Summarized by Rosemary Pollock
LDS Church Entwined In Struggle For Scouting
(The struggle for the soul of the boy scouts)
Rolling Stone pg100 6Jul 00 N1
By Chuck Sudetic
WASHINGTON, DC -- On April 26th the Supreme Court met to determine
the constitutional rights of the Boy Scouts of America. The case on
the docket was Number 99-699, the Boy Scouts of America vs. James
Dale. In a courtroom filled with law students, gay activists and
television crews, Supreme Court Justice David Souter argued that the
Boy Scout Handbook does not spell out any policy banning gays. Yet,
Boy Scout supporters base their explanation on the Scout Oath
declaring that scouts should be "morally straight."
"It doesn't say anything about arson or forgery, either," replied BSA
attorney George Davidson, claiming that it was about the First Amendment
right of an organization to decide who can be a member. Conservative Justice
Antonin Scalia stated, "Our law simply prevents the state from diluting or
imperiling the message that an organization wants to convey." James Dale
and millions of Boy Scouts and their supporters expect a decision by late
June of this year.
James Dale, now twenty-nine, earned his Eagle after eleven years of
scouting. In July 1990, James who was an assistant Scoutmaster and looked
forward to a lifetime in Scouting, was expelled for being a homosexual.
Never before hearing of any such rule against gays, Dale sued for
reinstatement. The ten year ordeal finally came down to a one-hour hearing
in the Supreme Court on April 26th.
The Mormon Church, the largest sponsor of Boy Scout troops in the United
States is fiercely opposed to admitting homosexuals and has stated that it
will end its nine-decade-long affiliation if gays are admitted. This
decision would mean the departure of more than 412,000 Scouts who are
sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In total it
is about twelve percent of the entire BSA organization's membership.
"Power in the Boy Scouts of America has gravitated to the professionals,
and they derive their power from the groups with the largest financial
donations," said a volunteer. "These tend to be the Mormons and the Roman
Catholic Church." "It would take a major effort from outside the
organization to change how the BSA views the Mormons and the Catholics."
In 1995, Elder Jack Goaslind, a national BSA Executive Board member and
president of the Mormon's youth organization, was asked during a civil
hearing why the top leaders of the church were willing to leave BSA if it
becomes accepting of gays. "Well, to be direct with you, it was because of
the number of cases that have come before the courts on different
homosexual-conduct acts that it's been discussed thoroughly there. And the
decision has been reached," Goaslind said.
The Boy Scouts of America have over 1.3 million adult volunteers who drive
the organization and support the Boy Scout oath to promise to do their duty
to God and country, to help others and to keep themselves "physically
strong, mentally awake and morally straight." In its ninety-year history,
BSA Inc. has been resistant to cultural change and proud of it.
Volunteer Ray Benjamin says, "I would be uneasy if I knew my sons had a
gay troop leader - unless I knew him." "And if the guy's an Eagle Scout,
he's got to have decent credentials." From 1993 to the end of May 2000,
Jere Ratcliffe was the Chief Scout executive. A native from Tennessee,
Ratcliffe, valiantly upheld the organization's exclusion of "gays, girls and
the godless," otherwise known in Boy Scout jargon as the three G's. "The
BSA has always reflected the expectations that Scouting families have had
for the organization," he said, "and we do not believe that homosexuals
provide a role model consistent with these expectations."
Ratcliffe oversaw one of the biggest charities in the country, The United
Way. It is a significant backer to the BSA, but the BSA may have crossed
the line in its effort to produce high minority-recruitment figures for top
dollar donations. Dale Draper, a former employee of the Circle Ten Council,
blew the whistle on how Circle Ten's executives used the money from the
council's budget to pay registration fees for Scouts, volunteers and troops
that did not exist. The money went into the national office of the BSA.
Draper, a Mormon who graduated from Brigham Young University with a special
degree in Boy Scout management, resigned after the seven months when the
council auditors reported that there was no wrong doing at Circle Ten.
"You know how you've got the good ol' boy system," Draper said. "I think
that was in place in this situation." The BSA is dependent not only on the
United Way but also on many government-related organizations. Yet the Boy
Scouts have maintained through two decades of discrimination lawsuits that
it is a private organization. Since its earliest days, the BSA has sought
to maintain strong ties to church and state.