After a recent announcement that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is considering doing away with a membership restriction based on sexual orientation, scouting groups near the new permanent home of the National Scout Jamboree are preparing for discussions about the issue.
Rather than dictating any specific policy, the national organization may turn over decision-making power on the matter to local “chartered organizations” that support troops with meeting spaces and other resources. These include churches, civic groups, and educational organizations.
The idea is that locals are best positioned to “accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs,” said a statement from BSA Director of Public Relations Deron Smith.
When the scouts posted last Monday’s official statement on the matter on Facebook, the post generated over 14,000 comments and over 3,100 “likes.”
The Boy Scouts of America has faced public scrutiny for its exclusive membership practices, given that the group is supported in various ways with taxpayer dollars.
Last July, the organization reasserted its policy of banning gay and nontheistic members, claiming that they are a private organization and exempt from anti-discrimination policy.
They have lost financial support from some private sources over the issue and, by the same token, have been lauded by some religious groups.
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The scout master for Fayetteville’s Troop 179, George Lechalk, says he could see a change in policy affecting membership in both directions.
“Some (parents) may say, ‘Hey, if there is a gay in there, I don’t want my child in there,’ and they might pull their child out. And some may say that to discriminate is wrong and that the Boy Scouts are keeping up with the change of times and now we’ll allow our children to participate,” he said.
“A lot will depend on their individual point of view.”
Lechalk says he hasn’t yet heard any feedback on the announcement from his membership but that he may meet with parents in the future to discuss the issue. He says it will all come down to “following the national recommendation” and continuing to follow policies about preventing and reporting any sexual misconduct.
“This is a real touchy issue and we’re just going to see what comes out of it and move ahead as best we can in training young adults to be men,” he said.
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Dennis Hanson is commander of the Fayetteville American Legion Post 149 — the “chartered organization” for Troop 179 in Fayetteville — and has a grandson in scouting. He says his organization has not discussed the news, either formally or informally.
“That may be a topic of discussion (at our next meeting),” he told The Register-Herald.
“I’m going to let them sort through their thoughts on it. I really haven’t thought about it in detail.”
Elmer Pritt, an adjutant at the post, likewise said it would be inappropriate to discuss the issue until the group has taken a position, but added that the organization has sponsored a Boy Scout troop ever since he can remember.
“We do that with pride and honor and I think they do good work. We couldn’t be more pleased to support the BSA,” he said.
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Some in Fayette County read the announcement with a measure of celebration and relief.
“It is now becoming an organization that I am truly proud that my son is involved in,” said Ami Dangerfield of Fayetteville.
“I think it is great they are being inclusive and not letting an issue that is really not anyone else’s business be a defining factor for the organization.”
But others, like Pastor Mark Wood of Calvary Baptist Church in Oak Hill, saw the development as a sign that the BSA is “heading down the wrong road.”
One big question surrounding the controversy is whether churches will pull their support of the many scout troops that they support across the country.
Wood calls the situation “sad.” Though he is not currently involved in scouting, he is a former scout and scout leader and used to host a troop at one of his churches.
“Going against the true word of God is nothing more than disobedience,” he said. “You can call it ‘tolerance,’ ‘acceptance,’ or any other choice word, but it is that it is.”
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Trey Aliff, Seneca District executive of the Buckskin Council, referred questions to national spokespeople.
The BSA is poised to discuss the membership issue at its biannual national assembly next week.
Last week, the BSA accepted public feedback on the policy change through a telephone hotline. As of Friday it was no longer taking calls but directing comments to its website’s contact page, http://www.scouting.org/ContactUs.aspx, or e-mail, Feedback@Scouting.org.
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BSA’s official statement
Editor’s note: The Boy Scouts of America's official statement on the possible lifting of a ban on gays, from Director of Public Relations Deron Smith, issued Jan. 28.
“For more than 100 years, Scouting’s focus has been on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.
“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.
“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”