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Activist Groups Urge Obama to Reject Boy Scout Honor

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Activist groups, including Scouting for All, urge President Obama not to accept the honorary Presidency of the Boy Scouts of America until they stop discriminating.


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A Conflict of Religious Beliefs

Reference: Daniel A. Helminiak Ph.D. , 2000, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, Alamo Square Press.

5/01

Dear BSA National Leaders:

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has routinely denied membership to gay boys and adults, and have ejected boys and adults upon learning that they are gay. When asked why they reject and eject gay boys and men, the BSA asserts its right to freedom of association, and points to the requirement in the scout oath that both boys and adult leaders must be "morally straight."

A number of churches have also wrestled with the question of sexual orientation, and have concluded that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is contrary to their religious beliefs. These determinations have lead to a conflict between the BSA and various churches. The conflict between BSA policy and the religious beliefs of various churches threatens the very foundations of the BSA.

In this letter, I outline several facets of the dispute, and propose a solution. This solution allows all parties to obtain an honorable and principled resolution, without compromising any of their principles or beliefs.

The BSA has historically interpreted the phrase "morally straight" to include: You should respect and defend the rights of all people. Your relationships with others should be honest and open. Be clean in your speech and actions, and faithful in your religious beliefs.

  1. The Boy Scouts teach that the beliefs of different religions and denominations should be respected, and that Scouting is open to all.
  2. The BSA has historically worked with a variety of churches, and has accommodated their differing beliefs by requiring that each person be faithful in his (her) own religious beliefs. Each member and leader is to be faithful to his (her) own religious beliefs, not to one particular set of religious beliefs prescribed by the BSA. The argument that gay persons cannot be morally straight is based on a particular interpretation of only a few Bible verses. Respected academic studies of Bible history and translation dispute that interpretation. Several concise surveys of that academic material are available, including a good recent survey by Dr. Helminaik.
  3. A thorough history is due to Dr. Boswell.
  4. The correct translation and interpretation of these verses is a subject of ongoing dispute between churches. Different Christian churches interpret these verses differently. Other churches do not subscribe to the Christian Bible, at all. The Boy Scouts have historically held that the religious beliefs of all people must be respected. But, in this matter, the BSA has refused to follow its own clearly stated principles. This fact is witnessed by the vigorous disputes between BSA and several churches. The United Methodist Church holds that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong, and opposes the BSA policy on gays.
  5. The Boy Scouts have rescinded their recognition of the Unitarian Universalist Church, based on that churches refusal to discriminate.
  6. A number of other churches have withdrawn sponsorship because of conflicts between their beliefs and the BSA policy.
  7. Clearly, the BSA is discriminating on a basis that is contrary to the religious beliefs of some churches. The policy of discrimination elevates the teachings of one church above those of other churches, and fails to respect the religious beliefs of those other churches. This failure is contrary to published policy of the BSA and the World Scout Movement, as well as contrary to the BSAs explanation of the Scout Oath: "You should respect and defend the rights of all people" (emphasis added). The policy of discrimination requires some people to discriminate, when their own religious beliefs forbid such discrimination.
  8. As a social matter, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has recently been a divisive question in many communities. A number of communities have enacted anti discrimination ordinances. In previous discrimination debates (relating to discrimination on the basis of race, creed, national origin, and sex) a similar pattern emerged: A local debate leads to a national debate; a few communities lead the way to enact ordinances; and gradually a national consensus emerges that discrimination is wrong. It seems clear that the national debate relating to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is well under way, and that such a national agreement is emerging.
  9. As a financial matter, churches and communities who decide that discrimination is wrong may refrain from supporting the BSA. The BSA is utterly dependent on such support. Troops meet in schools and churches, and go camping in parks, without paying rent. To pay rent for these facilities would be well beyond the means of most troops. Access to facilities is also access to the boys who use those facilities. The BSA is dependent for its membership on the good will of school and church officials. If the BSA looses access to the facilities of only a few denominations, and of only a few of the largest school districts, it could loose access to more than half of the boys in the nation. By pursuing a policy that alienates school districts and churches, the BSA is also cutting itself off from its source of members. The religious, social, financial, and recruiting consequences of continued discrimination are devastating. The consequences could easily destroy the BSA, or reduce it to such small scale as to be of no consequence. On the other hand the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) has actually threatened to withdraw its support if the BSA fails to discriminate.
  10. On the surface, it appears that the BSA cannot resolve this dispute in a way that leaves both sides satisfied. The LDS have threatened to pull out if BSA does not discriminate. Other churches and sponsors have threatened to pull out if BSA continues to discriminate. The correct answer to the dilemma is to choose based on fundamental principles, rather than on any pragmatic considerations. The BSA adopted the policy of discrimination based on a pragmatic consideration (the desire for continued support from LDS). That pragmatic choice has led to the current dispute with other churches. A pragmatic choice to not discriminate could of course lead to a dispute with LDS. Either choice appears to have unacceptable consequences. The solution is found in the foundation principles. The foundation principles of Scouting derive from the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. The essential characteristics of scouting
  11. include a number of principles that must be observed. Membership must be be open to all persons, without any distinction of origin, race or creed. Every national scout organization must respect the beliefs of all religions, and allow each boy and each adult to be faithful in his (her) own religious beliefs. Scouting must be open and honest in its dealings with all people.
  12. Finally, scouting must be independent. Sponsorship by a religious or community organization must never result in a scout organization being controlled by that organization or being perceived as being subordinate to it. These principles point to the correct solution of the current dilemma.

There is a solution to this dilemma that fully satisfies the principles of the BSA, and which can be acceptable to all parties. That solution is really very simple. The BSA must stick to its principles, and confess its error. The BSA must openly and honestly admit that it was wrong to try to force all boys, volunteers, and sponsor churches to accept the doctrine of one church. The BSA must open membership to all people, even those having religious beliefs which forbid discrimination against gay people.

The BSA can accomplish all of this by reiterating two old and well established policies:

  1. Each sponsor should select adult leaders that it feels are of good moral character. BSA refrains from defining "good moral character," and leaves that definition to the sponsors. The LDS may choose to select adult leaders that meet the LDS definition of good moral character. Other churches may also select adult leaders that meet their respective definitions of good moral character. Each boy and adult should be held to the standard of morality that is defined by his (her) own religious beliefs. That is, the boys and adults who are LDS members should be expected to faithfully follow the teachings of the LDS church. The boys and adults who subscribe to the beliefs of other churches should should be expected to follow the teachings of their respective churches. Boys and adults who are Muslim, Hindu, or who profess some other belief, should be expected to faithfully follow their professed belief. In this way, several objectives can be fulfilled: The BSA can remain true to its own foundation principles; The BSA can respect and defend the rights of all people; The BSAs relationships and communications with others can be honest and open; The BSA can allow each boy, each adult, and each sponsoring organization to be faithful in his (her) religious beliefs. By remaining true to its own principles, while allowing other organizations to also remain true to their principles, the BSA can find the correct resolution in this matter.
  2. The other alternative necessarily involves violating foundational principles of Scouting, including the principle that Scouting is open to all, and the principle that the Scouts must respect the religious beliefs of all persons. That violation of principle has damaged the reputation of the BSA far worse than anything that could be done by any outsiders. The BSA has the right to discriminate, but that does not make discrimination a wise choice.


Sincerely,

Stephen Hansen, Ph.D.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33312-3638
Thursday, May 10, 2001

 

 

 

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