Boy Scouts Gay Policy is Legal, But Wrong


I believe the U.S. Supreme Court got it right in 2000, in the now-famous Boy Scouts of America v. Dale case. 

Broadly, this case affirmed that a private organization or club cannot be forced to admit or retain members the group thinks do not share the group's values. Just as there is the freedom to associate with whomever one pleases under the First Amendment, there is correspondingly the freedom from associating with those one does not wish to associate with. Specifically, the Court affirmed BSA's right to deny membership to individuals it did not want affiliated with Scout troops. Homosexual members, including past and present members of Scout troops, were not to be permitted to join or remain part of the Boy Scouts. 

While I agree with the Court's decision, that the law cannot force faith-based private groups to change membership rules, I do not share the long-held opinion of most BSA national leaders that being homosexual implicitly means one cannot be a good Scoutmaster or Scout.

Along the way to becoming an Eagle Scout myself, I learned many things; among them, self-reliance and how to independently manage my own affairs. This is something currently denied to local Scout troops, none of which are entirely free to admit members or recruit adult leaders as they see fit. Rather, their actions are constrained by the centralized authority of the national organization.

The 102-year-old rule banning gay members (alongside of whom agnostics and atheists are frowned upon) espouses values common in the era of the Scouting movement's founding in 1910 in the United States -- and in the post-Victorian England, where Scouting was first founded by Lord Baden-Powell several years prior. However, these exclusionary values are no longer prominent in the general population nor in the minds of many Scouts.

For this reason, the executive board of the Boy Scouts of America should change its rules so that Scout troops may determine for themselves their own admissions criteria for boys as well as their adult Scoutmasters and leaders. At the very least, the executive board should empower each regional Scouting council to decide membership rules for itself. Each local group should have the freedom to associate with the boys and leaders it believes will live by the Scout Law and Scout Oath.

By restricting boys' access to good adult leadership and issuing one-size-fits-all membership rules, the national executive board is dangerously close to encouraging young Scouts to think in a narrow-minded way and to discriminate against those different from themselves. 

As mentioned in the Los Angeles Times,AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson is due to take over as president of the BSA executive board in 2014. Perhaps he will be good enough to empower local Scouts.