they paid 800 shekels no horsemen appeared for the Tribulation Concert. Try getting a job and meeting people.

  14. “if parent taught the morals the Boy Scouts stand for imagine what this county would look like. Less crime , violence and more people being saved” And while 16 percent of the us population is atheist, only one percent of prisoners are? And atheists have an average of a 6 percent higher IQ? Many people are against boy scouts because THE GOVERNMENT supports it. We pay taxes. No one should be forced to pay for an anti gay/minority/atheist group. The boy scouts have wasted millions of dollars promoting anti gay messages and keeping kids out of scouting. We pay that.That is why I am STRONGLY against the boy scouts. Not only do they discriminate, they force us to pay for it. And the next time you post, use your 2nd grade grammar skills.

  15. As an Australian scout leader I was very interested to read all this debate about the BSA and it’s discriminatory policies. I can at least reassure all you guys, that here in Australia there is no discrimination for race, creed, religion and sex, and not that of sexual preference either, in scouting. Yes, we have gay scout leaders and also girls participate in all levels and age of the scouting program, combined with the boys. Scouts are just fine here thanks and flourishing, the sky hasn’t fallen in and the wheels haven’t fallen off. It WILL work if you give it a chance. I also note that there is no influence or chartering by churches and religious organisations in Australia, perhaps therein lies the BSA’s problems… From the perspective of scouting for all in Australia, we are following the original ideals of Baden Powell who founded the movement and offered scouting to all youth. Perhaps the BSA has deviated somewhat from this path and is not really scouting any more? Perhaps they have tarnished the scouting brand? Perhaps from that perspective they should not be allowed to function using the brand of “Scouts” any more, they are actually something different. They should change the name and remove scouts from their moniker, as from the original ideals of BP they are not that any longer.

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