Scouting for rights

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Values, camping, young men: what could be wrong with the Boy Scouts?

The Burden

Photo by Kevin Tsukii.

Quite a bit, actually.

The storied tradition of the Boy Scouts of America has lasted for over a hundred years.  And why shouldn’t it?  Teaching responsibility and independence, the scouting way of life has molded over a hundred million boys. However, the problem lies with the lives it is not molding.  For years the BSA has refused membership to atheists and homosexuals.

Since 1991, the BSA has been noted for discrimination against homosexuals.  Being homosexual goes against the principles of some religions that the BSA is affiliated with, and a BSA position statement declares that “[The BSA] believe[s]  that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.”

From as far back as 1985, if not further, the BSA has also excluded atheists and agnostics.  It is not only the scouts themselves that must believe in a higher power; adult scout leaders are required to as well. Even merit badge counselors must adhere to the rule.  You read correctly: believing in a higher power is a prerequisite for teaching coin collecting.

The BSA youth application states that “The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God … Only persons willing to subscribe … shall be entitled to certificates of membership.” In addition, prospective Eagle Scouts are asked to provide a religious reference for their application.

Of course, not all troops adhere to these guidelines rigidly. In fact, an anonymous Boy Scout from Los Altos Troop 75 stated that his Scoutmaster encouraged boys to lie about their religious or sexual preference if they were atheist or homosexual. But should boys really be forced to lie about who they are in order to stay in an organization that supposedly teaches  trustworthiness?

There is a simple solution to all this: stop discriminating against atheists and homosexuals.  We live in the 21st century, and the fact that any minority group can be discriminated against is deplorable. The BSA is a great organization which teaches great values. Yet the opinion that only heterosexual theists can be upstanding members of society is not one of them.

Some argue that because the BSA is a private organization, it has the right to deny membership to any parties.  This argument would have weight if the BSA didn’t receive government funds.  That’s right, the government is using tax dollars to help fund a discriminatory, “private” organization. Since 2005, our government has spent millions of dollars to help fund the BSA’s Jamborees, which are large gatherings of scouts on an international or national level.  In addition, many Jamborees have been held on government bases, free of charge.

In 2005, Congress even passed the “Support Our Scouts Act” in its defense authorization bill to ensure that the government will aid in future Jamborees. In 2008 Congress also passed the “Boy Scouts of America Centennial Commemorative Coin Act”.  The act stipulated that U.S. Mint would sell coins celebrating the Scoutsí centennial.  The BSA stood to make up to $3.5 million from the deal.

Our federal government”s support of the BSA can be seen as a violation of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” If the BSA wants to continue their practice of discriminating against homosexuals and atheists while remaining an ethical organization according to their current views, they should at least no longer receive government funding.

The BSA is an organization that claims to be moral and just, but if it functions in such a gray area of the law, can it really uphold these values? And what about our government? People view the government with varying degrees of trust, but it is at least expected to promote equality and inclusion. If it decides to support one discriminatory organization for its own benefit, what”s to stop it from supporting others?

Because the majority of Americans are Christian and heterosexual, they fail to identify with the plight of boys banned from Scouts. However, this is not a matter that only effects homosexual or atheist boys. Anyone part of any minority could be potentially affected, and who is not part of a minority of some kind?

We, the public, must put more pressure on the BSA and the government to right this wrong. This is something that could be changed so easily, and once it is rectified, we will have a truly wholesome organization.

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About Author

Senior Forest Liao is a copy editor and columnist for El Estoque. He enjoys writing book and movie reviews, editorials concerning religion and posting absurdist content on his blog.