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Becoming men of good character

May 22, 2013

A man who is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent can very likely be called a man of good character, a man of integrity. Chances are he may have learned these ideals in the Boy Scouts. These qualities, which a scout strives to embody, comprise the Scout Law. With the Scout Oath, the youth further pledges to “do my best to do my duty to God and my country... to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) states plainly and unambiguously that their mission is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

Now, a major ethical and moral question faces the national Boy Scouts organization over whether to change its policy banning gay youth as members. (This ban became official policy in the early 1990s, and before that, in the 1980s, gay adult leaders were banned as being unfitting role models.)

Today, May 23, as this issue of The River Reporter is delivered to subscribers and newsstands, approximately 1,400 voting members of BSA’s National Council will decide on the following resolution: “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” The proposed policy change does not extend to scout leaders, who will still be banned, though the internal logic of this compromise seems problematic to us.

Practically speaking, BSA is in a tough position, which any scout will tell you calls for bravery. Whichever way the vote goes, however, it may cost the organization members and/or sponsors. Seven out of 10 sponsoring groups are faith-based, and while some have said they could accept the policy change; others say they cannot. On the other hand, there are those who say that having a national policy on sexuality forces good principled people from Scouting. In fact, BSA already has lost 25% of its members since 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled BSA had the legal right as a private organization to determine with whom to associate.

Thinking practically, BSA recently conducted its own internal survey, as well as a nationwide poll. There was little difference in the results. Teen scouts and their parents indicated they reject discrimination against gays, while adult volunteers and officials over 50 want to keep the ban. The tide of history appears to be turning to the side of acceptance.