So, it looks like the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is now considering letting gays into their organization (or rather, allowing them to be open about it), which I predicted would happen as more companies and organizations which help fund the BSA continue to tell them they will stop giving the BSA money unless they change their policy on homosexuals. Also, kudos to the BSA for finally standing up against the Mormon Church's threat to secede from the program should the BSA allow gays in. But how inclusive and far-reaching will this change really be?
Here is the official press release:
Boy Scouts of America Monday, Jan. 28, 2013Attributable to: Deron Smith, 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.” [emphasis added]
In other words, "We are tired of being pulled back and forth on this divisive issue, so we are just going to let individual local troops figure out how inclusive or exclusive they want to be. Hopefully, progressives and bigots alike will continue to give us money. Pretty, pretty please."
Fine, I'll admit that this is progress for an organization with a fine tradition of "more than 100 years" of intolerance and bigotry and discrimination, but only marginally. It seems that the changes proposed are barely enough to appease people on either side. But whatever. It's their business. It's not like my tax money goes to fund their discrimination, right? ...
The thing that I find most interesting about all this was a lesser known debacle a couple of months ago, which I think may very well have led to this proclamation being issued at this particular time.
As the Friendly Atheist points out, in September a troop in Maryland issued the following Non-Discrimination Policy:
It is a great policy. The very policy which the BSA should adopt nationally. But it was short lived as pressure from BSA higher-ups forced the troop to abandon their all-inclusive policy for this one:
This passive-aggressive left-hook caused somewhat of a stir at the time, but not so much at the national level. But as events have been developing lately, it seems to fit the timeline quite well to say this thorn in the BSA's side--coupled with increasingly shaky funding--is perhaps partially responsible for the change.
There is another issue in addition to the recent policy change concerning homosexuals: are atheists welcome, too? Well, if you read the last line of the press release you might get the impression that they are:
"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.” [emphasis added]
But all this means is that individual troops will not be forced to go against their religious beliefs (not the other way around), which in this context is speaking of whether or not they allow gays to join their specific local troop. The Scouting program itself, however, is still very much a religously and spiritually-centered organization as indicated by their oath:
"On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight." [emphasis added]
They elaborate further on how central religion is to their program on their page on faith and religion:
"Young people need faith. There is abundant evidence that children benefit from the moral compass provided by religious tradition. We acknowledge that faith can become an important part of a child's identity. Each of the major faiths breeds hope, optimism, compassion, and a belief in a better tomorrow. Scouting encourages each young person to begin a spiritual journey through the practice of his or her faith tradition. One of the key tenets of Scouting is "duty to God." While Scouting does not define religious belief for its members, it has been adopted by and works with youth programs of all major faiths." [emphasis added]
So, it seems to me that even if atheists were welcome to participate in Scouting, it would either make atheists cringe with all the "god talk", or they would constantly be proselytized and preached to by other scouts. But again, there is no indication that the policy change includes atheists at this point. A friend of mine put it this way:
"This is what I hear, "Since we are loosing funding left and right for being so close minded, we may let some gay people participate in Scouts. But Atheists, we still hate you."
So much hate and discrimination based on something which people have chosen to accept on faith rather than evidence...
Here is Christopher Hitchens on a slightly different "tradition of intolerance":