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Boycott the Boy Scouts

In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America, as a private membership-based organization, had the right to discriminate against gay people by expelling them or barring them from joining. Since then, the BSA has been enforcing that policy with gusto, expelling gay and lesbian scouts and scout leaders all over the country. (They’re equally prejudiced against atheists, as atheist Eagle Scout Darrell Lambert found out when he too was kicked out as punishment for being honest about his nonbelief.)

The BSA’s policy of discrimination has made them the target of protests and recriminations, as well as politicians canceling sweetheart deals they’d once enjoyed. More recently, a steady stream of Eagle Scouts have been turning in their medals to protest.

But in the face of all these protests, the BSA has refused to budge, most recently issuing a terse statement reaffirming their policy of discrimination. Why are they so committed to their bigotry? An ABC News article from this week gives one big clue: their three biggest sponsors are Mormons, Roman Catholics, and Southern Baptists.

According to the latest BSA figures, the Mormons’ Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints charters more than 37,000 Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops with a youth membership of more than 420,000, the highest figures of any denomination. Roman Catholic parishes charter about 8,500 units with about 283,000 members.

…Chip Turner, a Southern Baptist who chairs the Scouts’ religious relationships committee, said the no-gays policy is unlikely to change as long as it has the support of the churches most active in sponsoring Scout units.

To their shame, some of the liberal Protestant churches which have a more accepting view of GLBT people continue to sponsor Boy Scout troops as well. But it’s these three denominations, all of whom take the hardest of hard lines against gay equality, that wield the most power on the BSA executive council. As their spokesman said, as long as the churches continue to wield this power, the Boy Scouts’ official policy of bigotry is unlikely to ever change.

This rare example of interfaith unity shows that when religions that are so dissimilar can agree on anything, it’s virtually guaranteed to be something that’s intended to hurt gays, women, or nonbelievers. When the BSA says that being gay or atheist contradicts the values they want to teach young people, what they’re really saying is that being gay or an atheist is incompatible with being a good person. Such ugly and hateful assertions would never be accepted if they were made about any other group. If the BSA made it their official policy that black people couldn’t join, I’d wager that 95% of Americans wouldn’t hesitate or think twice about cutting all ties with them, no matter what other virtues they might claim to instill. Prejudice against gay people, or against atheists, is morally no different.

Support for the Boy Scouts of America is support for bigotry and discrimination. If you support the BSA, you’re helping to perpetuate this discrimination. Stop doing this. If you’re a Boy Scout, or if you volunteer with the Boy Scouts, quit today. If your church, your business or your community group sponsors a troop, end your sponsorship. If you’ve given them money, don’t give them any more. If you’re a past Eagle Scout or other honoree, send those medals back.

And there are alternatives. The Girl Scouts, which are an entirely separate organization, deserve commendation for their long-standing policy of accepting all girls without regard to religious belief or sexual orientation. Camp Fire USA is another group that has an explicit policy of inclusion and welcome. And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding work of Camp Quest, whose summer fundraiser is still going on. If you have money you no longer wish to give to the Boy Scouts, you could do worse than to give it to them instead!

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