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Sent on Mormon-News: 29Sep00

Summarized by Michael Nielsen

Boy Scouts' Mormon Cash

Boy Scouts' Mormon Cash

The church is getting noticed for its stand with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) against homosexuality. This alternet story surveys the role of religion in scouting, and how church involvement in scouting has made the BSA different from other youth organizations.

During the 1970s and 80s, the BSA health and committee members tried to start discussions about sex. This effort was rebuffed, however, by churches who sponsor a substantial portion of BSA troops. The churches objected to the BSA including moral guidelines in their programs that might be counter to the churches' own policies.

The LDS church sponsors 400,000 scouts in the BSA, accounting for about 12 percent of the BSA membership. No other church sponsors more units, and only the Methodists sponsor more boys in the program.

The BSA stance against gay leaders is based on the Scout Oath, which includes pledging scouts to keep themselves "morally straight." Some of the churches that oppose homosexuals serving as scout leaders do not echo such objections to other organizations sponsored by the church. The difference may be found in LDS opposition to homosexuality, as the LDS Church does not sponsor Girl Scout or other youth organizations that other churches sponsor.

Scouting has a long history with religion. When first formed in the USA, the Boy Scouts' close relationship with the YMCA, which is associated with Protestant churches, resulted in some antipathy with the Roman Catholic Church. When established in 1910, the BSA was based on the British model developed by Lord Robert Baden-Powell. It differed from the British version, however, by the addition of reverence toward God as one of the components of the Scout Law. The inclusion, in the Scout Oath, of devotion to God also helped BSA to gain acceptance by churches, which used it in their outreach to boys.

As the LDS church put it, in a friend of the court brief filed in a case that went to the Supreme Court, "Because of Scouting's devotion to the spiritual element of character education and its willingness to submerge itself in the religious traditions of its sponsors, America's churches and synagogues enthusiastically embraced Scouting." The result is a youth organization that, as the Mormon brief says, "is a means of youth ministry.... [S]ponsorship by religious organizations has enabled the Scouting movement to expand and increase its influence on the nation's boys."

Soon, Catholics joined Protestants in sponsoring scout troops, and the LDS Church adopted it as its official ministry program for LDS boys. Now more than 31,000 units are sponsored by the LDS Church, more than any other denomination. Most (nearly two-thirds) of the units are sponsored by religious groups; the remainder are sponsored by service, governmental or other organizations.

The influence of religion on the BSA shows itself in other ways. Representatives of Catholic, Protestant, and Mormon churches sit on the executive board and advisory council, which shape BSA positions and actions.

In recent years, two cases have propelled the issue into the forefront. One involved Tim Curran, who took a boy to the high school prom in 1980. The following year, Curran applied to be an adult volunteer, but his application was rejected. He sued on the basis of discrimination but lost. Curran's case also lost on appeal.

The more recent case of Dale v. Boy Scouts of America has reached the US Supreme Court. In this case James Dale, a student at Rutgers University and an assistant scoutmaster, was quoted in the campus newspaper in an article discussing the needs of homosexual teens. Shortly thereafter, he was dismissed from his scouting role. Dale sued.

In response, the BSA stated: "We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight, and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts." This rationale did not convince the New Jersey Appellate Court, which ruled that the BSA violated the state's discrimination statute. The case now is before the US Supreme Court.

An additional facet of the case is the possible financial consequence of the BSA position. Sponsoring organizations such as the United Way have begun, in some instances, to withdraw financial support over the issue. But some observers suggest that if any organization can withstand financial problems, the BSA can. In 1997 its tax returns showed a $56 million surplus. Although this is less than the $86 million contributed by the United Way, observers suggest that the BSA is in good overall financial shape, and may weather the financial problems that might come as a consequence of its stand on homosexuality.

Eventually, decisions to admit homosexual youth in its ranks or to employ homosexual men in leadership positions may be up to the individual local sponsors. If this occurs, the influence of religion on Scouting is expected to remain strong, but will be more pronounced at the local, instead of national, level.


Boy Scouts' Mormon Cash
AlterNet (Youth Today) 19Sep00 N1
By Patrick Boyle, Youth Today


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