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Unworthy of the Title Eagle Scout?

Well this may not make me any friends…

When we say to people, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t have one,” we cannot turn around and say the Boy Scouts MUST award Ryan Andresen his Eagle Scout Medal. The common phrase could actually be tuned around to say, “If you don’t like the policies of the Boy Scouts, don’t become one.” [If you are already upset, please keep reading.]

I personally won’t join a club that excludes black people, women or homosexuals, but the law gives private organizations the right to exclude people based on these and plenty of other criteria. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see the Boy Scouts overturn their policy, but if we truly believe in liberty and justice for all then we have to allow groups like this to exist no matter how much we disagree. Why, you ask? Why don’t we just make a law that mandates that everyone love accept each other?  Sadly, my lovelies, that may sound great but it really isn’t. #1. Outward rules don’t change hearts. Love does. The Holy Spirit does. And #2. If we start denying rights to private groups your group may be next and whoever is in power can make you do that which is against your conscience.

Does that mean people shouldn’t speak up if they disagree? Of course not. In fact, the site Eagle Scouts Returning Our Badges (thanks Alise Wright) features the letters of men who have earned the rank of Eagle Scout who have returned their badges and medals in protest of the policy in question. These letters are amazing and you owe it to yourself to check them out. In the mean time here is a small excerpt from a letter by Kyle Tiemeier:

I cannot bear to support an organization that endorses such profound intolerance and discrimination. The very values the Boy Scouts of America helped me develop—integrity, service and commitment to my fellow man—are what lead me to be ashamed of my affiliation now. You will find my Eagle Badge enclosed in this letter.

I sincerely hope the Boy Scouts of America will reconsider its policy toward homosexual members. I look forward to the day when I can once again be proud to be an Eagle Scout. When I have my own boys, I hope they will have an opportunity to be part of the inclusive, tolerant organization that I know the Boy Scouts of America can become.

I was also moved by this one by Dr. Erik Melchiorre

The Boy Scouts of America still discriminates against atheists, women, and gay men and boys. Even the US Army has moved beyond this level of discrimination for each of these groups. These are not the scouting values I grew up with, and I don’t want to be associated with bigots.

Returning my Eagle Medal and writing this letter was not any easy thing. I have agonized over this decision with my wife and daughters for several months now. The problem is that when I was a scout in the San Francisco Bay Area, in a troop of scouts of European, African, Sikh, Japanese, and Chinese ancestry; with fellow scouts whom we knew were gay and others who were atheists; with women helping in leadership roles; this was the “big tent” of scouting as I knew it. Originally, I felt that returning my Eagle would dishonor the memory of this unique experience that made all of us such good men. But now, I realize that it is the Boy Scouts of America who dishonor this memory.

I admire these men for taking a stand on this issue coming from inside the ranks. As Alanis Morissette asked, “Isn’t ironic, doncha think?”  These men are standing up to their own organization based on the values taught to them by the very same organization.

I will say this, Ryan Andreson’s Eagle Scout project was worth doing even if his award from the Boy Scouts never comes. It is a “tolerance wall” which he built to deter bullying in school. The wall features tiles painted by elementary school students. You can see a picture of it here.

I do understand and support the legal right of the Boy Scouts of America to deny this young man the rank of Eagle Scout; however I pray that they will be motivated to extend the love of God (whom they wish to honor)  to all and not to exclude others based on their perceived unworthiness. God says that humanity is worth everything, not just all of us, but EACH OF US.

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12 responses »

  1. In Europe, we have gone the legal route. The European Convention on Human Rights prohibits discrimination on grounds of “sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status”. I am glad that my peculiarity is a “protected characteristic” under English Law.

    So even a private club cannot exclude women.

    I think this makes ours a fairer society. People come to see that the diversity promoted by the law is a good thing. There is no more freedom to exclude openly gay people, and so punish them for being open, than to hit someone in the face: because both actions are equally hurtful.

    Reply
    • Hmm, it would seem the Scouting Association in the UK is in violation, as they still refuse atheists in leadership positions:
      “Note: With reference to religious belief, the avowed absence of religious belief is a bar to appointment to a Leadership position.”

      Reply
  2. As a gay dad of two boys, I have to say that I think this particular blog post of yours comes from a very limited and narrow perspective. We are not talking about adults making choices to be within a group that does not want them, we are talking about children, principles and a public institution whether or not its legal foundation is “private” or not.

    You can well argue that the boy scouts have a LEGAL right to discriminate. I am not sure I agree as country clubs are no longer allowed to bar jews or african americans and to follow your logic they should. But, even if I concede your point, that is as far as it goes. The Boy Scouts can discriminate legally. They won’t get thrown in jail and they won’t be shut down. Yipee.

