WASHINGTON — Even with a Supreme Court decision in their favor, the Boy Scouts are not safe from attack from local governments that disagree with their policies excluding active homosexuals from becoming Scoutmasters.
Such a battle erupted in Cape St. Clair, Md., last fall when local government officials told the Boy Scouts that they were unwelcome on school property because the Scouts discriminate against active homosexuals.
That spurred David Whitney, a local Evangelical pastor, into action.
“I started a petition drive that would give the whole community a voice in the decision,” Whitney said.
The result was dramatic.
“Almost 90% sided with the Scouts,” Whitney said. “And we're not a conservative county. Well over 60% to 70% are Democrats.”
The United States Senate wants to make sure that other school districts won't try to discriminate against the Boy Scouts.
By a narrow 51-49 vote, the Senate passed a resolution July 14 to withhold federal funds from school districts that deny use of facilities to the Boy Scouts because the organization excludes homosexuals.
Kristen Hansen, spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, said that Congress has a reason for protecting the Boy Scouts.
“The scouts received a charter from Congress in 1916,” Hansen said. “Congress has an interest in making sure they are protected.”
She said the issue should have been settled with last year's landmark court decision.
“The Supreme Court said that the Boy Scouts’ policies are protected,” Hansen said. “How can schools discriminate against the scouts when they are upstanding according to the law?”
The Boy Scouts of America were not available for comment, but their Web site has posted a statement on the subject of school access. It reads, in part:
“The BSA respects the rights of people and groups who hold values that differ from those encompassed in the Scout Oath and Laws, and the BSA makes no effort to deny the rights of those whose views differ to hold their attitudes or opinions. The Boy Scouts of America aims to allow youth to live and to learn as children and enjoy Scouting without immersing them in the politics of the day. However, people dissatisfied with the Boy Scouts of America's membership policies and the moral views on which they are based have suggested that the BSA not have the privilege of meeting in public schools or distributing recruitment information at public schools. Just as other student or community groups are permitted to have access to public school facilities, the Boy Scouts of America aims to have the same access.”
Critics of the Senate measure argued that Congress shouldn't interfere with school districts’ ability to ban the Scouts from school property.
“I think it should be up to the local level,” said Julie Underwood, general counsel to the National School Boards Association. The Senate measure defending the Scouts passed, she added, “because Senators are enthralled by the Boy Scouts.”
Just five days after the Senate vote, PBS ran a documentary that many viewers believed to be one-sided against the Scouts.
The film, directed by homosexual activist Tom Shepard, highlighted a straight 12-year-old boy named Steven Cozza, who at the prompting of his father is working with Scouting for All, a group that is lobbying against the Boy Scouts policy prohibiting homosexuals.
“What's ironic is that the values and tenets that Steven Cozza learned in scouting — about fairness, about sticking up for the rights of all people, and being honest and open in your relationships — sort of welled up in him and moved him to take a stand,” said film-maker Shepard. “In an age where young people have become disaffected by American institutions, here's an example of a very idealistic young person who's coming of age, who's developing his moral compass, and a lot of that comes from the Boy Scouts.”
But critics of the PBS documentary accused the public broadcaster of airing a one-sided program.
In a June 20 article in National Review Online, Tim Graham, former director of media analysis of the Media Research Center, characterized Shepard's program as “yet another in a long string of gay-left propaganda films” aired by PBS.
Graham, who became a Cub Scout leader four years ago when his son was 7, said that that it is homosexual activists, not the Scouts, who are constantly making an issue out of the Boy Scout policy on homosexuality. The policy, Graham noted, is barely mentioned in Scout policy manuals and guidebooks.
Wrote Graham, “These disturbers of the peace don't have the decency to recognize that Scouting begins now at age 7, and even Boy Scouts begin at the usually prepubescent age of 11. Why should parents and leaders have to be dragged into explaining to young children about the sinfulness or celebration of homosexuality?”
Ray G. Smith, national commander of the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization, also criticized PBS for attacking the Boy Scouts.
In a statement to the Register, Smith scorned the documentary for “driving another nail into the coffin of the moral and cultural values of our society.”
“Attacking one of America's greatest traditions simply because they exercise their right to set their own membership and leadership standards is outrageous,” Smith said.
The American Legion is one of the largest supporters of the Boy Scouts, Smith noted, sponsoring 75,000 scouts in over 2,500 units.
“I ask all Americans to learn the facts about the assault on Scouting and traditional values,” said Smith, who urged Legion members to “stand up and be counted in defending what is good and right and decent — the Boy Scout tradition.”
Joshua Mercer writes from Washington, D.C.