Mother Complains After Boy Scouts Recruit During School Hours September 20, 2009

Mother Complains After Boy Scouts Recruit During School Hours

When President Barack Obama wanted to speak to schoolchildren about the importance of staying in school, working hard, and washing your hands, the school sent out four separate notices to parents.

When the Boy Scouts of America — with their history of discrimination against atheists and members of the GLBT community — want to use class time to recruit new members, the school said nothing to parents.

That prompted Jennifer Burks to write this letter-to-the-editor:

On the second day of school, a representative from the Boy Scouts of America came to my son’s school to recruit new members. My son came home so excited, and cried when I had to tell him no. I feel he is too young to understand BSA’s homophobic and discriminatory policies, so I told him we already had too much on our plate. The BSA is prejudicial (it doesn’t accept atheists or agnostics) and homophobic (no gays allowed). My son will never be a Boy Scout and I wish that I had been notified that valuable learning time was going to be spent promoting a homophobic hate group.

From now on, I expect notifications of future speakers at my son’s school and the topic of discussion. I expect a verbal message from his teacher, a letter from the principal and two auto calls. I would also like the opportunity to send in a signed note to excuse him from said speaker.

Right on. If the BSA reps were honest about their positions, they wouldn’t be allowed in any good school.

Matt Comer at QNotes shares the response given by the district’s superintendent.

Donald Martin, Winston-Salem Schools superintendant, responded to the mother’s email: “The boy and girl scouts are allowed to advertise meetings — typically they have a back-to-school fall recruitment meeting that is held in the evening. We also have a special facility use arrangement with both the boy and girl scouts.”

Martin added, “There should not have been a meeting with representatives of the boy scouts held during the school day that required students to attend. I’m sorry that this happened and we will review this topic at our next elementary principals meeting.”

If I were a girl scout, I’d be offended at being lumped into the same group as the BSA.

Comer doesn’t think this is good enough and he’s absolutely right:

For schools, working with the Boy Scouts is dangerous and obviously wrong. Their partnerships will inevitably lead to some of their students being discriminated against — something that should never happen in public schools. Secondly, their Boy Scout partnerships could very well open schools to other discriminatory groups seeking equal access.

The Boy Scouts’ anti-gay and religiously-exclusive policies are tarnishing their sterling history and the honored place they once earned — but lost long ago — in American society and culture.

The way to correct this problem and reverse the policies of an otherwise excellent organization is for more people to complain. Expose the discriminatory practices of the BSA. If they’re allowed at your child’s school, give the administration hell. Ask them why they’re allowing an anti-gay, anti-atheist organization free rein in the school. Direct them to Scouting For All.

Jennifer set a wonderful example with her letter. The only way to be even more effective is to stop the BSA ahead of time.

(Thanks to ungullible for the link!)

"The way republican politics are going these days, that means the winner is worse than ..."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."
"It would have been more convincing if he used then rather than than."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Erp

    I should point out that Scouting for All is a group seeking to change the Boy Scouts of America not an alternative scouting organization. Alternatives for boys might be groups like Campfire USA or 4-H.

    Girl Scouts have their own problems. They get attacked for being godless because they allow girls to alter that part of the promise (though not omit it entirely) and for not automatically kicking out known lesbians and gays. They also seem to have taken a wrong turn on the program a few years ago though they seem to be backtracking on that a bit.

  • reggie

    What is so sad is that the BSA has the potential to be such an outstanding program for young people. The only thing sullying this promise seems to be religious fervor within the organization along with the misguided and completely erroneous belief that homosexuals are pedophiles.

    Good for Jennifer. Her letter was great.

  • The superintendent gets it wrong when he mentions mandatory meetings during the school day. It should read there should be no meetings with such groups at all during the school day.

    I am all for them renting space in any public building after hours that allows such use, but they should never be given free access to such spaces. Giving the boy scouts who discriminate as mentioned above against nonbelievers and gays (also girls) free access to public facilities means the district would legally be bound to provide space for the KKK and other hate groups.

  • It’s always interesting to me when I run into a situation that I have to reconsider for the first time since becoming an atheist.

