Friday, July 31, 2015

BSA Takes Step Forward - But Not Far Enough

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on July 31, 2015

GOUVEIA: Being prepared to do the right thing

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Posted: Friday, July 31, 2015 9:55 am
Many times this space has been critical of the Boy Scouts of America concerning its policy towards homosexual scouts and scout leaders. When I thought what they were doing was wrong, I expressed that opinion strongly.
Now that organization has taken steps towards improving that policy. They haven’t totally reversed it. They haven’t made it what I and so many across the country think it should be. It still smacks of discrimination for reasons that should be obvious in this day and age.
But it’s a step in the right direction. It is an effort to make it better. It reflects a lot of hard work by a whole lot of people, as well as a serious attempt at honest compromise by many who hold certain beliefs near and dear to their heart.
So as incomplete as their change is, I give them credit for making it. I believe it is a step towards the day when the Boy Scouts will join the Girl Scouts as a great organization serving all children and families, regardless of the sexual orientation of anyone.
This week the BSA Executive Committee voted to remove the national restriction on openly gay leaders and employees. However, it left a loophole that allows “religious chartered organizations to continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.”
That’s polite language for saying religious organizations who sponsor the Boy Scouts can continue to practice discrimination against gay people by covering it with the blanket of “religious beliefs.” It’s pretty sad when a group like the Scouts can take that position and have it considered a positive step towards recognizing equality — but nonetheless that is what it is.
BSA President Robert Gates made it clear in his statement that aside from the moral issues that precipitated this move, there were compelling legal reasons for it to happen, as well. With the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage (it is time to put that silly term “gay marriage” aside), the position of the BSA regarding homosexuals was simply untenable.
“The country is changing, and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels,” Gates told the BSA’s national business meeting in May. He also told members they could not maintain their membership rules going forward because the law and the country was changing.
That does not seem to make certain religious organizations any more likely to adapt to the law. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a longtime supporter and sponsor of the Boy Scouts, said it is “re-evaluating” its relationship with scouting due to the policy change.
“The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation,” the church said in a statement. “However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America.”
That’s a politically correct way of saying “We will allow homosexuals to be Boy Scouts in our troops, but once they grow up we don’t want them as leaders and won’t take them based upon nothing but their sexuality.”
Is this what we are moving toward in America? Is religion the last great haven for discrimination?
I fully support private organizations — including religious groups — having the right to set their own rules and establish and promote beliefs and standards consistent with the principles on which they are founded. But when those organizations branch out into the public or quasi-public world, they must comply with the same laws and rules that govern everyone else.
No one should ever force a religious group to accept into their fold those who do not believe as they do. But that does not give them the right to practice blanket discrimination in other areas.
So, congratulations to the Boy Scouts. You have done the right thing here — you just haven’t done it far enough.
But I have faith and confidence that as the political anger and persecution complexes so prevalent today begin to fade, the Boy Scouts and others will continue their journey forward. Let’s hope the religious organizations that have helped them grow over the years stick around for the ride.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, July 20, 2015

It's Always a Celebration When The Tickets Come

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, July 20, 2015

BY BILL GOUVEIA FOR THE SUN CHRONICLE                                                            

It was Friday, the end of a long and tiring work week. I was looking forward to getting home, collapsing on the couch, and catching up on all the television I missed during the week. And then watching the Sox (yes, I'm the last one) play out on the West Coast.
I drove up the driveway, not giving much thought to what could possibly be waiting there for me. It had totally slipped my mind what time of year this was. My mind was still on work, the upcoming weekend, and having my two grandsons Saturday night.


