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6 April 2006

One can never accuse Penn and Teller of being unbiased, but their Showtime program, Bullshit, does get to the bottom of things and seems well researched, if presented with their own point of view (much like Michael Moore).

Their new season has opened and the show that I watched today was about the Boy Scouts.

Anybody who has read this journal for any length of time knows I have frequently expressed displeasure, anger, disgust and ... you fill in the negative emotion ... regarding the Boy Scouts of America and its bigoted policies regarding the admission of homosexuals or athiests as leaders or members. 

My annual letter to the editor was always the start of the Christmas season for me, reminding people not to patronize the Boy Scout Christmas tree lot, because they would be supporting discrimination.  (This year I didn't write it and I detected a bit of smugness in the letter which appeared after Christmas from the Scouts, thanking those who had supported them and made this a successful season.)

I have, from time to time, expressed regret that I was ever a Boy Scout leader and that I inadvertently promoted this discriminatory policy by allowing our kids to be Boy Scouts and by leading a group myself.

True, all we did was things like kite-making and going on field trips, but it has bothered me, in these years of greater enlightenment, to know that I was a member of an organization which practicted such blatant discrimination against groups of good people.

Well, after watching Penn and Teller, I am feeling much better.  I have learned about the history of the development of this policy.  Turns out that the banning of gays and athiests is relatively new.  In the Boy Scout handbook of 1975, the expressly stated policy is that they are not to deal with matters of sex or family issues because they were not qualified to discuss those issues.  There was no expressed exclusionary policy for gay or athiest leaders or Scouts.

In 1901, the Boy Scouts were declared a patriotic organization and were thus allowed to use of public buildings (hence, paid for by your tax money) for meetings and other gatherings.

BUT, in the early 1980s, the members and institutions associated with the religious right became major contributors (and office holders) in the Boy Scouts of America.  60% of Scout funding comes from religious institutions.  Something like 30,000 Scout troops are supported by the Mormon church.

Should the LDS Church leave the program, it would take more than 400,000 Scouts and 30,000 scout troops with it. The Church is the largest chartering organization of Boy Scout troops.
-Salt Lake City Tribune, April 26, 2000

"The Scouting movement as now constituted will cease to exist. . . . The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . . . would withdraw from Scouting if it were compelled to accept openly homosexual Scout leaders," wrote Von G. Keetch, LDS attorney

(Catholics come in second, by the way, supporting some 300,000 Scouts.)

When religion got hold of the Boy Scouts, the rules were changed.  When lawsuits about discrimination started being won, the Scouts changed the shading of their meaning about banning gay and athiest Scouts.  In 1991, they decided that the reason for banning gay and athiest leaders and members was that being gay violates the Scout Oath.

William McClaughlin, the Director of Personnel Administration for the National Council of Boy Scouts of America testified that the reference in the Scout Oath and Law to sexual orientation was in the words "morally straight" and "clean." He stated that . . . in his application of the BSA guidelines on a national level, all behavior related to homosexual orientation is "immoral or indecent." He testified that he did not think that a gay man is able to devote himself to others, simply because he is gay."
(Excerpt from final ruling from the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, G. Keith Richardson v. Chicago Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.)

Following these policies, the BSA "fired" a man who had gone through the ranks, had become an Eagle Scout and who had gone on to establish a Scouting troop specifically designed to meet the needs of deaf Scouts.  This man who is "unable to devote himself to others" because he's gay.

As for athiests, they are banned because the Scouts feel that a Boy Scout must put his obligation to God ahead of his obligation to his family or to himself.  (Has anybody checked the principles of suicide bombers lately?)

A guy whose name I did not get, but who has written a book in support of Scouting says that "there have to be limits in a moral society if we are going to live in peace."

Oh yeah?  And those limits include marginalizing kids at a time of their lives when they most need a peer group?

Great goal!

As Stephen Coza, a (straight) Eagle Scout who founded "Scouting for All," working for the inclusion of all boys in the Scout movement, points out, suicide is the leading cause of death for gay youth. 

Gee.  Why do you think that is?  Perhaps because they are told at every turn that they are not as good as everybody else at a time when kids are most in need of friends?

Yet this organization which chooses to be a public entity when it wants money and a private entity when it chooses to discriminate (The BSA is a private membership group. As with any private organization, the BSA retains the Constitutional right to establish and maintain standards for membership. Anyone who supports the values of Scouting and meets these standards is welcome to join the organization. -- BSA Religious position), still gets support from your tax dollars.

Scouting groups meet in public schools all across the country.  If the Ku Klux Klan were to request space for meeting, you can bet there would be a public outcry, yet we turn our eyes when it comes to the Boy Scouts using public buildings, and we pay by the money we pay in taxes to support the upkeep of those buildings.

The Boy Scout Jamboree, held every 4 years, is held on a military base.  In 2005, it was Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia.  The military holds events such as band performances and fly-overs, operates an adventure training area, displays military equipment, and provides logistical support to the Scouts, such as building tent cities and bathrooms.  To rent the space, the Boy Scouts paid $1 and the cost to American taxpayers, for the land use, the facilities used, and the military personnel who ran the nation-wide event, was in the neighborhood of $5 million.  Of your tax dollars.  My tax dollars.  For a huge gathering by a self-declared private organization which excludes a number of boys and young men who would like to participate in the fun activities, but who are told they are not allowed to join.

When you join a Scout troop and put on the Boy Scout uniform you make a statement. Your uniform is a sign that you're a certain kind of citizen -- trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. (Applause.) These are the values of scouting, and they're important values for America. By working to live up to them, you're bringing great credit to yourselves and to our nation.

So said the man in the White House at the 2005 Jamboree.  He neglected to mention that a Scout is not only trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent...they are also expected to discriminate against those who the leaders have deemed "less worthy."  He neglected to add that the "values of Scouting" are the values of the religious right, bought and paid for, and that they are not inclusive of all American citizens.

I'm very glad to know that at the time I was supporting Scouting, the Scouts were still an inclusive organization. 

Americans aren't stupid (well, some of them aren't).  Scouting membership is down 13% and one can only hope that this is a trend which will continue as more and more American realize that their tax dollars are going to support a bigoted organization, no matter how lofty its goals for American youth are.  One would hope that people who lay out large sums of money to support worthy causes, and who work tirelessly to save the trees, the whales, the environment, and other parts of our world would take a long look at what their dollars, and their volunteer hours are supporting in working for the bigoted Boy Scouts of America.

There are lots of great organizations out there that teach character building for young people.  Let's not support one that excludes kids and teaches them that some kids are better than others, that some kids are undesirable, but one that includes everybody--like the Girl Scouts (I always knew girls were better than boys anyway).


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