Traditional-values groups are urging their supporters to tell the Boy Scouts of America to stand by its policy of not letting "avowed" homosexuals join the organization.
A final decision has not been made on the BSA sexual-orientation policy; however, "we do anticipate discussion on the matter" at the meeting Monday through Wednesday of the BSA's national executive board in Irving, Texas, spokesman Deron Smith said.
On Monday, Mr. Smith released a statement from BSA leaders saying they were "discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation." The move would permit local organizations to "address this issue" — as well as set membership rules and make leadership choices — based on their own mission, principles or religious beliefs.
Traditional-values groups quickly urged the BSA leaders not to abandon their policy.
"We call on the Boy Scouts of America to remain faithful to their founding and to above all be courageous in pursuing their core principle of 'duty to God,'" said Penny Nance, chief executive and president of Concerned Women for America.
BSA has "already won this battle," she said, referring to the 2000 Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the BSA's constitutional right to set its own membership rules.
"Tell them that you want to see the organization stand firm in its moral values and respect the right of parents to discuss these sexual topics with their children," said the Family Research Council, which was echoed by Focus on the Family's Citizen Link.
However, Rabbi Lisa Vernon, cubmaster of Pack 118 in West Orange, N.J., said she and her colleagues "are very hopeful" that BSA leaders will change the national policy.
"Our pack has never discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation," said Ms. Vernon, but last year, her pack and Troop 118 had their charter ended by Golda Och Academy, because of the academy's conflict with the national BSA policy. Both units have since found a new chartering organization.
Homosexuality "is not something that should be discussed" in organized Scouting activities anyway, said Ms. Vernon. What's appropriate to discuss is how "everybody needs to be treated with respect and dignity."
"As I said the day after the Supreme Court ruling, we may have lost the case, 5-4, but we're winning the cause," said Evan Wolfson, a prominent gay-rights activist and the attorney who represented gay Eagle Scout James Dale in his lawsuit against the BSA.
Since 2000, he said, the Boy Scouts have seen "a huge drop in membership, a huge loss of sponsors ... and continuing dissent from within," from their own members, parents, Eagle Scouts, sponsors and chartering organizations. "America has been on a real journey toward inclusion and fairness, and they are now way out of step with where the majority of people, and particularly young people are," said Mr. Wolfson.
The contested BSA policy, reaffirmed in July, says: "While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA."
Like other child-serving organizations, the BSA, founded Feb. 8, 1910, has struggled with child abusers entering its ranks as leaders and volunteers. BSA defines child sex-abuse as any unwanted activity, including exhibitionism, fondling and rape, committed with a child by an adult or older child. "Preteen and teenage boys are especially at risk for sexual abuse," said the BSA, which has developed extensive "youth protection" rules and educational materials to keep children and adults safe.
The BSA has also kept lists of "ineligible volunteers" to eject suspected or known pedophiles from its organization. However, this tactic was far from foolproof: In October, an Oregon law firm released, with court permission, the names of 1,247 men who were on a "perversion list." In multiple cases, men were not reported to authorities or chased out of the Scouts.
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Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor. Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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