- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A different kind of “jamboree” awaits the 1,400 delegates arriving Wednesday at the Boy Scouts of America’s national conference in Grapevine, Texas.

As the delegates consider a membership proposal to admit openly gay youths — while banning homosexual adult Scout leaders — groups of all stripes are expected to hold rallies, meetings and a summit outside the conference.

No matter what it decides, the nation’s largest youth organization appears likely to take a membership hit, as local charters on the losing side of the landmark vote — expected Thursday — weigh decisions on whether to stay with the Boy Scouts of America or splinter.

Some chartering organizations will go their own way, predicts John Eastman, a constitutional scholar who has advised the Boy Scouts against broadening the membership policy.

“Quite frankly, I think that if anybody’s going to leave, it ought to be the ones that are seeking to change the organization into something it’s not, rather than those who want to adhere to what it has traditionally always been,” Mr. Eastman said. “I’m an Eagle Scout myself, my son’s an Eagle Scout and my grandfather was an Eagle Scout. This hits personal.”

The vote will directly affect the organization’s 2.7 million Scouts and 1 million volunteers.

SEE ALSO: Evangelical weakness in gay Boy Scouts debate could hurt GOP

If the proposed policy change is voted down, the current membership policy will stand, officials said. Under the policy, no one is asked about his sexual orientation, but “open or avowed homosexuals” cannot be members, leaders, volunteers or employees of the Boy Scouts of America. This policy was upheld as constitutional in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale.

Some gay-rights groups said this week that even if the compromise policy on gay youths is adopted, it does not go far enough because it bars gay adults from participating in Scouting.

“We stand for full equality and nothing less,” John O’Connor, executive director of Equality California, said this week.

“While we are encouraged” by the Boy Scouts’ willingness to look at admitting openly gay youths, “it is still alarmingly inadequate, and it sends the message to both gay and straight youths that discrimination is OK,” Mr. O’Connor said.

He is urging support for a California lawmaker’s bill that would end state tax breaks for the Boy Scouts of America and other youth organizations that exclude gay, bisexual or transgender people.

Meanwhile, Scouts for Equality and the Inclusive Scouting Network are planning an “Equal Scouting Summit,” to be held near the Boy Scouts council meeting this week.

According to Boy Scouts of America surveys, most organizational stakeholders — including chartering groups, volunteers, unit leaders and parents — do not want to change the policy, and they also will be holding rallies and meetings at Grapevine this week.

On Tuesday, the Alliance Defending Freedom delivered a petition asking the Boy Scouts of America to keep its policy. The petition was signed by nearly 19,000 people, including almost 12,000 current or former members of the Boy Scouts. Many accuse Scouting officials of acting out of a fear of the loss of corporate sponsors.

The Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and 25 other Protestant church leaders have issued a statement asking the Boy Scouts of America not to change its policy.

For more than a century, the clergy said, “Scouting has sought to uphold moral values at a level greater than that of general society. The capitulation now to societal pressures would mar the long and honorable history of the Boy Scouts to honor the natural law of God, which at least for now, is still reflected in the current Scouting membership policy.”

Personal testimony

Scouts for Equality founder Zach Wahls and Jennifer Tyrrell, whose dismissal as a den mother because she is a lesbian intensified the clash over the Boy Scouts policy, are expected to address the summit, as will Greg Bourke, a Kentucky father who was removed as an assistant scoutmaster after he revealed he is gay.

Pascal Tessier, a 16-year-old Scout from Kensington, Md., is also scheduled to speak. Pascal, who came out as gay in the eighth grade, said he is an example for why the policy should be changed.

“Right now, I’m on the line,” Pascal said on a PBS news report. “I could get a letter any day saying I’m not part of Scouts anymore. I’m kicked out [and] that’s the end of 10 years of Scouting.”

Supporters of gays in Scouts say they have 1.8 million signatures on petitions asking for the organization to end its ban on gays. Polls of the general public show strong support for adopting the proposed policy that says youths would not be denied membership “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it was “satisfied” with the proposed change — a significant signal from the single largest Boy Scouts of America chartering organization. The National Jewish Committee on Scouting also supports lifting the ban.

The Catholic Church, the third-largest Scout troop sponsor, signaled that it wanted to work with the Boy Scouts even if the ban on gays is eased.

Bishop Robert Guglielmone of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, in a letter over the weekend to Scouts for Equality, wrote that the bishops “will continue to uphold the truths of the Church’s teaching and strive to maintain our ties with the BSA” even if the membership policy is revised.

“The Catholic Church in the United States has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with the BSA, and I hope that relationship can continue,” the bishop wrote.

But OnMyHonor.net, a group intensely opposed to the easing of the policy and led by Eagle Scout John Stemberger, hosted rallies around the country Friday. It has issued a list of 10 reasons for delegates to “vote no” on the proposal, saying it is “logically incoherent and morally and ethically inconsistent” with Scouting’s traditions.

The proposed policy “introduces sexual issues into an organization that is not supposed to be about that at all,” Mr. Eastman said.

Some local councils have indicated how they will vote. The three delegates from South Carolina’s Pee Dee Area Council told the news website SCNow.com that they were voting against the change.

“We gave everyone an opportunity to share their feelings, and the decision was not a close one,” council executive Barry McDonald told the website. “There was an overwhelming percentage that did not want to see a change.”

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