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CORTMAN: Boy Scouts must stand firm for their principles

Organization loses its relevance if it caves on ‘morally straight’

- - Sunday, March 10, 2013

W. D. Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America on Feb. 8, 1910. Within the first two years of the organization’s existence, its moral compass was clearly outlined via the pledges within the Scout oath:

“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.”

Since the inception of the Boy Scouts, those taking this pledge have had a strong influence on our society. They have become presidents, congressmen, governors, even astronauts. The things they have stood for have served to mark out a path for them, and to carve out a place.

As Deputy Chief Scout Executive George J. Fisher said in 1937, “Each generation as it comes to maturity has no more important duty than that of teaching high ideals and proper behavior to the generation which follows.”

In the interest of remaining this force for good, Boy Scouts has focused its membership and leadership guidelines on those things that correspond with the “morally straight” aspects of the pledge and the “high ideals and proper behavior” Fisher referenced.

It is important to note that this is not a reflection of what the Boy Scouts are against, but of what they are for. In a word, this purposeful hedging in and maintenance of membership standards and practices is simply an outworking of their freedom to associate—and especially their freedom to associate with those whom they choose.

This was never a problem, and was not seen as a negation of any certain group or practice, until some began pushing to curtail the Boy Scouts’ freedom of association in the late 20th century.

We must remember that in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000), the Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts’ right of freedom of association, and therefore their membership policy. The court found that while it may not represent the views of all, “the First Amendment does not require that every member of a group agree on every issue in order for the group’s policy to be expressive association.”

Yet now, even after winning at the Supreme Court, Boy Scouts national leadership, under pressure from activist groups who don’t agree with the Scouts’ values, is toying with the idea of allowing individual councils to decide for themselves whether to abide by this policy.

In other words, Boy Scouts national leadership is toying with the idea of giving up their freedom to choose what they stand for.

If Boy Scouts’ position shifts, it will be a seismic cultural change indeed. Moreover, it will affect hundreds of thousands of boys who have gone through the program and are yet to. Relationships to affiliated groups, such as churches and other local organizations, will be forever altered as well, especially since more than 70 percent of Boy Scouts units are chartered to faith-based organizations.

Moreover, a change here will set a poor example to other groups which are presently standing for something in specific, rather than caving in to the politically correct pressure that beckons them to embrace everything and stand for nothing in particular.

The Boy Scouts will no longer be what it has been for decades if it accedes to the demands of others. Once it accedes, far from making peace, it will only open itself and the local councils to continued and more aggressive attacks.

This is a war the Boy Scouts of America didn’t launch. Yet since it has been launched against them, it’s one that they must win from the high ground of the Supreme Court victory (Dale) and the constitutionality of association.

A victory here will be a victory for current scouts as well as generations of scouts to come. This has nothing to do with what the Boy Scouts are against, but everything to do with what they are for. 

David Cortman is senior counsel, vice president of religious liberty, at Alliance Defending Freedom (www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org).