Commentary: A father and his son give back their Eagle Scout medals
Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 24, 2000
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Frank Edward Allen
Few public-service groups in our country enjoy the prestige of a federal charter. One of them is the Boy
Scouts of America. Earlier this month, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill ridiculed a few fellow lawmakers for
suggesting that the federal charter of the Boy Scouts should be revoked.
Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah called the suggestion "an attack on the fundamental values of America."
Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia said those who made the suggestion "truly ought to be ashamed." House Majority
Leader Dick Armey of Texas compared the idea to declaring "open season on the Boy Scouts."
Barr, whose adultery was made public last year, is hardly in a position to assign shame. Armey would seem
to argue that certain groups are above criticism and that a federal charter is forever. And Cannon would appear
to believe that discrimination is one of America's "fundamental values."
For three generations, scouting has been important in my family. Breaking such a strong bond, as I did
recently, is a painful act, but I had to do it. A few weeks ago, I surrendered my Eagle Scout medal and asked
for removal of my name from the Eagle Award Registry.
My father became an Eagle Scout during the Great Depression. Leadership and survival skills learned in
scouting saved his life several times as a Navy officer in the Pacific during World War II. In the 1950s, my dad
became a scoutmaster and my mom became a Cub Scout den mother. I became an Eagle Scout in 1962. My eldest son
became an Eagle Scout in 1993.
I have cherished the honor of being an Eagle. For nearly 40 years, my Eagle medal has had a prominent
perch at home, reminding me constantly of so many happy, profound, character-shaping experiences. For all that
time, the spirit represented by this medal has nourished my belief in unselfish
service to neighbors and strangers, to community and country. For all that time, I have considered scouting remarkably
effective in helping adolescent males become good men.
But now, scouting has lost its moral compass. Current leaders of the Boy Scouts of America pervert the
meaning of "morally straight" in the Scout Oath. They wrongly equate "morally straight" with
having a "straight" or heterosexual orientation. I reject this false equation and the official Boy Scout
policy of hostility toward men and boys who are gay. My own orientation is heterosexual. I am "straight,"
but I refuse to be narrow.
Like other Eagle Scouts, I have tried to become a citizen, in the best sense of that term. Decorated Navy
officer in the Vietnam era. Staff assistant in the Executive Office of the President in a time of crisis. Fourteen
years as a senior writer, an editor and a bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. Sunday school teacher, Little
League baseball and youth soccer coach, Scout troop adviser. Supporter of many other community-service and charitable
groups. Elected member of a local public school board. Mentor to troubled young people. Caregiver to a terminally
My eldest son, Zachary, is a citizen. When a fire destroyed our church, he helped restore it by designing
safe playground toys and then gathering a crew to build them. That effort was his Eagle Scout project. As a youth,
he also worked in soup kitchens, promoted a recycling network in his township and volunteered for organizations
that ease suffering among Amish children with rare genetic disorders and among adults from all backgrounds with
diseases that have no known cure. Zack graduated from high school with high honors. At Stanford University, he
held down several part-time jobs, helped bewildered young people strengthen their sense of self-worth and graduated
Phi Beta Kappa. Now he manages a growing organization in the nonprofit world.
Zack surrendered his Eagle Scout Award, too. He is gay, and he sees no place for discrimination or prejudice
among the ideals of the Boy Scouts of America. I stand up for him, now and always. He is a fine person, a man
of character and empathy. Character and empathy are what matter. Being gay or straight is not a measure of a
Nor is being gay a "choice" or a "preference" or a "lifestyle." Being gay
is an orientation. Like being left-brained or right-brained, right-handed or left-handed, being gay or straight
is a fundamental part of a human being's natural makeup. Does God favor only the right-handed or the left-brained?
Does God favor people with certain skin colors or hairlines while rejecting people who have others?
The Supreme Court of the United States upholds the legal right of the Boy Scouts of America to discriminate
on the basis of sexual orientation. But a legal right isn't always a moral imperative. The Supreme Court protects
the legal right of free speech for the Ku Klux Klan, but such protection does not constitute moral approval of
the KKK's hateful discrimination against
Catholics, Jews and blacks.
For almost a century, the Scout Law has inspired American boys and young men to develop good moral character.
The Scout Law declares that all Boy Scouts should be Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient,
Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent. But how does discrimination against boys and men who are gay uphold
the Scout Law? What is loyal or helpful or friendly or courteous or kind or brave about prejudice? How does the
teaching of discrimination and prejudice to boys and young men help them become trustworthy? How does it help
them develop a sense of fairness and justice?
Finally, how does the practice of discrimination and prejudice show reverence? Aren't all children God's
children? Didn't Jesus teach that we should love and respect our neighbors and treat them as we would want to
be treated? Would Jesus want to be a scoutmaster today?
Frank Edward Allen, of Missoula, Mont., heads the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources. He was
a reporter and editor for the Minneapolis Star in the late 1970s.