    I’m an Eagle scout. I received my award from a scout troop where religion and sexuality were never discussed. Maybe there was an undercurrent of religion in some of the things we said (like the Scout Oath, which mentions doing duty to god and my country), but apart from the routine recitations it was never really raised as an issue. (Come to think of it, that’s kind of surprising, considering that I grew up in a pretty conservative area of Michigan…)

    But I know that troops do exist where just believing in the wrong god (e.g. being a Hindu) is enough to keep you out. And I’ve seen dozens of cases of scouts and scoutmasters having their awards and positions stripped away after publicly coming out of the closet.

    So it’s clearly not enough for me to apply my own personal experiences to this issue. If I say that it’s okay to allow some scout troops into schools since not every scout troop discriminates on the basis of sexuality or religion, it would be equivalent to saying that since not all Christians are like Fred Phelps we should allow the more accepting groups to recruit in schools.

    I can see the mother coming at this question with two different approaches:

    1. She doesn’t want her kids to be potentially indoctrinated into anti-LGBT, anti-nontheist beliefs.
    2. She doesn’t want to support an organization that discriminates the way the BSA does.

    From the first viewpoint, it would seem a bit hasty to prejudge the practices of a local troop based on the policies of the national troop. The second viewpoint recognizes that things like membership dues and subscriptions to the Boy’s Life magazine would be giving financial backing to a group with an official policy of hate, and I absolutely agree that such discriminatory groups shouldn’t be given the platform of the classroom to seek new sources of income and new members.

  • Valdyr

    I think it’s going a bit far to call the BSA a “hate group”. Their discriminatory policies are unacceptable, but as far as I know, there are no “How to Spot a Queer” campfire games or printouts of Richard Dawkins’ face being used for archery practice targets.

  • Well, what would you call a group with an official policy of discriminating against groups of people based on something they can’t choose? It seems like an accurate label to me.

  • Valdyr

    But the principal focus of the group isn’t discrimination. It’s not a column of their existence; nothing fundamental about their operations would change if they allowed gay scoutmasters and removed the “for God and country” pledge. Contrast this with organizations like the Ku Klux Klan who do almost nothing but publish and disseminate hateful propaganda both within the group and without. Again, BSA’s discriminatory stance is undeniable and unacceptable, but until they start doing things like fundraising to support anti-gay marriage legislation or instructing troop leaders to give lectures on the evils of atheism, I can’t call them a “hate group”.

    Maybe I sound like I’m playing devil’s advocate, but when I see the term “hate group”, things like the KKK, the American Nazi Party, and Westboro Baptist Church come to mind… not any and every group that practices some form of discrimination. I mean, for all its problems, would we really categorize the US Government as a “hate group”? (Well, maybe some of the really out-there libertarian types would.)

  • reggie

    Discrimination may not be the focus of the activities and teachings, but it is an underlying principal. Drinking fountains labeled “For Whites Only” were merely there to quench thirst and a person drinking from it was not engaging in racism merely by quenching his or her thirst.
    I think the same rational could be applied to the BSA.

    Labeling them a “hate group” may sound too strong, but how would we define hate groups? Do they need to actively disparage other groups like the KKK? Or is a more subtle practice of discrimination by way of exclusion sufficient enough to garner the “hate” label. I think in the case of the BSA that it is sufficient. Given that the foundation of this discrimination is based on religion and that religion teaches that to be gay or atheist is a morally reprehensible position that will earn an eternal damnation from their God, then I’d say that this qualifies as hateful.

  • Valdyr

    Maybe. I just think we should be careful when we throw around labels. BSA, as others have said, can do great things for kids. They have some fucked-up policies, but dismissing them as a “hate group” makes it seem like they’re as valueless as the KKK, when in reality, they could still benefit from reform.

  • Eric

    It is good to see a story highlighting a fellow non-believer from my hometown. I’ll have to look Jennifer up, and buy her lunch when I am back in town!

  • Excellent remarks Valdyr and reggie. It’s very hard to figure out how weightily to weigh non-central tenets of a group and its identity.

