As previously mentioned, last night's PTA meeting included a scouting recruitment plug from PTA president-elect Andy Bower, who is also the Scout Master of Cub Scout Pack #440, which has "historically
participated with" Mary Munford Elementary School and which is sponsored by St. Giles Presbyterian Church. There was a sign-up table in the hall; I had also noticed this table on orientation night.
I wasn't surprised by the affiliation of the school with a particular pack, nor by its sponsor - after all, my mother was a long-time den mother for Todd's elementary school's pack, and my father was a scout master for their church's Boy Scout troop for many years. All three of my brothers are Eagle Scouts. I've certainly seen the good things that scouting can offer. Yet my reaction last night was still one of frustration. Scouting is not the only way to offer these benefits to children, and the BSA is notorious for its discrimination against homosexuals and nontheists. Why are the public schools continuing their support for this organization?
Let's take a look at the Virginia Department of Education Statement of Non-Discrimination:
The Virginia Department of Education does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age in its programs and activities.
This could be interpreted as applicable only to state government employees working for the DOE. However, the site also links to this memo sent in 2006 to division superintendants:
These regulations require all educational agencies that receive federal financial assistance to have well-publicized policies against discrimination...and to have procedures for students and their families to raise and resolve issues concerning discrimination. Educational agencies are required to implement specific and continuing steps to notify all students, parents, employees, and the public that the school does not discriminate. Educational agencies also are required to publish a notice of non-discrimination in publications made available to students, parents, employees, applicants for admission or employment, and in other sources of information. The Office for Civil Rights encourages the use of one combined notice for all the civil rights regulations. A combined non-discrimination notice should contain two basic elements: (1) a statement of non-discrimination in all programs and activities; and (2) identification by name or title, address, and telephone number of the employee or employees responsible for coordinating the compliance efforts.
You can google and cut and paste forever when it comes to state and federal regulations regarding discrimination based on sex, race, creed, ability, etc. Homework: read USC Title 42, Chapter 21. The basic gist: if your people are getting money from the gubment, you can't shut the door in anybody's face just because they're black, or poor, or gay, or female, or wiccan. Well, sortof: some of the subchapters refer only to race/color/nationality.
At any rate, it seems like a no-brainer that an organization supported by the public schools that discriminates against potential members based on sexual orientation and religious affiliation would be considered to be violating those people's civil rights, right? So...what's up with the BSA? Do they really reject gays and atheists?
I visited the Boy Scouts of America's official site to find out. I found next to nothing. There were references to "core values" but when these values are described, they are so vague as to be nearly meaningless. The goals of scouting include "citizenship training, character development, and personal fitness." The Cub Scout pages list ten purposes, of which "family understanding" and "respectful relationships" are two. Operational definitions for these and other goals/purposes/principles are lacking. The scout oath is referenced frequently:
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.
How does one define a duty to God? What does it mean to be morally straight? What are the requirements for membership as relate to those two items? Browsing through the pages of the site was unfruitful (even the position statements page contained nothing but one item about diversity, claiming that they have the right to believe what they believe, without actually spelling out what those beliefs might be or how that might affect others who don't share those beliefs), so I turned to the search function. Searching for the term "god" resulted in many pages related to religious activities but no requirements for membership. "Gay" results in one item referring to a man with that last name. "Sexual" brings up a long list of pages discussing harassment and assault and the prevention or handling thereof. "Atheism," "atheist," "homosexuality," and "sexuality" searches produce zero results.
I looked to Wikipedia to help me in my search, expecting that at the very least, their BSA page would contain references to the recent controversies. I was not disappointed...and I was rewarded with links to the BSAlegal site. Hmm, but who runs BSAlegal? Why, the BSA themselves. (Side note: is this their way of keeping their main site free of their dirty laundry?) So I can trust that the opinions expressed on that page reflect the positions of the organization as a whole. And those opinions?
Boy Scouts of America believes that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. Accordingly, youth members and adult volunteer leaders of Boy Scouts of America obligate themselves to do their duty to God and be reverent as embodied in the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. Leaders also must subscribe to the Declaration of Religious Principle. Because of its views concerning the duty to God, Boy Scouts of America believes that an atheist or agnostic is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law for adolescent boys. Because of Scouting’s methods and beliefs, Scouting does not accept atheists and agnostics as members or adult volunteer leaders.
