IRVING, Texas — Following several weeks of speculation that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) would lift its ban on openly homosexual scouts and leaders, the organization on Wednesday announced the decision would be postponed until May.
The leadership of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting responded to the Feb. 6 announcement by urging Catholics who participate with the Scouts to continue to voice their opposition to such a policy change to their local Scout councils.
The national executive board of the Scouts, which has been meeting since Feb. 4 in Irving, Texas, issued a statement that read, in part:
“After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s national executive board concluded that, due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy.
“To that end, the national executive board directed its committees to further engage representatives of Scouting’s membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns. This will assist the officers’ work on a resolution on membership standards. The approximately 1,400 voting members of the national council will take action on the resolution at the national annual meeting in May 2013.”
The policy change under consideration would eliminate the ban on open homosexuals at a national level, allowing a decision about their participation to be made at the unit, district or council level.
The BSA has a highly centralized structure, but each unit is chartered at a local level. There are approximately 100,000 units, with almost 70% of them created by religious organizations. This includes Cub Scouts (ages 7 to 10), Boy Scouts (ages 10 to 18) and Venturing Crews (ages 18 to 21).
Catholic churches account for 8,570 of these units, placing them third, after the Mormons (37,882) and Methodists (11,078). More than half of all Scouts belong to religious bodies that actively oppose a change in policy.
The policy change could create a constellation of conflicting rules, as each troop sets its rules based on the values of its chartering organization. Units in the same town could thus have completely different membership policies. Chartering organizations that maintain the ban in accordance with their values will likely face legal challenges, a factor BSA leaders will need to consider as they go forward.
Eagle Scout Brad Hankins of the pro-homosexual-rights Scouts for Equality rejects any compromise that would allow chartering organizations to set their own policies. Saying they “don‘t want to see scouting gerrymandered into blue and red districts,” groups pressing for an end to the policy want it to be mandated by a universal change in the Scouting bylaws.
At the moment, an unofficial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is in effect. It is possible for homosexuals to participate in scouting if they do not “come out” about their homosexuality.
In the past, challenges over the Scouts’ policy on homosexuals have come from either court cases or public-relations efforts. In its Boy Scouts of America v. Dale decision in June 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that the Scouts could ban active homosexuals because their lifestyle conflicted with the core mission of the Scouts, which was imparting values.
More recently, Ryan Andresen was denied his Eagle Scout honor in October 2012 when he announced his homosexuality after completing the requirements for the award. Meanwhile, ousted lesbian Cub Scout leader Jennifer Tyrrell claimed she gathered 1.4 million signatures on a petition about overturning the ban.
Last year, the Scouts were roiled by a sexual-abuse scandal following the revelation of secret files documenting the abuse of boys by their leaders. Twenty thousand pages from the BSA’s secret “Perversion Files” detail countless cases of abuse from 1965 to 1985, and there are more files waiting to be opened.
The cases were a chilling echo of the Catholic clerical-abuse scandal, with Scout leaders failing to notify authorities, allowing perpetrators to have a “second chance” or simply declining to act. The result was that abuse went on for years.
Pressure From Within
The most recent challenge, however, is coming from within Scout leadership itself. Just six months ago, the Scouts reaffirmed the policy, saying in a statement: “The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their rights to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting. While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, we fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.”
Since then, two new members of the board have been pressing the issue. Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive of AT&T, and James Turley, chairman and chief executive of Ernst & Young, have both indicated that they support a more inclusive policy regarding homosexual leaders and scouts.
In a June 2012 statement, Turley said, “As CEO, I know that having an inclusive culture produces the best results, is the right thing for our people and makes us a better organization. My experience has led me to believe that an inclusive environment is important throughout our society, and I am proud to be a leader on this issue. I support the meaningful work of the Boy Scouts in preparing young people for adventure, leadership, learning and service; however, the membership policy is not one I would personally endorse. As I have done in leading Ernst & Young to being a most inclusive organization, I intend to continue to work from within the BSA board to actively encourage dialogue and sustainable progress.”
Even President Barack Obama weighed in over the weekend, urging Boy Scout leaders to admit homosexuals in a CBS interview. “The Scouts is a great institution that is promoting young people and exposing them to opportunities and leadership that will serve people for the rest of their lives,” Obama said. “And I think nobody should be barred from that.”
The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops refers to the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) on all matters related to scouting in the U.S. The NCCS has expressed its objections to the policy change and continues to work to make Catholic voices on scouting heard by the leadership of the BSA.
John Halloran Jr., national chairman of the NCCS, urged Catholics to make their opinions known to their councils. In a statement following the Feb. 6 decision, Halloran said, “All leaders and organizations that serve young people have a responsibility to protect and foster a life of virtue according to their particular mission. Organizations have a duty to select leaders that model virtues and core values with integrity; Catholic chartered units will continue to provide leaders who promote and live Catholic values.”
“This is a matter of responsibility, not a matter of unjust discrimination, which is always wrong and contrary to the inviolable dignity of every human person,” Halloran said. “The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) will participate in the Boy Scouts of America’s initiative to listen to its members’ concerns regarding a change in its membership policy. The NCCS will offer input based on Catholic teachings and values.”
Register correspondent Thomas L. McDonald writes about Catholicism, technology and culture at GodandtheMachine.com.