This is a direct transcription of my post to SWIL's chat list regarding some questions that had been raised about the Supreme Court decision on a gay Scoutmaster in the BSA.
Date: Thu, 6 Jul 2000 00:16:14 -0400 (EDT) Subject: [CHAT] Scouting, sexuality, and Hollis Hi all. What follows is a set of responses to other posts that have been made, as well as a few thoughts of my own. For what it's worth, my own experiences were rather different from those most of you have written about. I hold the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America. I was a Brotherhood member of Order of the Arrow lodge #120, Gosh Wha Gono, and am now a member of the lodge formed when Seaway Valley Council merged with Hiawatha Council. During my time as a lodge member, I served as chairman of the Ceremonies, Publications, and Where to Go Camping committees. As a member of BSA Troop 77, Potsdam, NY, I served as Assistant Patrol Leader, Patrol Leader, Quartermaster, Scribe, Historian, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, and Assistant Scoutmaster. I served as Scribe for Jamboree Troop 519 at the 1997 National Scouting Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, VA. That's my background in Scouting. Please don't take any of what follows as doctrine of the Scouting movement; my observations are simply that--observations. To make sure we're on the same footing here, the creeds of basic Scouting are the Oath, Law, slogan, motto, and Outdoor Code. There are others--for example the Eagle Oath and the Admonition of the Order of the Arrow--but the basic Scouting ones are the only ones which bind every member of the organisation, so I'll put them here. They are: the Scout Oath: "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."; the Scout Law: "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."; the Scout motto: "Be Prepared"; the Scout slogan: "Do a good turn daily"; and the Outdoor Code: "As an American, I will do my best to be clean in my outdoor manners, be careful with fire, be considerate in the outdoors, and be conservation-minded." As regards Jed's question on qualifications for Boy Scouts: the following is taken from the tenth edition of the Scout Handbook: "In order to become a Boy Scout, you must: 1) Be a boy who has completed the fifth grade, or who has earned the Arrow of Light Award, or be 11 years of age but not yet 18. 2) Find a Scout troop near your home. 3) Complete the Boy Scout joining requirements." The joining requirements are: "1) Submit a completed Boy Scout application and health history signed by your parent or guardian. 2) Repeat the Pledge of Allegiance. 3) Demonstrate the Scout salute, sign, and handclasp. 4) Show how to tie the square knot (also known as the joining knot). 5) Understand and agree to live by the Scout Oath, the Scout Law, the Scout motto, the Scout slogan, and the Outdoor Code. 6) Describe the Scout badge. 7) With your parent or guardian, complete the exercises in the pamphlet 'How to Protect Your Children from Child Abuse and Drug Abuse.' 8) Participate in a Scoutmaster conference." As regards Scouting's prohibition of gays: do not assume that the decision of those at the head of an organisation reflects the attitude or custom of that organisation's members. Consider my experience. Never in my time as a Scout or leader was any pejorative or discouraging comment made about homosexuality; at least, not by any of the leaders I worked with. Occasionally the boys would bring it up--exhibiting the cultural habit of calling disagreeable things "gay", but that hardly constitutes a political style, especially given the fact that they stopped doing it after we had a discussion about what that word meant. Referring to Scouting's "anti-atheist" stance: I don't buy it. The relevant parts of Scouting are the Oath and Law, and the only one which can cause trouble is part of the Oath, which reads "to do my duty to God and my country". I don't think this is a problem--if you hold no belief in God, obviously you feel no duty toward him/her/it. This then becomes a multiply by zero question: do the duty that doesn't exist, i.e. do nothing in this instance. About Jed's funding question: I don't know about the policies of BoA and United Way, so I can't comment, other than to say that BSA policy has, in my experience, differed substantially from local policy in this area. Larry writes: "Hypocritical atheists are okay, and in many many troops open atheism is tolerated, but it is grounds for dismissal, so to speak. Reverence is literally part of the Boy Scout Oath thingy." Reverent is the final point of the Scout Law. Again, this is a question of interpretation. Merriam-Webster online gives the following as part of its definition for revere: "to show devoted deferential honor to: regard as worthy of great honor (revere the aged)". To be sure, it holds religious overtones, but they are not explicit ones, and I submit that their interpretation is by no means standardized across the organisation. Jed asks: "I wonder if they [Venture crews]'ve tried 'should gays be allowed in the Scouts?' as an ethical controversy..." I don't know, as I was never on a Venture crew, but I know that BSA Troop 77, Potsdam NY, did indeed discuss that question at meetings. I speak for no man but myself, but my experience here shows that tolerance and encouragement were the model for the troop I led. As regards nothing much at all: Scouts Canada is an organisation that has recently become coed throughout its levels, I think. Find more at http://www.scouts.ca/ Interesting to note is that the religious flavor is much stronger in Canada: they define the three points of Scouting as "Duty to God, Duty to Others, Duty to Self", and go on to specify a much stronger code of beliefs. See http://www.scouts.ca/about/. Larry writes: 'The BSA considers "God" and "reverent" to be both important and strictly interpreted. They allow for different types of reverence, but there's an official Scout Prayer, as well as a Scout Prayer Hand Gesture (called "Scout Prayer Sign"). While individual troops may differ, the party line is pretty consistantly that reverence equates to belief in God and the practice of an organized religion.' This is outdated. No longer is there an official Scout Prayer, nor is there such a hand gesture. My leaders never taught that reverence equates to belief in God and the practice of an organized religion--for what it's worth, my Scoutmaster is part of no such religion, so far as I know. Larry goes on to write about why he chose not to continue on toward Eagle rank. In my path to Eagle, I went through similar introspection. My response, no more or less valid, was different. I felt that only by achieving the rank could I comment on its worth. I felt, and feel, that my presence as a Scout benefits the organisation--it is this that guides my hand as I write. My feeling parallels that of the Scouting for All folks--I can change things best from inside the organisation, where I hold a position of some small worth. If nothing else, I will have provided an opinion that was not otherwise present in this discussion through being an Eagle Scout. Relating to the questions about the Masons: no, there is no binding rule about religious belief, and yes, there are groups open to women. The Order of the Eastern Star and the Order of the Amaranth are two. I think that being a Scout was a good thing. Among the things I learned was that people are extraordinarily fallible, myself included. I very nearly didn't make it to Eagle, not entirely due to my own actions. I also learned some things about leading people, and about how far I was willing to push and be pushed. All that sounds rather trite. Take it for what it's worth, I'm a different person from the one I'd be without Scouting. It is my hope that I will have clarified a few things, and put a small amount of personal spin on the issues at stake. I wish you all the best, and am glad of the discussion. Hollis