    That does not make their policy defensible. They are hypocritical to their principles. They do outright harm to gay youth. Their bigotry is morally indefensible. I am glad you see Ryan Anderson’s eagle award worth doing…for you. You are not Ryan Anderson and the only one who can make that call is Ryan Anderson. He has every right to feel morally outraged to be denied a title that by principle he earned. They can legally deny him, but that does not make it right on any other scale.

    For an organization to take and impressionable young man and say…accomplish these things and we will designate you with this rank of honor…oh, wait, now that we see who you are, you are not worthy…. is nothing short of evil. Legal evil, but evil.

    You started your article saying that the prevailing argument for gay marriage is “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t have one” and if that is so for you, fine. For me the prevailing argument for marriage equality are the principles of equality and fairness. Those principles are not evident in the Boy Scouts bigotry, and I am not willing to give up my principles even though your article seems to indicate that you are.

    So, I will teach my sons that principles are important, and that the Boy Scouts are flawed and despicable. In our case, my boys would be welcome to join, but I would be barred from leading them. Sorry, I cannot eek out any warm fuzzy over that or your perspective.

    Reply
    • Rob,
      First, forgive me as I have clearly not communicated my heart to you in the way I intended.
      I will try to do better.
      I agree with you. It is indefensible to me as well.
      I never said that “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t have one” was the prevailing argument for gay marriage. I said it was a common one. I once again agree with you that the prevailing argument for marriage equality are the principles of equality and fairness. I have written many other posts on this subject saying exactly that.
      I also agree with you that Ryan has every right to be morally outraged. And I think what he is fighting for is a fight worth having. I am pretty sure I made that clear by backing the former scouts who have also come out against the organization for going against the principles they purport to espouse.
      I do believe the organization needs to change. I do believe people should continue to speak up and encourage that change.
      I am disgusted that clubs and organizations exist that choose to exclude people based on any of the factors you listed. As far as the laws regarding private clubs they are still allowed to discriminate if they meet the definition of a truly “private club”. http://law.freeadvice.com/government_law/civil_rights_law_ada/private_discriminate_religious.htm
      I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it. And I don’t support it.
      I do support you and your right to marry whom you choose.
      I do support your right to be able to live your life without fear.
      I do support a society in which your sons are treated no differently than my son and daughter.
      I do support a society where you are treated as equal in every way.
      But I also support the rule of law, and in the United States, if that means I want freedom to speak freely, stand up for what I believe in, and speak out for your rights and mine…then allowing these groups to exist as long as they are not breaking some other law is a necessary evil.

      If you would like to know more about what I really believe, you can see all my posts that have supported the above statements here:
      http://wordofawoman.com/category/homosexuality/

      I hope that you will give me a chance and read some of the posts listed there. I look forward to your feedback, I have a feeling I can learn a lot from you.

      Reply
      • Michelle,

        I have read all (I think) of your posts on homosexuality with great interest and (as a gay man) gratitude. So I know that you are sincere when you say that you whole heartedly object to the Boy Scouts of America’s position on this. However, on this occasion I couldn’t agree more with Rob.

        I’m British and have never been to the States so I don’t know your constitution and laws as well as you do. However, would you accept this kind of discrimination as legal if it were blacks or women? Maybe that’s legal in the USA but I’m grateful that since the Equality Act 2010 was introduced in the UK, it is now illegal for the Scout Assoc. UK to do the same here in the birthplace of Scouting. You’re right, law does not make people change their views but it can and frequently does alter the views of people as to what is socially acceptable. It also protects people from being discriminated against by the irrational attitudes of others, that is what discrimination laws are for.

        Rob rightly points out that this particular situation concerns shaping the views of children and young people (i.e. the vulnerable). And not just about how they see others but about how they see themselves at a time when they are going through one of (if not the) biggest identity crisises of their lives. I know who I am and I’ve wasted years of my life and endured a lot of pain to be OK enough with that to get on and start living my life. But over 20 years ago when I became a cub scout (age 8-11s) and then went on to become Scout, I didn’t know I was gay and I certainly didn’t have the security in myself and freedom that comes with being an adult, to walk away from something that had become part of my identity because that organisation didn’t want me for who I really was.

        Who needs protecting here? The adults who run these groups or the vulnerable young people who they invite to attend them? I shouldn’t have had to waste any time or endure any pain in order to get to the stage which my piers arrived at without even noticing and neither should that 17 year old boy. So the argument that it is in order to protect your constitutional rights really isn’t a good enough one from where I’m sitting. I also wonder if it were child who had been rejected from such a well established and respected group for being braver than many people have to be their entire lives, whether you would still be of the same opinion.

