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The Boy Scouts: Teaching the Values of Bigotry

Copyright © 1998-2005, 2012 by David E. Ross

Boy Scout director charged with having child porn

DALLAS, Texas — The national director of programs for the Boy Scouts of America has been charged with receiving and distributing child pornography, the U.S. Attorney's office here told NBC News on Tuesday. Douglas S. Smith Jr. was charged with one felony count of having photos that show "minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct."

NBC News
March 29, 2005

The leaders of the Boy Scouts of America — who so vigorously defend their exclusion of gays and atheists as being unfit and immoral — are themselves not so clean.

In two cases, the California Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts are exempt from state laws prohibiting discrimination in dealing with the public. According to the ruling, the Boy Scouts are a private organization that is permitted to exclude atheists and gays. "The Boy Scouts is an expressive social organization whose primary function is the inculcation of values in its young members," wrote Chief Justice Ronald M. George in the Court's unanimous decision. It appears that the justices support the values of bigotry against those who do not share the majority's religious beliefs and against those in whom either God or Nature has planted affection and attraction for others of the same gender. Safe Space: Select this symbol to learn about its significance.

The Boy Scouts successfully argued before the Court that their religious principles make atheism and homosexuality incompatible with scouting. Using that argument, the Boy Scouts should now be required to pay full, fair-market rent whenever they use public schools or libraries for their meetings, just as is already required for any religious organization. Further, as a private organization, they should no longer have the tax-exempt status enjoyed by public-benefit non-profits. That is, donations to the Boy Scouts should no longer be deductible as charitable contributions.

No, the Boy Scouts cannot be both a public and private organization at the same time. And the taxpayers — which include atheists and gays — should not subsidize the Boy Scouts while they continue to practice their prejudices.

The Court's decision strongly indicates that elections are on the justices' minds. A majority of the justices face reconfirmation by the voters this year.


A very similar case is in the courts in New Jersey. I hope they have a better understanding of what obligations a public-benefit organization owes all the public.

23-24 March 1998


The Boy Scouts sponsor "Religion and Life" awards issued by various religious denominations to scouts. Although not merit badges, these awards can be worn on uniforms to designate proficiency in the tenets of a scout's faith. Now, the Boy Scouts have banned the Unitarian Universalists — a denomination founded in pre-Revolutionary America based on Puritan teachings — from participating in "Religion and Life" badges because that church's teachings about homosexuality are contrary to Boy Scout policies. The Unitarian response includes the accurate accusation that the Boy Scouts are trying to dictate religious dogma onto an independent denomination.

Where does this leave Jewish scouts? A majority of Jews in the United States belong to (or at least identify with) Reform Judaism. Both the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ, the lay organization of Reform Judaism) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR, the ordained organization) have adopted formal resolutions endorsing civil rights for gays and lesbians, including same-gender civil marriages; the rabbis have even adopted a resolution recognizing same-gender religious wedding ceremonies. Does this mean that Reform Jewish temples cannot present "Religion and Life" awards to Jewish scouts? Will the Boy Scouts try to dictate Jewish teachings?

Resolutions of the URJ: Resolutions of the CCAR:

Obviously, the Unitarians are not alone in their support of their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Equally obvious is the fact that the Boy Scouts have become defenders of a narrow, conservative sectarianism. Rather than embracing young men of all faiths, the Boy Scouts have decided to become an agency of the Christian Coalition.

1 August 1998
Updated 15 October 2000


Just this past week (almost a year and a half after I mentioned it), the New Jersey Supreme Court finally issued its ruling. Unlike California (where the lawsuit against the Boy Scouts was based on an anti-discrimination law that applies to businesses), New Jersey's anti-discrimination law applies to all public accommodations. Thus, the California ruling — in which the Boy Scouts were judged not to be a business — did not apply; neither did rulings in Oregon, Kansas and Connecticut that were similar to California's.

Instead, a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts are clearly a public accommodation through their broad outreach for new members. The same New Jersey ruling held that the Boy Scouts engaged in illegal discrimination by terminating an assistant scout leader whom they discovered to be gay. No, this scout leader was never accused of doing anything improper with any of the scouts. He was terminated merely because of a characteristic that might be innate (like eye color or height) or might be chosen (like religion or political affiliation) and not because of any misdeed.

