The Status Quo Just Changed

Published: June 10, 2015

By Jim Lichtman
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Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates

The Boy Scouts of America have merit badges for Camping, Pathfinding, Farm Mechanics, Dog Care, even Pulp and Paper. In 1951 they added Citizenship in the Nation followed by Citizenship in the Community, while ‘72 brought Citizenship in the World. In all, there are more than 100 opportunities for Scouts to learn and earn.

Surprisingly, there has never been a merit badge for Tolerance which seems strange considering how the Boy Scouts define “Kindness” in their own Handbook:

“We live in a world that has more than its share of anger, fear, and war. Extending kindness to those around you and having compassion for all people is a powerful antidote to the poisons of hatred and violence.”

On June 28, 2000, the United States Supreme Court held (BSA v. Dale) that the Boy Scouts of America could exclude homosexual boys and leaders from their organization based on their “constitutional right” to freedom of association.

Justice John Paul Stevens, supported by Justices Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer, wrote a dissent, stating that “every state law prohibiting discrimination is designed to replace prejudice with principle.”

Finally, someone within the Scouting organization understands what Stevens was talking about.

Former Secretary of Defense and current President of the Boy Scouts of America, Robert Gates “called on Thursday (May 21) to end the Scouts’ ban on gay adult leaders, warning the group’s executives that ‘we must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.”

“Speaking at the Boy Scouts’ annual national meeting in Atlanta,” The New York Times writes (May 22), “Mr. Gates said cascading events — including potential employment discrimination lawsuits and the impending Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, as well as mounting internal dissent over the exclusionary policy — had led him to conclude that the current rules ‘cannot be sustained.’

“If the Boy Scouts do not change on their own, he said, the courts are likely to force them to, and ‘we must all understand that this will probably happen sooner rather than later.’ …

“In his speech, Mr. Gates, who is also a former director of the C.I.A., evoked his experience as defense secretary. In that role, he helped end the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy — which was similar to the current Boy Scouts policy toward Scout leaders — and discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

“He recalled that in 2010, a federal judge declared the military policy to be illegal. ‘Only a stay granted by the appeals court — granted, I believe, mainly because we were in the process of changing the law — prevented dramatic disruption in the armed forces,’ he said Thursday.

“ ‘If we wait for the courts to act,’ he continued, ‘we could end up with a broad ruling that could forbid any kind of membership standard,’ such as the belief in a duty to God and the goal of specifically serving the needs of boys. …

“Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, a group that has campaigned for change, called Mr. Gates’s proposal ‘undeniably a step forward.’ ”

I wrote on this issue related to the firing of Boy Scout Executive Len Lanzi, in my own community for being gay, and spoke with several community leaders on the issue.

“This is about human dignity,” Dennis Peterson said. “I remember talking to my wife when I got home and realized I couldn’t be a part of this. This is a sham! How can we teach young men the things we try to teach them – about character and respect – and at the same time do this to another human being? It’s just wrong!

“What is troubling to me is that the Boy Scouts of America is the only scouting organization in the whole world that has this issue. It’s not Scouts of Canada. It’s not Scouts of England, or Scouts of Mexico, or anywhere else. Just the Boy Scouts of America, in a country that is supposed to stand for a higher form of tolerance than we’re showing here.

“It’s education. I think about my own transformation from the time I was a Lieutenant in the Marine Corps – gays were the worst thing ever! My roommate in Basics school was gay. He was a fine Marine, a fine man, and a great guy.

“Look, these are human rights issues. It’s not about alleged ‘lifestyle’ choices. We are what we are, and we have to deal with people as we take them, and it’s nobody’s business to go around and change them.”

At that Thursday meeting, Gates made clear: “I am not asking the national board for any action to change our current policy at this meeting. But I must speak as plainly and bluntly to you as I spoke to presidents when I was director of C.I.A. and secretary of defense.

‘We must deal with the world as it is,’ he said, ‘not as we might wish it to be.’ ”

Hopefully, The Boy Scouts of America will act sooner rather than later.

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