    That said, I viscerally loved the mom’s letter. But I’m not sure I should have. I understand the concern for parental control over their children and their children’s values but at a certain point there are so many landmines to tiptoe that things seem to be heading to an outrageous place in which schools are increasingly boxed in whether from outraged Republicans or outraged Democrats, outraged theocrats or outraged secularists. While I agree with all the principles at work (and am personally on a hair trigger to condemn breaches of the wall between church and state), I do fear a crazy litigious society which for every increase in its formal justice also runs the risk of increase in inability to cope with the slightest bit of coloring that goes outside the lines.

  • Why not recommend Adventure Scouts? They’re nondiscriminatory and “teams” are for both boys and girls.

  • reggie

    Valdyr, I completely agree that caution should be used when tossing the hate label around. I also agree that the BSA is not in the same category as the KKK and there is plenty about it that is worthy of redemption. That said, I wonder what good sugar coating words and actions, tolerating the intolerance in other words, would be when we engage groups like the BSA. Harsher words and a larger public backlash, while detrimental to the BSA in the short term, would do more to motivate internal changes that would benefit the group in the long term. My opinion only, of course.

    Camels also makes a good point. But we are already that litigious society, I think. When education itself is under attack from outraged parents, I’d say we have arrived.

  • I can empathize with this mother, as I’ve been through this with my own son, prior to deciding to homeschool. There was no announcement made, just an appearance disguised as ‘an assembly‘.

  • Aj

    I doubt that they are neutral. If they’ll accept any group, fair enough.If they turn down some groups, like racial separatist groups, then I don’t see why they’d allow a group that doesn’t allow homosexuals or atheists. Although perhaps they would allow them because that’s their stance. As far as I’m aware the US government doesn’t let gays into the military and still has pledges that include the word “God”. It would be a bit strange for government run schools to have a problem with the BSA for doing the same thing. The US government gives the BSA money.

    My former school rents out space in the evenings. They recently rented out space to a group claiming in its flyer to cure numerous diseases by prayer, all of them potentially fatal, including some forms of cancer. The group also invites creationist authors to their church, so I’m pretty sure they’ll also be encouraging ignorance at these meetings. Not quite as serious but since its meant to be a building of education its a bit like if I went to their church, took a dump in the font, and started a ritual sacrifice to Satan. I wonder whether the school would allow any group to spread harmful lies in its building, like pyramid schemes and flat earth theory.

  • Jeannette

    Unfortunately according to Sec. 9525 of NCLB, the schools must specifically allow access to BSA, if they allow access for other groups, despite their bigoted policies that violate other parts of NCLB.

  • That just says that the BSA can’t be barred from meeting in a school, not that they’re allowed to recruit in one.

  • Good for her. If I had a child I’d never sign them up for any group that practiced such bigotry. Of course the WorldNutDaily folks wrote one of their typical articles accusing the Girl Scouts of indoctrinating girls into lesbianism, feminism and other such horrors. Apparently if the group doesn’t indoctrinate children into Christianity and practice exclusion they’re unfit in the eyes of the Holy Rollers.

  • muggle

    My grandson’s already come home with a flyer and I’m thinking seriously of calling the school anonymously so it won’t backfire on him. Maybe the school board so they won’t even know which grade school it was from. From a phone booth. I used to fight this shit hard-headedly when my daughter was coming up and all it did was backlash on her.

    It was real fun explaining to him that he can’t join. But after an initial frown, he shrugged and didn’t seem too interested. He’s a smart boy and already somewhat gets that some people aren’t nice but it’s really freaking sad that he’s that savy about people’s prejudices already. He shrugs it off because kids really don’t give much of a damn. If one kid won’t play with him, he’ll go to the next. My grandson is pretty broadminded. Everyone’s cool to him. Unless they show themself to be a bad guy by their actions. (He’s six, his language.) As far as the local troop goes, I don’t know and I don’t care. The organization stands for something we don’t want him to be a part of.

