The Boy Scouts of America announced today, under pressure from questions raised by The Christian Post, that the organization is likely to allow professed homosexuals to become scout leaders and that a vote on the matter is scheduled at the group's executive meeting in Irving, Texas, the first week of February.
When asked about the change by The Christian Post, BSA officials confirmed the major policy reversal just days before Scout Sunday, February 3, an annual event held in many churches around the country to promote and encourage participation in scouting. The organization originally planned to make the announcement at the Boy Scouts of America Annual Meeting in May.
A source who has knowledge of the situation told The Christian Post last week that the BSA's top executives had met with top leaders at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, among others, over the last few weeks to inform them of the possibility of this policy shift.
Early Monday morning, the BSA responded to CP's inquiry and released the following statement via email:
"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," wrote Deron Smith, BSA's Director of Public Relations.
"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."
On their website the BSA call themselves "one of the nation's largest and most prominent values-based youth development organizations." The group has been under pressure in recent years to allow homosexuals in leadership roles after winning a court decision almost thirteen years ago.
The decision would be a dramatic change in Scout policy. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Boy Scouts of America v Dale, ruled that the group had the constitutional right to "freedom of association" – allowing it and other groups to exclude persons from membership when the "the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group's ability to advocate public or private viewpoints." The essence of the ruling was that the organization's opposition to homosexuality is part of the BSA's "expressive message" and allowing homosexuals as adult leaders would run in opposition to that message.
When asked what prompted the BSA to consider such a change, especially given that the Supreme Court has ruled in their favor, Smith said the change was considered as "a result of dialogue within the Scouting family."
"Scouting's policy caused some volunteers and chartered organizations which oversee and deliver the program, to act in conflict with their missions, principles or religious beliefs," said Smith.
If approved, the impact of the new policy could have far-reaching ramifications, say religious leaders.
"It boggles my mind to think the BSA would make such a move," said an executive in the Southern Baptist Convention who asked not to be identified. "If they have counted the cost of this decision in terms of relationships and numbers, then I believe they have miscalculated that cost."
The Mormon Church, Catholic Diocese and Southern Baptist Convention are three of the largest religious organizations that are closely affiliated with the BSA. Troops, as local units are called, often meet in and use church facilities for their weekly gatherings. Many troops are formed solely from within churches given that the BSA's objectives and development programs often run parallel to the doctrine of many major religious groups. However, church membership or religious beliefs are not a requirement for membership in the BSA.
According to the BSA's website, of the approximate 100,000 scouting units in the U.S., 69.6 percent are chartered to faith-based organizations, 22.7 percent are chartered to civic organizations such as Rotary, Kiwanis and chambers of commerce, and 7.9 percent are chartered to educational organizations such as PTAs and private schools.
Boy Scouts are often first introduced to scouting by joining Cub Scout packs as young as seven years of age before transitioning to the Webelos program and then Boy Scouts. Scouts can earn over 100 "merit" badges for their participation and study in activities such as First Aid, Swimming, Citizenship, Camping and Personal Fitness to name a few.
The most coveted rank in scouting is that of an "Eagle" scout and is only awarded to approximately five percent of the participants who earn at least 21 merit badges. From 1912 to 2011, more that 2 million Boy Scouts earned the Eagle Scout rank including President Gerald Ford, who was the fist Eagle Scout to become vice president and then president.
Over 73 Member of Congress have either earned the rank of Eagle Scout or been a volunteer scout leader.
The BSA's National Executive Board will meet from Feb. 4-6 at the DFW Airport Marriott in Irving, Texas, and the issue is anticipated to be a topic of discussion, although the meetings are private and not open to the public or media.