Friday, July 20, 2012

Boy Scouts Keep Rights - But Are Wrong

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on July 20, 2012

By Bill Gouveia

The Boy Scouts of America this week reaffirmed their policy of denying membership in their private organization to those who are “open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA”.

Well, good for them. It’s nice to see a group of morally motivated individuals band together for the purpose of teaching young men how to exclude and disregard those not just like them. After all, somebody has to do it. Can we really expect they will learn to judge people before knowing them without being shown how by adults?

For the record, I believe the stated and rededicated policy of the Boy Scouts is one of the worst examples of nurturing and leadership I have ever witnessed. I could not disagree with it more, and the fact it comes from such well-intentioned people with so much influence over impressionable youngsters is one of the scariest things I can imagine for our country.

At the same time, I support their legal right to have and keep that policy. The US Supreme Court said it was okay, and while I disagree with their 5-4 decision, it is currently the settled law of the land. As such, the scouting organization is perfectly entitled to it whether I or anyone else believes it’s a good idea.

Unless you respect the rights of others you have no reasonable expectation of having that respect returned. You can’t just pick and choose who has rights and who doesn’t. Well, that’s not really true. People do it all the time. The Boy Scouts are doing it with their bigoted and self-righteous policy, and then asking not to be discriminated against just because they discriminate against others. It’s kind of like taking Advanced Citizenship 101, and being graded on the curve.

I was a Boy Scout in my traditional and local past, though not for a very long time. As a charter member of Troop 61 in Norton, I was the proud assistant patrol leader of the Swamp Fox Patrol. I was a Den Chief for a group of Cub Scouts, proudly marched in local parades carrying the American and scouting flags, and came under the influence of many fine and upstanding scout leaders.

There was never much talk back then about excluding anyone. The whole idea was to get young men involved so scouting could help make them better. But somewhere along the way, the national organization seems to have lost track of that admirable goal. Now it seems the Boy Scouts can only accept those who fit the mold the organization wants and needs. If you do not reflect the image the institution wants to put forth, you must be avoided like a disease.

But don’t worry, it’s not personal. The Boy Scouts have nothing against gay people, as they are quick to point out. They just have a higher mission that they want protected, views they want clearly expressed. As then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote back in 2000 in the decision that affirmed that right: "Forcing a group to accept certain members may impair the ability of the group to express those views, and only those views, that it intends to express."

Of course, the Boy Scouts are not really your typical “private” organization. They have a long history of enjoying tremendous support from local communities and governments, both in the form of use of facilities as well as monetarily. They really like that part of being a “cherished public institution”. It’s only the part concerning those pesky discrimination laws and other technical stuff that drives them into the private sector.

The BSA reaffirmed their policy after a rather interesting “study process”. They formed an anonymous and secret 11-member committee which they claim reflected “a diversity of perspectives and opinions”. After two years of study, that handpicked group unanimously decided to keep the policy. No great surprise there.

In the end, their policy works. It allows the BSA to perfectly reflect the goals and vision of those who control it. It enables them to express those views that Chief Justice Rehnquist and his court sought to protect.

And in the end, that seems to be what the scouting leadership truly cares about most.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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