In 2000, in the case of Boy Scouts of America et al v Dale, the US Supreme Court upheld the the constitutional right to freedom of association as a private organization of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). This right allows the BSA and organisations like it, to exclude a person from membership when “the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate (its) public or private viewpoints.” In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the BSA has the right not to allow homosexuals as adult leaders, since homosexuality is opposed to the BSA’s “expressive message.”
In July 2012, the BSA Board of Directors reaffirmed this policy.
In January, however, the BSA announced that it was “discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation.” Reportedly, the loss in recent months of financial support from major corporate donors, including UPS, Intel, Merck and United Way — whose own policies bar discrimination based on sexual orientation — has been a major factor in BSA’s announcing that it was revisiting this issue.
The anticipated February decision by the BSA was postponed until May, allowing further consideration by the BSA leadership.
The historical banning of practicing “homosexuals” – male or female – from being scout leaders is rooted in the BSA Oath, Law and mission. The Boy Scout Oath says: “On my honor, I will do my best, To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
A scout website explains the meaning of these memorable phrases. Duty to God and country means that “Your family and religious leaders teach you to know and serve God. By following these teachings, you do your duty to God.” Morally straight means “to live your life with honesty, to be clean in your speech and actions, and to be a person of strong character”.
Not only that. The Boy Scout Law says that a scout is “Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.” The traditional explanation is that “clean” means that a “Scout keeps his body and mind fit and clean. He chooses the company of those who live by high standards.”
The mission of the BSA is to help boys mature into young men of virtue, of good character. Scouts are asked to pledge that they will strive to become so. Good character includes growing in the virtue of sexual purity or chastity, which is sexual self-control in the service of genuine love for one’s neighbors and oneself.
Parents, educators, coaches and all who work with young people know that virtue is “caught” as much as it is “taught.” Adults teach virtue to youth as much or more by good example, as by any amount of talk. The BSA has recognized that their scout leaders need to be strong role models of sexual virtue, expecting and requiring that any and all men or women – heterosexual as well as homosexual – who are scout leaders are themselves “doing their best” to be live sexually chaste lives.
As the 2000 Supreme Court decision upheld, the BSA is within its rights to assert that it teaches that “homosexual conduct is not morally straight,” and that it does “not want to promote homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior.” As such, the BSA is within its rights to decline to admit as leaders of scouts, persons whose actions and words, if not lifestyles, objectively teach moral values which the BSA does not uphold.
In effect, if the Scouts are to be consistent with expecting their leaders to be as “morally straight” as the Scouts themselves, then admitting a “gay”, ie, a self-identified and practicing homosexual man, or a “lesbian”, meaning a self-identified and practicing homosexual woman, as leaders is as unthinkable as allowing men or women with overtly unchaste heterosexual lifestyles to be leaders.
A separate, yet not insignificant, issue is the potential for sexual abuse which may occur if men who practice and/or promote homosexual behavior were admitted as scout leaders. Clearly, scientific and media reports have documented that some boys have suffered from the behavior of homosexual men.
Whether the abusers were Catholic and Protestant clergy, educators, foster parents, or others in a position of service to and authority over children and adolescents, there is some risk*.
Websites such as AVERT, which alert “sexual tourists” to the legal age at which boys may legally consent to adults engaging in homosexual behavior with them, offer yet another reason to question the wisdom of allowing our boys to be at risk for homosexual predation. Clearly some persons who engage in homosexual behavior seek opportunities to do so with teenage boys. While the magnitude of the risk is unclear, it is reasonable to assume that some boys who would be under the care of “gay” scout leaders would be at significant risk for being sexually abused.
At this time, the courageous stand of the Boy Scouts to insist that all of their leaders practice the moral virtue which the Scouts preach, is worthy of the support of all persons who seek the truth and are of good will. The potential for exposing scouts to the scandal of normalizing homosexual behavior, as well as the risk of homosexual abuse, requires that we publicly support the BSA in standing up to the cultural bullies who prioritize promoting sexual license over the best interests of our children.
Dr Philip Sutton is a licensed psychologist, therapist and counselor based in Indiana and Michigan in the US. He is also Editor of the Journal of Human Sexuality, a peer-reviewed scholarly publication of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). He is an Eagle Scout.
* Fitzgibbons, R & O’Leary, D. (2011). Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Clergy. The Linacre Quarterly, 78(3): 252–273.