    BTW, the Girl Scouts aren’t totally innocent. My daughter joined at the Daisy level in Kindergarten and, to my shock, at the initial meeting there was a pledge swearing a belief in God. I hadn’t known either one had anything to do with religion. (This was 20 years ago.) I spoke right up and said, “Is that required? We’re Atheist.” The troop leader was, well, a trooper and said, “No. Just omit that part and say the rest.” But one of the other Moms started snarling they don’t belong here then. To her credit, the troop leader stood right up to her and said anyone is welcome. Yay, but unfortunately the others weren’t so thrilled with her brave stance. She really was nice and inclusive but the other moms never got off their high horse. Didn’t last long before my daughter was dragging her heels about going then we let it drop off.

    Honestly, I thought they were secular organizations before this and the stuff about the Boy Scouts barring gays and Atheists hit the news. I mean they weren’t publicized as a religious organization in any way shape or form before those news stories. Sneaky as always.

  • GayEagle

    I am gay. I am also an Eagle Scout. I identify more strongly as an Eagle Scout than I do as being gay. It’s more a part of my character than my sexual orientation.

    Being part of the Boy Scouts was one of the best things that could have ever happened in my life. I know countless scouts who are tremendously accomplished and don’t support every policy of the organization. I think you’re over-reacting quite a bit.

    I feel like you’d be doing more harm than good to your son to squash his excitement to try something new. It’s like not letting him play football because the team is called the Redskins. It’s like not letting him be part of theater because the play has misogynistic characters. Teach him to evaluate the world based on his and your own familial values, instead of shutting him off from the opportunity to experience anything outside of your absolute control.

  • Erp

    Unfortunately the Boy Scouts seem to be getting more doctrinaire as time goes by and it may be more difficult for many to slide by with the local unit’s nod and a wink. My father, an atheist, was a scoutmaster back in the 1970s; I don’t think that would happen now.

    The Girl Scouts of the USA officially allowed individual modification of the God part of the promise to fit a girl’s belief in 1993 so 20 years ago it wasn’t yet official.

    The Adventure Scouts might work out though if they come to the attention of the BSA they will probably be sued over the use of the word “scouts” (the BSA didn’t like the Girl Scouts using that word back in the 1910’s and early 1920’s but the Girl Scouts had some hefty support so they are the sole exception to the legal monopoly the BSA has on the word ‘scouts’ in the US). Also more seriously I’m not sure how much they exist beyond the website.

  • We live in a muddy world. One can be a registered Democrat without liking everything the party does. One can be a registered Republican without liking everything that party does. One can be a Boy Scout without liking everything the leadership in the organization believes. The troop my son is a part of has basically a “Unitarian” outlook to religion. They are passively theistic but take no stand on what version of theism one adheres to. Most of the religious ceremonies have really been more pantheist than anything else… A love of nature.

  • TXatheist

    I won’t care if my son joins but I’ll not be shy in explaining I can’t do more than volunteer because the BSA doesn’t let atheists be Scoutmasters so my son will see the bigotry first hand. I also will be able to expose my atheism to the BSA group so we can have a discussion. My kindergarten kid just brought home a book to read this weekend, what is god? It’s ok, though I do have some points I disagree with.

  • RG

    Are there any organizations like the boy scouts that are not prejudicial? There should be, and it seems like there is plenty of interest in such a group.

  • Siamang

    Gay Eagle,

    Thanks for posting here, but I think you’re advancing some pretty slippery rationalization.

    For example:

    It’s like not letting him play football because the team is called the Redskins.

    No, that’s not a proper analogy. This isn’t about insensitivity, it’s about exclusion. Those are very different things. It’s about not allowing people to participate.

    An apt analogy would be to not let a kid play football on the ‘Redskins’ team if that team barred Native American players unless they could pass for another race, and didn’t mention their true race.

    We have a history in this country, and you’d best learn it, about certain folks not being allowed to eat at certain lunch counters. That is a fundamental breach of social equality that name-calling pales before.

    It’s like not letting him be part of theater because the play has misogynistic characters.

    Again, terrible analogy. Misogynistic characters in a play are fictional. However the anti-gay ‘characters’ setting policy for the Boy Scouts are real people doing real evil.

