Time to End Federal Support of Boy Scout Discrimination
Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta posted about the Re-affirmation of Boy Scout discrimination. This issue is well-known. The Humanist covered federal funding of the Boy Scouts back in 1995. Scouting For All has spent many years advocating for reform and Margaret Downey is a humanist activist who has brought suit against the Boy Scouts. James Turley, Boy Scout board member and Ernst & Young chief executive, publicly encouraged the Boy Scouts to open the ranks to gay youth. As Hemant reported, the Boy Scouts continue their discrimination.
Given the continuing discrimination, it bears repeating that this supposedly private organization discriminates with significant support from the US military:
The Boy Scouts of America holds a Congressional Charter while discriminating against atheists. The BSA ejects openly atheist members and leaders (alternate link), even those that have reached the highest ranks of the organization. All branches of the military issue an promotion (to E2 or E3) for Eagle Scouts, the highest Boy Scout rank. This constitutes discrimination in hiring by the military as well as government approval of the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policies. The values, community, and service so fundamental to the BSA would provide an even greater service to the nation if they would promote respect for all beliefs, including atheism. On 12 Jan 09, MAAF joined the American Humanist Association in asking President-elect Obama to reject the title of honorary president of the Boy Scouts – press release.
Many will claim that the Boy Scouts do good work, implying that the discrimination should be overlooked. Many say their own council does not discriminate, and it’s just a national issue. It’s time to move on and recognize that the Boy Scouts have lost the moral high ground in America.
The Boy Scouts claim the right to discriminate by virtue of their status as a private organization. Nonetheless, they enjoy special privileges from the Department of Defense, including funding, facilities, organization, advertising, and incentives in hiring for their Eagle Scouts. The BSA should reject public promotions if they wish to operate as a private organization. If they wish to be quasi-government youth development agency, then the federal government should require they abandon discrimination based on belief and sexual orientation.
Equal Opportunity regulations in the military explicitly prohibit support of organizations that discriminate. Yet there is a close collaboration between the military and the Scouts. Department of Defense Instruction 1015.9 directs the Secretary of the Army to the Executive Agent for all components of the DoD to promote scouting among military families as directed by the President:
4.1. The Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the United States of America are organizations chartered by the Federal Government. These organizations are recognized as important adjuncts to the overall requirements for accommodating
and supporting DoD personnel and their families assigned to overseas areas.
4.2. The President of the United States has determined that the Secretary of Defense’s cooperation with and assistance to qualified scouting organizations in establishing and providing facilities and services, within available resources, at locations outside the United States is necessary in the interest of the morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) of DoD personnel and their families.
The US Code authorizes the Secretary of Defense to lend supplies and equipment and transportation for Boy Scout events (so long as the Boy Scouts pays for any damage):
The Secretary of Defense is hereby authorized to lend such cots, blankets, commissary equipment, flags, refrigerators, and other equipment and without reimbursement, furnish services and expendable medical supplies, as may be necessary or useful … [and to provide] transportation from the United States or military commands overseas, and return [and to provide] personnel services and logistical support at the military installation
Eagle Scouts, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts, also gain automatic promotions upon entering the military. One grade for the Army, Air Force, and Marines, two grades for the Navy and Coast Guard. These promotions reward discrimination with higher pay and higher rank at a critical time during the early enlistment period in the military.
Maybe ethical leadership is women’s work
The option of creating a non-discriminatory scouting community is perfectly reasonable. The international scouting community is generally affirming of gay youth. Clearly BSA board member James Turley is looking for change. Many friends of mine who are associated with scouting claim that local Troops are more welcoming and that discrimination is a problem in certain areas and at national headquarters. They also point out that anti-gay juggernaut, the Mormon church, “sponsors more Scouts and Scouting units than any other organization in the US.” (according to the adulatory entry at mormonwiki.com). Cultural influence among scout leaders or fear of sponsor retaliation may also perpetuate discrimination within the Boy Scouts.
The Girl Scouts have been LGBT-affirming in recent years and have kept up the highest standards of ethics and respect. Maybe the Girl Scouts could provide a home for these affirming local Boy Scout Troops. The Girl Scouts (depending on the reading) have the same privileges as the Boy Scouts. This strong integration with and support from the US government is probably why the US, in contrast to other countries, has only one Boy Scout entity. The Girl Scouts could provide a new home for Boy Scout Troops and related national gatherings without the loss of federal funding. Clearly there are complicated details (badges, Troop makeup, GS Gold / Eagle Scout equivalence, etc), but having exactly one anti-gay Boy Scout organization is a US phenomenon. And would it be so crazy to have women to take the leadership role in these reforms?
Until such time as the scouting community resolves its discrimination issue (if it does), it is time for the President to rethink the marriage of scouting and the Department of Defense. The Scouts have a long history of discrimination against gays and atheists. As the military services develop their own programs to accommodate atheists and LGB service members, it only makes sense to rescind special privileges that the Boy Scouts enjoy. The values of the Boy Scouts have fallen too far out of line with the values of the military services and of America. The Boy Scouts can continue their private operations with their own resources or they may choose to reform and reapply for government support.