The Declaration of Religious Principle (on the same page) includes this verbiage:
The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.
Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed.
In the FAQ, the site responds to allegations of discrimination:
Boy Scouts of America is one of the most diverse youth groups in the country, serving boys of every ethnicity, religion, and economic circumstance and having programs for older teens of both sexes. That Boy Scouts also has traditional values, like requiring youth to do their "duty to God" and be "morally straight" is nothing to be ashamed of and should not be controversial. No court case has ever held that Boy Scouts discriminates unlawfully, and it is unfortunate here that anyone would characterized Boy Scouts' constitutionally protected right to hold traditional values as "discriminatory." That is just name-calling.
I beg to differ: the dictionary definition of discrimination is "treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit". I believe barring homosexuals and atheists from your organization counts. Do they have a right to discriminate? Yes. Does the fact that they consider it one of their "traditional values" or the fact that many other people believe the same thing make it any less discriminatory? No. Hey, BSA, if you're going to have controversial opinions, own up to them and call them what they are, ok?
Now, here's the thing: while I would be barred from membership due to my sex/gender and religious beliefs, and while I would not want to join the BSA because I find their attitude toward homosexuality to be abhorrent, I recognize their right to their beliefs. Individuals have the right to hold any opinion, and they have the right to get together with other individuals who hold the same opinions, and to celebrate those opinions, and even to form organizations based around those opinions and exclude individuals who don't share their opinions from membership. It's a free country, and thank goodness for that. But it is my understanding that while individuals and private organizations might support such a group, their discriminatory practices would make them ineligible for support from the federal government, which would make them ineligible for plugs from the PTA and tables in the school lobby.
Yeah, my naivete and faith in our government is touching. I was worrying about whether to become 'that parent" and write a letter to the PTA and the principal, but then...well, click on that linked word up there in the last paragraph, "support". Who is the biggest supporter of the Boy Scouts of America? The federal government. The Boy Scouts, you see, are as American as apple pie and baseball. That is to say, jingoistic "patriots" cling to them despite the fact that the apples come from New Zealand and the players hail from Cuba. Two fun bits of BSA trivia that I've discovered this week:
1. Every US President since Taft has served as honorary president of the BSA.
2. When your favorite president and mine, George W. Bush, signed the infamous No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002, he also enacted the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act. This law prevents state and federal agencies from reducing their support of "patriotic" groups such as the BSA and was prompted by a spate of controversies related to their discrimination against gays and/or atheists.
Here's the bottom line: because they are a patriotic organization committed to instilling "honesty, integrity, and character" in young boys, the Boy Scouts of America have the legal right to use your public school's facilities and PTA in order to recruit members and hold meetings, without being required (as are other federally funded programs) to practice non-discrimination. Even shorter: because they know powerful people and wave the flag, the BSA have the legal right to thumb their nose at the USC and to trample your child's civil rights.
Yes indeedy, the US Department of Education protects the BSA's civil right to use government property so that they might recruit more children and continue to violate the civil rights of others. Yes, that link directs you to the very same Office of Civil Rights cited in the 2006 memo quoted near the beginning of this manifesto. Is this sick, or what? I can't decide what disgusts me more: that special protection is being given to this group, or that an organization with beliefs such as this is considered "patriotic" and a fine way to raise our young'uns.
I guess it's no mistake that the "down the rabbit hole" bowline knot is a requirement in order to achieve the rank of First Class Scout. But don't follow the white rabbit to go ask Alice, kids...because while we encourage homophobia and require a belief in the supernatural, we still expect you to Just Say No to drugs. We stand for traditional values, yo.
So, that was way more than I ever wanted to know about the BSA, how about you? In the end, I think you can count us out. I wouldn't feel comfortable doing so much as buying peanuts and popcorn from a scout, much less supporting my child in joining their ranks. We can camp and fish and tie knots and become good citizens of the world without a helping of homophobia and religious intolerance on the side...those are our family values.