    Real emotional and societal harm is caused by the BSA’s policy toward boys who are gay. These are kids who are taught that they are second-class citizens because of how they were born.

    Seriously, GayEagle. You and me talking here, you can tell the difference between real harm from organization inflicted on a person, and a work of fiction, right?

    A play about a country club that has a rule barring Jews is NOT the same thing as an actual country club barring Jews. You do recognize that one is a play, and the other is unconscionable, right?

    If you cannot tell the difference, or choose not to see the difference between a play about a bad thing, and the bad thing itself, then you miss the very difference between speaking up against evil and evil itself.

    In which case, I think being an Eagle Scout has taught you poorly. You’ve learned the wrong lessons. You’ve internalized the same rationalizations the BSA uses to commit bigotry. But rationalizations they are. That much is clear by the slippery reasons you gave above.

    You tried to explain away the BSA’s policy in different ways of saying that it’s not so bad. Do me this favor: Instead of explaining it away, explain to me why this policy stands, if you can. Explain to me why it is a good policy that promotes honesty, loyalty, brotherhood, etc.

    Can you stand behind this policy?
    Could you enforce it? No. You don’t even subject yourself to it.

    Read that again: You don’t even subject yourself to this ban. How ever can you morally justify it being imposed on others? Why do you come on here to defend the indefensible?

    As an Eagle Scout, I do hope you’ve studied well the lessons of history. Have you ever read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”? It’s (IMO) possibly the greatest lesson in the subject of Justice ever written. Please read it. Here’s MLK in it answering the question about the difference between a Just law and an unjust law:

    Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

    Emphasis mine.

    What would Martin Luther King think of what you are doing? How does what you are doing measure up to his definition of a Just law?

    Being part of the Boy Scouts was one of the best things that could have ever happened in my life.

    I think you’re over-reacting quite a bit.

    It seems like you are very attached to your own symbols of achievement. Your badge means a lot to you, as a measure of your own prowess. I’m sure it’s quite the hood-ornament. I can see you are unwilling to give up that shiny token. Because that would actually take self-sacrifice. And that’s hard. All the while, others just like you are denied the opportunity to achieve what you already have, and you are unwilling or unable to forfeit anything to bring them up.

    One should never have to choose between honesty and being a Scout. Or between inclusion and being a Scout. Or between Justice and being a Scout. If that’s the choice, then Scouting doesn’t mean what it used to.

    When I was a Scout, Eagle Scouts stood for everything that was considered good, and just and smart and scholarly. It was an honor that meant you did all due work, especially morally.
    Now, of course the hardest moral step to take is to realize that morality must stand before loyalty to an organization. Morality of just doing what you’re told isn’t morality at all. It’s passing the buck on your own morality to those in charge.

    It seems you’ve found that you can keep your head down and ‘get along’ in the organization that bans your sort. I find it, frankly, disgusting. I would never, in a million years, belong to a club that banned you. You, however, feel free to belong to a club which bans me, and my child, and other members of my family, all the while you explain to me that it’s not really that bad, and we’re overreacting quite a bit. If we just shut up and dishonestly claim to not be gay, or atheist, or find a part of the organization that will look the other way, then we can get along too, like good little scouts. Is that it?

    You wrote:

    I know countless scouts who are tremendously accomplished and don’t support every policy of the organization.

    Then they have accomplished nothing. If they allow the subjugation of others, and stand idly by, then they lend credence to the organization, and its bigoted policies, by their silence.

    The bigotry of these BSA policies, which ten years ago looked merely conservative, has now become clearly as unconscionable as a race-barrier. The fact that your BSA membership has made you blind to it, means that they have nothing left to teach you. If you cannot determine, by yourself, what constitutes a just or unjust law, and to rationalize it you equivocate between a play about bigotry and actual bigotry, then you are in a battle for your very moral soul.

  • Gordon

    In Ireland the scouts are actually called the “Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland” which is disgusting, but at least they are wearing their discrimination on their sleeve.

  • Aj


    …and didn’t mention their true race.

    There’s no such thing.

  • muggle

    Siamang, thank you. So well said and so much better than I ever could.

