Christian churches are being warned that if they continue to sponsor Boy Scout troops, they are opening themselves to multiple legal challenges that could affect whether they can “freely preach the Gospel.”
The Boy Scouts of America’s newly adopted membership policy — in which youths no longer will be blocked from joining the Scouts based on “sexual orientation or preference alone” — is “a sweeping change to its core values,” said Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal defense organization.
The policy change has legal ramifications for religious chartering groups, potentially exposing them to lawsuits if they continue to sponsor troops while seeking to maintain the traditional Christian teaching that homosexual behavior is immoral.
What could happen is “somebody would come and say, ‘We want to use your church for a same-sex wedding ceremony,’ and the church would say, ‘Wait, we have a religious belief against that,’” said Erik Stanley, an alliance lawyer and Eagle Scout.
Most states that have gay-marriage laws also have some kind of “conscience exemption” that does not require churches to perform same-sex ceremonies.
But the rebuttal by such a gay advocacy group would be, “Well no, you don’t — or if you do, you’re not sincere or you don’t follow it, because you allow this Boy Scout troop in, and you had to specifically sign a charter” saying that “you agreed with the BSA policy of allowing in openly homosexual youth,” Mr. Stanley said.
“That’s our basic concern — that it weakens the church’s freedom of religion and freedom of association arguments on that point,” he said, adding that churches may need to separate from the Boy Scouts of America to “protect their right to freely preach the Gospel” and “be a witness to our nation’s youth.”
In response, Deron Smith, a Boy Scouts spokesman, said most of this kind of commentary “is based on speculation” and inaccurately states that the Boy Scouts organization has made a fundamental shift in values or is attempting to cause division within Scouting.
“We believe most people have grown tired of those who seek to use Scouting, an organization whose mission is to serve young people, to advance their own agendas,” Mr. Smith said.
“While a handful of chartered organizations have decided to drop their sponsorship of troops, the new policy has not affected the commitment of the overwhelming majority of our 116,000 units in the Scouting family,” he said.
Moreover, “in the rare cases when a chartered organization has decided to no longer sponsor the Scouting program, our local council executives have identified another suitable chartered organization,” he said, pointing to photos of Baptist and Christian churches that publicly welcome Boy Scout troops.
Catholic parishes also may stay with the Boy Scouts of America.
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting interprets the new policy to mean that a boy with a same-sex attraction “will not be encouraged or pressured to disclose publicly the experience of such attraction” and will not be denied a rank award or religious emblem, or risk expulsion from scouting, simply for experiencing or disclosing such an attraction, said the Diocese of LaCrosse in Wisconsin.
“As the Holy Father Pope Francis recently stated, ‘same-sex attraction’ alone does not preclude active membership in the Church,” the diocese said.
Despite recent news reports to the contrary, the diocese said, “at this time, there is no reason to believe that the charter of Troop 90 will not be renewed by St. Mary Parish in Altoona.”