Lawyers arguing on behalf of the Boy Scouts stated that the group has been requiring members to be "morally straight" since its founding and that homosexuality violated that principle. As I point out above regarding the Unitarian Universalist Church and Reform Judaism, some organized religions believe that morality includes non-discrimination against gays, that the sin of homophobia is worse than homosexuality. Just as with their position regarding atheism, the Boy Scouts' seem more and more like a sectarian religion and not at all like an organization open to all boys who are trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, or kind. Indeed, the leadership of the Boy Scouts are very unfriendly and unkind to some very moral boys.

In their appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court against the decision of the New Jersey State Supreme Court regarding gays, the Boy Scouts now argue that they are a private organization that can set its own moral codes for those who join. On the other hand, when the Boy Scouts want reduced or waived fees for using public facilities for their meetings and events, they claim to be a public organization. Also, contributions to private organizations cannot be itemized on tax returns as charitable donations; but the Boy Scouts claim that donations to them are indeed deductible. Obviously, whether they are private or public clearly depends on which will benefit them as an organization, not which will benefit the youths they are supposed to serve.

Similarly, the Boy Scouts justify their exclusion of atheists by citing their oath, which requires a religious duty to God. They claim exemption from laws that prohibit discrimination based on religion by asserting their religious freedom under the Constitution. Effectively, when the Boy Scouts exclude atheists, they claim to be a religious organization. But in California, where religious organizations are required to pay rent at full commercial rates when they use public school facilities, the Boy Scouts deny any religious orientation for their organization. This hypocrisy — public or private and religious or non-sectarian — teaches a very vivid lesson to the boys and young men served by the Boy Scouts.

What is worse than hypocrisy is the blatant verbal gay bashing engaged by the Boy Scouts in the court room of the U. S. Supreme Court. They argued that the Scout oath requires members to be "morally straight" and the Scout law requires members to be "clean", both of which exclude gays from scouting. Obviously, the Boy Scouts assert that gays are inherently immoral and dirty. The immoral dirt is on the hands of those bigoted Boy Scout officials who are pursuing this Supreme Court appeal.

8 August 1999
Updated 17 January 2000


The issue of gay scouts apparently ends at the United States' northern border. According to a news article in the Los Angeles Times, a gay Boy Scout troop was recently chartered in Toronto, Canada. The only outcry was from a fringe group that — being based in the United States — is foreign to Canada.

20 November 1999


Be careful of what you wish; you might get it.

The U. S. Supreme Court bought the Scout's argument that they are a private organization that has the right to choose its own membership. In less than a week, demands are growing that the Scouts be treated as any other private organization, ending the special privileges that belong to public organizations, including free use of public facilities and the ability of donors to deduct contributions to the Scouts.

1 July 2000


Already the fallout begins. According to WCVB-TV, the Massachusetts Bay United Way might eliminate financial support of Boston-area Boy Scouts. The feeling among United Way officials is that a private organization that benefits primarily its own members chosen through discriminatory criteria is an inappropriate recipient of funds from a public charity.

22 July 2000


On the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Rabbi Steven Foster of Temple Emanuel (Denver) gave a Yom Kippur sermon in which he not only criticized the exclusionary membership policies of the Boy Scouts but also announced that the Scouts were no longer welcome to use the facilities of Temple Emanuel. Rabbi Foster merely reflects the official position of Reform Judaism that gays and lesbians should have the same rights enjoyed by other citizens.

Grasping at a straw, Tom Fitzgibbons (chief executive of the Denver Area Council of Boy Scouts) countered that he (a Methodist) was told that he could not join the Temple Emanuel men's club. Fitzgibbons fails to recognize that Temple Emanuel is a religious organization that is allowed to restrict membership to believers in its own faith. The Boy Scouts has not yet claimed to be a religious organization. If they were, many jurisdictions (including all of California) would require them to pay full market rent when they use public facilities. [Source: AP/Yahoo, 11 October 2000]

15 October 2000


The U.S. Supreme Court did not rule that the Boy Scouts do not discriminate. Instead, the Supreme Court merely ruled that the Boy Scouts are a private organization that is allowed to discriminate. Nothing in the ruling requires individuals or other organizations to accept the Boy Scouts' bigotry or to associate with the Scouts. Indeed, a number of charities — including the United Way in some areas — have stopped their financial support of the Boy Scouts because those charities' own rules prohibit support of discrimination.

*** Begin Right Sidebar ***

Connecticut removed the Boy Scouts from its list of eligible recipients of contributions made by state employees through payroll withholding. The state claimed that allowing such contributions through the state's payroll system would effectively mean state support of the Scouts' discriminatory practices, contrary to state law. The Boy Scouts sued Connecticut, claiming that the state was interfering in the internal rules applied by the Scouts for membership and employment, rules that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously upheld.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal by the Boy Scouts against lower court rulings in favor of Connecticut. Effectively, the Supreme Court made clear that — while the Boy Scouts may indeed discriminate — no one has to help them.