    As it was my grandson, not my son, I was talking about, it’s not my decision to make. True, he and my daughter live with me so I am helping raise him a good deal but it’s his Mom’s decision.

    I’m glad she agreed on this one even though she’s not the fighter I am. It’s a harsh world out there and try as we might, you can’t really sheild kids from it. Also, even if we could, they wouldn’t learn the skills they need to handle it when they grow up. And, finally, if you have him join up and ignore this quality, aren’t you just really teaching him to pass? If his generation is free, it’s not going to be due to encouraging the Christian nation mentality.

    And there are other options as pointed out. I was in 4H locally when I was a kid and there was no indoctrination. I liked it too because they mix the genders. I excelled at the boy stuff and the parents that hosted it were rightly impressed. I loved sawing and hammering and was ahead of the dad in the steps when we built a birdhouse but did well on sewing. Something I don’t do because I hate it. I like that it’s less gender segregated than the Scouts.

    Never heard of the Adventure Scouts and I couldn’t find anything on their web site about if a chapter is operating locally. That frankly put me off. Have to click on a thing to volunteer just to find out if there’s one in your area?

    But, erg, you kidding me on that! They don’t own the noun scouts. If they could do that couldn’t Coca-Cola sue Pepsi-Cola over the use of cola? Geeze, I know we’re a sue-happy nation but I would hope something that big a stretch would be thrown right out of court.

  • Siamang

    We live in a muddy world. One can be a registered Democrat without liking everything the party does. One can be a registered Republican without liking everything that party does.

    I think that’s a rationalization you’re making, in order to make some inner peace with your decision.

    Yes, there are some things that some groups do that I don’t like, but I can nevertheless stomach enough in order to concentrate on the greater good.

    I think you’ll agree with me that belonging to an organization despite what some of the leadership does depends greatly on WHAT that action is, and what the greater benefit is.

    What’s the all-fired greater benefit to scouting that discrimination is an acceptable or palatable evil? Is it really so important to go to the Pinewood Derby and the Jamboree that you’re willing to pay the admission ticket of exclusion the kids of gays and atheists?

    On the range of all the bad things an organization could possibly do, there’s probably a place to draw the line. For example, if the Democratic party decided that they should advocate forced sterilization of poor people, I think I’d have to leave the party altogether. But if tomorrow they started advocating (say) a big tax break for billionaires, I might go “oh well, it’s a muddy world and I don’t have to like everything they do.”

    But there are some things I cannot stomach. I hope, Jeff, that you do also recognize that for me, It’s not worth trampling on the rights (and feelings) of my gay family members so that my kid can join a little social clique.

    You draw the line at a different place than me. But recognize that just because you can find peace with yourself for it, that you’ve got to admit that we’ve got a legitimate beef here.

    I wouldn’t belong to an exclusive club, and I wouldn’t allow my child to belong to one either.

  • Siamang

    There’s no such thing.

    Please don’t derail the thread, my pedantic friend.

    Subject on the table is the boy scouts.

  • JL

    BTW, the Girl Scouts aren’t totally innocent. My daughter joined at the Daisy level in Kindergarten and, to my shock, at the initial meeting there was a pledge swearing a belief in God. I hadn’t known either one had anything to do with religion. (This was 20 years ago.) I spoke right up and said, “Is that required? We’re Atheist.” The troop leader was, well, a trooper and said, “No. Just omit that part and say the rest.” But one of the other Moms started snarling they don’t belong here then. To her credit, the troop leader stood right up to her and said anyone is welcome. Yay, but unfortunately the others weren’t so thrilled with her brave stance. She really was nice and inclusive but the other moms never got off their high horse. Didn’t last long before my daughter was dragging her heels about going then we let it drop off.

    While this story is unfortunate, your beef there is with the prejudiced of other troop mothers, not the organization, which (represented by the troop leader, the person with actual official authority) did the right thing.

    Something similar happened to me, except that it was the Brownies instead of Daisies, and it was the girls who objected, not the mothers (I think there was only one other mother at the meeting). As in your daughter’s case, the troop leader backed me up – I said that the God part wasn’t required, they told me it was, I appealed to the troop leader, she told them that I was right.

