Boy Scouts Abandon Christian Roots

While much attention is understandably focused on the repercussions of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, the movement to bring the Boy Scouts of America into alignment with current LGBT orthodoxy is well underway. National Boy Scouts of America president Robert Gates announced in May that he wanted to end the organization’s blanket ban on “open and avowed” homosexual adults serving as BSA leaders. Less than 30 days later, the Cradle of Liberty Council issued a press release announcing that Council’s new policy is as follows: “Discrimination in any form, including but not limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, is contrary to the Scout Oath and Law, and we in the Cradle of Liberty Council will vigorously oppose it from whatever source.”

On July 13, the Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts of America unanimously approved a resolution that would end the ban on open and avowed homosexual adult leaders. All that remains is for it to be ratified by the National Executive Board on July 27.

What difference does it make—to scouts, Scout leaders, charter organizations, and troops or councils? Should you be concerned or is it much ado about nothing much?

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For its first 100 years “morally straight” meant that homosexuals could not be members of Boy Scouts of America because they did not “possess the moral … and emotional qualities deemed necessary” to be role models and leaders of youth. Provided that someone did not “avow” that they were homosexual and did not promote or advocate homosexuality, however, an individual’s sexual orientation was considered irrelevant to membership in the Boy Scouts of America. This was true whether it was a youth member or an adult member.

After reaffirming its membership policy in February 2012, the Boy Scouts of America came under immense pressure from media, corporate donors, and many local Council Scout executives to revise its 100+ year membership standard that open or avowed homosexuals did not “possess the moral, educational, and emotional qualities deemed necessary for leadership.” (Charter and Bylaws of BSA, Article VIII, section 1)

Despite the unanimous reaffirmation by the entire Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts of America in the summer of 2012 that the membership standards would be maintained, the BSA “Key 3” leadership decided unilaterally to propose giving local units the authority to set their own membership standards when it came to the issue of sexual orientation. They further proposed that the Executive Committee make that policy change at the February 2013 Executive Committee—despite the fact that three of the largest chartering organizations (the LDS Church, the Catholic Church and the Baptist Church) had uniformly rejected any such change. By maintaining its policy, the national BSA policy had always provided “coverage” for churches and other organizations to maintain traditional Judeo-Christian values in their youth groups.

This exact same idea had been previously explored by BSA in April 2010 when a special ad hoc committee of ten past and present leaders of the Boy Scouts of America was established to examine the BSA’s membership policy and had also been soundly rejected.

The Executive Committee of the BSA has now passed a resolution of the same “solution” of putting the onus on “charter partners—unit sponsoring organizations—to determine the standards for their Scout leaders.”

What does this mean to current BSA chartered “partners” and to members?

Although he claims to personally hold that BSA’s policy of excluding homosexuals from leadership is morally wrong, Mr. Gates indicates that he will make sure to defend churches’ Constitutional rights to be morally wrong. However, it is particularly unrealistic to believe an organization and leadership that bases its values on popular opinion is going to stand fast in the face of the rhetoric of intolerance and hate which the LGBT community has effectively labeled all those who oppose same-sex “marriage,” and the pronouncements made from Supreme Court justices, pastors, town councils, media moguls, celebrities, special interest groups, athletes, and even the White House telling people to comply “or else.” (Or, in the case of President Obama, that we should simply change our religious beliefs.) Those who do not embrace and celebrate same-sex “marriage” will come under increased attack.

Justice Alito’s separate dissent ominously warns that the Obergefell decision will “be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional-marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women…. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”

The First Amendment protection that the BSA enjoyed through the Dale decision was based on the freedom to not associate with persons whose expression is inconsistent with the organization. Since the BSA’s proposed membership policy will be to leave it up to individual units (or maybe individual councils), there is no expression regarding sexual orientation, transgender, LGBT, etc. BSA has now accepted that there is no uniform or agreed upon “expression” within the BSA on the issue of homosexuality. It is unclear how a unit could maintain its own expression on these issues and yet participate in Scouting activities with units with opposite views at BSA national and local council events such as camporees, high adventure bases, jamborees, etc.

With the possible exception of barring atheists or agnostics (assuming BSA continues to insist, for now, on adherence to its Declaration of Religious Principle as a requirement for membership), all local BSA councils will be required to abide by state non-discrimination laws, including in their employment decisions. The basis for BSA being able to bar “open or avowed” homosexuals from employment was that BSA membership was a requirement for professional commissioning, which was a prerequisite for holding any non-clerical BSA position. The Application for Professional Commission stated:

[I]n the exercise of its constitutional right to bring the values of Scouting to its youth members, the Boy Scouts of America will not commission atheists, agnostics, open or avowed homosexuals, or others as professional Scouters or in other capacities which could interfere with its mission of reinforcing the values of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law in young people.

With BSA ratifying its changed position that homosexuality is not immoral and therefore not in violation of the Scout Oath and Scout Law, however, both BSA and its local Councils will be required to follow state laws that declare it illegal to discriminate based upon sexual orientation or preference. No council will have “the choice” to do otherwise, as open or avowed homosexuals no longer “interfere with [BSA’s] mission of reinforcing the values of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law in young people.”

There will be an increase of lawsuits filed against chartered organizations and members. Given the current environment, it can be anticipated that homosexual activists will file suit if denied admission to a unit that bars them based upon their sexual orientation. Even if you believe the BSA’s statement that it will bear the costs of defense, the disruption of having to deal with the litigation process, the adverse publicity and the likely intimidation of donors and church members will likely be detrimental to the overall mission of churches and religious organizations. Non-religious organizations (such as the American Legion, Lions Club, Homeschool Associations, non-religious schools and “parent associations”) will have no legal defense to such claims.

Granting the use of facilities to the BSA—with its acceptance of open or avowed homosexuality—by religious organizations could result in the loss of their legal protection to deny facility use to other “gay-friendly” or homosexual advocacy groups.

Church buildings are private property and are used primarily for the exercise of religion, which has historically entailed First Amendment protection both under the Free Exercise Clause and the Free Speech Clause. But allowing its private property to be used in ways that are inconsistent with its religious beliefs could jeopardize this claim. Churches would be wise to only allow uses of its facilities that are consistent with its religious beliefs and to deny all other uses. The days of churches “allowing” Boy Scout units to use their property for meeting places will have to end—or churches must be willing to bear the legal and media frenzy that will follow.

The BSA’s Director of Youth Protection and professionals advising BSA’s Youth Protection Advisory Committee have all acknowledged that there will likely be an increase in sexual behavior within units. They have stated—consistent with most academicians—that sexual experimentation and exploration is “normal behavior” among adolescents of scouting age. While such sexual contact is likely to be more consensual or experimental, the potential does exist of a forcibly touching or violating a youth—or cajoling them into allowing it.

Professor Mark Chaffin, speaking on “Juvenile-on-Juvenile Sexual Assaults” at the 2013 BSA Youth Protection Symposium, indicated that 36 percent of all sex crimes against children are committed by other children and that such abuse peaks in early adolescence and then drops sharply. The peak of abuse is by 13-14 year old males. He also indicated that boys can be easily enticed to act out sexually and that “curiosity is a huge motive for youth engaging in child sexual assault” and “the more extreme preoccupation with sexuality, the higher the risk.” The normalization and acceptance of open homosexual leaders can be expected to reduce some barriers to same-sex experimentation.

Dr. David Finkelhor, a long-time advisor to BSA’s Youth Protection Advisory Committee and expert on child sexual abuse, states that “child sexual abuse is sexual contact with a child that occurs as a result of force or in a relationship where it is exploitative because of an age difference or caretaking responsibility.” Even if it is true that homosexual adults do not have a greater likelihood of sexually abusing children than heterosexuals, it is common sense that people are more likely to engage in sexual activity (whether licit or illicit) with people of the gender to which they find themselves sexually attracted. It is likely that there will continue to be instances of abuse in the BSA in which one or both of the individuals are under the age of consent—whether the initiator was an adult or a youth.

Despite current assertions to the contrary, BSA will attempt to shift liability to chartered organizations that are defendants in BSA sexual assault cases, claiming that they control or select the leadership—since they are the ones determining the leadership standards for their unit. This would also be the case in claims of negligent hiring and supervision, since the chartered organization would have the “sole responsibility” of selecting leaders.

The Boy Scouts of America has chosen to follow Caesar in all things; to embrace the culture of political correctness and moral relativism. It would be wrong to allow nostalgia to blind us from doing what is best for our young people, our families, our church and (in spite of itself) our country. It is time for Christians to shake the dust from their feet and leave the BSA in order to focus on nurturing, strengthening and living our faith in environments that protect the moral, emotional, physical and spiritual health of our children.


  • Richard Mathews

    Richard Mathews is the General Counsel for Trail Life USA, a Christian youth adventure program and the former General Counsel of the Boy Scouts of America. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Drake Law School and has an LLM in Labor and Employment Law from Wayne State University. He serves on the Board of Directors of Human Life International and volunteers as an Allied Attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom.

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