8 March 2004

*** End Right Sidebar ***

While the Supreme Court blocked civil and criminal actions against the Boy Scouts under state and local anti-discrimination laws, governments are still free to treat the Scouts as the private organization they claim to be and to stop providing services and facilities that had been available to the Boy Scouts when everyone assumed they were a public, charitable organization. Thus, the City Council in Los Angeles (the nation's second largest city) recently moved to sever all relationships with the Boy Scouts, terminating its Police Explorer program and ending rent-free use by the Scouts of city parks and community centers. While the city cannot stop the Scouts from discriminating, the City Council decided that they did not have to provide support for such bigotry.

In the meantime, Rabbi Paul Menitoff (executive vice-president of the CCAR) wrote a commentary in the Winter 2000 issue of Reform Judaism, presenting the Jewish imperative for a boycott against the Boy Scouts because of their anti-gay policies. Rabbi Menitoff makes a key point when he states: "In reality, we are each created in the image of God. It is no badge of honor to be heterosexual and it is no sin to be homosexual, just as it is no honor to be White and no sin to be Black. It is simply who we are."

Heeding Rabbi Minotoff's comments, the Joint Commission on Social Action of the CCAR and URJ issued a statement declaring that " … every individual — regardless of his or her sexual orientation — is created in the image of God and is deserving of equal treatment." Since that belief — supported by various policies of both the CCAR and URJ and by rabbinical teaching — is contrary to the position of the Boy Scouts of America, the Joint Commission advised Reform Jewish congregations to sever all ties with the Boy Scouts and suggested that members of those congregations withdraw their sons from scouting and refrain from contributing to the Boy Scouts.

The Joint Commission's statement mentions Scouting for All, an organization dedicated not to destroying Boy Scouts of America but to opening scouting to all boys.

2 December 2000


I Get Messages

Someone actually read this commentary! He even sent me E-mail. However, he defends the Boy Scouts and their biases. I reproduce his message below, with my own comments in Italics.

From: Scott@xxx.com
Subject: boy scouts
To: rossde@acm.org
Date: Thu, 7 Jun 2001 17:13:11 -0500

I recently read your article on this issue with gay Scoutmasters. I couldn't disagree more with you.

Being an Eagle Scout myself, I am even more proud now to be a part of Scouting. It has shown a strong tie to moral values and hasn't caved to the liberal, extremist movement. The Scouts are a highly respected organization that does a great deal of good for the country and young men alike.

The Scouts are teaching bigotry — by setting an example — not merely against gays but also against atheists and even Unitarians. This is not good for our country, where freedom of religion is a right and freedom to be different is a tradition.

In an age when people are more concerned with their rights than with their responsibilities, the Scouts have made the right decision by banning gay Scoutmasters. Gay men are not a good role model for young boys. Think about that for a minute. Do you honestly think that young boys should be taught that being gay is ok or the right thing to do??

Ask any loving parent of a gay child or someone with a close friend who is gay. They will tell you that it is indeed okay to be gay and that, for the child or friend, it is definitely the right thing to do — to be yourself.

Now I realize that not all gay men that want to be Scout leaders have that motive, but there are ones that do. So, in order to weed them out, banning all of them is the right thing to do.

You cannot characterize an entire class of persons according to what some of them do. Some Italians are Mafia leaders, but that is no excuse to discriminate against all Italians. Some Jews have committed crimes but that does not justify anti-Semitism.

Why is it that some people out there think that people have to accept everyone and everything that they do and not say "no" to some things and not accept some people? We need to have standards in what we do, yes standards…something that liberals are surely going to disagree with.

I definitely believe in standards, but my standards demand tolerance for innate differences that may be congenital and are not at all chosen. If a gay person does no personal harm to you, yes, you should indeed accept him or her as an individual no less worthy to participate in our society than you.

Furthermore, if the United Way and other organizations feel that they shouldn't fund the BSA anymore, that could be a fatal mistake on their part. Many people that donate to the United Way do so knowing that their money will go to benefit Scouting. If the United Way ceases to fund the BSA, then people would cease to fund the United Way. That is a fact.

When I donated to the United Way in the past, I never thought of targeting my donation to the Scouts. The United Way serves so many different organizations that the Scouts are a very small part of United Way beneficiaries. Let those who still support the Boy Scouts donate directly to them. Many other worthy causes would suffer from reduced donations if the United Way continued to fund the Scouts and lost donations through that support.