    My brother is developmentally disabled, and was in a Cub Scout troop for developmentally disabled boys when we were little (in the early ’90s, same as when I was in Girl Scouts). We just went in the closet in that context because he enjoyed it so much and there weren’t many groups around at the time that could accommodate him. Where to “draw the line”, as Siamang puts it, can be a tricky question.

    I agree with Hemant that the only way to get them to reverse their policies is to pressure schools and such to treat them like other discriminatory groups (I would not call them a hate group, for reasons that others have already stated), and to increase awareness of their discriminatory policies.

  • Siamang

    Where to “draw the line”, as Siamang puts it, can be a tricky question.

    Thanks for recognizing that there is such a line. We have to make value judgements with these things. I’ll note that the early 90’s, this wasn’t as out of step with the mainstream as it is in the current climate of civil unions.

    Religion or orientation barriers to membership in a private club is too serious an issue to me to look the other way. GayEagle tells us, in essence that it’s no big deal, and Jeff basically excuses it with a shrug and a ‘whatareyougonnado?’ That doesn’t excuse that they both belong to a discriminatory organization that has given them a pass on the rules they use to exclude others.

    Both of them use the fact that they were let slide as somehow an argument against our being upset over the discrimination. As if it’s somehow our fault, and we’re getting upset over nothing.

    After all, they got in. I cannot see how that helps their position. That’s like saying “sure, the drinking fountain says ‘whites only’, but don’t get too upset. They let black people drink out of it too, sometimes when nobody’s looking.”

    I truly cannot fathom wanting to belong to a private club with a stated, explicit policy barring gays. It’s as unthinkable as belonging to a country club that denies membership to Jews or African Americans.

    I would like to get a response, especially from GayEagle.

  • Siamang,

    I am a bit conflicted over scouts. I do sometimes wonder about the Hitler Youth (scouting like) organization in Germany back in the 30’s and 40’s and how that was similar to the current-day boy scouts. My German friends tell me that scouting is not popular now in Germany because it still reminds them too much of the Hitler Youth (something they don’t want to ever return to).

    I guess my rationization is that scouting hasn’t always been quite so exclusionary in its official policy in the past and it might not be so in the future. In the mean time, one has to live their life and scouting is a good way to experience and appreciate the outdoors.

    But I grant that you win this argument on points.

  • Siamang

    Jeff, I wouldn’t go all the way toward ‘hitler youth.’

    I think the organization is discriminatory, but its primary purpose is merely fellowship and not cultural domination.

    Perhaps the key to this conflict is to try and change the organization from within?

  • Michael

    All right, so I’m a bit of a latecomer to the party, but I have two connections to this story. First, Winston-Salem is my hometown where I lived for 18 years (and still legally live). Second, I am also an Eagle Scout. (I’m not gay, but I have a friend who was a gay Eagle Scout in Winston-Salem.)

    BSA does have discriminatory policies, but it’s really troop-by-troop. If the troop doesn’t care, BSA nationals doesn’t typically come down on them. Maybe the council will, but I haven’t heard of Old Hickory Council, the Council that contains Winston-Salem and Forsyth County as well as a few other counties in NW NC, ever ejecting a scout or scoutmaster on account of religion or sexual orientation. (My gay Eagle Scout friend didn’t come out until after he’d been awarded the rank of Eagle Scout.)
    My troop was based out of a church and prayers at Courts of Honor were ended with “in Jesus’ name we pray.” However, they were perfectly welcoming to non-Christians like myself. I don’t recall anyone openly stating atheism or homosexuality so I can’t speak to that.

    I feel like this is a bit like something someone said to me a few years ago: “How do you respond to the claim that the Boy Scouts are a paramilitary organization?”
    My response: “They are, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have their benefits for many people.” I’d argue the same here. Unlike many other discriminatory groups, they don’t teach discrimination except by example. I don’t really know if that should be enough to ban them from telling children about opportunities. I think the BSA needs to change their policies, but I don’t think there’s something inherently wrong.