      • Paul,
        I am getting ready to leave the house but will be sure to read and reply to your comments as soon as I can.
        Thank you for your feedback. I appreciate and value your perspective.
        m

      • Thanks. Please understand that I’m still a big fan and have a lot of respect for you. It’s just that on this I disagree.

        P.S. On the 2nd para: to clarify on laws, I meant that in time laws can prevent people from keeping the views of others (usually the next generation) the same, by allowing social change to allow others to experience situations that enlighten them.

  3. Oh…don’t get me wrong, I have read your blog for a while and ADORE you. (So please take my feedback on this in that light…). If you want to see where I am coming from, you can find my blogs here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-watson/ and on evolequals.com .
    On the boy scouts, there was a blog on huffington post today that summed up the issue for me: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/geoffrey-r-stone/the-boy-scouts-gays-and-p_b_1941576.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices .
    Don’t worry… I am a fan… still am…. but even friends gotta squabble at times..right?

    Reply
  4. Well, the quick answer to everyone’s question is that, yes, laws are different here in America. Private groups are allowed to discriminate based on gender, skin color, etc. The Ku Klux Klan is still a legal organization here. Not that I like that, but that is the way it is. We honor people’s right to have any opinion they want, even if it is deplorable and as long as they keep it private if it goes against societal laws. Remember – it was the way the British handled public laws vs. private beliefs that partly led to the whole Revolution in the first place :) I have in-laws from London and have heard quite a bit about this difference in beliefs. But there is really no way to explain it someone who wasn’t raised in the US. It’s not a question of “who do we protect more – kids or adults”. It is a stance of “we try to respect everyone’s beliefs no matter what age.” And yes, we fail at it all the time. But in all honesty, the Equality Act 2010 hasn’t been completely loved by everyone in England, even by those that it seeks to protect.

    How far do you go to protect a child while they are forming their identity? Do you know how much hateful language they will run into at public school? Its a huge problem in the UK as well as the US – I have read the studies. Nothing that the Boy Scouts would do could come close to that. What about what they hear at home? Studies show that in most cases, children will be more influenced by what they learn at home than anywhere else, no matter how influential the group is that they attend outside the home (be it church, Boy Scouts, soccer club or whatever). So are we going to regulate the Boy Scouts and then let them hear whatever at home? It is a hard matter to say for sure either way. Americans err on the side of freedom of speech, where as UK tends to err on the side of freedom from discrimination. I can’t say which ones are right or wrong – because I know for a fact having Indian relatives in London that the Equality Act 2010 has been way misused in cases.

    The problem with the Boy scouts is that they have grown so large that they really shouldn’t be considered a private group. If they still want to operate as a private religious group, then they need to scale back their recruiting efforts and stop meeting so often in public arenas.

    What is also really crazy is that there are several Boy Scout-like groups that have been started by particular church denominations because they think that the Boy Scouts are too liberal. The Royal Rangers being one that comes to mind.

    Reply
    • I agree that the Equality Act has been misused. There will always be people who seek to abuse the rights afforded to them by the law. I also agree that the right to freedom of speech v freedom from discrimination is not a simple choice and the problem again is that both are subject to abuse. I too don’t think that one is infinitely better than the other. Positive discrimination can at times be far more harmful because it allows the negative discriminator to be the victim and those who aren’t actually being discriminated against to use it against others. It’s a balancing act really.

      However, just because what someone may hear at home or in the school corridor is worse than what may be said or done to them at the likes of the Boy Scouts shouldn’t mean that that makes it OK. What the Boy Scouts of America have done has validated those hateful views because they are such a large organisation. Which I think we are both in agreement is the key point in this situation. Boys Scouts UK are affected by the Equality Act because of their size and other certain factors, they are regulated because they are in a position of power, influence and trust.

      Reply
  5. I’m of two different mind sets here. As a mother of boys, I’m appalled at the Boy Scouts and would never let my sons join. I’m also disturbed by the fact that the Boy Scouts took someone who was a long time member and then shut him out simply because he grew old enough to express his sexuality to them. If he was only just now trying to join them then I would have been of the mindset that they have a right, based on their policies, to refuse him entrance. I don’t agree with their policies but I don’t agree with the Klu Klux Klan either. The problem is where do we draw the line? Not to mention, who decides where the line is drawn?

    So my thought is that the Boy Scouts should have allowed him to get his award because of the fact that he was a long time member of their organization. However I worry that enacting a law to force a private organization to accept members that they don’t agree with into their organization will end up having some consequences that we can’t anticipate.

    Personally, I don’t understand the Boy Scout’s policy of denying gays into their organization. It seems rather short-sighted to me. Then again, does the Klu Klux Klan allow blacks to join? (not that they would want to but…)

    Reply

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