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Ban is morally unforgivable, intellectually indefensible

Ventura County Star, August 12, 2001
5250 Ralston Street, Ventura, CA 93003
(Fax: 805-650-2900) (E-Mail: )
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By John M. Sherwood

For the record, I am a Life Scout and have been an assistant Scoutmaster, troop committeeman and merit badge counselor. I am also a member of Alpha Phi Omega, the national Scouting service fraternity. My two sons grew up in Scouting, and one of them is an Eagle Scout.

To add to the record, before my retirement, I was a pulpit rabbi for 33 years. I was on the board of directors of the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council for 27 years and served as its president. I currently chair the two ministerial associations in west Ventura County.

Having established these leadership credentials in the religious mainstream of America, I must assert my disgust with the obscene decision of the national office of the Boy Scouts of America decision to exclude gay youth and gay adults from its national organization.

This form of bigotry is intolerable in the United States. The preposterous assertion that Scouting is a private organization that has an absolute right to promote homophobia is not only morally unforgivable, but it is intellectually indefensible.

To use the phrase "morally straight" as justification for the rejection of homosexuals is pandering to the religious right wing. It is not only an insult to the intelligence of the vast majority of Americans, but it assumes that only people who accept a very narrow definition of religion have a voice in deciding what the sexual orientation and morality of every individual ought to be.

Since when, except in certain religious quarters, is a genetic condition considered to be immoral? How about banning those of us who are left-handed?

Many synagogues are considering not applying to be, or discontinuing to be, Boy Scout and/or Cub Scout sponsoring institutions. My recommendation is exactly the opposite. I believe that we should stay in the fray and that in any room in which the Scouts meet, that there should be human rights posters, including gay rights posters.

In addition, the troop committees should invite our rabbis to do a program each year on the 12th Scout law: a Scout is reverent. Part of that program should be a talk on human rights and gay rights, and that acceptance of one's gay friends and relatives is part of the concept of the teaching of a Scout's being "morally straight."

When this happens, would the Boy Scouts try to revoke the charter of the synagogue? Now, there would be a Supreme Court case, where the hypocritical Scout organization would challenge the "free exercise of religion."

Early in this century, reform Jewish leaders helped to create the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. We continued as part of the civil rights movement, and lobbied to get appropriate legislation passed in the 1960s.

In the 1930s, reform Rabbi Stephen S. Wise led the charge for child-labor laws. Our movement was the first religious organization to protest the U.S. involvement in the civil war in Vietnam.

We were among the first to come out for equal rights (including equal pay for equal work) for women, and we called for freedom of reproductive choice long before Roe v. Wade.

We have always been on the cutting edge calling for social change. I am proud of reform's courage in working for Tikkun Olam (the perfection of the world), and am personally proud to have been an active part of that process for the past 30 years. Our current support of gay rights and federal funding for stem-cell research is another example of reform Judaism helping to make the world a better place in which to live.

The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution calls for the equal protection of all Americans, not just the heterosexual ones. Let us teach the Boy Scouts that "morally straight" means that we are obligated to accept all people as they are, regardless of their faith, regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of their race, and regardless of their sexual orientation.

Then, Scouting will return to its great values that have served to guide youngsters for more than a century.

John M. Sherwood of Oxnard is a rabbi.

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