    On an entirely unrelated note, the author of the letter to the editor following the one in question here is an English teacher at my (private, mostly conservative Christian) high school.

  • Siamang

    Michael, what do you say to the points I made referencing Martin Luther King?

    Does it not cause an ethical problem to belong to an organization that officially excludes certain children because of sexual orientation or the religious beliefs of their parents?

    Question two: would you belong to a country club that barred membership for Jews? Why or why not?

    Could you not also make the case that, unlike many other discriminatory groups, the country club ‘doesn’t teach discrimination except by example’?

    Now add to the fact that this ‘teaching’ is done to children…. does that somehow make it better or worse for the BSA?

  • Michael


    Justice is irrelevant in a private organization. The BSA has a right to exist as does the KKK. But the BSA has a purpose apart from discrimination. But is it not appropriate to work to change an organization from within? When Dr. King noted racial inequality in his country, he worked within it to change it and succeeded. Pressure from the outside is largely irrelevant. Can I not as an atheist Eagle Scout point out to BSA how silly their policies are, because I can lead a moral and honorable life, following the Scout Law without believing in any god? Isn’t that more likely to have BSA change their minds than non-Scouts screaming and suing?

    I couldn’t belong to a country club that barred Jews from membership, since I’m culturally Jewish. Bad example, I know, but I see your point. And, if I could and wanted to, I would. I would then try to get on the membership committee and change the policies.

    And I didn’t think of it before, but my friend who is a gay Eagle Scout is also without religion and has been for his entire life. His parents raised him to choose the religion he felt was best for him.

    Individual troops often ignore national policy. My fraternity notes in its pledge manual that a belief in God is required, but my Chapter completely ignores that and initiates plenty of atheists without repercussions. Is it better for me to walk away or introduce a motion at Ekklesia to remove such restrictions?

  • Jason

    Coming in very late, but just to add onto Michael. I’m an Eagle as well, and an agnostic.

    Michael’s correct, the amount of discrimination really does vary from troop to troop. I was lucky enough to be in one that doesn’t care at all. They just never brought up religion, ever. Right now, the scoutmaster of my old troop is a closet atheist. Really. My dad, who’s still involved with the troop, is agnostic.

    I’ve worked as a counselor at a Boy Scout camp for the last two summers. A couple years before I was there, a gay guy worked at camp. From what I hear, he was the one of the coolest and funniest people you could ever meet. My two bosses knew about it, and they didn’t care. Then someone who really had it out for him (wasn’t involved in the scouts at all) contacted the counsel and told them. He could’ve just lied and said it wasn’t true, but he decided to be a hero and admit it. He was fired, and everyone on staff was heartbroken.

    Some of the best times of my life were in the scouts. But as secular as I tried to make it sound here, I do know it’s very different in other places. There were some very religious troops that came to camp.

    Overall, I’d say most of scouting right now is in a similar situation to the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy in the military. A lot of people really do think the discrimination in boy scouts is terrible, but they have to keep quiet about it and play along, or else they’ll miss out on all the other opportunities scouting offers. It really sucks.

    A German exchange girl was on staff this summer (also agnostic), and she said in Germany, there are two different scouting organizations – religious and secular. It’s brilliant, and I really wish it would come over to America.

  • daniel

    I am an Eagle Scout, I have NO RELIGON, and am hetrosexual. I have no problem with gay men or women, we live in one of the most diverse communities in Columbus, Ohio. Sexual prefernce dicrimination has no place in the world never mind just Scouting. Are we really that stuck in our thinking? Recently my 7 year old son just joined the Cub Scouts. I wanted to know how to place the ensignia on the shirt so I started surfing “cub Scouts” on google. I was appauled to find so many negetive comments and pages on the Scouts. Scouting was a significant part of my life, not a day goes by when I do not use some knowlage gained during my scouting years. “Say it ain’t so Joe” Scouts have become a bunch of racist bigots? AN all white christian society? Man that is sad, I loved scouts and all it gave to me, what happened . Also should I let my son stay on this path? It was a central part of who I am, but I am not a racesist, bigot, or homophobe. Live and let live man.

error: Content is protected !!