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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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Cub Scout Pack 88, RI, Chartered by the Central Congregational Church Say They Won't Discriminate


6 Scout leaders reject ban on gays

Gay and lesbian activists are examining how municipalities support the Boy Scouts.

By JENNIFER LEVITZ

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE -- Days after Rhode Island Boy Scouts publicly claimed that they and most Americans are "comfortable with" a Scout credo that bars gay people from the boyhood rite of passage, six leaders of an East Side Cub Scout Pack say that philosophy is a badge they will not wear.

In a letter to the Narragansett Council of Boy Scouts on Friday, the den leaders from Cub Scout Pack 88 became the first Rhode Island scouting group to openly pledge that they will not enforce the policy banning gay youths and leaders and that, furthermore, they'll ignore a Scout rule that bans anyone who doesn't believe in God.

The Narragansett Council, which includes Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops from Rhode Island and nearby towns in Connecticut and Massachusetts, also faces a challenge from the state's gay and lesbian community. Some 10 activists met Sunday night in Providence with Fitzgerald Himmelsbach, Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr.'s liaison to the gay community. They plan to investigate the extent to which school districts and towns support the Boy Scouts through special building leases, free meeting space, and other perks, said Kate Monteiro, president of the Rhode Island Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights.

"If you want to be homophobic, you do it on your own time, your own place, and your own buck," she said.

Until a statement from the Narragansett Council last week, many people believed that Rhode Island Scout executives were working behind the scenes for more inclusive rules. Nearly a year ago, the council, criticized for refusing to let a gay Eagle Scout return to his job at summer camp the same day a camp director asked him if he is gay, became one of only two state councils in the nation to ask the Boy Scouts of America to review the anti-gay policy. The policy is not stated outright, but is rooted in an oath written in 1910. The oath says Scouts must keep themselves "morally straight," a line that Scouts interpret as pertaining to homosexuality.

When the national Boy Scouts told the state Scouts in recent days that their request for a review died in subcommittee, Robert H. Pease Jr., president of the Narragansett Council, released a statement publicly backing the ban on gays. It's "inappropriate for messages about sexuality or politics to be imposed on our programs from the outside," he said in the Oct. 30 statement.

But six leaders of Cub Scout Pack 88, which is sponsored by the Central Congregational Church, think the top Scouts are misreading the Scout oath. "Intolerance is not 'morally straight,' " the letter states.

"Is it 'morally straight' to exclude one segment of our society simply because of who they are? We will not teach our Scouts to accept a 'little discrimination' in order to enjoy all of scouting's positive benefits," states the letter, signed by James E. Greer, Barbara Bejoian, Paul Lietar, Alan N. Silk, Sheila Hoogeboom, and Theodore Orson.

"I think scouting is a wonderful thing . . . I was an Eagle Scout. I participated in scouting in Rhode Island since I was a boy. I worked at Camp Yawgoog. It's an important thing for me and a great organization that has a huge amount to offer," Greer, a child psychiatrist, said Friday. "But this type of discrimination is so unacceptable that I cannot and will not participate; I will not raise my son with those kinds of values."

The letter from Pack 88 also says that anyone is welcome regardless of religious belief. The Scout oath asks Scouts to "do my duty to God and my country." The subsequent banning of atheists has prompted lawsuits nationwide.

The Rhode Island Scouts will forward the letter from Pack 88 to the Boy Scouts of America's headquarters in Irving, Texas, David Preston, a representative for the local Scouts, said yesterday. He supplied a letter that he said reflects some of the other feedback the state council has received.

The letter, from Charles Kemp, the leader of Troop 4 in Barrington, says the parents he's talked to believe that "the Boy Scout program and what it represents is just fine and should remain as it is."

"Further, they agree with national's present position, that there should be no change in the Boy Scout leader requirements in any way that may create an unknown or unmeasured ingredient that they do not want their boys to encounter or to be exposed to," wrote Kemp, who said yesterday he's been in scouting for 45 years.

Cub Scout Pack 88, which includes about 40 youths, is one of several troops or packs nationwide that have promised, in the past couple of months, to defy the Boy Scouts of America's policy. The policy was was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer.

Troops from Corte Madera and Santa Barbara, Calif., East Harlem, N.Y., and from a pack in Los Angeles, are among those that have sent similar letters, according to Scouting for All, a nonprofit coalition.

It was unclear yesterday exactly what happens when a troop defies national policy. Greg Shields, the spokesman for the Boy Scouts, did not return a message left yesterday.

But when the Piedmont Council of Boy Scouts, in Northern California, announced last month that it was rejecting the anti-gay policy, Shields told the Oakland Tribune: "If you choose to go it alone and ignore the policy, you are no longer a Scout."

In 1995, the Narragansett Council tried, and failed, to get its organization exempted when the General Assembly approved a gay-rights bill that expands the civil-rights laws to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation in emploment and more.

At Camp Yawgoog, in the summer of 1999, the staff staged a protest in support of the gay Eagle Scout, whose request to return to a full-time position was denied, and the young man filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission. The Narragansett Council hired him back, saying it would go by a don't-ask-don't-tell policy.

Since then, Scouts have felt the pinch from some corporate donors, with the United Way of Southeastern New England promising to break off support by January if the Scouts -- and other charities it funds -- don't sign an anti-discrimination pledge.

Yesterday, Dennis Murphy, director of the United Way, said bucking the Scouts comes with a price. The United Way has received tremendous support for its stand, but also "very, very vehement" backlash.

"I've been told: 'We're going to teach you a lesson, United Way, for standing up for a fringe element in our society.' "

Limiting ties between public entities and scouting would be trickier still. Schools and towns have no constitutional right to keep Scouts from meeting on their grounds after school, Steven Brown, of the American Civil Liberties Union in Rhode Island, said yesterday. Governments, however, should treat Scouts the same way as they do other groups, with no special leases or preferential meeting space, Brown said. School districts from Framingham, Mass., to Broward County, Fla., have limited Scout activity in a variety of ways, such as by not allowing recruiting at schools.

Preston, the representative for the Narragansett Council, did not have information yesterday on how many schools or churches sponsor or charter troops.

Scouts meet at 32 public buildings in Providence, Himmelsbach said. Links are plentiful elsewhere, as well. They range from a recruiting night at a high school and $1-per-year lease of a town-owned building in Cumberland, to $4,000 in a community block grant from East Providence and a $500 grant from Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Town Administrator Robert Driscoll said he knows that a lot of towns have gotten themselves involved in global issues, such as abortion clinics and the like, but that his Town Council isn't likely delve into the scouting issue unless someone brings it up. There, Scouts are pretty much known for doing work on town parks, and "quite frankly, tackling projects that probably wouldn't get done."

 

 

 

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