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
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
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
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