Until recently, the Boy Scouts of America was adamantly resistant to change. This was especially true in its response to the homosexual lobby’s demands that they accept its demands that homosexual inclinations be viewed as normal. However, beginning in 2013, the Boy Scouts leadership started acceded to those demands. More recently, they announced that they are considering declaring bankruptcy as they grapple with the expense of settling claims of abuse, declining membership and other issues.
A Code of Honor
One traditional Scout goal is to build character. This is expressed at every meeting when each scout repeats the Boy Scout Oath and the Boy Scout Law. The oath and law below are from the first (1911) edition of the Boy Scout Handbook. The words remain unchanged:
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.
A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
The combination of honor and cleanliness obviously extended to sexuality. This was the sense of the phrase “morally straight.” Any sexual activity outside of marriage was both dishonorable and unclean. That code of conduct also extended to scoutmasters and their assistants.
The sexual revolutionaries of sixties and seventies proclaimed that “it is forbidden to forbid.” Many organizations adopted this new non-standard of behavior. The Boy Scouts were not among them. The nature of the Boy Scout program puts boys under the supervision of scoutmasters that spend days or weeks together – sharing tables, toilets, and tents. Such a program could not function well without a high degree of trust and morality. To give in on these points would ruin the program.
The left-wing intelligentsia ridiculed the Boy Scouts’ “para-military” nature. Meanwhile, everyone else changed. The Girl Scouts became feminists. The Boys’ Clubs renamed themselves the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, and the Campfire Girls became simply Campfire. The YWCA had programs for boys, and the YMCA allowed girls. The Boy Scouts stood firm.
Such firmness was intolerable to the left. Its first attack was on the Boy Scouts’ funding.
The Initial Attack
Individual troops operated on very small budgets, provided by the boys or the troop’s sponsor. However, each Boy Scout Council had to oversee the whole program in a given geographic area, which entails administrative expenses. In most places, those expenses were funded by affiliating with the United Way. Contributors helped the Boy Scouts by making a single contribution to United Way, often deducted from their paychecks. It was a workable and efficient system until politics interfered.
Liberals on local United Way agency boards soon accepted complaints about the “exclusionary” practices of the Boy Scouts against homosexuals. The United Way began excluding the Boy Scouts from their funding.
This actual affect was surprisingly small. Many people contributed more to the Scouts as a means of support the Scouts’ principled stand.
The Attack Moves to the Courts
Thwarted in this initial attempt, the left took its battle to the courts. The Boy Scouts made the news by holding firm despite the threat of prohibitive legal fees to defend themselves from the activists.
The activists found openings in states dominated by liberal state court systems. In 1990, a New Jersey assistant scoutmaster and admitted homosexual, James Dale, was directed to leave the Scouts. Mr. Dale was an Eagle Scout, the organization’s highest rank, Eagle. After turning eighteen, he became an assistant scoutmaster. He argued that he was qualified and that his inclinations did not affect his role in leading the troop. The New Jersey Court agreed.
The Boy Scouts’ leadership appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the high court overturned the New Jersey decision. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote in his opinion that, “public or judicial disapproval of a tenet of an organization’s expression does not justify the State’s effort to compel the organization to accept members where such acceptance would derogate from the organization’s expressive message.”
Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory
Since that landmark victory, a new generation of leaders has taken over the Scouts. In May 2013, the BSA announced that homosexual teens would be admitted as members. The New York Times reported “More than 1,400 volunteer leaders from across the country voted, with more than 60 percent approving a measure that said no youth may be denied membership “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” The issue of adult leaders was not yet discussed.
Membership numbers went down by six percent in 2013 and by another 7.4 percent in 2014, according to Reuters, to a new total of 2.4 million.
In July 2015, the Boy Scouts bowed to activists’ pressure, by allowing openly homosexual scoutmasters.
The erosion slowly continued. In 2017, the Boy Scouts decided to further modernize by accepting girls as members in October 2017. Perhaps to fix the contradiction of having girls as boy scouts, the BSA announced in May 2018 the official name would be changed to the supposedly more inclusive “Scouts BSA.”
Now the Scouts are on the verge of bankruptcy. According to U.S. News and World Report, the possible bankruptcy is the result of, “multiple lawsuits that allege employees and volunteers exhibited inappropriate behavior as far back as the 1960s.” Settlement payouts, dwindling membership and loss of identity has taken its toll.
The Lesson to Traditionalists
The Boy Scouts joins a long list of organizations that have tried to compromise with the left. Many think that the modern world will tolerate them if they “become less rigid” on certain moral issues. This approach can never work since the liberal goal is not compromise but surrender. Some conservatives are fooled by the incremental steps of this surrender. They find out the hard way that giving up on virtue does not bring acceptance, only the demand for more change. Moral bankruptcy will lead to financial bankruptcy.
The Boy Scouts represented resistance to the left’s radically egalitarian and permissive view of the world. Leftists made war on the Scouts to eliminate this resistance. The case of the Boy Scouts shows that the politics of appeasement does not work. When the Scouts fought back and were true to their Code, they experience victory. It is a lesson for all those who fight the Culture Wars need to learn.