Care to respond to my email???

I did, very much in the way I comment above.

Scott's real issue is that the Boy Scouts should enforce a morality based on a religious dogma that condemns homosexuality. As noted elsewhere on this page, however, not all religions share that dogma.


Hypocrisy Triumphs

First, the Boy Scouts convinced the California Supreme Court that they are a religious organization and thus can discriminate against atheists. Then, they convinced the U.S. Supreme Court that they are a private organization and thus can discriminate against gays.

Now, they have convinced both houses of Congress that they are a public organization. In passing the education reform bill, both the House of Representatives and the Senate included clauses that mandate public schools to give to the Boy Scouts the same access to taxpayer funded facilities as the school give to any public organization, without regard for state and local laws prohibiting the use of public facilities by private or religious organizations and overriding any laws prohibiting anti-gay discrimination.

The U.S. Supreme Court, when it ruled that the Boy Scouts could discriminate against gays, did not rule that anyone else had to help them discriminate. Congress now directs the taxpayers — through their public schools — to support that discrimination, even in communities where a majority of the voters feel such discrimination is wrong.

17 June 2001


Scout emblem in a red circle with a red diagonal bar

Echoing Rabbi Forster's 2000 Yom Kippur sermon, Rabbi Alan Greenbaum of Temple Adat Elohim (Thousand Oaks, CA) gave a sermon on Yom Kippur evening 2001 in which he declared that no "little bit of bigotry" — no matter how small — can be acceptable to Reform Jews. "And as for the Scout Law — when an organization discriminates against gays, it is neither trustworthy, nor is it helpful. It is not friendly, nor is it courteous. And most definitely, it is not kind." Rabbi Greenbaum denounced the Boy Scouts of America for their treatment of gays, a policy that betrays their own code of conduct.

*** Begin Right Sidebar ***

Reversing its principled stand, the Ventura County United Way decided to resume funding the Ventura County Council of Boy Scouts. Instead of funding only agencies that do not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin or disability, the United Way will now fund agencies that accept employees or volunteers "without unlawfully discriminating on the basis of any characteristic protected by state or federal law." Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the discriminatory practices of the Boy Scouts are indeed protected by the Constitution, they now qualify for funding from the Ventura County United Way under the latter's new criteria.

In other words, the Ventura County United Way yielded to the pressures of lawsuits and inflammatory newspaper ads placed by supporters of the Boy Scouts. Shame!

25 September 2004

*** End Right Sidebar ***

In the same county as Rabbi Greenbaum's congregation, the Ventura County Council of Boy Scouts found that the offer of a $1,000,000 trust fund from a retired couple was suddenly withdrawn in 2001 when the wife could not accept the Scout's exclusionary policies. For an organization whose total annual operating budget was $1,600,000, that gift would have provided opportunities that could have been truly golden. Instead, the money was donated to two east coast universities. In 2002, the Ventura County United Way board voted to deny funding to any organization that discriminates against gays.

This year, Dennis Weinberg (an executive at WellPoint Health Networks) sued the Ventura County United Way because they would not fund the Boy Scouts. Weinberg's complaint is that money donated through the charitable payroll-withholding plan at WellPoint was collected by the United Way under false pretenses. The CEO of WellPoint insists the company itself is definitely not a party to Weinberg's lawsuit.

In the meantime, the Ventura County United Way continues to fund the Girl Scouts, who do not discriminate.

5 December 2003


People do read this page. Then they send me E-mail.

Date: Tue, 31 Aug 2004 13:11:44 +0100 (BST)
From: Demetris <xxx@yahoo.com>
Subject: boy scouts
To: david@rossde.com

About the page you dedicate on
 "The Boy Scouts: Teaching the Values of Bigotry"

As I am a scout my self, not in the US though, I know that gays are not excluded by the scout law. If you think the BSA is excluding gays, then you should take it to the World Organization of the Scout Movement (http://www.scout.org/) and have them banned from the movement.

I am not a scout. I wrote this page because the exclusionary policies of the Boy Scouts of America — not only against gays but also against atheists — offends me. Demetris's suggestion would be more effective if undertaken by someone who is a scout and is equally offended.

1 July 2004


Lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America about scout leaders who sexually molested scouts in various states revealed that the Boy Scouts of America knew of such criminal activity for decades but covered it up and even attacked victims who went public. To a large extent, Boy Scouts of America is quite similar to the Roman Catholic Church.

29 December 2012


I'm not gay. Why do I care if the Scouts discriminate against gays?


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