But, as I walked from my car, a familiar sensation began to slowly creep up my spine. It took me a moment to recall it, sort of the way you suddenly recognize an old friend you weren't expecting to see. And as it does every time, my step got quicker and my heart lighter as I strode up to the door and into the house.
And there it was, sitting there waiting for me. That beautiful, heavy, overstuffed large white envelope with the Priority Mail label. My eyes misted over just a bit as I picked it up, gently turning it over. With trembling hands I removed the valuable objects inside with a reverence I seldom display.
My Patriots season ticket package had arrived.
This year is my 44th as a season ticketholder of the local NFL franchise. I still remember very well the moment it began. My mom surprised me for my 16th birthday with tickets purchased from Bus-Kot Ticket Agency in Norton, run by the Yarusites family. She bought one for me and one for my grandfather, and I was over the moon.
We were in Section 1 in the north end zone of what was then Schaeffer Stadium. There were 10 games, including three preseason contests back then. They didn't come in the mail, we picked them up. The tickets had a face value of $5 each, and they looked like they had been printed by the world's first computer.
Our seats are still in the north end zone all these years later. There are still 10 games. A single game now costs more than three full seasons did back then. Each individual ticket is now a mini work of art and comes with a fancy booklet, a commemorative pin, a lanyard (we didn't even know what that was back then) and a fancy box.
My grandfather suffered a heart attack at the stadium about five years after we started going and had to stop attending. I continued to go with friends and eventually took over their seats.  After I got married, I loved taking my wife and two young boys.
When the team got really bad in the 90s, I gave up several of the seats to save money. Today, I share the remaining ones with my best friend and my grown sons. One lives in Delaware now, so it is more difficult for him to get to games. But at every single contest, I find myself sitting with at least one of my kids.
I have lasted through two different stadiums, progressing from a cold aluminum bench to a much more comfortable seat. I have watched eight different head coaches, been through four different owners, and on Sept. 10, I will cheer as a fourth World Championship banner is raised in celebration.
It is hard to comprehend the fact that four generations of my family have sat in our seats. That landmark was achieved when my grandson Will (did I mention his name is William?) came with us to a game two years ago.
Some people find it difficult to understand how sports or sports teams can be taken so seriously. How can a grown man get so excited (even though I might have exaggerated just slightly) at the mere arrival of tickets?
But I grew up going to Patriots games with my grandfather. My wife and I took our sons every week. Someday I will hand the tickets to them so they can take their children. Who knows - my great-grandchildren might someday sit in those seats.
That's not about sports. That's about family. And it's pretty damn cool.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a true Patriots fan. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Trying To See Through The Smoke In Mansfield

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, July 13, 2015

GOUVEIA: Clearing the air on Mansfield smoking age change

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Posted: Sunday, July 12, 2015 10:02 pm | Updated: 1:27 pm, Mon Jul 13, 2015.
When the board of health in Mansfield decided to raise the legal age to buy tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21, they knew there would be some concern and complaints.
But they were probably a bit surprised to discover some on the board that appoints them to their positions wants to tell them how to do their job.
After several meetings and at least one public hearing on the topic, the board of health handed down a decision banning the sale of such products to anyone under 21 within town limits. This is not unique. Neighboring Foxboro has a similar restriction. The actual vote of the five member body was 2-1 in favor of the ban, with one member abstaining and one absent.
The action was of great concern to some selectmen, who appoint the members of the board of health. Selectman Olivier Kozlowski brought it up at a recent board meeting, leading to a discussion of both the procedural aspect of the vote itself, and the wisdom of the decision.
Kozlowski questioned the fact the ban was not instituted by a clear majority. He and Selectman Frank DelVecchio said that was not proper, and DelVecchio wondered aloud if it was even legal.
If they had stopped there, selectmen would have been well within reasonable boundaries for questioning the actions of another board or committee. But they didn't, and they weren't.
Kozlowski made a motion requesting the board of health to reconsider its vote. It ended up failing when only he and DelVecchio voted for it, but during the discussion Kozlowski made it clear his objections were philosophical as well as procedural.
Several members discussed the impact on local businesses who sell tobacco products. The fear was young people (and others) would cross into Norton or Attleboro to buy their tobacco, thus economically impacting Mansfield storeowners.
Calling the action an insult to young people, Kozlowski said it was akin to saying "they don't trust them to make their own decisions." He went on to add, "It's frankly a slap in the face to anyone between 18 and 21."
Then the discussion turned to making sure selectmen were "more careful" in vetting those who they appoint to boards and committees in the future. Kozlowski made essentially a not-so-veiled threat to the board of health when he said. "We'll see what happens at reappointment time."
First of all, it is unseemly at best for selectmen to be lobbying at their own public meeting to get a board they appoint to change a properly taken vote. If they wanted to influence the decision, they should have been at the public hearing. Or they could have written a letter expressing their feelings, which Kozlowski actually did.
But using their office as a bully-pulpit to try and intimidate their appointees into doing their bidding is both wrong and classless. While not all board members were doing that, some most definitely were.
There is nothing wrong with selectmen holding their appointees accountable. They have a right to demand a certain level of performance and objectivity. But they have no right to expect those they choose to vote a certain way on controversial issues.
The point about the 2-1-1 vote has merit. All members should have been present at the board of health meeting for such an important decision. If the chairperson were in favor of taking more time to gather information as she said, she should have voted against the motion rather than abstaining. Taking no position is pretty much an abdication of responsibility.
But board of health members are the selectmen's appointees, not their surrogates. They are there to exercise their judgment, not that of selectmen. Whether the board agrees or disagrees with any decision, they need to let the responsible party make it.
Imagine the board of health scheduling an agenda item at its meeting to discuss the selectmen's decision on local liquor license regulations (where the legal age is 21, by the way). How would selectmen react to that? Would they tell the other board to stick to their own business? It would be hard to blame them if they did.
If the board of health vote had been 1-2-1 against the ban, would selectmen have still publicly questioned the process? Perhaps - but I doubt it.
Ah, politics. Sometimes it's hard to see through the smoke.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Religion Is No Excuse For Bigotry And Hate

