With no shortage of chest thumping, the Boy Scouts of America recently announced it has amended its longstanding policy of banning gay members. But the policy change applies only to the scouts, not to scoutmasters and other adult leaders and administrators. Undoubtedly the decision to modify the general ban was brought about by the recent outpouring of criticism by parents, scouts, former scouts and the public.
The decision to retain the ban on adult leaders is consistent with the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the matter of James Dale, a highly decorated Eagle Scout who was dismissed as an assistant scoutmaster when it was disclosed that he was a homosexual. The New Jersey Supreme Court had held the dismissal violated state law and policy regarding discrimination. The U.S. high court reversed in a 5-4 decision, holding that the state court ruling violated the BSA’s constitutional right of expressive association of a private organization. Last year, the BSA announced that after, a two-year review of the issue, it had reaffirmed its general ban. This again was the subject of extensive criticism.
Clearly, the BSA’s recent adjustment of the ban lies in the hope that it will quiet its critics while it continues to enjoy its tax-exempt status and government support. It seems highly unlikely that this partial recantation will eliminate the criticism. It is the scoutmasters and other adult leaders who direct the scouts’ activities and purport to teach them the appropriate attitudes to adopt with respect to their relationships with others. The hypocrisy of having different standards of association for boy scouts and their leaders will be obvious to the scouts, their families and the public. The BSA should not offer this meaningless half loaf but should eliminate discrimination in their ranks from the top down.
Board members Joseph Buckley, James Hirschhorn and Peter Verniero recused from this editorial.