The Scouts get their wish

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Be careful what you ask for, because you might not like what you get.

Six years ago, the Supreme Court ruled — correctly — that a private organization like the Boy Scouts could not be forced to accept gays as either Scouts or leaders.

Since then, however, the Boy Scouts have learned a lesson about the other side of freedom of association: the rest of society can choose whether it wishes to associate with you.

Parents have pulled their children out of Scouting. Cities, schools and governmental organizations have stopped sponsoring Boy Scout troops, or stopped providing them with subsidized services or facilities, or stopped listing them on employee charity forms.

The Boy Scouts have sued, claiming victim status. But as long as governmental services are provided (or not) based on objective criteria, the Boy Scouts have no leg to stand on. Cities aren’t required to give the KKK free access to city facilities, and they are similarly not required to provide such access to the Scouts.

This is a shame. I was an Eagle Scout and an Order of the Arrow member. I was senior patrol leader for my troop. I spent 10 years in Scouting, and the experience was phenomenal. The Scouts, at their best, provide young boys with camaraderie, self-confidence, skills and experiences that can be hard for city dwellers to come by another way.

But the anti-gay facet of Scouting was never a factor in my experience. Had it been, the whole experience would have been different, and lessened. We recited the Scout Oath, but “morally straight” never meant “heterosexual”; it meant “upstanding and honest.”

Similarly, religion wasn’t central to Scouting back in my day. It was about camping, and knot-tying, and hiking, and being of good character.

Religion intruded on us only once while I was a Scout. Our longtime Scoutmaster bowed out, and the new Scoutmaster began holding mandatory “nondenominational” church services on campouts. They were nondenominational only if you were Protestant Christian, and many of us weren’t; besides Catholics, we had Jews, Muslims and assorted nonbelievers in the troop.

I led the Senior Patrol in a boycott of the services, and told the Scoutmaster that most of the senior Scouts would quit if he didn’t stop. That led to a meeting of troop parents in which the Scoutmaster was indeed told to knock it off.

Later, when I was finishing up work for my Eagle badge, I had to choose one part of the Scout Law to write an essay on. I chose “Reverent”, and argued that it didn’t mean “religious”; it meant having respect for religion and the beliefs of others.

I also asked my Scoutmaster to write one of the three required recommendations. To his credit, he did so.

I fondly remember my time in Scouting. But what Scouting has to offer is not tied to religious beliefs; it’s tied to the values and citizenship it promotes. Some may argue that those values are rooted in religion. I disagree, but it’s irrelevant. Whatever they’re rooted in, they do not need religion in order to propogate. And the current Scout leadership, by emphasizing the religion over the common values, do a great disservice to both and to the value Scouting has provided to American society for decades.

So based on the values taught to me by Scouting, I conclude that they deserve everything they get. I only hope that they abandon their current folly before they do too much harm to future generations, for whom Scouting may not have the meaning or the value that it had for previous generations.

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