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, July 6, 2015

Posted: Sunday, July 5, 2015 11:03 pm | Updated: 11:10 pm, Sun Jul 5, 2015.
In the aftermath of the recent Supreme Court decision establishing marriage equality, I am like a lot of people. I am angry.
But I am angry that discrimination has become a catchphrase. I am angry some people use religion as an excuse for bigotry and selfishness. I am angry that the self-centered among us use their faith as a weapon to hurt others.
I am not an overly religious person, but I respect those who are. I admire their ability to commit to something, to dedicate themselves to principles based upon belief in a spiritual being.
But when you practice hate in the name of love, you lose my respect. When you try and lift yourself up by attempting to keep those around you down, you honor nothing and no one. And when you think your rights include denying equality to those who believe differently than you - well, you are just wrong.
I am so sick of the tired old refrain coming from those who claim gay people somehow offend them. Oh wait, it's not the people who offend them. I keep forgetting that. It's the lives those confused folks choose to lead that are disgusting, not the poor misguided souls themselves.
It's that "love the sinner, hate the sin" philosophy.
But the difficulty of equality is that it is so - well, equal. And while that's great for the party that has been denied for so long, it can be a bit of shock for those who have previously enjoyed keeping the right in question for themselves. Sometimes they feel like something has been taken away from them.
That in part explains why there has been so much talk lately about an alleged "War on Religion" or "War on Christianity." Those making this claim say people with strong religious beliefs are being persecuted for no reason other than their faith. They insist something has been taken away from them with this recent Supreme Court decision.
As proof, they point to situations where bakers or florists have been criticized and in some cases prosecuted for refusing to provide services for the weddings of gay couples. These businesspeople say their devout faith and religious convictions prevent them from doing so.
What they seem to forget - or choose to ignore - is that there is no religion when it comes to the law or the basic rights provided in our constitution.
There is a distinct separation of Church and State in this country. Their right to practice the religion of their choice is implicit in those very rights.
But the baker who refuses a cake to someone based upon nothing but their sexuality is breaking the law. The florist who refuses to do arrangements for no reason other than the sexual orientation of the couple marrying is violating discrimination statutes. That has nothing to do with the personal religious affiliation or beliefs of the offenders. It brings back memories of the days of segregation.
Was religion ever designed to be an excuse for discrimination? Well, there is ample evidence to support that theory. More wars have been fought over religion than any other reason or cause. That can be seen as a testament to the power of faith, or as one of its unfortunate side effects.
Interracial marriage was once considered a threat to both traditional marriage and religion. But our society eventually saw the stupidity and prejudice in that stance, and it slowly was corrected. And somehow, both marriage and religion survived.
This instance is no different. America often makes mistakes, but we seem to eventually correct them. We are a better country today than we were just a few weeks ago.
I strongly defend the right of everyone to practice the religion of their choice. I believe faith is important. I would never support any decision or legislation that says otherwise.
But this "War on Religion" stuff is sad, pathetic and wrong.
It makes me so angry to hear supposedly responsible politicians and leaders urging people to ignore our Supreme Court and their interpretation of our Constitution. They are an embarrassment and a disgrace.
Religion is and should be a good thing. But it should never be used as an excuse for ignorance, hatred and the denial of equal rights.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.