Thursday, February 07, 2013

What should the National Council on Scouting do?

I was an Eagle scout, as were my brothers and my father.  I often think of the oath I took when I became a scout - "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."  It is a pretty good code to live by.

Yesterday the National Council of the Boy Scouts deferred a decision to allow local units of the scouts to decide on whether homosexuals should be allowed to be members or leaders of the organization.   They have come to that precipice because a number of national funders including Intel and UPS have said either change your ban or lose our support.

Back in 2000 the Supreme Court in a decision from New Jersey (Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, No. 99-699) came to a correct decision - that a private organization had the right to establish rules for membership.   What the court did not say is that in exercising that right there might not be consequences.  By holding to their current ban they may risk losing lots of funds - but more importantly they may be missing a more important issue.

The National Council debated a rule which would have upheld a principle of subsidiarity - allowing local councils to establish their own rules.  

The real question that the National Council should deal with is whether a leader or a scout can keep to the oath and still be gay.   When you put it in those terms the issue is almost laughable; of course they can.   So the real question that the National Council should debate in May is whether to allow local units of their organization to have slightly different rules for membership.

More than 70% of all scout units are formed in or around religious organizations.  Churches are good places for scout troops to form.   In some cases those religious ties are very deep and in others they are marginal.  We should be very careful about stepping on the religious beliefs of others.  At the same time those scouting councils that do not support the ban on gays should be free to act.   Perhaps that very act might encourage scout councils to discuss the effects of the ban - it certainly would help scouts and their leaders live up to the "mentally awake" part of the oath.

So let's assume for a moment that the National Council decides to take the step they discussed yesterday or to go a bit further and eliminate the ban entirely.   Whatever they decide they need to be aware that any youth organization, no matter what its rules, needs to train leaders on the issues of abuse - blanket restrictions are not good enough.  

There is a collateral organization in scouting called the Order of the Arrow. It is an honorary group attached to the scouts.   I was also a member of that.  One of the initiations that you did when you joined OA was spend a day in silence.   Remembering that day might be a good idea for both sides in this debate.  We need to be a bit more conversant with the rich variety of experience in the US and be ready to understand that as Madison argued in Federalist #10 - those differences in the fabric of the country actually strengthen it.

No comments: